Freedom in Christ
Who is really free? And who is really in bondage? Is someone free who lives in a so-called free country? Are we free when we can do whatever they want? Think about this. If someone is in prison, does that mean they are not free? I ask, "Who is really free?"
On this 4th of July weekend, I want to reflect on our freedom, but not our freedom as a country but on our freedom as followers of Jesus Christ. And I’ll begin with a story about a priest who was imprisoned in Romania during the communist era. This priest, although unjustly imprisoned because of his faith, had a curious way of greeting everyone he met in prison. He wouldn’t say the typical “hello” or “good morning.” Instead, he would greet everyone with a shining smile on his face saying “Rejoice always!”
What an unusual way to greet someone when you’re imprisoned, yet it was even more incomprehensible when someone hear his life story. Not only was he in prison, but he had a son in a Soviet prison, a daughter sentenced to 20 years of hard labor, and two sons-in-law in prison with him. This priest understood his grandchildren were starving, and his entire family suffered terribly. Yet, he would still greet people by saying “Rejoice always!”
How could someone in prison, someone suffering, someone in such a terrible situation, exhort others to “rejoice in the Lord?” When a fellow prisoner asked this priest how he could rejoice when he and his family suffered so much, he simply replied, “I rejoice because I am free. I am not free physically, but in Christ, I am free in my heart and mind. I discovered the freedom I have to rejoice instead of to be angry. Saint Paul tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice.” Thus, I choose to rejoice with others who are happy. As I sit in jail, I rejoice with so many who are free. I can’t go to Church or receive Holy Communion yet I rejoice with all those who are free to go to Church and receive Communion. I can’t see my children and my grandchildren but I rejoice with those surrounded by family. Even though I’m in prison, I am free to still rejoice with others.”
Despite the bars that imprisoned this priest, was he truly imprisoned? Did not his attitude of joy and love set him free from his physical bondage?
This is the freedom that Jesus Christ came to offer to the world. "Know the truth and the truth will set you free." Jesus Christ is the Truth that offers a path of freedom from anything that enslaves our lives - fear, hatred, anger, lust, greed, and any vices that try to control our lives.
Holy Scriptures offer story after story about the freedom which God offers to those in slavery. The central story of the Old Testament, the Exodus, describes how Moses led the Israelites out of 400 years of slavery into the Promised Land. What is interesting about their journey into freedom, however, was that the first thing Moses did with the Hebrew nation was to take them to Mount Sinai to encounter God. There at the Holy Mountain, God basically told His people "You are my chosen people and I have set you free. With your freedom, however, I give you responsibility. I expect you to go and set other people free. I will take you into the promised land, but in that land you are to be a witness to me, you are to tell other nations about me and my love for them! So go, SET OTHER PEOPLE FREE!"
In this story, we see a pattern which other stories in the Bible repeat. We see the pattern of BONDAGE - FREEDOM - CONVENANT - RESPONSIBILITY!!! After we are free, we are called to commit our life to God. With freedom comes responsibility, but the responsibility is something which gives purpose and meaning to our lives! It is what makes life exciting!!! We have meaning to serve God, and to set other people free!
As we continue to read the Bible and enter into the New Testament, we read the life of Jesus, which again is a story about freedom. In Christ's life, we see Jesus continually setting people free - free from illness, free from hatred, free from a harmful ways of life. Jesus offers all types of freedom - physical, mental, spiritual. But after each liberation he tells the people to "Go and do likewise. Go and set my people free!" Jesus basically says, "I love you. I will shower my love upon you and set you free with my love. But by accepting my love, I now want you to go out and share my love with others. Tell other people about my love, both through your words and through you actions.
Of course, Jesus gave us the perfect example of what to do through his own life. As wonderful as his teaching were, he showed us his love through his life. He set us free by the things he did, not simply by what he said. Through the life of Jesus, God entered into the terrible situation of human bondage, shared in our pain and suffering by going to the Cross, dying a terrible death for the sake of the world, and then broke the bonds of suffering and set the world free from the power of Satan, sin, and death itself. He realized that the purpose of his life on earth was to set the world free!!! And he said to his followers, "Now go and do likewise!:
So the price of freedom isn't some terrible price. The price of freedom is NOT a heavy burden for us to follow. The price of freedom is the responsibility we have to go and help others, to go and SET THE PEOPLE FREE. To love others, to serve others, and to share our freedom with them. What a wonderful price to pay! And what a wonderful message of Christianity! First we are called to experience the love of God in our lives. We must experience the liberation of Christ! Remember, love comes first. After we receive love, then the responsibility follows.
I think we would all agree that the greatest gift in the world is love - to be loved and to love others. None of us could survive if we did not experience some love, and if we had no one to share our love with! So this is the price, a wonderful price to pay! To love others and to bring them the joy of freedom!
Our purpose of life is "to experience the love of God in our lives, and then to share this love with other people." When we do this, we experience true freedom! Love and freedom go hand in hand. It was God's love that set the Jewish slaves free. It was God's love that made the Romanian priest able to rejoice in the face of difficult circumstances. It was God's love that sent Jesus here on earth to show us the path of freedom!
Love and freedom go hand in hand. Love leads to freedom, and freedom leads to service! Setting other people free! This is the price of freedom!
I conclude by telling a story about a man I met several years ago in prison. For three and a half years, I use to go into prison every week holding a weekly Bible study. In prison, I met a man named Caroll. From the first day I met this man, he seemed different. He was a person who always smiled and seemed so full of joy. At first, I was a little skeptical because he seemed to be too happy. It didnÕt seem right that someone could be so filled with joy, especially after discovering that he was serving a life sentence. However, as I got to know Caroll better week after week, I learned from him, as well as from his fellow inmates, that he radiated this joy because he had truly experienced the Risen Lord. He was a new creation in God.
One day, he briefly shared part of his life story with our group, and he informed us that before he was in prison he was a wealthy man, who owned 350 apartments around Boston, a bar and a restaurant. However, he never found true joy in these possessions because he was always anxious about all his investments. He also had a terrible temper which often got him into trouble. He said that it took for him to not only get put in prison, but to get thrown into solitary confinement for two months straight, to change his life. While living in a 10 x 5 cell for two months, he started praying to God and reading the Bible.
In that prison cell, he came face to face with Christ, and Christ set him free. Despite his life sentence with no chance of parole, he discovered freedom! He began to rejoice in his situation and share the joy of knowing Christ with his fellow prisoners. He began sharing that freedom with everyone he met!
This is what it means to be free, and this is the price of freedom. May all of us here seek out such freedom, and become instruments in sharing this freedom with all our friends, family, and everyone we meet!
IN WHOM DO WE TRUST?
Our Orthodox Faith