We Are Called
NW MN Synod Women’s Organization Convention
September 13, 2014—Trinity, Crookston, MN
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
“We are called.” The logo for your convention portrays those words with simplicity and clarity: a telephone—something we all recognize right away.
It was not always so, though.
One hundred years ago, this symbol would have been meaningless. “What’s this strange gadget?” folks would have wondered. A few telephones were around a century ago, but they were hardly found in every home. In fact, like many of the devices we now just take for granted, telephones didn’t become widespread until after World War II.
But today we “get” this symbol instantly. We connect it easily with our theme. If the telephone rings, someone is calling us….someone has juicy information, wonderful good news, an earnest request or a blistering barrage of criticism for us.
Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get when the phone rings. Not until you answer the call, not until your phone connects you with your caller, do you know if the call is one you want to receive.
At the risk of over-simplifying, let me suggest that most phone calls fall into one of two categories.
There are phone calls that weigh us down and there are phone calls that set us free.
First, there are calls that weigh us down. The news is bad, the complaint is shrill,the demands are heavy.
That’s why sometimes we dread even picking up the phone—and even contrive ways to avoid taking such calls (caller ID has helped us with that, right? If someone is always and only bringing us bad news, we may not pick up the phone.)
Second, there are calls that set us free. A little over a year ago I received one such call, actually a text message: “Olivia Carolyn was just born—mom and baby are fine!” Our first grandchild had arrived—and because this was happening 250 miles away from Moorhead, the phone call was essential. It brought tears of joy to my eyes and changed my life—forever. Some calls are like that.
But we’re not focused on garden-variety, everyday phone calls at this gathering. We’re considering, rather, the call of God in our lives. The telephone rings—and lo and behold God is on the other end of the line!
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
What kind of call is this? Is this a call that weighs us down or sets us free? What about this call for which our caller ID simply says: “God, number unknown.”
When God calls us, it’s always, always, always a call that sets us free! God’s call to us, God’s claim on us, never comes, finally, to weigh us down.
God’s call continually sets us free.
Not that it always seems that way. Even if at first God’s call calls us up short, confronts us with our waywardness, draws attention to where we have failed or rebelled--even if at first God’s call to us has about it all the sternness of the law….even if God’s call weighs us down at first, it does so only so that we can eventually be set free.
God’s ultimate goal for us, God’s final future for us is that we be set free.
And that, my friends, is very, very good news!
It’s the news that turned the world upside down when it was first set loose in the world. When Jesus lived out a love that started piecing back together this whole tattered creation….when Jesus carried the whole weight of our waywardness to the Cross….when the Risen Jesus danced out of the grave on Easter morning….he set us free from everything that could ever weigh us down—sin, death, the power of the devil--all of that was forever lifted from us!
This good news blazed its way across the ancient world, shaking up everything in its path, all the ways people thought they could get on God’s good side—all of it swept aside by Jesus’ tidal wave of grace!
This glorious path of freedom started in the familiar territory of God’s chosen people, the Jews….but it swiftly moved out into the strange, uncharted territory of the Roman Empire that was filled with Gentiles, non-Jews who neither knew nor practiced the old ways of Israel.
When that started to happen the “old guard” got nervous….because freedom always brings anxiety to those who think they’re charged chiefly with maintaining law and order.
So when St Paul and company took this good news from a largely Jewish audience, into the highways and byways of the Gentile world…..these outsiders started believing and responding and embracing the fierce freedom that Jesus brings.
And the old guard told Paul and company: “Not so fast! These Gentile outsiders don’t get any shortcuts! They have to follow the same path we ‘first believers’ traveled. These Gentiles need to align first with God’s chosen people Israel, their men need to be circumcised, their women need to ‘keep kosher,’ and they all need to follow the law of Moses before they can fully embrace Christ.”
And so was born the first great “church fight” –a donnybrook that focused on the question of whether Gentiles could come directly into the realm of Jesus Christ.
It was a fight that could have stopped the Christian movement dead in its tracks. But God intervened through the bold witness of St Paul here in his letter to the Galatians, a letter that has sometimes been called the Magna Carta of Christian freedom, as Paul thunders: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” (Gal. 5:1)
Freedom, not law, would be the framework for the new life in Christ…..and this would not be the truncated freedom that some tout—the freedom to “do our own thing, whatever that might be.”
No, St Paul held forth the full, rich freedom of Jesus Christ….a freedom that is always twofold in nature, binary in direction…..which is to say: a freedom that is always, simultaneously a freedom from and a freedom for.
Which brings us back to our theme verse for this SWO convention: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
Make no mistake about it, the freedom that Jesus always brings us is first of all a freedom from---a liberation from all that weighs us down….our preoccupation with ourselves (a.k.a. sin), fears that can paralyze us (a.k.a. the power of the devil) and deep doubts about the future (a.k.a. death).
Jesus sets us free from all that, pure and simple--no ifs or ands or buts.
But when Jesus sets us free from all that, he always simultaneously sets us free for the life God always intended us to have—a life filled with trust in God, love for our neighbors and caring for this good earth.
When I think of you women of our church—Women of the ELCA—I imagine you, at your best, forever floating, continually swimming in this stream of freedom.
You celebrate the freedom from that Jesus brings through your deep engagement with God’s barrier-breaking, future-opening Word…..the Word that sets you free through circles and Bible studies and prayer connections…..
But you never squander this “freedom from” as if it were all that God had in store for you.
No, you also embrace the “freedom for” that Jesus brings: freedom for telling others about the hope that is in you…freedom for serving up cups of cold water and tending to the physical needs of others in a host of other ways….freedom for a rich life of giving yourselves away as you follow Jesus out into the world.
Jesus doesn’t set us free to make us fat and sassy. Jesus sets us free in order for us to lace up our walking shoes and head out into the world, bearing the light of Christ and living the life we were created for!
Jesus sets us free from our fears and everything else that can weigh us down
In the same breath Jesus grants us freedom for the gracious, open future God has in store for his Son and for all (including us) who now live only because Jesus has set us free.
This is what happens when God comes ‘a calling: we are set free from all that is killing us….free for all that restores hope and opens up Christ’s tomorrow.
What a phone call! What a calling! What a life!
In the name of Jesus. Amen.