Monday, July 30, 2012

just another free lunch?

The Men's Bible Study considered the Gospel text for this coming Sunday (John 6:24-35).  The text is a follow up from last week's feeding of the 5,000.  The question that framed our discussion asked, "What are we looking for when we look for Jesus?"

Some responses included: being loved unconditionally, humble access to God, and instruction on how to love unconditionally.  These responses are those of mature disciples.  It is clear that we are all on a different stages on our journey to find Jesus.  The crowd in the passage for Sunday is just starting to figure out what it means to follow Jesus.  As a member of our study said, Jesus is trying to teach the crowd that his ministry is more than just offering a free lunch.       

When Jesus met the crowd that was looking for him, he said, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you at your fill of the loves."  Again, the crowds are having a hard time understanding what Jesus is really trying to accomplish in his ministry.  In a way, everything boils down to the tension between a heavenly reality and an earthly reality.

Still over 2,000 years later we live in that tension between heaven and earth but we know that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, heaven and earth are being made one.  In the fullness of time at the second coming, the oneness of heaven and earth will be fulfilled in all creation.  As for now, we live in the in-between-time, the-already-and-not-yet of God's new reality in Jesus.

This in-between-time sparks a lot of questions that help us in our journey to become better disciples.  Questions that ask, "how do we love like Christ loves?", "what is my part in the work of God?" "how do we know that God's hope for salvation is true?", "how do we do better to live in Christ's new reality of hope and abundance instead of darkness and scarcity?", "what does Jesus mean when he says that our work is to believe in him?  what does our response to this faith statement look like?"

Perhaps the most pressing question for today asks, "How is God in Jesus reconciling what we think we need with what Jesus knows we need?"  Jesus says, "I AM the bread of life."  Jesus knows what we need  bread that lasts forever but we are used to only needing the bread that lasts for a small time.  Jesus is giving us more than a band-aid, more than a free lunch, Jesus is giving us a truth that covers all of our wildest dreams.  In order to access this truth, he simply asks that we trust him.  Trust in the I AM, in the one who is drawing the past, present, and future into one moment where all people can celebrate in the fullness and richness of God, where all people are drawn together by perfect love.   

"What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?"  Jesus is saying, "I AM the sign."  I AM the bread of life that feeds you forever.  Jesus is saying, live in me, live in my ways, live by my teachings, take of my flesh, and I will live in you forever.  I AM the new reality that you are hoping for, and I AM here now revealing this new reality of heaven on earth.

Keep on asking questions about your faith in God and see how Jesus is revealing the signs of the hope to come through his life, his death, and his resurrection.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Anglican Thought-Still Relevant?

On Friday, July 27th the Episcopal Church calendar remembers William Reed Huntington.  The church calendar is available in the publication Holy Women, Holy Men.  You may also access the calendar on the internet when you Google search “Mission St. Clare.”  Rev. Huntington was a champion in the House of Deputies in the Episcopal Church during the late 19th century.  The first draft of what is now called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was written by Rev. Huntington in his book entitled The Church Idea.

Rev. Huntington's aim was to articulate Christian unity not only among fellow Anglicans but among all Christians.  The conversation that Rev. Huntington started was ecumenical in nature.  In addition to stating what Anglicans believe to be essential about Christian unity, the document promotes healing within the body of Christ by extending charity to the other visible manifestations of Christ's body (extend charity to other denominations).

For a complete wording of the final document please turn to page 876-877 in your Book of Common Prayer.  The document is summarized in four points: 1) scripture contains all things necessary for salvation 2) the Creeds are sufficient statements of the Christian faith 3) Baptism and Eucharist are essential to Christian life 4) names the importance of the historic episcopate, locally adapted to fit the needs of people called to God into the Unity of the Church.

This statement echoes the thinking of the first Anglican theologians.  Anglican Thought developed as a response to various manifestations of Christ's body during the Protestant Reformation.  In short, Anglican Thought developed out of a compromising response to Protestant (Reformed) and Roman Catholic theology.  This compromise was made official through the Elizabethan Settlement which can be summed up by saying via media or the middle way.

During an extremely gruesome time during the reign of Henry VIII, a beautiful way of thinking about Christianity developed.  The beauty of Anglican Thought is that it is humble.  The original framers of this Anglican way of thinking did not try to answer every question about theology and scripture (as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral also suggests).  Instead, they recognized that God was bigger than what they could grasp at with words and that corporate prayer and faithful reflection on scripture was the vehicle to common belief in the risen Lord.  As N.T. Wright might say, these first Anglican thinkers were more interested in asking the right questions instead of trying to find all the right answers.

I believe this way of thinking is desperately needed in a world where we are held hostage by political and religious extremes.  We live in a world where we simplify really complicated issues.  On one level, Anglican thought is a good modern day parable for the parables of Jesus.  The parables of Jesus tell us a lot about the Kingdom of God but they also remind us that we don't know a lot about the Kingdom of God.  The parables of Jesus don't answer all our questions.  Instead, the parables of Jesus invite us to ask the right questions so that we may grow into better disciples—followers of Christ.

We have a God by the power of the Holy Spirit who is leading the whole Church into all truth—not just the Catholics or Episcopalians or Presbyterians.  My prayer is that we can listen better and see the beauty of Christ's body in all people and in all places.  I don't think anyone of us or any one way of thinking has it all figured out.  But I do believe that if we pray and work together under the assumptions of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, then the glory of God will continue to draw all people together into the light of Christ in a world that is desperate for truth.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Does the name of Jesus still matter?

Published in The Parishioner (bi-weekly newsletter at All Saints')

We live in what many call a post-modern society.  I know that these are big fancy words that can take on several meanings in different contexts.  For the purposes of this article I will start by defining post-modern as 'a time when society as a whole claims no absolute truth’.  This is not to say that claims about the truth aren’t being made - in fact the reality is quite the opposite.  One implication of post-modernism is that although there are many voices of authority that make truth claims, there is no one single voice that stands out, at least from the viewpoint of society as a whole.
            The reality of our global society has exposed us to many truth claims (both religious and non-religious).  I am interested in how these competing claims have affected Christianity.  In particular, I am interested in the response that has limited and diminished the name of Jesus.  The kind of response that says it is okay to talk about God, and it is even okay to talk about Jesus’ teachings, but it’s not okay to talk about Jesus.  Even in the church we sometimes avoid talking about Jesus because someone might take offense.  
            I understand that the name of Jesus carries some baggage.  I also understand that people who are faithful Christians have a hard time naming Jesus in public because of this baggage.  This baggage comes from general misuse of Jesus’ name.  I get it, but on some level I am afraid of what will happen if the name of Jesus Christ is diminished or limited any further. 
            God gave us Jesus so all may know the power of what it is like to live in unity with God and with each other.  This truth about Jesus is made clear in scripture and in the call to baptize all people from every place and nation. Where is the disconnect?  Jesus came to bring people together, not tear people apart. 
            Several years ago a friend of mine posed a question I still think about.  “Why can’t we just drop names like Jesus and God and say Love?” she asked. “People can agree on love.”   
            I’ve thought about this question a lot over the years. If I could respond to my friend today, I would say, “That’s a nice thought but I can’t go there with you.”
            Her original question challenges me to deeper thinking: “What is love?” “How do we know what love is?”  “How is love made known to us?”  “Who really knows what love is?”
            Another notion of this post-modern world is to invite a subjective response to the questions named above.  In other words, it is more accepted now than ever to define words such as love based on one’s own feelings and one’s own perception of reality.   
            That is really scary.  How can I possibly articulate the truth about reality through my own limited lens of the world? Am I really so powerful that I could define love?  Sure, I can express how I feel and name those feelings as love or anger or sadness.  But there is a bigger picture out there that I don’t and can’t understand.  There is a love in this world that is bigger than my feelings and my thoughts. There is a mystery in the power of love that you and I can’t explain with words.
            The love that I have witnessed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is where I have seen the mystery of love defined most clearly.  To put it bluntly—Jesus is the revelation of God in the flesh.  “How can there be a better way to define love than a definition from our creator?”  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  But seriously, is there a better way than the way of Jesus?  What greater truth is there than the truth found when one who lays down His life for all, for the greater good?  What greater life is there than life that exists in God’s everlasting love?  Moreover, what greater love is there than the kind that matches word with deed in the flesh of Jesus Christ?  Jesus walked the talk.  While I might try to match word with deed, I undoubtedly fall short and need help.
            I am saying that the definition of love is Jesus.
            Now more than ever does this truth about Jesus matter.  In a world where love is largely limited to a conditional response (when it is convenient), we have a God who loves unconditionally even when showing love is messy and difficult.  Jesus' love is compassionate and recognizes that we all mess up and hopes that we are transformed by grace, by an unexpected gift of love.  The love of Jesus has the power to notice us when nobody else will and has the power to lift us up in our weakness.   
            Call me arrogant, but I have to believe that the truth about love is perfected in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  You might ask, how do I get to know this Jesus?  Start with the Gospel of Mark and pray that the Holy Spirit leads you into the truth that is revealed in Christ.  As the prayer book says; read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God.  Spend some time challenging the assumptions of the world with scripture and the words of Christ.  Go to church, pray.  Talk to one of your priests about Jesus, about the things you like or don’t like—think!  Discover the richness and beauty of God.  Rejoice and give thanks, for God is leading us into the way of all truth in the name of Christ.
            After all these years, Jesus is still the way, the truth, and the life.  Thanks be to God.    
            -The Rev. Jack Alvey
P.S.  This is why I love Jesus…
I love Jesus because he keeps promises.  He kept this promise to be with us always when he willingly suffered and died for us, like one of us.  I love Jesus because he represents hope and light in a hopeless and dark world.  His empty tomb reveals the possibilities for a new story, a story that ends in life not death.  I love Jesus because he is good and merciful.  He makes his living off of grace and forgiveness.  I love Jesus because of his unending and unfailing love for all people.  He has prepared a place of perfect rest and joy for all who come to him in faith.         

Monday, July 23, 2012

What's the point?

This morning the men's bible study considered the incredibly rich passage that is on tap for Sunday.  The pericope from John's Gospel contains two stories, feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.  Our conversation led us to ask, "What's the point?"  More specifically, why are these miracle stories or as John notes, signs, important to the ministry of Jesus?

I was proud of our group this morning because they achieved fourth level of interpretation which is an eschatological take on scripture (literal/historical, moral, allegorical, and eschatological).  In other words, we considered the implications of this reading in the context of the fullness of time.  In the person and work of Jesus stories like this one reveal to us that Jesus is drawing all time, the past, present, and future into one (the church does this best at the Eucharistic feast).

These signs and miracle stories give us a glimpse of what the new heaven and new earth look like.  These miracle stories are stories that break the rules of reality but more importantly these miracle stories point to the new reality that we have in Jesus and give us reason to pray-on earth as it is in heaven.  In God's kingdom our economy is based on the assumption of abundance, not scarcity.  In God's kingdom we have no reason to be afraid.

This past Saturday I witnessed the reality of God's new kingdom at the Episcopal Day of Service.  When I woke up on Saturday, I was worried.  I was worried that there would not be enough work for the 150 volunteers who signed up.  I was worried that there would not be enough food for the extra 100 people from the community who were to join us for lunch.  I was operating on the assumption of scarcity.

Before I was set to pray, I remembered the words of Jesus, "It is I, do not be afraid."  I remembered that God was in charge and that whatever happens the work of God will be accomplished in only the way that God can provide.  In the end people were excited to put their hands and feet to work in any way they could find.  People recognized that the work of God was more than just fixing up a few houses.  The work of God celebrates the body of Christ in community with one another.  The most important work we did on Saturday was the celebration of Christ's body with new friends.

Like the boy who had a little bit of fish and a little bit of bread, our work was to show up and offer our gifts.  God was in charge and there was enough for everyone.     



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stations after Pentecost

About three years ago a a very talented group of artists from All Saints' under the leadership of The Rev. Eric Stelle  formed and offered Stations of the Cross.  Last year the group offered Stations of Resurrection.  And you guessed it, this year the artists offer Stations after Pentecost under the leadership of The Rev. Anna Russell Friedman.

It seems especially appropriate that artists reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit with creativity and imagination.  From Genesis to Revelation, we learn that the Holy Spirit gives beauty and depth to creation.  This offering from our artists give the community another way to worship the living Christ.  The beauty and depth of the Holy Spirit breathes life into our worship of the living Christ in our midst today.  

Stations after Pentecost is a wonderful witness to the beauty, wonder, and mystery of God.  With many different expressions of God's love through the individual offerings of the artists, we have been given a wonderful space to reflect on the richness of creation, the very creation that Christ has redeemed in his flesh.

The work that has been offered is diverse in nature.  Some of the artists used traditional mediums, some will give live performances, and even some have taken advantage of technology.  The diversity reminds me of God's creative response to the world through the Spirit.  The diversity also reminds me of the many gifts that God has given us, and God wants us to celebrate and delight in these gifts.

Anybody is invited to join us at All Saints' in this celebration of the Spirit.  We hope you come and pray at each station and renew your witness to the work of God as a member of Christ's Church.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jesus had compassion...

I have the privilege of spending each Monday morning with men from our parish studying scripture.  I especially like this group because they know how to fit fun and serious in the same sentence.  The group typically sees about 4-6 men each week but at least 12 men are involved on some level.  We structure the class around predetermined exegetical questions about the text and try to move toward application.  Our lesson is taken from the lectionary for the upcoming Sunday.  Today we studied Mark 6:30-34; 53-56 (text below).

While we had a small group today, I was encouraged by our conversation.  Most notably we considered the nature of God as made known in Jesus.  We pondered God’s response to humanity when humanity takes the initiative and seeks Jesus out.  This seeking out seems to be in stark contrast to the work that the disciples had done in recent days.  Before this passage, we read that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to teach and preach the Good News of repentance.  But now the crowd presses in on Jesus and the disciples and not the other way around.      

From what we could discern, we have a God who is ready to welcome us into the fold especially when we seek him out when we are lost or have no way.  We spent a few minutes remembering other parts of scripture that spell out this truth: The Prodigal Son, “Come to me all who labor and I will give you rest”, and the unnamed woman who was hemorrhaging, just to name a few.  In today's lesson, Jesus has compassion for those who press in on him because they are like sheep without a shepherd.   

The bulk of our conversation considered the implications of the word compassion.  There was some conversation comparing and contrasting compassion and pity (in part, this conversation happened because this resolved a conversation I had with a friend months ago on the very subject).  The conclusion was that Kings and Lords have pity on peasants because Kings and Lords don’t know what it is like to live as a peasant (can show sympathy but not empathy).  However, Christ our King has compassion for the hungry and weak because Jesus knows what it is like to live in poverty and isolation.  The word compassion as translated from the Greek means “to suffer with.”

I am thankful that we have a God who has compassion for his creation.  For me, that means that we have a God who is genuinely interested in us and cares about us as his own.  We have a God who notices us in our deepest aches and pains when nobody else can or will.  We have a God who is not too busy to stop and notice that we are lost and searching to be found.  In the flesh of Christ, God shows us that it doesn't matter who we are or where we've been God is always there when we come or return in faith.  Our God shows compassion because of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord who was willing to die and suffer like one of his own.  


Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

sighs too deep for words

I realize that the internet is littered with blogs and that the last thing it needs is another one.  Therefore it is no secret that I enter the blogosphere with some hesitation.  What else could I possibly add to the conversation about theology, scripture, and Jesus? 

As the clergy person staffed to evangelism and outreach at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama, I have thought a lot about what evangelism means in the context of the church today especially when it comes to the use of technology.  What else am I supposed to say?  What hasn't been said?  What if someone takes offense at my words?  How can my feeble words possibly capture the beauty and wonder of God?   

These questions give way to the title of my blog and this post:

sighs too deep for words

I remember praying these famous words from the Apostle Paul right before I was ordained to the diaconate.  These words are taken from Romans 8, one of my favorite chapters in the Bible (Paul was in high gear at this point in his letter).  Romans 8:26 says, "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."

This prayer also raced through my mind as I stepped into the pulpit for the first time at All Saints'.  This prayer from the Apostle Paul reminds me that no matter how sloppy or eloquent my words are the Holy Spirit intercedes for me with sighs too deep for words and the Spirit does the same for all of us.  I hope and pray that God helps us all hear what we need to hear and forget what we don't need to hear all for the sake of the Gospel.

While I might be somewhat hesitant to start a blog and to put myself "out-there", I know that God is calling me into conversation with others about the mystery and wonder of God especially as it relates to Jesus.  I hope that this blog helps me respond to God's call to spread the Gospel into all the world.

As for now, I intend to post sermons; theological reflections on the daily office, books, and articles; and maybe some material from Christian Formation classes that I teach.  I hope you'll join me in conversation (silently or aloud) about the transforming power of God's love as made known through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.      


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Let Freedom Ring

Sermon preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Birmingham, AL on Sunday, July 8. 
Proper 9, Year B.
Let Freedom Ring.

                I spent most of last week with 4th and 5th graders at Camp McDowell for the Elementary II session.  The program that my staff put on was entitled “Let Freedom Ring” in light of our nation’s Independence Day.   The campers considered both the gifts and dangers of freedom. 
After hearing the story of the Prodigal Son, I asked the campers, “If you had the freedom to do whatever you wanted with your parent’s money what would you do?”  Hoping for some really outrageous responses, I promised the campers that none of the information shared would be used against them in any way.
                Most of the kids gave really nice answers—many said they would give the money to the poor, others said they would put it in a savings account, and a few said they would give the money the church.  And finally I got an answer that I could use as a teaching point.  One 11-year-old said, “I would buy a limo, take my friends to Vegas, win a bunch of money, and then give it to the church.”  My response, “that kind of sums it all up.” 
We spent the next few minutes talking about the consequences of misusing freedom.  In particular, we talked about how the misuse of freedom damaged our relationships with others, God, and ourselves.  Glenn Feldman, a parishioner here at All Saints’, helped the kids consider how freedom can be abused in a contemporary adaptation of Adam and Eve—as you might imagine, it was a hit.
We learn in scripture that God responds to humanity’s mistreatment of freedom through the gift of covenant relationships.  The gift of a covenant relationship can be summed up in the collect of the day that we prayed this morning, “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.”  God teaches us that these two commandments will set us free from a selfish response to freedom.  But as we know very well, we are not perfect and we often fall short of these commands.
 The good news:  as Christians we believe that Christ perfected this covenant in his flesh and blood, in his life, death, and resurrection.  In Christ, we believe that our heavenly Father is always ready to welcome us back to the community even when we mess up.  As Christians we believe that only in Christ are we too able to live into this type of covenant. 
We learn from the Apostle Paul that if we live according to the desires of our flesh we are dead but if we live a life according to the promises of God in Christ we are alive.  In other words, a life in Christ frees us from the flesh; a life in Christ frees us from the pain of separation from God that happens with the selfish use of freedom. 
The Apostle Paul isn’t saying that we won’t sin anymore or misuse our freedom anymore if we have faith in Christ, rather he is saying that in Christ we are no longer bound to death instead we are bound to the freedom that Christ gives through his life, death, and resurrection.  We are bound to the type of freedom that happens when we hand to God all that burdens us and holds us back from joy.  This is the mystery of faith. 
Every Sunday we proclaim the mystery of faith in the Eucharistic prayer where we are called back into covenant relationship with God and neighbor, when we are called back into the type of freedom that God envisioned for us in creation, a freedom that is experienced when we love God and each other, a freedom where all of creation is celebrated and remembered as beloved children of God.
As you can imagine, trying to get 4th and 5th graders to make the connection between freedom and the mystery of faith was no easy task.  If I am honest, making the connection between freedom and the mystery of faith isn’t always easy for me either.  The proclamation of this truth is a difficult assignment.  In the Gospel lesson for today, we learn that even Jesus had a difficult time sharing the truth about God’s freedom.  Not only did the people in today’s lesson not understand Jesus but the crowd flat out rejected his truth claim-“they took offense at him.”
How can we, Christ’s Church, proclaim the power of freedom found in Jesus Christ when so many take offense?  While the south might be somewhat insulated from the declining church, it is no secret that the church is losing numbers in the United States.  How can we make the freedom of Jesus ring?  How is God the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth calling us to respond?  For starters, let’s see how God makes freedom ring.  Keep in mind that there is no magic formula.
In the beginning of creation we know that God gave us a choice.  God gave Adam and Eve the power to choose.  In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father gave his sons the power to choose.  God always gives us a choice.  I don’t mean to say that God give us a choice to sin or not sin.  Rather, God gives us a choice to choose life in Christ or life without Christ.  Nonetheless, we are given a choice. 
Our God is not a micromanager.  We have a God who loves us so much that He gave us the freedom to choose.  Our God does not try to manipulate or coerce us rather our God hopes that we choose abundant life in Jesus.
A part of the problem with modern day evangelism is that too much of the time do Christians believe that they can make someone believe, so many Christians think that it is their responsibility to make someone come to faith in Christ.  Not even God has the power to make someone believe because in the beginning God gave humanity the freedom to choose. 
God wants us to experience what it is like to choose, what it is like to find joy in a loving community.  While God doesn’t make us choose, God does help us by showing us what happens when we choose life in God.  God gives us glimpses of what it is like to live free, what it is like to live on earth as in heaven, what it is like to love as Christ loves.  In the Gospels, God reveals these glimpses through stories, through parables.  
Parables do not wrap a neat and tidy bow around answers to our questions.  Instead, parables invite us to experience the joy of discovery as we seek answers to our questions.  Jesus’ parables invite us to live more fully into the mystery and wonder of God and creation.  In short, God calls us into conversation about the beauty of God’s kingdom, into conversation about what the world can and should look like.  This is the way evangelism is meant to happen.
Evangelism calls us into conversation with God and each other about the mystery and wonder of creation as made fully known in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Evangelism doesn’t always have to end in the conversion of thousands of people at one moment; it doesn’t always have to end in conversion, period. 
Evangelism can be as simple as living into our prayers; our prayers remind us to love God and neighbor.  Evangelism can be as simple as taking care of your little part of the world-loving your family, loving your co-workers, loving the stranger you see every day at the coffee shop.  The expression of that love may be as modest as sharing a smile or simply asking someone, “How are you?”
When we show others that we care, that we are genuinely interested in them, people open up, they ask questions in return.  Relationships begin.  Conversations about life begin.  Conversations about God and creation begin.  And suddenly making the connection between freedom and the mystery of faith isn’t so difficult.  Suddenly making freedom ring isn’t so difficult.  God’s freedom starts with mutual, loving relationships and those relationships are made known to us through the model of Christ’s relationship as seen clearly in his life, death, and resurrection. 
Take for example the story about the woman at the well in Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus doesn’t judge the woman for not being ritually pure or for being from the wrong side of the tracks.  Jesus doesn’t tell her she is going to hell.  Instead, Jesus takes a genuine interest in her and asks her questions about her life.  Jesus gets to know her and in turn she gets to know the truth about Jesus.
The truth about God’s freedom shouldn’t be that difficult to understand but for some reason it is.  The truth about God’s freedom is as simple as taking genuine interest in someone, as simple as loving your neighbor.  We complicate God’s freedom when we take away the power to choose, when we take away other’s ability to choose.  We complicate God’s freedom when we think that God’s hope for humanity through the risen Christ is too difficult to communicate.  And when we think that others will take offense at the name of Jesus, we sometimes resort to talking around the name of Christ.  The truth of God’s freedom is simple: love God and love your neighbor through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ who perfected God’s covenant in his flesh and blood. 
To be honest some of the most faithful people I know aren’t smart, they never went to seminary, but they get it, they get what it means to love in both word and deed, they get what it means to return to the Lord’s Table for pardon, solace, strength, and renewal in the covenant of God.
Freedom rings when we choose to delight in the goodness of God and creation.
Freedom rings when someone who is lonely or forgotten is remembered.
Freedom rings when conversations about how the world can look take place.
Freedom rings when the mercy of God in Christ is granted to all who return to Christ in faith. Amen.