Today we are going to be continuing the sermon series that we started last week---a sermon series entitled, "What's Next?"
This series is focused on a challenging issue that we are facing in our current culture. How do we discover purpose and direction in life when everything we used to use as a guide to doing just that has changed?
Today we're going to be talking about the idea of true freedom---the freedom to hope, the freedom to dream, and the freedom to become the people God longs for us to be.
Before we dive into our text today, let me just take a few moments to talk about decision making in the age of COVID.
During seasons of stress and uncertainty, it becomes difficult at times to make decisions that we feel confident about. If you are feeling the weight of this challenge, I salute you, because I definitely feel the same.
I've discovered that even the simplest decisions have become more challenging lately.
Like which mask to wear...
What kind of lighting I need to look less cadaverous on video calls...
Which Zoom background to use...
Whether or not I need to wear actual pants...
Maybe some of you resonate with these challenging decisions.
The fact of the matter is, many of us are not just struggling with minor things like I described... we are struggling with bigger decisions as well. We look forward with uncertainty, and with that comes a certain amount of dread, and the diminishment of hope.
We feel powerless and trapped. We don't feel free to move.
Which is not surprising, considering our circumstances, and also considering the psychology of freedom itself.
In a recent study done by the University of Pennsylvania, psychologists and researchers identified four basic factors that contribute to a perceived loss of freedom when it comes to hopeful decision making:
Stress, Risk, Anxiety, and Lack of Control.
It's no wonder so many of us are feeling like we no longer have the freedom to be hopeful, to move forward to trust that we can make good decisions about the future. Every single one of those things is at play in our current culture---all around us, all the time.
Everything is adding to people’s baseline level of stress and emotional reactivity, and the threshold for people to become emotionally upset is lower,” says CTSA Director Lily Brown. “Things that ordinarily might not affect them are much more impactful because everyone is at their wit’s end.” - University of Pennsylvania
Like everyone else, those of us who claim to follow Jesus have been all over the map when it comes to our responses to all of this. Some of us have remained reasonable, and thoughtful, some have succumbed to desperation and have become isolated and afraid, and some have responded by being defiant and reckless.
I was driving through a rural part of Texas recently and saw a huge billboard that was credited to a Christian organization that had these words emblazoned on it: Faith over Fear.
I got to thinking about this and what they actually were trying to say. It made me do a quick online search for similar billboards, and I found these...
But is this actual freedom? When someone says, "Faith over Fear! If I get COVID and die it's God's will?" is that really an admirable thing?
Let me share some 16th-century wisdom with you from Martin Luther, who addressed something very similar during one of the many pandemics of his age. Luther was responding to people who were acting recklessly because He wrote:
Others sin on the right hand. They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are. They say that it is God’s punishment; if he wants to protect them he can do so without medicines or our carefulness. That is not trusting God but tempting him. . . .
My question is this... While it might be true that we have the "freedom" to do as we please, is that true freedom? And in my mind, the answer is unequivocally "No."
And so today we're going to explore what true freedom means. Our key verse comes from 2 Corinthians 3:17 which reads: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And this is the big idea that we're going to be guided by in our exploration:
True Freedom Is A Spirit-led Feeling.
Here's the whole verse that we're looking at today:
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
This verse is part of a larger exhortation to Christians in the city of Corinth---an ancient and cosmopolitan city that was full of all kinds of pressures to conform to the whims of the Empire.
For these Christians, there was considerable anxiety in a world where their actions were often misinterpreted by their neighbors as unpatriotic, anti-family values, against the status quo, and sometimes downright seditious. The will of the Emperor, and the worship of the Emperor where hopelessly conflated by most people.
To deny the supremacy of the Emperor was something that could get you ostracized at the very least and maybe even executed at the worst.
So Paul is writing to these embattled people who are struggling to find hope in the midst of an uncertain world, and he tells them that they have the freedom to hope in spite of their circumstances.
Paul wants the Christians in Corinth to understand something very important. They have no reason to be timid or anxious in the way they exercise their hope. They can be courageous. They can be bold.
This isn't about recklessness, mind you. Paul never once advised the members of the various churches he mentored to be obnoxious, arrogant, or divisive. Quite the contrary. He wanted them to be good neighbors, good citizens---and to live peaceably with everyone... as much as they were able to do.
But he wanted them to know that when they followed the leading of the Spirit, it would lead them to freedom... freedom from worry, freedom from anxiety, freedom from the fear of the future. Conversely, the Spirit would lead them to freedom to love... freedom to joy... freedom to hope.
Paul says to Christians, "We should no longer look at the world behind a veil of fear and timidity because there is a call being placed upon us as followers of Jesus to live our faith out in life-giving, hope-centered ways."
Basically, Paul is teaching all of us:
Freedom from fear and anxiety in a world full of uncertainty is possible in the Spirit-filled spaces created by hope.
So how can you be led by the Spirit to those spaces of freedom and hope?
Clear Vision - lift the veil of fear and see the world with new eyes. Let go of the old way of seeing that clouds us from perceiving the Spirit. This isn't about living recklessly, it's about living courageously, which sometimes means we have to let our own junk go.
Open Hands - this is all about generosity, selflessness, serving. When we step outside of ourselves and begin to acknowledge the hurting, the woundedness of others, we are able to more easily use our open hands to boldly serve in the places where the Spirit leads us.
Softened Hearts - to do this, we need to have a willingness to change and have an openness to transformation. If we are not willing to have our mind renewed to the mind of Christ---we will continue to be trapped by fear. True freedom comes when we surrender to the Spirit's leading.
This is your assignment this week. Memorize this verse...
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
Pray this all week this week. Make it your mantra. Begin and end your day with it. Pray it when you feel afraid and immobilized. And let yourself be led by the Spirit of God to newfound hope.
Because true freedom is a Spirit-led feeling.