That song, Me and Bobby McGee, was written by Kris Kristofferson in the late 1960’s. In typical Country style, it tells the story of two drifters, the narrator, and his girlfriend Bobby McGee. They travel across the southern United States basically as vagrants – living the dream of many – the freedom of the open road – hitching a ride in a diesel truck. As they travel, the couple grows closer, helping each other through the hardships of life.
Bobby eventually gets tired of life on the road and wants to settle down. The narrator doesn’t, and so they part ways. The song ends with the narrator regretting leaving Bobby, saying he would “trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”
He thought he had his freedom back when he left the girl behind, but in the end, it destroyed him. He had lost everything that really mattered. Freedom, to him, was now just another word for nothing left to lose.
Is that really what freedom is? Having nothing left to lose?
The very word “freedom” resonates with millions of people all over the world in a way quite like no other word. TV commercials try to convince us that buying a certain car, or a certain insurance, or visiting certain websites will add an element of freedom to our lives. Financial institutions try to convince us that if we just do things their way, we’ll have freedom when we’re 55 … or for some of us, more like, 95 ….People celebrate their country’s independence with songs of “freedom”. Politicians, businesspeople, advertisers, salesmen … they all know how to use “freedom” to attract attention and draw our interest.
Wars are fought for it.
People have been seeking it for millennia.
Over 3 thousand years ago, the Hebrew people suffered in bondage in Egypt. They yearned for freedom. God sent a man named Moses who demanded of Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”
When Pharaoh refused, God delivered.
A thousand years later, the people were suffering under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. God sent a man named Jesus, who announced that he had been anointed by the Holy Spirit
“to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives. . .to let the oppressed go free.”
This same liberating Jesus would later say to his closest followers, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . .so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Freedom. ….an idea that originates in the very heart of God.
In the beginning, when God created humankind, God could have made us puppet-like, so that whenever God wanted us to do something, God would just pull a string and we would do it. But what kind of relationship would that be? Instead, we are given freedom of choice, which is often a double edged sword …
In our scripture reading this morning, Paul is writing to the Galatians, and it would appear that the church is divided into camps …. Imagine … a church where not everybody agrees on things ….. There were those who believed that freedom was basically a license to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. Paul’s response to that camp was:
“Do not use your freedom for self-indulgence, but through love, become slaves of one another, for the whole law is summed up in this single commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Another camp in the church in Galatia was made up of those who thought it imperative to adhere to the requirements of religious ritual, the most significant of which was circumcision. That crowd would have said that freedom in Christ is all well and good, but that they felt much more secure remaining inside the old prison of a thousand do’s and don’ts. Imagine … a church that resisted change …
Paul was passionately convinced that observing the ritual or not observing it really was of no consequence. According to Paul, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
And this love isn’t the romantic soft music and flowers kind of love. It’s the love that Jesus spoke of when he gave the great commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind … a love that speaks more to moral principles than emotion.
A 20th century theologian put it this way: “Basically love means . . being responsible, responsible to our family, toward our civilization, and now by the pressures of history, toward the universe of humankind.”
And in that love, is freedom.
To be truly free really means to be liberated from the prison of “me, myself, and I”. To be truly free is to be able to move beyond the self and to give oneself to the demand of service. To be free is to be free for responsibility, not from responsibility.
God made us as one human family, irrevocably bound to one another in God’s heart and mind right from the very beginning so that we are by nature inclined toward one another. The need of the other is really our own need. The need of your neighbour is your need. The suffering of the other is, in a real sense, our own suffering. The suffering of my neighbour is my suffering.
By the will of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, freedom and responsibility belong together in our lives and in the life of our faith communities.
Our freedom … freedom in faith … is framed by a covenant, by a love of God. It is freedom to act within the context of a relationship with God, a relationship of love.
In his letter, Paul reminds the people of Galatia that we are called to respond to a loving and graceful God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. That means that we are to show respect for our neighbors and ourselves. That means we are to want to help our neighbor – no matter how different from us that neighbour might be. We are free to be more freely loving; and if we are more freely loving, we will be a people who seek a more just and supportive society in which people, to use Paul’s words, “no longer bite and devour one another.”
As the Apostle Paul ends our text for today, he writes, “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These are not laws for behavior, but rather, they are the characteristics of those who, in their freedom, are open to and responsive to the creative spirit of God.
These characteristics … these fruits … are grown … not manufactured, or build or bought. The seeds are in us, and they need to be nurtured …. prayer, meditation, worship, study, doing the Spirit’s bidding ….
Paul contrasts these fruits with what he calls the works of the flesh: dissension, immoral behaviour, selfishness, envy, hatred…the list goes on
These, too, are grown … and have to be nurtured in us in order to have life.
There is an old Cherokee legend called “The Wolves Within” that speaks of these things:
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, “Let me tell you a story.
I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do.
But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy.
It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die.
I have struggled with these feelings many times.”
He continued, “It is as if there are two wolves inside me.
One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.
Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, “The one I feed.”
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Wonderful things that grow in us – if we let them
Fruits of the Spirit grown in those who, in their freedom in Christ, are open to and responsive to the creative spirit of God.
I started with the song by Kris Kristofferson that suggests that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” …
I would suggest that quite the opposite is true … real freedom …freedom in Christ … offers more than we can possibly begin to imagine. The world is so much bigger and the possibilities so much greater when, in freedom, the focus of life becomes the other …
And there is a whole world out there … waiting for each and every one of us to embrace and live in the freedom in Christ…needing each of us to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Needing us to welcome the newcomer into our communities.
Needing us to encourage one another when times are not so great … and to share in the joys when they come …
Needing us to not sit silently in the background as people in this, the 21st Century, continue to be tortured and killed because of their sexuality, because of their faith, because of who they are ….
May each of us continue to nurture the seeds of Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
And may your freedom continue to open a world of possibilities.