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Faith / Freedom October 6, 2013

October 6: World Wide Communion  Faith/Freedom  Psalm 66; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; 2:8-15

Story

George had several friends who enjoyed his stories and having fun with him.  One day a new student, Aaron Eaglefeather, came to their class who was from the Siksika Reserve.  A couple of other students decided to make fun of him and refuse to let him play with them, and they told the other students not to play with Aaron either.  George thought this was wrong and decided to play with Aaron anyway.  At first no one else played with them.  George’s friends began to miss his stories, and, one by one, they started joing Aaron and George.  After a couple of weeks, everyone was playing with them except for the two boys who wanted Aaron left out.

Prayer:  Loving God, help; us be brave to do what is right.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer:  Loving God, society discourages us from being true to ourselves, and true to you.  We often make decisions and choose actions that make it easier for us to avoid making waves with neighbours, families, friends and others rather than do what we really believe is right.  We avoid generousity out of fear of being taken advantage of, avoid speaking out on justice issues for fear of criticism, and choose  to buy things we do not need in order to look good to others.  We need you to grow our courage and wisdom so we may live true to ourselves and to you, even it results in being exiled by others.  Holy One, hear our prayers.

Message:  Faith / Freedom

When Stella was dating the man who became her husband, they had supper several times at his parents’ house, and the meal always included cabbage rolls, and he always had seconds.   She thought he really liked cabbage rolls, and, even though she hated making them, she would make them once a week for him.  After a year, he asked her not to make any more cabbage rolls.  She asked why, and he said it was because he never liked them.  He would have seconds at his parents’ because he thought his mother expected him to, and he didn’t want to disappoint her.  His mother found out Stella quit making cabbage rolls and asked her son about it.  He confessed he never liked cabbage rolls, and only ate them to please her.  She started laughing and crying.  She told him she also hated making them, and would only make them when he was there for supper because she thought he loved them.

True, enduring wealth is being free to be ourselves wholely.  Out of our feeling of personal completeness/wholeness, when we live true to ourselves, we draw on energy, strength, endurance and further wisdom.  We become free to see events as they really are, and free to choose our own responses to those events.

Unfortunately, religions have developed a reputation in which faith is seen as suppressing our personal freedom.  The reality is that deep faith can be the key to achieving genuine personal freedom.  Achieving personal freedom takes courage, confidence and wisdom.  One source of these is faith based on a relationship with God, and, for Christians, Jesus provides us with a model and mentor.

His story includes both the costs and benefits of gaining this kind of wealth.

Today is World Wide Communion Sunday, reminding us of a price he paid in exercising his freedom to be whom he was. At the same time, we see the inner peace and personal integrity he gained.

For Paul or his follower, whoever wrote the letters to Timothy, faith development and living required many things.  Leaders who directly or indirectly promote envy, controversy, bad-mouthing and suspicious rumours are to be rejected.  He condemns those who see religion as a way to make a fast buck.  The life he offered was a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.

In the second letter to Timothy, he asked Timothy not be be embarrassed to speak up for Jesus; to be prepared to share in the suffering of those who follow Jesus.  And he offered a short synopsis of faith: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light through the work of Jesus.

Faith allows us to defeat the fear of death, a fear that often sabotages abundant living.   In the conclusion to our last reading from 2 Timothy, Paul warned against pious nit-picking which chips away at faith.

In my experience, personal freedom grounded in faith flowing from a relationship with God needs us to be brave, thoughtful, and aware.  It is safe and easy, in the short run to see the world and events and people in it the way we have been taught.  It is dangerous to dare to see the world the way it really is.

Families are the basic units of society.  As such they are the primary source of nurture, care and guidance for life in the world.  In addition, families are the primary unit for tyranny. Children who see the wrong in some aspect of their families experience pressure to conform to the family’s views and expectations.

Some families provide the freedom to express personal views and to pursue truth and being true to oneself.  Some families do not.  In those families, children who question the beliefs or practices of the family can experience a variety of punishments, exile, or even death.  While the focus lately is primarily on Muslim families, there is little done in Muslim or Hindu families that was not done in the past, and sometimes still in the present, in some Christian families.  It takes courage, wisdom, and patience for children in these families to do what they believe is right with God.

We look wider and see the importance of community.  The reality is that some communities are toxic and harmful to many or most of the people in them.  The community of Bounty in BC is just one of many such communities.  Dolly Parton’s songs speak to many of the ways in which communities can hurt rather than help people.  It can take enormous courage for people to challenge the beliefs and practices in these communities.

And we can look wider to nations, economic systems, and so on.  After 9/11, anyone who questioned the correctness of the American response risked criticism and beatings for daring to express their views.

Clear vision allows us to see what actually happens to people, not what we are taught to believe.  Socially acceptable prejudices in the past against First Nations, Jews, Blacks, Asians, women and homosexuals in the past are mostly now recognized for what they were and are:  personal failings at accepting the equality of all people, and personal failings in allowing individual fears and hates to cause harm to others.

My theme from September through November is Exile:  Bondage or Freedom?  When, in choosing to be true to ourselves, our family, community, or nation chooses to exile us, our possible responses are many.  Some people feel trapped by their exile, and feelings of anger and despair can dominate their lives.  Others see it as an opportunity to truly be themselves, free of the restrictions they were experiencing.  They seize the freedom to learn and to grow as people.  Many of our major Christian denominations grew out of the exile experience.  The early Christians were exiled from the synagogues.  Lutherans and Reform Christians were exiled by the Roman Catholic Church.  Anabaptists were exiled by the Reform Churches and attacked by Catholics, Lutherans and Reform.  Methodists were exiled by the Anglican Church.  The Swiss inventor of quartz watches was exiled by the Swiss watchmakers.

Being true to ourselves carries many different risks, and many opportunities.  One role for the church is to be a place that supports people in their pursuit of a right relationship with God and with themselves.  Sometimes this support may be in the form of questions that help people clarify and test their beliefs or actions.  Sometimes it may be in the form of developing communication and other skills that help people usefully express their beliefs or refine their actions.  This includes Christ-centered parenting programs, and please do not confuse Christ-centered with Christian.  It may be in providing opportunities for various kinds of missions that can help test and refine beliefs and learn about one’s true self.

Individually and as faith communities, Jesus offered freedom and right relationships.  While there are many paths to freedom, faith is an important one to us.  Thanks be to God!

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