Posts Tagged ‘liberation’

Which kingdom?

January 25, 2020

Epiphany 3 – 2020

Matthew 4:12-23

Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us not only to follow but to serve God and serve others. Amen.

 There are a number of benefits to social media, but equally there are a number of downsides. These include bullying, spreading ‘false news’ and creating narratives that do not necessarily reflect the whole picture. This is illustrated to some extent by the content on some of the local sites. There have been a number of break-ins in the area recently and a couple of other nasty situations. Despite information from the police that suggest that the situation is not much worse than previously and that Clayfield and the surrounding suburbs are a safe place to life and/or work; repeated posts on Facebook seem to be creating an atmosphere of fear, which can lead to withdrawal, self-preservation and in turn a lack of compassion.

 It is possible that this was played out in another story that was posted on the same site. It reads: “This morning I witnessed the saddest situation on Seymour road. A young man was laying face down-still on the ground. As I approached in my car I witnessed a couple step over him and continue on their walk…another woman with a dog walk around him, quickening her pace…another gent crossed the road. No one appeared to care.”

Our gospel reading today continues the theme of light that continues through Epiphany. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” Matthew is quoting Isaiah chapter 9. Isaiah is writing in the context of the Assyrian occupation of Israel. He is encouraging the people to maintain their faith in God, reminding them that God will send a king who will defeat the invaders and who will introduce a time of endless peace. Centuries later, Matthew’s audience would have understood that when Isaiah names Zebulun and Naphtali he is referring to the lands promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the lands that Moses saw and into which Joshua led the people of Israel.

In Jesus’ time the promised dawn must have appeared to be a distant hope. Galilee (Zebulun and Napthali) were once again under the oppressive yoke of a Gentile nation. This time it was the Romans. Occupation by the Romans had had more than a demoralizing effect. Under Caesar’s rule farming land had been usurped and given to others, depriving families of a means of earning an income and dependent on others for work. Exorbitant and crippling taxes resulted in poverty which led to poor diets, poor hygiene and therefore to poor health. Into this situation of despair Jesus came – announcing a very different situation – the kingdom of God – the reign of God that would bring restoration and peace, rather than oppression and devastation.

Jesus has barely appeared on the scene when he insisted that the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John, follow him. These four are to be the first of many – women and men – who will be caught up in in vision of God’s rule and whose lives will be given meaning and purpose where before there was only drudgery and hopeless. It was a radical move, but it may not have been as hard as we think for Peter and Andrew, James and John to drop everything and follow Jesus. Fishing was demanding, exhausting and often unrewarding work. As fishermen they might have had a semblance of independence, but their boats were almost certainly owned by a Roman invader to whom they would have owed a percentage of their catch, more of the catch would have gone to pay taxes for using the roads and for selling the fish. At the end of the day there would have been little left for themselves.

Jesus’ confidence obviously attracted the men and what is more, he has offered them a future, a new role – fishing for people – whatever that might mean. Instead of being caught up in an endless, soul-destroying occupation that brought little to no financial reward, instead of a daily grind that barely sustained their families, the brothers are called to a role in the kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim. He must have symbolized the hope of a future that, until now, seemed out of reach. He has given the men a purpose, a reason to hope and to dream. They have no hesitation in joining Jesus in announcing the advent of God’s reign.

No sooner has Jesus begun to gather followers than he begins his mission in earnest – not only teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom but curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

The Roman Empire brought destruction poverty and despair. Jesus brought healing and wholeness. The Roman Empire imposed its rule by force. Jesus drew people to him through empathy and concern. The Roman Empire subjugated conquered peoples to its will. Jesus encouraged loyalty through the power of his presence and his word. The Roman Empire quashed opposition through fear. Jesus did not fear competition but encouraged others to join him in his enterprise. The Roman Empire disempowered it subjects. Jesus gave to his followers meaning and purpose.

The Roman Empire was dominated by fear. Jesus modelled a kingdom governed by compassion. The Roman Empire built walls of self-interest, self-preservation and disdain to isolate themselves from the suffering of the conquered, the poor and the disenfranchised. Jesus opened himself to the misery and pain of the outcast, the marginalised and the oppressed.

The Roman Empire is a distant memory, but we who are followers of Jesus continue to exist in two dimensions – the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. How we respond to threats and how we react to those who are do not fit the norm are a reflection of the kingdom in which we feel most at home. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether we are beginning to pull up the drawbridge to keep ourselves safe or whether Jesus’ love and compassion continues to determine our reaction to others and to the world around us.

Scripture in service of abuse

August 24, 2019

Pentecost 11 – 2019
Luke 13:10-17
Marian Free

In the name of God, Earth-Maker, Pain-Bearer, Life-Giver. Amen.

Here’s a question: “Did you know that there are two versions of the Ten Commandments and, if you did, did you realise that they differ in regard to keeping the sabbath?”

As you know, the Ten Commandments are given to Moses when the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness. When at last they are about to enter the promised land, Moses reminds the people of all that has happened since God led them out of Egypt. In this second version, Moses changes the fourth commandment and provides a different reason for “observing the sabbath and keeping it holy”. Unless it is pointed out to us, we might not notice the difference because, apart from a slight rearrangement of words the two versions are the same apart from the justification. So, when Moses receives the commandments the creation story is given as the basis for sabbath keeping. “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:8) Moses’ farewell speech as recorded in Deuteronomy emphasises the liberation of Israel from Egypt: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” (Deut 5:15)

The two explanations complement rather than contradict each other. Genesis tells us that on the seventh day of creation God blessed and hallowed the day. We are not to understand that God was exhausted, but rather that God was taking the time to revel in all that God had made. The sabbath was intended to be a day of delight, a time to appreciate God’s gifts and to allow oneself to be held in and by the presence of God.

Deuteronomy recounts the tale of liberation– from Egypt, through the wilderness to the present – and God’s role in bringing the people from slavery to freedom in the promised land. Not surprisingly, the sabbath is associated with redemption. It is set aside as a constant reminder that God has set the people from free from slavery – from everything that limits or prevents human flourishing.

The sabbath is God’s gift to God’s people – a day in which to delight in God’s blessings or to remember with gratitude the freedom God has won for them. “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy”.

So far so good, but around 613 BCE it seems that people began to worry about what it meant to keep the sabbath holy, in particular what did it mean to “do no work”. The attempt to define “work” produced rules and regulations that were so detailed and unwieldy with the result that, rather than being a day of rest (of delight or redemption), the sabbath became a day of anxious concern that one or other rule might inadvertently be broken.

It is in this context that we have to read this morning’s gospel. What appears at first glance as a healing story is in reality a story that primarily serves to illustrate the disagreement between Jesus and the leader of the synagogue with regard to the observation of the sabbath. (A debate that is very much in the public domain as we can see through the reaction of the observers). It appears that the synagogue leader views the sabbath commandment through a very narrow and literal lens. He believes (as Jesus points out) that an ox or a donkey can be unloosed and led to water on the sabbath, but because the law has nothing to say on the matter, he refuses to accept that a woman who is bound can similarly be set free on the sabbath in order to be able to make the most of her life.

Jesus has no such difficulty. Informed by both versions of the fourth commandment and by using the refinements that have been added to it, Jesus looses the woman from that which binds her. He liberates her from her ailment, from the ungodly power that has her in its thrall and he sets her free to stand tall and to live life to the full. Surely on this day of redemption, this is the way in which to understand the commandment. The woman is freed to delight in creation – which she does by immediately standing and praising God. The sabbath is the perfect day on which to set someone free!

It is no longer the sabbath law that is misinterpreted and misused. During the course of my own lifetime the church has been forced to acknowledge that our inherited laws had become laws that had power to oppress and even to destroy the lives of many. Battered women were sent home to abusive husbands because of Jesus’ injunction against divorce. Children have been subject to abuse because they were taught not “to talk back” to adults or worse that they had to “honour their father and their mother”. Gay men and women continue to be denigrated and excluded and denied the comfort and joy of being in relationship with one another because the bible says one thing or another.

We must always be on our guard against rigid interpretations of our faith that limit rather than encourage others. It is my belief that scripture should be read through the lens of God’s love and compassion, God’s inclusion of the marginalised and God’s desire for all people to be made whole. The lesson to be learned from today’s and other controversy stories in the New Testament is that scripture can be used as much to bind as to liberate and that the bible can be used as a tool of abuse as readily as it can be used as an instrument of compassion and respect.

Scripture is a tool for liberation and not for oppression. Let us pray that we will never find ourselves guilty of using scripture to limit, to bind or to repress, but only to encourage, to set free and to enliven.

Lent is liberation

February 14, 2018

Lent is Liberation

Ash Wednesday – 2018

Marian Free

 In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

 Last night a few of us gathered to share fellowship and pancakes. The discussion drifted to the question of Lent and what one should give up. There followed a time of sharing our ideas and our practices – giving up and taking up. I was somewhat taken aback when my husband took up his glass of bubbles and suggested that he could take up having a drink and reflecting on his relationship with God. On reflection I realised that there was no reason why this should not be included as a Lenten discipline. If the goal of Lent is to deepen our relationship with God and to reflect on our lives and our shortcomings, then it is important to become less straight-laced and to allow people to think outside the box!

As I further reflected, it occurred to me that a theme for Lent this year could be: “Lent is Liberation”. Lent is liberation from the possessions that chain us and from the feelings that prevent us from moving forward. In this new light, the readings set for today support this view.

Lent is liberation from selfishness and greed, liberation to bring joy and peace and hope to others – that in turn brings joy and peace and hope to ourselves.

Lent is liberation from all the negativity in our lives and liberation to recognise the goodness around us, the possibilities that exist and God’s presence in anything and everything. Paul – that expert in reversal – captures this idea when he reminds that being poor we make many rich, being unknown we are known, and dying yet we live.

Lastly Lent is liberation from hypocrisy, egoism and self-centredness, all that desires the focus to be on ourselves.

Lent is the absolute liberation, joy and wonder of being ourselves – unfettered, unmasked, wanting for nothing but totally content in and reliant on our relationship with God.

May you have a fruitful and constructive Lent.

Bound to the past or liberated to embrace the future?

September 16, 2017

Pentecost 15 – 2017

Matthew 18:21-35

Marian Free


In the name of God whose power to forgive knows no limits. Amen.


There are many powerful stories of forgiveness. A couple of weeks ago I came across this, a true story, told by Richard Rohr remembering his mother’s last hours[1].

He writes:

She was lingering on the threshold, and for several days she had been talking about “a mesh” she couldn’t get through.

I was sitting by her bed, telling her how much I would miss her. She said she wanted to hear that from my father, whom we always called “Daddy.” Of course, Daddy had been telling her that for weeks.

So Daddy came over and effusively told her, “Oh, I’m going to miss ya.”

She replied, “I don’t believe it.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! I said, “Mother, you’re a few hours from death. You can’t say that!”

She persisted: “I don’t believe it.”

Daddy redoubled his efforts: “I ask your forgiveness for all the times I’ve hurt you in our fifty-four years of marriage, and I forgive you for all the times you’ve hurt me.”

I said, “Mother, isn’t that beautiful? Now say that back to Daddy.” And suddenly she clammed up. She didn’t want to say it.

I said, “Mother, you’re soon going to be before God. You don’t want to come before God without forgiving everybody.”

She said, “I forgive everybody.”

I said, “But do you forgive Daddy?” and she became silent again.

Then Daddy jumped in and said, “Honey, I never fooled around with any other women.”

We all knew that. She even said, “Well I know that, I know that.”

My siblings and I still don’t know how Daddy had hurt Mother. But any married person knows there are many little ways a couple can hurt one another over fifty-four years.

Then I said, “Mother, let’s try this. Put one hand on your heart, and I’m going to pray that your heart gets real soft.” I placed one of my hands on hers, over her heart, and held her other hand and started kissing it.

After about a minute she said, very faintly, “That melts me.”


“When you kiss my hand like that, now I’ve got to do it.” After a pause, she continued: “I’m a stubborn woman. All of my life I’ve been a stubborn woman.”

“Well, Mother, we all knew that,” I said. “Now look at Daddy and you tell him.”

So she looked over and she didn’t call him “Daddy,” as she usually did. She spoke to him by name: “Rich, I forgive you.”

I prompted her again: “Mother, the other half—I ask for your forgiveness.”

She started breathing heavily and rapidly. Then she summoned her energy and said, “Rich, I ask your forgiveness.” A few more moments of labored breathing, and she said, “That’s it, that’s it. That’s what I had to do.”

I said to her, “Mother, do you think that was the mesh?”

She replied, “It’s gone! The mesh is gone! And, God, I pray that I mean this forgiveness from my heart.”

Then she said, referring to my two sisters and my sister-in-law, “Tell the girls to do this early and not to wait ‘til now. They’ll understand a woman’s heart and the way a man can hurt a woman.”

Mother was so happy then, and fully ready for death.”


That’s a long story, but it is not uncommon. I have heard many stories of people whose last hours (or last years) and have been dominated by unresolved issues, often an inability to forgive or an unwillingness to let go.

The inability to forgive is at the centre of today’s gospel. The servant who has been forgiven the huge debt seems unable to believe his luck. He just can’t understand that the king would wipe his slate clean and not demand any recompense. There must be a catch. It is either that, or the servant has got it into his head that he had somehow done something to deserve the king’s action. His heart has not been touched by the king’s overwhelming generosity. He remains fearful and anxious that he has lost control. He takes out his anxiety on the second slave thus (in his own mind) regaining control of his life.

The parable ends with the servant’s being thrown into prison, but the reality is that he is already imprisoned by his lack of understanding and his unwillingness and inability to accept the love and goodness that has been offered to him.

The story and the parable provide stark reminders of how easy it is to hold on to our own sense self-righteousness in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary; of our need to be in control instead of trusting that God will make everything right in the end. We hang on to hurts (perceived and real) and fail to see that our small-mindedness, our bitterness and our failure to forgive is as great a sin if not worse than any harm done to us or any offense that we experience. We make up our own minds about our own righteousness in comparison with others instead of allowing God to measure the state of our hearts. The result of such is a narrow, resentful and self-absorbed life that is never able to be truly open, truly free and truly generous. We are as Rohr says: “Frozen in the past.”

The main point of the parable is not that we will be punished if we fail to forgive, but that if we cannot forgive, our lives are already impoverished. If we cannot forgive, we reveal that we simply do not appreciate how much God has already forgiven us, how little we deserve that unreserved (and undemanding) forgiveness and how much more God will forgive us.

If God can forgive us, broken, flawed and undeserving as we are, surely we can extend that to others who are equally broken, equally flawed and equally undeserving.

We forgive, not because we are afraid of hell. We forgive because we recognise our own imperfections and are overwhelmed by the fact that God is able to overlook them. We forgive because holding on to grudges only makes us bitter and warped, mean and hard. We forgive so that the past does not hold us in its grip and we forgive so that we are free to embrace the future in this world and the next.

[1] (Meditation for August 27, 2017)

Exposed for all to see

August 29, 2015

Pentecost 14 – 2015

Mark 7:1-8, 14-23

Marian Free


Lord our God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, we ask you to cleanse us from all hypocrisy, to unite us to our fellow men and women by the bonds of peace and love, and to confirm us in holiness now and forever. Amen.

Last week we looked – in a rather light-hearted way – at a number of the reasons people give for not inviting others to church. As I reflected on some of those reasons, it occurred to me that not one of us mentioned that the church was perceived as hypocritical. In the latter half of the last century if not before, the accusation of hypocrisy was often leveled at the church and used to justify non-attendance. If the subject of church attendance was raised, we were as likely as not to be told: “I don’t go to church, the church is full of hypocrites”. Those who made the accusation felt that the lives of churchgoers did not match the values and morals that they proclaimed to uphold. To be fair, this statement was made in an age in which the church had set itself up as the moral guardian of society at large and not only did many people feel burdened by the sometimes harsh demands placed on them, but on more than one occasion the church or its members had spectacularly fallen from grace. Issues such as fraud, adultery and underage sex all made front-page headlines and demonstrated that even members of the church were unable to achieve the high standards that they set for others.

The reputation of the church was seriously eroded long before the more recent revelations of the prevalence of child sex abuse in the church and its agencies.

It has been a long time since I have heard the hypocrisy of the church used as a reason for someone not to come to worship or as a justification for abandoning the faith. The reason for this is simple. Over the last decade or so the human frailty of the church has been laid bare for all to see. In the light of catastrophic failures such as child sex abuse it has become impossible for the church to continue to claim the high moral ground and difficult for us to impose on others standards of behaviour that we ourselves cannot consistently achieve. Collectively, we have been forced to concede that we cannot always live out what we preach.

I don’t know about you, but I find this new situation strangely liberating. It means is that we no longer have to pretend. Instead of trying to present a perfect face to the world, we can now be honest about our brokenness and frailty. Instead of standing apart from (dare I say above) society as a whole, we can admit our common humanity. Instead of constantly striving to be what we are not, we can finally relax and let people see us as we really are – imperfect, struggling human beings, set apart only by virtue of our belief in the God revealed by Jesus Christ.

While the exterior of the church may be tarnished and our failures laid bare for all to see, we have been set free from the unnecessary burden of pretence. Now that there is no longer anything left to hide, now that it is impossible to pretend that we are something that we are not, we can concentrate on our true vocation – being in a relationship with the God who accepts us as we are, frees us from guilt and fear and challenges us to strive for wholeness and peace – for ourselves and for others.

Our gospel this morning warns us against giving priority to rules in the belief that somehow we can achieve a degree of godliness simply by our own efforts. It is a reminder that it is what we try to be, not what we pretend to be that really matters. Authentic living, the gospel suggests, means that we should not elevate our public image at the expense of an honest and authentic engagement with and identification with the world at large.

These are lessons that for today’s church have been hard-won but, thanks to the failures of the past, it is much clearer now that the church (the Christian faith) is less about codes of behaviour and more about love, less about being good and more about being with God, less about judgement and more about forgiveness, less about guilt and more about acceptance, less about anxiety and more about confidence, less about exclusion and more about inclusion and most importantly that it is less about putting on a face and more about being real.

We come to church, not because we believe that we are better than everyone else, but because we know that we are not. We come to church as we are – broken and lost – knowing that we are assured of a welcome from the God who forgives the sinner, seeks the lost, embraces the prodigal, lifts the fallen and who longs to heal, forgive and restore a humanity that has lost its way.

This is what we (the church) have to offer the world – not a false image of perfection, but an assurance that God who loved us enough to die for us, is waiting with outstretched arms until each of us finds our way home.


As Rowan Williams said in his enthronement sermon: “The one great purpose of the Church’s existence is to share that bread of life, to hold open in its words and actions a place where we can be with Jesus and to be channels for his free, unanxious, utterly demanding, grown-up love. The Church exists to pass on the promise of Jesus – You can live in the presence of God without fear; you can receive from God’s fullness and set others free from fear and guilt.”


How does your garden grow?

June 13, 2015

Pentecost 3 – 2015

Mark 4:26-34

Marian Free

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen. 

For at least the last forty-five years I have been involved in discussions about the future of the church. In particular, I have observed and been party to a lot of navel gazing in relation to declining attendance on Sundays and a variety of suggestions as to how we might halt that decline. Numerous reasons have been offered for this parlous state of affairs – women returning to the workforce, television, Sunday sport and Sunday trading – to mention a just a few. The liturgy has also been blamed for a downturn in attendance. In particular, there are those who express a concern that our form of worship doesn’t appeal to young people. As a consequence there have been a variety of attempts to address this problem, ranging from Folk Masses in the 60’s to Twitter Masses in the last decade.

Focus on the liturgy has not been the only response to this perceived crisis in the life of the church. Programme after programme has been rolled out, each with a degree of optimism that suggests that this time we have the right formula and one that will bring people back to the church. Sadly, over time, these programmes fall into disuse and distant memory as they fail to live up to their promise. Church attendance remains at best static and worse continues to decline.

The cynic in me wonders whether our concern with church attendance has more to do with maintaining the institution of the church than it does with spreading the gospel message, more to do with us and less to do with God. At the very least it implies that without our help God will simply fade into insignificance, that without the church there will be no God!

A perusal of the Gospels reveals that, unlike us, Jesus was not concerned with the religious practice of the people – how often they went to the Temple, or whether or not they attended the synagogue on a regular basis. Jesus seems to be more concerned that the crowds understand the liberating power of the gospel. The Gospels record that Jesus set people free from their diseases and infirmities; he released them from the power of evil spirits and he liberated them from a false understanding of the scriptures and from the misleading teaching of the leaders of the church. Above all, Jesus was concerned that the people fully understood the nature of the Kingdom of God (or heaven).

Jesus himself proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had come near (Mark 1:15) and when Jesus sent out the disciples, he gave them authority over unclean spirits. The disciples proclaimed repentance, cast out demons and anointed and cured the sick (Mk 6:6-13). They did not concern themselves with filling church (synagogue) pews.

Jesus’ primary concern was the Kingdom of God and most of the parables relate to this theme. These parables begin: “The Kingdom of God is like – a sower, a seed, a woman, a shepherd ..”. From all of these images, his listeners were able to build a picture of the kingdom of God in which the lost are sought and found, growth is secret and more abundant than expected, weeds will grow together with the wheat, debts are forgiven and the first will be last. Moreover, the kingdom will be worth more than everything that we own and we will give all that we have to possess it.

The parables do not say or even imply that the Kingdom of God will consist of full churches or of dioceses that are financially secure. The signs of the Kingdom are much more subtle and unexpected. More than that the Kingdom, according to Jesus, is not ours to build, but always God’s. It is the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the church and of church-goers. We seem to have convinced ourselves that the Kingdom is entirely dependent on the existence of the church and lost sight of whose Kingdom it is and that we expend far too much time concerned with the survival of the institution of the church and far too little time announcing the kingdom of God as an alternative to the kingdom of this world.

This morning’s parables are particularly challenging in a climate that is focused on church growth. The first, the parable of the sower, is a stark reminder that the growth of the Kingdom is entirely determined by God and not by human effort (‘the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how’). The second, the parable of the mustard seed, confronts us with the idea that to an untrained eye the Kingdom might look like an insignificant herb or weed – nothing like the images that “Kingdom” usually calls to mind. In other words, whatever the Kingdom is, it will not be as we expect.

In the light of these parables, perhaps it is time that we, the church, stopped looking inwards, trying to tweak what we do on a Sunday morning so that it becomes more attractive to more people; time that we moved out from our beautiful buildings into the communities around us; time that, instead of trying to persuade people to come to us that, we found ways to set people free from the chains of individualism, consumerism, ambition, from oppression, injustice and violence.

Above all it is time to take a deep breath and to remember that it is God (not us) who will cause the Kingdom of God to grow and that in ways that we may not see or understand. It is time to recall that the Kingdom that will be unlike any other Kingdom that has preceded it. If we cannot imagine it, we certainly cannot build it. In other words, perhaps it is time to relax, to stop struggling for survival; to let go and let God and then to watch in amazement to see what God will do and then to go wherever God may take us.

Lent is not about chocolate

March 21, 2015

Lent 5 – 2015

John 12:22-30

Marian Free

In the name of God who raises the dead to new life, and who raises us from our daily deaths to newness of life. Amen.

Some time in recent weeks, I was shown a column in The Courier Mail. It was written by a young man who was making comments about Lent that demonstrated that he not only did his misunderstand the purpose of Lent, but that he had completely missed the point. I don’t have a copy of the article to hand, but as I remember the writer was pointing out how foolish, even meaningless, it was to give up things for Lent. He urged readers to go out and indulge themselves and to ask themselves what made them feel better – going without or indulging?

The article was a stark reminder that a sad reality of today’s world is that the Christian faith has been transmitted in such a way that the faith and its practices are not only misunderstood, but are also, at times, a source of ridicule. I am not precious about my faith and I have no problem with people making fun of it, or of us, when that humour is properly informed. What does disturb me is that sometimes humour slides into misinformed derision. One only has to listen to some of the radio stations favoured by our youth to hear that misconceptions about, and negative attitudes towards, Christianity abound. Worse still, it appears that for a large number of people, such misconceptions are a result of their experiences of the church and its teaching.

This means that if the faith is misunderstood, if a whole generation does not understand what we are on about, and if there are many people in the world who do not respect the Christian faith, then the fault, broadly speaking, lies with us. I would contend that for decades, if not centuries we have failed to share the good news, reducing it to rules and regulations that can deaden rather than enliven. The season of Lent is a good example. There are people who give up something for Lent who then spent the whole of Lent either complaining or boasting about it? Such people give the impression that the discipline of Lent is something that has been imposed rather than freely chosen or implied that it is a burden rather than a form of liberation.

The problem with this is that Lent is NOT about self-abnegation or self-mortification, it is not – I repeat, not- about being miserable or imposed upon. Rather Lent, like all forms of spiritual practice, is a God-given opportunity to grow, to examine our lives, to stop and see whether there are areas in which we can improve, ways in which we can better live out our Christian vocation. If we chose to give up something for Lent it is to facilitate, not hinder, our spiritual development.

Traditionally Anglicans have given up a luxury item for Lent, something that is enjoyable but not essential – chocolate or wine. We might like chocolate or a glass or two of wine, but neither are absolutely necessary to our well-being. Ideally over the course of Lent we learn that we don’t need whatever it is that we have given up, that our lives are not determined by it and that we can live happily and well without it.

It could be argued that chocolate and wine are easy to give up. Other things, those that have the potential to stunt our spiritual growth are much harder to let go of. Such things can be material, emotional or even psychological. They will be different according to the individual. For example, in the gospels, the thing that was holding back the rich young man was his possessions, for the man who wanted to follow Jesus it was his desire to farewell his family and for the man who had been sick for thirty eight years it was his inability to give up his self-identity as someone who was sick.

Through each of these examples, Jesus challenges each of us to consider what it is that is constraining us, what it is that is preventing us from reaching spiritual maturity. So for example, it is possible that some of us are overly concerned with financial security, or that we are in the grip of unhealthy relationships or that we are allowing a long-standing grudge to define who we are in relation to God and to others. These and many other things prevent us from developing fully as human beings and they certainly prevent us from realizing our divine natures.

In today’s gospel Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The language of love and hate is strong to be sure but Jesus uses it to underline his point. We can be so focused the things of this world that we lose the opportunity to be engaged with the world to come. We can be so obsessed with material things that we do not pay enough attention to spiritual things. We can be so wrapped up with the trivia of the everyday that we overlook the bigger picture of a full and happy life.

Jesus says that those who love their life will lose it. He is claiming that those who are bound up with their own issues are not really living. Those who hate their life he says will keep it for eternal life. Jesus is pointing out that those who are dissatisfied with the chains that hold them back, will allow themselves to be changed, transformed and set free to grow. This is the promise – that if we die to ourselves, especially those parts of ourselves that hold us to worldly values and ideals – we will be raised to newness of life – again, and again and again.

What is extraordinary is that iff we have the courage to let go of the things that bind us, we will discover that we lose nothing and gain everything.

When we allow ourselves to be liberated from concerns about wealth, liberated from false sense of responsibility to other and liberated from the emotional baggage that ties us down we are free to grow and to life life to the full. To live as God has always intended us to live – free and happy and content. To live a life that not only gives us everything, but demonstrates to the world how much we have as a consequence of faith. Unless a seed dies …. unless we allow God to change and transform us, the world will never see the privilege and joy that it is to have and to live out our faith.

Free to live

August 24, 2013

Pentecost 13

Luke 13:10-17

Marian Free

In the name of God who sets us free to live. Amen.

In the novel, The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, the Father of one of the characters says: “It is not your position, but your disposition that determines your life.” What he means is, that it is not what life throws at you, but how you respond to your circumstances that makes all the difference. In other words, it is our attitude that makes us better, not bitter. We can’t choose our lives, but we can choose what we make of them. Different people react differently to trauma, grief or incapacity. Some are weighed down by anger, depression and resentment and others are somehow able to rise above their circumstances and not only remain positive, but are able to take lessons from the negative event and to grow from it. It is understandable that people for whom life has been a constant struggle should feel despondent and constrained. Those whose life’s experiences have prevented them  from achieving their full potential sometimes think that they have been short changed, that if only their life had taken a different turn they could have achieved so much more. This, as I have said, is a reasonable reaction, especially if illness, accident or disaster has taken their life in a direction other than they one that they had planned. However, what can happen to such people is that their very negativity exaggerates their situation. Instead of looking at what they can do, they focus on what they can’t do. Instead of looking forward to “what could be”, they spend their time dreaming of what “might have been”. They seem to get stuck, unable to move out of their despair and frustration to make the best of their circumstances however bad they may seem to be. On the other hand their are those whose attitude is just the opposite. In the face of disaster, trauma or adversity, such people exert extraordinary will or simply rely on a positive attitude to surmount their circumstances and to wring out a new, if different, future for themselves. Rather than focusing on the life they might have had, they find a way to make the best of the life they do have. Sometimes, as a result of their struggle, they achieve more, are more creative, more innovative, more driven, than if they had never had to face adversity. The woman in today’s gospel has been bound for eighteen years. When Jesus tells her that she is free from her ailment, he opens up new, unthought of possibilities for life. Healed of her deformity, the woman can now stand up straight. Her world view is no longer confined to the ground beneath her feet. She can once again take in the faces of her family and friends, see the sky, the birds and the trees. Her life is no longer limited by the way that people view her. New vistas of possibility open up, new ways to share in the life of the community around her. She can hold her head up high in her community – both literally and figuratively. It is Jesus’ desire to set us all free – from all the limits that we allow to define and confine us. Jesus challenges us to let go of any events and hurts from the past that we may have allowed to restrict us and sets us free – free to live, free to achieve our full potential, free to make a contribution to the world

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