July 5, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text: Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 15 & 22 & 23
I want you to know that I spent 2 hours, and I am not exaggerating….. searching for a new, funny, appropriate 4th of July joke to tell you, since I know that’s what you all remember! There are none! Here goes the best I could come up with:
Why are there no knock knock jokes about America?
Because Freedom rings!!!
See, I told you it was lame! That came from my son Gregg who was helping me seach!
A wave of patriotism sweeps across the nation on this weekend, the 239th birthday of America. Our hearts swelled with pride as we raised the flag, watched the parade and sang God Bless America, our national anthem and other patriotic songs. Perhaps it brought tears to our eyes, as we gathered in our hometowns and celebrated together the things we love about our country. It’s such fun to see people decorating their bikes, dogs, kids, cars, horses, trucks, golf carts….tossing candy and playing My Country ‘Tis of Thee on kazoos ! It’s heartwarming to see generations coming together to celebrate with family and friends in special places like Biddeford Pool and Ocean Park.
In the wake of devastating acts of hatred and destruction and escalating racial tension, it’s a refreshing break to celebrate together the good things…. to wave the flag and create a positive flow of energy. For most of us, this is our home…..the land of our birth….it’s where we have chosen to spend our lives…. and we love it, even though it is not perfect. We treasure the freedom we enjoy, and on this day we pause to remember all those who have worked, fought and died that we can live free.
One of my favorite books, written by Robert Hamma is called Landscapes of the Soul, a spirituality of place. His first chapter is entitled “ Place Matters”. Where we choose to live, visit or vacation….where we grow up…..where significant events in our life take place…. are very instrumental in shaping who we are, how we feel… our happiness, security, comfort….or our sense of isolation and loneliness, restlessness. As I watch the horde of tourists descending on Old Orchard Beach and Ocean Park every summer, I am struck by how fortunate I am to live here by the sea in Maine….and how often I forget that! In spite of the multitude of mosquitoes, people flock here to get their beach, nature and seafood fix….to experience the more relaxed atmosphere of Maine…. and recall past memories…. of significant life events that happened here. And one of the delightful features of Ocean Park is that is hasn’t changed much at all in the last 60 years or more! You can return to this place and step back in time…and relive your memories. Place matters. And we are shaped by the places where we live, and the people who are our community. The freedom we enjoy in this place, provides countless opportunities for enrichment and happiness. We are blessed.
Thomas Merton shares a particularly significant “place experience” in this passage from his diary: “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.”
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the midst of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even if we were perfect strangers. It was like waking up from a dream of separateness, of self –isolation in a special world, the world of supposed holiness. Then it was as if I simply saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depth of their hearts where neither sin or greed can reach…the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.”
I often have thoughts akin to that on the 4th of July, either in Biddeford Pool or in Ocean Park. For on that day… at parades and family gatherings and fireworks, we are all cheering for America…..there is a camaraderie that is contagious, a mutual sharing of happiness and hope for peace across this nation. For a brief time, we ALMOST forget all the hate crimes, racial tension, devastated lives, political and religious conflicts …and we have a beautiful sense of oneness. Unity. We’re on the same side! How excellent it would be if we could capture these marvelous feelings and let them be an ongoing mantra for our daily lives and interactions.
If we could continue to see one another through God’s eyes and embrace the realty of family…. the importance of connectedness….of working together for peace and justice.
I read a daily blog called the Optimizer by Brian Johnson. Friday’s message was a perfect one for my message today. This is what he shared: First from Dave Ramsey, taken from Entre Leadership.
One of the largest, strongest horses in the world is the Belgian draft horse. Competitions are held to see which horse can pull the most, and one Belgian can pull eight thousand pounds. The weird thing is if you put two Belgian horses in the harness who are strangers to each other, together they can pull twenty to twenty-four thousand pounds. Two can pull not twice as much as one but three times as much as one. This example represents the power of synergy. However, if the two horses are raised and trained together they learn to pull and think as one. The trained, and therefore unified, pair can pull not only twenty-four thousand pounds but will hit thirty to thirty-two thousand pounds. The unified pair can pull four times as much as a single horse. They can pull an extra eight thousand pounds simply by being unified.”
Then from leadership guru Stephen Covey:
“Synergy is everywhere in nature. If you plant two plants close together, the roots co-mingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated. If you put two pieces of wood together, they will hold much more than the total weight held by each separately. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One plus one equals three or more.”
See…. 1 + 1 doesn’t always equal 2!
A young girl was working so diligently at her homework that her father became curious and asked her what she was doing.
“I’m writing a report on the condition of the world and how to bring peace,” she replied.
“Isn’t that a pretty big order for a young girl?” her father asked.
“Oh, no,” she answered, “and don’t worry. There are three of us in the class working on it!”
The passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that Caryn read this morning is one of the most important in all of his letters, I think.
He is discussing freedom…. a precious commodity, one that we celebrate this weekend as Americans….and as people of God. We enjoy spiritual freedom. Paul writes in verse one: You are free! Christ has set you free!
Paul was addressing an insidious argument going one between the Jewish Christians in the community and the newly converted Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians were saying that in order for a Gentile to become a “true” Christian, they had to submit to the laws, customs and rituals of Judaism. Paul argues that’s not necessary. And to do so is simply binding yourself with fetters which have already been broken and cast off. Jesus’s teachings and lifestyle had set them free from that legalism and offered relationship with God to all people.
However….and very important is the fact that freedom requires discipline.. we are called to be responsible. Look at verse 13. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, be servants of one another.”
Freedom does not give us license to lift all restraints and do what we please without regard for others. Paul says that the criterion to guide our Christian freedom is love. See it there in verse 14:
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ Interestingly, this is the love that was defined in the law by God to Moses in Leviticus 19:18; and reiterated by Jesus in Mark 12: 29 — 31. Paul simply restates it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is a touching story that has floated around the internet written by a Viet Nam Vet. In it he recounts how as a 19 year old kid, he was critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Ia Drang Valley on November 14, 1965. Their unit was outnumbered 8 to 1. The enemy fire was so intense, from 100 to 200 years away, that his Infantry Commander ordered the MediVac helicopters to stop coming in. His family was 12,000 miles away and he knew he’d never see them again.
Over the machine gun noise, he faintly heard the sound of a helicopter. He looked up to see an un-armed Huey, but it didn’t seem real, because there were no Medi-Vac markings are on it. Inside was Ed Freeman. He wasn’t Medi-Vac. It wasn’t his job. But he flew Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the Medi-Vacs were ordered not to come.
He came anyway. He dropped it in and sat there in the machine gun fire, as they loaded 2 or 3 soldiers on board. Then he flew out through the gunfire, to the doctors and nurses. And he kept coming back, 13 more times and took 30 soldiers who would never have gotten out without him.
Congressional Medal of Honor Ed Freeman, died March 25th, 2009 at the age of 80, in Boise, ID. He exemplifies someone who went back to help set others free and bring them home. (4) Think about what freedom meant to those men and their families. How precious. Imagine the depth of Ed Freeman’s courage and love for his fellow soldiers.
This is what Jesus meant when he said we would save our lives by losing them. If we give our life in love to others, we will find it. But as Paul said in verse 15, “If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” And sadly, we know, there is still a whole lot of biting going on. And also, a whole lot of loving. We must not forget that!
The genius of God’s plan is obvious. If we recognize that we are all members of the same family, if we acknowledge that God desires to hold us in a single peace then, ideally, we will stop fighting with and destroying each other and instead begin standing in solidarity with one another….. working together. That is patriotism for me. It’s not just the enthusiastic celebration of the birth of our nation, which is important for sure…….it is nurturing our nation to grow in peace with justice for all. It is encouraging reconciliation …. the coming together of opposing camps to see the advantage of working together for the good of all.
Reconciliation is not requiring everyone ‘sing’ in unison. It is to enable everyone to ‘sing’ in harmony. Reconciliation doesn’t erase differences; it seeks to bring them into workable accord.
Perhaps you have been out to California and seen these gigantic huge redwood trees. They are some of the most amazing trees in all of the world. As a matter of fact, they are the largest living things on earth and the tallest trees on this planet. Some of them are 300 ft. high and over 2,500 years old. The inside of some of the trunks are so huge that two or three people can stand inside of them….even a car can drive through some of them!
Now you would think that trees this large must have a tremendous root system that reaches down hundreds of feet into the earth; but not so! The redwoods have a very shallow root system unlike the palm tree, whose taproot goes down into the ground as deep as the tree is tall. In other words, a 30 ft. palm tree has a 30 ft. root. The redwood has no taproot at all. That’s why you will never see a redwood standing alone—never. They are always in clusters, groups, and groves.
The secret of the strength of the Redwood is this: For every foot in height, the redwood tree sends its roots not down, but three times that distance…out! In other words, if a tree is 300 ft. tall, its roots go 900 ft. out.
If you could look underground you would find all of the roots of all of those trees intertwined so that one tree is not holding up itself, but every tree is holding up the other. These trees are literally locked to each other so there is no way that one tree can fall down; it is held up by the strength of the other trees.
That is the real secret of the strength of a nation, of a state, of a community, of a church….of a family.
What a beautiful metaphor for the web of connection that can support and sustain us as a people of God… as a nation and as a faith community. We are all connected and the actions of one will affect the quality of life for all….for good or evil. And though we have different beliefs, political and theological perspectives, we believe in a God of love who calls us into partnership….. . to be a unifying force for goodness and light in a world too often consumed by darkness and divisiveness. “ To these things be true: “Love your neighbor as yourself….and let your daily lives reflect the delicious, healthy fruits of the Spirit of which Paul writes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we choose to be true to these things, then we will all be free. Amen.