May 12, 2013  — EASTER 7

Rev. David Boyd

 

One of the poets I've enjoyed reading over the years is Rumi. I don't always understand his poetry and have to sit with it for a while before it sinks in, but I love that quality of having to think about things. The beginning of the last chapter of the book we're reading in our Thursday morning book group, Saving Jesus from the Church, begins with a Rumi poem:

Are you jealous of the ocean's generosity?
Why would you refuse to give this love to anyone?
Fish don't hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.

Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet, who was also a jurist, a theologian and a Sufi mystic. In 2007 Rumi was named the "most popular poet in America." Rumi's full name is Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkh or also known as Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī. His works have become very important in the mystical/spiritual path for us in many different spiritual traditions.

What I like about the poem I just shared is the last line, "They swim the huge fluid freedom."

When you hear the word "Freedom," what comes up? One of the things that comes up for me is the song by Richie Havens sung at Woodstock in the 60's. It's based on the spiritual, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." There's another song that comes out of Africa that has been sung by many choirs called "Freedom is coming." The Iona Community adopted this song and has promoted its use around the world. When I hear the word "Freedom" I think of Martin Luther King Jr., and his call for freedom for the African Americans in the 50's and 60's. There are lots of ways to think about freedom.

Freedom, as well as being a right for all in our world, is a spiritual value. Freedom in the Spirit is an important spiritual value that opens us to appreciate life and feel a sense of gratitude. Paul spoke about freedom in Christ in Galatians when he wrote, "for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be fastened to the yoke of slavery... For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; do not use your freedom for self-indulgence, but be servants of one another in love." (5:1 & 13)

I don't know when Paul was writing to the Galatians whether he was thinking about the incident involving him and Silas and the woman in bondage that is told in Acts. Galatians is Paul's most personal letter. This passage from Acts is all about freedom, those who are indentured or in economic slavery being set free. Paul and Silas free the woman from her enslavement and plant seeds of freedom in those who would keep this woman in slavery. And then, when Paul and Silas' freedom is taken away, they find their freedom, not in some magical way like an earthquake, but in a real way by deciding to take responsibility for those who were jailed thereby preserving the jailor's life. This is obviously a story that asks the question, "What is freedom."

Freedom in Christ is the freedom to be who we are, in love. Freedom is where all are valued for who they are, in love. Freedom is about choosing life and hope and living beyond categories. Paul got at that when he said that in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female. These were the kinds of categories that Paul knew in that ancient world.

Freedom is about stewardship. We are free to be who we are. We are free to be in community with all. We are free to worship and pursue our spiritual path. We are free to give of our lives, not from what is left over but from what we have. We are free to be one, as Jesus prayed in John's Gospel.

I admit that we are fortunate in that we don't know what it is like to live where we are enslaved, where we do not live in a free society, and where we aren't protected by a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But I do know what it is like, as Paul said, to be held captive by my own self-indulgence, by my own appetites. Sometimes, my own self-indulgence leads me down the path of pessimism and cynicism. I can eat too much. I can be imprisoned by my anxieties or my imperfections. I can be enslaved by my need to be right.

But then I feel the Spirit blow through the wilderness. I remember the words of Paul about being free in Christ. I remember Jesus saying words to the effect that "we are not defined by our past; tomorrow is a new day to begin again." I try to be grateful for this moment and things change, the enslavement leaves and I feel free.

In the story from Acts, what was it that Paul and Silas and the other prisoners were doing? They were singing songs of praise "for the privilege of being God's servants in the face of injustice," writes Brian Peterson at workingpreacher.org. When one feels gratitude, one can be free. It is hard to feel free when one feels despair or hopelessness or cynicism. I think again of Nelson Mandela, who though he was imprisoned, was free... and what a difference that made for him. Or Terry Waite, who was imprisoned for so long; I remember hearing him say something about feeling empathy for his captors and grateful for each day he was alive. Isn't that freedom? I mentioned the poetry of Julia Esquival earlier in Lent; even in the most repressive times of Central America, she wrote about gratitude and freedom. Rumi writes that we shouldn't feel constrained by jealousy of the ocean's generosity. If love is all around us, as it is!, then why would we refuse to give this love away—a stewardship question.

I remember the first time I marched in the Gay Pride parade here in Nelson, which was also the first one in this community. I had already been vilified for my stance by other churches in our community. I was anxious that all of us who marched were going to be booed and vilified more. I was anxious for the safety of my gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. And yet, when we marched, it was freeing. The parade was open and welcoming and the people of Nelson were open and welcoming for the most part. We could all be who we were and dance and feel safe together. There was an ocean of love in which to swim and re-discover freedom and hope. In that parade that day, surrounded by love, we chose to give the love away.

This is the third week in our stewardship campaign. Because we are free in Christ to be who we are, to be in love with each other, to seek what it means to be one, and to seek freedom for all creation, we give away this love to everyone. Christ gave away love and lived free. Paul gave away love and lived free. We give away love—we share our gifts from the depths of our hearts—and we live free. We share our talents and our lives... and we live free!