Sermon September 14: Freedom Song

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Faith United Methodist Church
September 14, 2014
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Exodus 14:19-31, Exodus 15:1b-2, 20-21

Prayer of Illumination:

We believe that God has given us a loving community – the church.  We believe that God has given us a guide for living – the Word.  Let us open ourselves now to the Word, so we may hear God’s message for our lives.  Amen.

Sermon:  Freedom Song  

What does it mean to be free?  The dictionary gives us a few definitions: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government; the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.  Freedom is one of the principles of our country, right?  We fought the Revolutionary War so we could be free from British rule.  We fight terrorists so we can maintain that freedom.  One popular song tells us “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.”  Let freedom ring!  Amen!

But how free are we really?  The United States of America is a wonderful country.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.  Yet even we don’t have a great track record when it comes to freedom.  Slavery was legal in our country a mere 150 years ago.  And even though slavery was abolished in 1865 we still find ways to subjugate and control each other.  Just this week the News brought much needed attention to the issue of Domestic Violence after a video surfaced of Ray Rice punching his fiancé in an elevator.  This led many survivors of Domestic Violence to share their experience of being beaten, controlled, and trapped by their abusers.  Domestic violence includes physical abuse as well as financial abuse, emotional abuse, and isolation ~ not allowing the abused to see family or friends.

And even to think that slavery is a thing of the past would be wrong.  I just finished reading our own John Lucy’s powerful book 27 Million Revolutions for 27 Million Slaves.  In it he recounts his cross-country bike ride to raise awareness about modern-day slavery (also known as Human Trafficking).  In his book he shares stories and statistics about slavery that are eye-opening and horrifying.  In the world today ~ in our country, in our state, and probably even in our town ~ there are slaves.  People entrapped in slavery are forced to do a variety of “jobs” including prostitution, domestic service, and a range of service jobs as well as hard labor.  We might run into slaves as we go about our daily lives, eating out or visiting a nail salon ~ people forced to work for no pay and live in inhumane circumstances in order to line the pockets of their “boss.”  And some of these slaves are just children.

So how free are we really?  Freedom.  Does it really exist?  As the recording artist Solomon Burke wrote, “None of us is free if one of us is chained.”  I think there is wisdom in that statement.  As John pointed out over and over in his book, we all are affected by those who use others for their own gain.  The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the entertainment we enjoy all could be ~ at least partly ~ the product of slaves.  None of us is untouched by slavery.  That’s why we all have to do something about it.

Today’s Scripture lesson continues the story of the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt.   This story reminds us that the abuse of power and control is not a new thing.  The Egyptians used the forced, free labor of the Israelites to build their empire.  Yet God heard the cry of the people and, under the earthly leadership of Moses, set them free.  The passage that we read recounts how the Israelites made a break for it through the Red Sea.  God, through Moses, parted the Sea so they could walk on dry ground.  Yet, when they turned to see the Egyptians chasing them the Scripture tells us, “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea.”

After this amazing liberation the people of Israel sang their first freedom song.  “I will sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory!  Horse and rider he threw into the sea!  The Lord is my strength and my power.”  They gave themselves ~ their trust ~ to God so they could be set free.  What an amazing experience that must have been.  As Kate Huey put it, “They had lived their entire lives under the heel of this mighty empire, so they were well acquainted with what it could do.  However, they were still learning just what their God could do, and how small and powerless the mighty Egyptians would soon appear.”  Moses and Miriam and all the people danced and sang on the bank of the Sea. They were freed so they could give themselves fully to God.

Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.  Freedom is a principle not only of our country, but of our faith.  God freed the Israelites from their bondage.  Jesus frees us from our sin.   We are lucky ~ blessed even ~ to live in a free country.  Yet so many people still live without basic freedoms ~ the freedom to act, the freedom to think, the freedom to worship without hindrance or restraint.  None of us is free if one of us is chained.

So look at your life and ask what enslaves you?  What separates you from giving yourself freely to God?  Are you enslaved by the desire for more?  By a craving for security?  By a longing for acceptance or appreciation?  And where do you support the systems of our society that keep others enslaved?

As our Seasons of the Spirit put it, “God continues to save and we are called to faith in such freedom.”  Our systems of enslavement, our tendency to use power to control others, can change.  This is the Good News. Freedom is not just for some.  Freedom should be ~ must be ~ for all.   As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  It won’t be easy, but neither was parting the Red Sea.  With God, though, it is possible.  When all are unchained then we can sing with Moses and Miriam a true freedom song. “I will sing to the Lord, for an overflowing victory!  The Lord is my strength and my power.”  Amen.