My friend Katie was a youth pastor in Pensylvania and unlike our church, her church were not as supportive of their youth ministry. But they allowed a Youth Sunday every year although people didn’t expect much substance from the message that day. Little did they know they were going to be severely challenged. The young woman who spoke that day spoke on Matthew 6:24 when Jesus said: “you can’t serve two masters.” She then said to the congregation, if you don’t know who you’re truly serving take a look at your calendar and your bank account. Where do you spend the most time and most of your money? There are your masters.” And according to my friend Katie, you could hear a pin drop in the sanctuary.
As the quote on your bulletin says: “All people, whether they are Christians or not, are dominated by someone or something else other than themselves.” In our passage from Romans, Paul uses the metaphor of slavery. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. This does not sit well with us because when we think of slavery we think of the dark stain in our history when Africans were kidnapped from their homes, ripped from their families, and viewed as less than human.
Slavery, however, meant something different for Paul than it does for us today. First of all, one-third of ancient Romans were slaves, so Paul is using slavery as a metaphor because it is a practice that everyone at the time was familiar with. Some were born into it, some were sent into slavery via military conquest, and some even sold themselves to pay off debts, therefore there was some “freedom” in slavery. Some slaves could also own their own slaves. Also, they also had the freedom to attend worship as many of them were a part of the early church.
So while it was not ideal to be a slave in ancient Rome, it was not as brutal as the slavery that took place in our American history. We also have a visceral reaction to slavery because we do not want to give up our autonomy or our right to personal freedom. We will be celebrating this week the freedom we have as Americans. Becoming a slave to anyone, even God, does not sit well with us. While we resist the idea of being anyone’s slave we are, whether we know it or not, allowing something or someone to be our master.
Are we allowing Jesus to be the Lord of our lives or something else? If we are honest, the bulk of our choices each day are determined by “How do I prove to others that I am worthy of their respect and value?” In that case we are ultimately choosing what others think of us as our main motivation for what we choose to say or do. And since not everyone is going to see that we are indeed worthy of their respect and value we become enslaved to a vicious cycle of doing all we can to prove ourselves.
Only in Jesus Christ are we truly free because only in Jesus we know we are fully loved.” When we choose Jesus as Lord of our lives, our choices aren’t driven by the desire to prove to others that we matter because we already know that we do in God’s eyes.
On the flip side, to pledge ourselves to sin does not result in freedom
To live under the dominion of sin is to live out of fear
1 John 4:18.There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
When Christ isn’t our center, we act out of fear. A fear that drives us to constantly prove ourselves as worthy to others. This can lead to to destructive behavior and consequences because when our motivation is the preservation of our own well-being our choices to protect ourselves can come at the cost of the well-being of others, or even ourselves. It leads us to fear those who we perceive as a threat simply because they are different. This results in us creating our own protective bubbles, but when we do that we have a very narrow view of who Jesus is, and how others that Jesus loves as much as he loves us might be hurting. We also miss out on how God is at work in the world around us by opening our minds to care about what God cares about. More often than not it’s people who we tend to overlook or who we were brought up to think of as “less than.” But God cares about them just as much as he cares about us. When we make Jesus our Lord and Master we are free to care for others and not just ourselves.
So yes, we have a choice. A choice to decide who we ultimately serve because we are always serving someone or something. God honors our freedom of choice. But to have freedom of choice is not synonymous with being free. This is because we are free not to choose rightly, but to choose wrongly. We are free to choose life or free to choose that which does not bring life. And we are constantly faced with the choice of either/or because it can’t be a both/and.
When I was still in seminary and before I had kids, I was out for a walk with my friend Mandy and her son, Sam, who was three at the time. Whenever Sam would act up she’d say: “I need you to obey me.” I remember wondering if that statement really works. We were walking along a pretty busy road and Sam was fixated on something across the street. He kept trying to pull Mandy and me across the street, but there were cars driving by at least at 35 miles per hour. Mandy kept pulling him back and kept trying to explain to him why crossing the street was dangerous. He finally let go of her hand and was about to make a dash for it when thankfully, Mandy grabbed him before he could.
She then got on his level, put her hands on his shoulders and said: “Sam, I need you to obey me. I need you to obey me because I love you and I want you to be safe. This is why I told you to stop trying to cross the street because you could get hit by a car. I tell you to not do certain things because I love you and I want you to be safe.” Sam could’ve ignored his mom’s love and chosen to run across the street. Luckily, he listened and obeyed.
Like any good parent, God doesn’t desire our obedience to restrict our freedom, but rather to expand it. Our freedom is expanded knowing that Christ loves us and wants us to be safe and whole. When we are obedient to Christ we come to understand better that God loves us and wants us to be safe. This isn’t just what God wants for us, but for all of humanity. Making Jesus as our Lord allows us to see ourselves and others as worthy of love, respect and value. We are free to believe this or not. I pray we choose wisely.