Committed To Freedom
1 John 1:7-9
Over the last 7 weeks I have been laying the foundation for what I believe we could be as a congregation. I believe we must be committed to the Bible, and to prayer. We must understand the importance of serving one another, and being balanced in our approach to God. We have looked at the fact that every one of us are called into the priesthood, so sharing the love and grace of God to our broken community is our responsibility and joy. Today as we try to put the finishing touches on my hope and vision for what the Greenbrier Church can be, we go to one of our greatest desires.
A few days ago we stopped as a country and celebrated our freedoms. We are a very free people, we have the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to vote or not vote, freedom to choose the shop where you choose what clothes you want to buy, freedom to choose your occupation, who you will marry, or to even get married at all.
But freedom is not just a western or American idea. Freedom is not a democratic or humanitarian theme; it’s the divine theme. Everyone struggles for freedom, seeks out freedom, and even dreams about freedom. Freedom is a basic human desire, one that is intently sought after by everyone who considers themselves to be oppressed. That is why I wanted to end this series, by talking about or need to be committed to freedom.
While most of us feel free, the truth is that we have become so accustomed to being oppressed by our own brokenness that we are not exactly sure how freedom feels. We are lulled into believing that we are free because we have so many choices and we forget we are actually slaves.
Now before you protest too much let me take you back to John 8, where Jesus and the teachers of the law are arguing about His true identity. Jesus says “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Well the Pharisees and the teachers of the law got their feathers all ruffled and protested: We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to any man on earth! What do you mean, ‘set free’? Apparently they had forgotten that Rome was the ruling government, and they were merely a possession of the empire. But that’s not the type of freedom Jesus was talking about. So He unwrapped it a bit: He said in verse 34, I assure you; Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
If we have sinned, let’s just be honest here since we have sinned, we are slaves to sin. We are all longing for freedom. Our struggle is that we are not so sure what it means to be really free. In the text that was read for us this morning we are given the key that will unlock the door and set us free. The problem is that it’s a bit risky.
When I was younger I learned, either in Sunday School or I just had a great theological thought that overtime I committed a sin God would write that down in His big book. Have a bad thought God writes it down. Drive 55 in a 45 God writes it down. Take something that does not belong to you God writes it down. But if I would confess my sins, then God would just rip those pages out of my book and throw them away. While that sounds good, what it taught me was as long as I can tip the scales in my favor, as long as I can do more good things, than bad things; God will have to let me into heaven.
But living my life, constantly trying to tip the scales in my favor, I lost sight of the fact that I have never been punished for my sins as much as I had been punished by my sins.
When we sin, we separate ourselves from God which is bad enough, but that’s not the only thing that happens. Sin fractures our lives and our relationships. Sometimes those fractures are small and we try to act like they are not there. We try as hard as we can to act like everything is okay, and the whole time there is a crack in our foundation that goes unrepaired and in turn causes the relationship to suffer in a 100 different ways. We lose trust, we lose the desire to spend time with one another, and we lose our ability to influence folks for the Kingdom. Other times those fractures cause us to lose relationships, jobs, families, or everything.
Usually we think about confession as a way to avoid His fury and violent retribution. But God offers us forgiveness so that we can experience His mercy and presence. While we think of forgiveness as simply wiping the slate clean, real forgiveness brings freedom and fellowship. Real freedom is accompanied by an abiding relationship with our creator and the ones He loves.
Let me show you what I mean by looking at two of the apostles. First consider Peter. By the time we get to the 21st chapter of John, Jesus has already had the last supper, washed the disciples feet, been put on trial, denied, crucified, and resurrected. In the last chapter of John we find Jesus on a beach cooking breakfast and waiting for His disciples beside a fire.
When Peter realizes it's Jesus, he puts on his clothes, jumps out the boat, and swims to shore. Needless to say, he was not prepared for what would happen on that beach. As Peter makes his way out of the water his senses are assaulted by what is waiting for him. The sight of Jesus on the beach with the smell of a fire hanging in the air must have triggered a memory of the last time Peter saw Jesus around another fire. I wonder if Peter remembered the other fire where he warmed himself and in a moment of fear denied his Lord. I wonder if the smell of charcoal was his own smell of shame.
Peter understood the need for mercy and forgiveness probably better than anyone. If you were looking for someone to point to as a great follower of Christ, Peter would be the guy. He followed Jesus from the first time he was called. He walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, was there on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured, saw all the miraculous wonders, the healings, and witnessed the power and grace. Peter was the first to call Jesus the Messiah, he was earnest in his love and devotion for Christ. And yet when it came down to it, Peter was unable to live up to his own values and ideas.
When the hour of Jesus's betrayal and death came Peter did not bravely stay by Jesus’ side like he promised, he chose instead to warm himself by the fire. Not once, not twice, but three times Peter denied knowing Jesus. The one he loved, the one he followed, the one he acknowledged to be the Messiah, he was now denying with a loud voice and cursing around that fire. Now face to face with Jesus on that beach with the smell of charcoal in the air Peter was filled with remorse and self-loathing. How could he live with himself after what he had done? How many times after Jesus died did Peter replay those hours in his head, wishing that he could have done something, anything, differently? How bad did he want to rewrite his own past, be the man he wished he had been? How many of us here this morning have had that same feeling?
But the resurrected Christ does such an unbearably loving and merciful thing. He does not rebuke Peter for failing Him in His time of need. Instead He gives Peter breakfast, and three chances to proclaim his love. Do you love me Peter? With the smell of the fire in the air, could Peter possibly have answered yes without tears in his eyes? I have failed you and denied you in your hour of death despite everything in me that knew it was wrong. YES! Three times yes. I love you Lord.
The adjective we often use with mercy is the word tender, but God's mercy is not tender. His mercy is a blunt instrument of newness. Mercy doesn't wrap and coddle sinners in a warm electric blanket. God mercy smashes and kills the thing that wronged it and resurrects something new in its place. In our guilt and remorse, we may wish to rewrite our own past, but what's done cannot and will not be undone. The mercy of God can be redeemed. We cling to the truth of God's ability to redeem us more than perhaps any other. We have to. We need to. We want to.
From time to time I need to be reminded I am so much more than my mistakes and worst moments. Just because I lie doesn't mean that I am just a lier. Just because I have stolen doesn't mean that I am just a thief. No matter what I have done in the past, I am defined by God’s love for me. We can never overstate the fact that God is more powerful than our past. That was something that Judas could never understand.
While there was forgiveness for Peter after he denied Jesus, there was no forgiveness for Judas. Jesus forgave Peter when Peter asked. But Judas went out and bought a field, hung himself, and died alone. Judas died thinking that he was was forever defined by his sin, and perhaps thinking God did not want him. For Judas there was no resurrection, no light shining in the darkness. Judas never got to feel the freedom like those at Pentecost in the upper room. He never got to stick his fingers in the wounds of God, he never got to eat the fish on a beach. Judas never experienced the glory and the beauty of the resurrection.
Don’t think for one moment that what Judas did was unforgivable; Peter also denied Christ. If you want to be honest, Peter and Judas basically committed the same sin. Their outcome was not determined by their sin; when Peter denied Christ, he continued to live inside a community of faith. When Judas betrayed Christ, he lived in isolation.
Judas went to that field carrying the burden of his sin. He couldn’t hear the call of grace because he left the community of faith. Judas's ears never heard a word of grace because that’s not something we can create for ourselves. It is impossible in isolation to manufacture the beautiful, radical grace that flows from the heart of God.
In isolation there are so many things we can create for ourselves: entertainment, stories, pain, toothpaste, even self help books. But we can never create the thing that frees us from the bondage of self. We cannot create God's work of grace. We can only hear the beautiful words of freedom when we are connected to other pilgrims on this same journey.
Confession in a community is how we find freedom. As simple as that sounds, we all know too well the struggle that comes when we talk about confession. One of the reasons we refuse to confess is because we have a lack of trust. It’s not that we don’t trust that God can forgive us, it’s that we do not trust the other people on this journey. I understand that you are broken and you know I am broken, But we don’t really need to get into the particulars. You know that I have sinned and let’s just leave it there.
There is a real fear that if you know the true me, if you know what I really struggled with, then you wouldn’t want to be my friend or have anything to do with me. So we have churches that are filled with folks who quietly suffer. While we don’t have a problem admitting that we are broken, we struggle to get specific. We affirm that we all like sheep have gone astray, or that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but let’s just leave it in the generic conversation.
There is no need to count the times that I have used my words to curse others, it’s not like I have a foul mouth. There is no need to talk about the times that I used some office supplies at the house, it’s not like I am a thief. There is no need to talk about the times that I flirted and longed to be with someone that wasn’t my spouse, it’s not like I am an adulterer. We have folks who not only struggle with pornography, they feel this immense shame that if you really knew the websites they look at and how cold they are to their husband or wife then you wouldn’t let them be a part of this church.
We have become pretty adapt at admitting that we are not perfect and at the same time play this little game of better than. Yes I’m a sinner, but my sins are not as bad as yours. I sin like normal people do, and you sin in a weird, sick, perverted, and depraved way. So I’m a better person than you are. The problem is that we forget sensible and depraved sinners both need someone to come and set us free. That’s why confession is such a big deal.
If we go back to our text for this morning we read that mercy and grace are found through confession, which happens in community. John 1:7 if we walk in the light we have fellowship with one another. Fellowship is just another word for community. The biblical writers knew that there are some things that can only happen in a community. It’s in community that we find the ability to be safe. In real community, we find a place where we can be honest with our struggles, desires, and brokenness.
Just like grace, we can’t manufacture community, you can not force community. Community can only exist among people who are trying to love one another. My greatest desire is that Greenbrier will be a safe place of fellowship. For that to happen, for this to be a safe place, we all have to work towards that end. If we want real freedom we must learn how to trust, and how to be worthy of trust.
The second struggle we have with confession is that we don’t really have the words. It’s not that the words don’t exist, it’s just that we are not sure what we need to confess or even what to say. I was raised in a culture where you only confessed the big stuff, at least the big stuff everyone already knew about. I mean the only reason someone would respond to the invitation was because they had gotten pregnant and weren’t married or were on the front page of the paper. I’m pretty sure that’s not what John is talking about.
In verse 8 we read we must confess our sins and he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We are called to confess all of them. Freedom comes from confession. Confession leads to forgiveness and fellowship.
We need to find the words to say that we struggle with selfishness. We need to find the words to say that we struggle with anger. We need to find the words to say we struggle with lust. We need to find the words to say that we struggle with greed. We need to find the words to say that we struggle with our words and sometimes us them to tear people down, instead of building them up. We need to find the words to say that we desire forgiveness, but struggle to offer the same forgiveness to others. And we need to understand that these are more than words, this is the cry of a broken sinner who longs for freedom.
Every sin separates us from God, and makes us a slave to that sin. But this morning Jesus offers you freedom. All you have to do, is confess and allow The Lord to redeem you.