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  • Called to Freedom


    Happy Fourth of July!


    Today is the most quintessential of American holidays because it acknowledges and celebrates

    the birth of the nation. Today is all about family, hamburgers and hot dogs (yuck), baked beans,

    potato salad, corn on the cob, fireworks, patriotism, and freedom.


    Personally, I have always found the Fourth of July to be an odd holiday. I struggle with the

    myths and stories that we tell about the birth of our country and the cost and meaning of our

    freedom.


    Over the past several days, I have spent some time reflecting on freedom. I have wrestled with

    questions like:  What is the source of our freedom? Are we truly free? Is there any such thing as

    freedom? Is freedom an illusion and myth that we tell ourselves? What are we set free to do? Is

    freedom about rights or is it about responsibility?


    As I pondered those questions, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s lengthy discussion about

    freedom in his letter to his church friends in Galatia. It is a troubled and divided congregation. It

    is a fellowship that has split into “us” and “them” factions over the practical and theological

    issue of circumcision. While the question of circumcision may seem far removed and silly to us,

    let me invite you to think about ordinary, everyday church folk dividing up into “us” and “them”

    groups arguing over such weighty matters as abortion, race, gender identity, sexuality, the color

    of the church’s carpet, and whether or not it is better to attend worship in-person or via live

    stream in a post Covid world. Can you imagine church people splitting up into factions and

    arguing over those theological and practical matters? I certainly can.


    Paul cuts underneath the dispute about circumcision to remind these day-to-day Christians in

    Galatia that Christ’s spirit has touched down concretely in their lives and set them free. Late in

    his discussion, Paul writes:


    For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the

    yolk of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).


    The point is so obvious that it is easily forgotten. The church keeps its life and lives its life in

    Christ alone. Christ is the source of not only our life together, but our freedom too.  As I

    consider the source of our freedom in Christ, I am reminded of some of the cultural myths that

    we tell about the source of our freedom. Culturally, politically, and socially, we believe that the

    source of our freedom comes from such things as the Declaration of Independence, the

    Constitution of the United States of America, a strong national military presence, the right to

    carry a concealed weapon, the story of Manifest Destiny, etc.


    But the truth is, the source of our freedom is not really found in any of those things. It is, rather,

    found in Christ. And it is in the stories about the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of

    Christ that we discover the source of our freedom. It is the reason why we tell our Jesus stories.

    In the stories of Jesus, we see who God calls us to be and how we are summoned to live our

    lives in the world as the people of Jesus. Christ is the decisive point of our lives and our life

    together.  


    As Paul continues to write to these day-to-day Christians about the freedom that they and we

    have in Christ, he says something else that is important about freedom. Paul writes:


    For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an

    opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the

    whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as

    yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).


    It occurs to me that much our talk about freedom in our contemporary U. S. cultural context is

    about self-indulgence. Much our rhetoric about freedom is self-centered talk about personal,

    individual rights: the right to carry a concealed handgun, the right to an abortion, the right to

    same sex marriage, the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which I identify, and so

    on. Many of our macro-conversations around freedom are about indulging our personal

    desires.


    Mostly in our culture, however, we associate freedom with consumer desire. We are shaped

    deeply—whether we know it or not—by desiring new items that we can buy. We associate

    freedom with the ability to buy and consume things: the freedom to buy the newest cell phone

    or computer, the freedom to buy the most expensive home we can afford, the freedom to go

    on an expensive and luxurious vacation, or the freedom to buy name brand and designer

    clothes. We have this sense that freedom is, “If I get this thing, I’ll be okay. I’ll be pretty. I’ll be

    smart. I’ll have it made. I’ll be free.”


    But Paul tells his church friends and us that freedom is neither about individual, personal rights

    nor is it about possessing unlimited consumer goods. Rather, it is about responsibility. We are

    set free not for self-indulgence, but for responsibility to one another and to our neighbors. Paul

    urges, 


    “…But through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a

    single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”


    We have been set free to live in the ethic, meaning, and way of love, which, of course, is the

    way of Christ. His life was an unending giving away of his life in freedom for the sake of the

    other. He opened the eyes of the blind, unstopped the ears of the deaf, cleansed the skin of the

    leper, forgave the sinners, welcomed strangers, ate with tax collectors and prostitutes,

    proclaimed good news to the poor, set prisoners free, announced the God’s jubilee, and even

    raised the dead. Christ was completely free, and he lived his freedom in love for the other.


    As those who travel in his wake, we are summoned to live our lives—to live in freedom—as

    Christ lives his life, always for the sake of the other. And so, my dear sisters and brothers, as

    you eat your hamburgers and hot dogs and watch your fireworks, let me summon you to

    ponder your freedom. Consider the true source of your freedom. And then, think about why

    you have been set free.


    “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”


    Happy Fourth of July!


    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

  • A Prayer for the Abingdon Town Council

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell


    (The occasion of this prayer was the Abingdon Town Council meeting (June 12, 2022) where the Town

    Council acknowledged by proclamation Sinking Spring’s 250th anniversary.)


    Creator of all that was...of all that is...of all that ever will be,

              we give thanks for this day of your sure making.


    We give thanks for the tasks and work that

              you have given us to accomplish.

    We give thanks for tourists and visitors

              who have traversed our sidewalks

                        and have been blessed by the hospitality

                                  and vitality of our community.

    We give thanks for those who serve our community

              in devotion and love and at great risk

                        so that we may live safely.

    We give thanks for the play of our children this day

              as they enjoy their summer break.


    For all that has given energy and life

              to this day and to our community,

                        we give thanks to you, God of life,

              because all that borrows life from you

                        is ever in your care.


    We pray, then, as the day grows short

              that you will closely watch and listen intently

                        as these servants of the people of Abingdon

                                  come together as one body to serve the people

                                            with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.


    Give these men and women courage

              to do good, to seek peace, and to pursue it.


    Use these men and women to do your transformative work

              that dares to execute justice for the oppressed,

              that gives food to the needy,

              that sets the prisoner free,

              that welcomes the stranger,

              that lifts up those bent low by poverty,

              that upholds the most vulnerable among us—

                        orphans, widows, the unsheltered, the elderly,

                                  and all who do not have an advocate--

    and that imagines that even the dead can be raised.


    Empower these men and women to enter into

              the hard places of conflict and difference of opinion

                        with grace, listening ears, and understanding.


    Give these men and women strength and conviction

              to resist the temptation to reduce complex issues into

                        simple pat answers and easy solutions.


    Help these men and women to avoid

              the seduction of inflammatory, dehumanizing speech

                        so that the dignity of all may be cherished and respected.


    Assist these men and women in not making snap decisions,

              but assist them in being deliberative, discerning, curious, and open.


    Let these servants of the people continue

              to nurture the good and commonweal

                        that flows naturally in our community.


    Politics...governance...life together is not easy.

    And so, when the work of this Council is complete this evening,

              grant these men and women satisfaction

              in fidelity, hope, charity, and service.


    Give us assurance that you have heard our prayer,

              because we pray in the Spirit of the One

                        who we believe has helped our Town in ages past,

                                  is our help in years to come,

                                            and is with us even now.

                                                                                                 Amen.