Sunday, April 27, 2008

Easter 6 - Year A

Do you remember the day when you received your driver’s license? How did it feel? Wasn’t it a glorious day?

I didn’t get mine until I was 19, and until then, I was content just taking the bus everywhere. Living in a city where the transit system didn’t suck, I got where I needed to go in good time and got a lot of reading done along the way.

But then my feet started to twitch. No matter how hard I scratched them, the twitching never stopped. I didn’t like being at the mercy of the bus schedule. I didn’t like having to carry around change, worrying they’d fall through the holes in my pockets. I didn’t like always having to remember to but new bus tickets every couple of weeks. I wanted to go where I wanted, when I wanted. I wanted my freedom.

Freedom. It’s how we define ourselves. We are free people. We live in “the true north strong and free.” If our freedom is intruded upon, we fight back. If our freedom is threatened, we resist.

Freedom is a right. It was hard won. Our fathers and mothers, our grandmothers and grandfathers, and even some of you, paid an incalculable price for our freedom. And we honour that sacrifice.

So we say our freedom is sacred. Putting a Christian colour on it. Something to respect, and rightly so. Freedom, after all, is a Christian virtue.

But then again, do we really know what “freedom” is? Has some of it’s biblical shine worn off?

What our culture means by “freedom” and what the bible says “freedom” is may be two very different things. Our culture talks a lot about freedom of choice, especially when we go to Superstore or Wal-Mart. We demand, as consumers, the right to choose what fabric softener is best for our family’s delicates. We choose between Coke and Pepsi. We choose between organic apples or those freakishless perfect apples pumped with steroids and dipped in wax. No one can tell us what to buy or how to live or whom to love. It’s our birthright to make our own decisions for ourselves and families.

We call it “freedom.”

A few weeks ago folks were encouraged to participate in “Earth Hour.” Here at Good Shepherd we had something in the bulletin about it, and Corrine Jerke made an announcement on behalf of the Kairos Christian social justice group. So, Earth Hour was on our church radar.

“Earth Hour” took place on a Saturday evening from 8:00 – 9:00 where people were encouraged to turn off the lights and unplug other electrical appliances for one hour, to demonstrate how much energy we use and how much money we can save just by simple modifications to our habits.

Well…in the Herald a week or so later, there was a letter to editor blasting “Earth Hour.” You might have seen it. “How dare I be asked to adjust my lifestyle to support an environmental agenda? How dare others suggest that my lifestyle is hurting the world! How dare the persistent march of economic growth be compromised!”

The pursuit of a more prosperous and comfortable lifestyle. They call it “freedom.”

Some cultural observers have noted that today’s generation is the first one in history to define ourselves not by what we create, but by what we consume. Freedom equals the opportunity to buy what we want, when we want it.

It’s referred to as the “Starbucks” economy. Others call it the “Experience Economy.” I think those are great names. Just sit for a few minutes in Starbucks and you’ll see what they mean. No two orders are the same. Everyone has their own twist on how to enjoy their caffeine jolt, their own unique taste requirements. Coffee is not longer coffee. It’s a personal statement. It’s what makes Starbucks, Starbucks. And people will gladly pay $5 for a cup of the “Starbucks experience.”

When I go I have a Grande-size, gingerbread soy latte with no whipped cream, but with nutmeg sprinkled on top. (did you get that? Now you know what get me when you go through the new Drive-thru on Mayor McGrath Drive)

What do you have? I’ll bet you a Frappicino it’s not the same. Creating our own consumer experiences is a massive change in the way our world works.

Some call it a greater democratization of the economy. They say that a participation oriented economy is a force to create democracy in the world. Just look at the massive changes happening in China, they say. Pay attention to the giant democratic leaps in India. People are being empowered economically and that’s helping the movement toward democracy. It’s helping the cause of freedom all over the world.

But others call this move to an experience economy a lunge toward greater self-centredness. That we’ve become so fixated on our own needs and wants that we are losing a sense of the wider community. We’re too worried about what to get for ourselves that we don’t really care about our neighbours.

I think they’re both right. Greater democratization AND more rank self-centeredness are the logical consequences of what we say drives our economy and our experience of the world.

They call it “freedom.”

Today we are up to our knees in what bible scholars call “Jesus’ farewell discourse.” In other words, he’s saying good-bye to his friends.

For three years they’d been wandering around with Jesus while he taught them all about who God is. Jesus showed them first-hand what God’s love can do.

The saw healings and raisings from the dead. They witnessed exorcisms and heard potent sermons. They were safe behind the wall of Jesus’ power to explore and experiment with what it meant to be Jesus’ disciple. Their spiritual wagons were circled by God’s authority.

Now it was crumbling down around their ears. I’m sure the disciples’ didn’t know what hit ‘em.

“I’m going away,” Jesus says as the disciples look sideways at each other, wondering what they’re going to do next.

“But I’m not going to leave you on your own,” Jesus adds, maybe sensing their rising temperatures, “I’m giving you another Advocate. Someone who will guide you when I’m gone.”

Advocate. Counselor. Comforter. Guide. These are all words to describe the same thing; the Holy Spirit.

But I think Jesus deliberately left out one other appropriate adjective: disturber. The Holy Spirit that Jesus was talking about does comfort, counsel, and guide us, but that same Spirit also disturbs us.

That Spirit disturbs us out of our self-centredness. That same Spirit reminds us that the earth does not spin on OUR personal axis. The Spirit turns our gaze away from our own navels, to a broken, hurting, and sin-stained world in need of the power of Jesus.

That same Spirit teaches us that freedom is not just getting what you want, when you want, and how you want it. In fact, this Spirit sets us free from the tyranny of my own needs and wants and teaches me to live as Christ lived – in love with the world. Spirit teaches us that real freedom is a life lived in love.

When Jesus wanted his followers to love each other as he loved them, I think Jesus was talking about what we would give up for each other, what would we give up for the sake of the life of the world.

But then again, this sounds all nice and romantic. Who could be against love? But if we really sit down and think about what Jesus was talking about I think that we’d be just as confused as his first followers. Love, the way Jesus talks about it, is hard. It often doesn’t make sense, and may, at times get us into trouble.

Love is a verb, at least it is in the bible. Love isn’t just something we feel in our hearts. When Jesus asked his disciples to love one another, he meant he wanted them to do something.

So, for us as Christians, love is something we DO. Whether it’s at the soup kitchen or a kitchen table, whether it’s at a hospital bedside or food court, whether it’s with a hammer or a helping hand, whether it’s a prayer or a parking lot conversation, God’s love is given hands and feet when we don’t just verbalize God’s love, but make God’s love into a verb.

Jesus wanted his followers to show the world God’s love through the way they loved and cared for each other, within their small, intimate, community. He wanted everyone to share in the joy of salvation.

That was their mandate then. And it’s ours now.

It’s what Jesus calls “freedom.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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