Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“No Myth at All” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
March 3, 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Each of us is born with a yearning for our idea of freedom. We chafe against rules of any kind. We are never taught this; it is hardwired into our human DNA. Think about it. When you were young if you were told not to take a cookie out of the cookie jar on the kitchen counter, what was the very first thing, the only thing, you wanted to do? Take a cookie from the cookie jar, hopefully when your parents were not looking. In elementary school when your class was walking to lunch or recess and your teacher would yell, “No running in the hallways!” what was the very first thing, the only thing, you wanted to do? Run in the hallway. When you are a kid hallways literally beckon you to run—run you must, run you do.
We do not like rules. When I was in fourth grade my friends and I were discussing about how annoying rules were in sports, how rules spoiled all the fun. “Wouldn’t it better if there were no rules?” we thought, “Wouldn’t it be much more fun?” So we put our theory into practice and decided that the next day at recess we would play a new game we invented called “No Rules Football” (I am not making this up). And so we did. The next morning at recess we gathered at the school field with a football, divided into two teams and began playing “No Rules Football” which we thought would be so much fun, so awesome, because who needs rules?
As you can imagine within a few minutes arguments broke out about what was inbounds or out of bounds because there were no rules and therefore no sidelines. Arguments broke out about how many yards yielded a first down because there were no rules and therefore who were you to say how many yards were needed for a first down? Arguments broke out about pass interference as kids were tackled before they could even get open because there were no rules and therefore no such thing as pass interference. Arguments broke out about everything you could imagine and pretty soon our amazing game of “No Rules Football” devolved into utter chaos and not a few fistfights. We all ended up having to sit out recess for the rest of the week. Needless to say, we returned to “regular” football the next week.
And lest you think that is all just silly, read the 1954 novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Our idea of freedom, our idea or either not having rules at all or making our own rules often leads to chaos and destruction. And this persists into adulthood. As adults there are several myths about freedom that can end up being much more destructive to our lives than “No Rules Football.”
One is the myth of financial freedom. You will have financial freedom when you have enough money, right? If you earn more money, have all your insurance policies in order, retire the mortgage on your house, maintain and grow all your pension and IRA accounts to a certain level, have a large and diverse investment portfolio, have at least six months’ worth of living expenses in a “rainy day account,” you will achieve financial freedom, right?
Now please do not mishear me…all those things are good in and of themselves, and certainly sound financial practices are beneficial—you know this—but the idea of financial freedom itself is a myth because as human beings enough is never enough. Jesus put it this way, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Then Jesus told a parable to illustrate this:
The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).
You may remember what billionaire John D. Rockefeller said when asked, “How much money is enough money?” “Just a little bit more,” he replied. You would think being a billionaire would give you financial freedom—but apparently not. Scripture warns, “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). Financial freedom is a myth.
A second myth about freedom is the myth of sexual freedom. (Let’s get really uncomfortable for a moment). The sexual revolution was ushered in during the 1960’s and has continued unabated to the present as any talk about any guidelines or restrictions or taboos about human sexuality is dismissed and rejected out of hand, as anyone anytime should be free to express themselves sexually as they deem fit. Who are you or anybody else to say or think anything that in any way undermines sexual freedom? But when it comes to the human heart regarding sexuality, just like money, enough is never enough. The pursuit of fifty shades of whatever continues… but in its wake are the flotsam and jetsam of unspeakable hurt, wrecked marriages, various forms of sexual addiction, and of course rampant venereal disease—damaged hearts, damaged lives. Where is the freedom in that?
A third myth about freedom is the myth of freedom coming from being your own boss. A few years ago CNBC published an online article entitled “‘Being Your Own Boss’ is One of the Biggest Myths of Entrepreneurship” that stated:
Anytime you talk to a current entrepreneur or even someone thinking about starting their own business, usually one of the biggest motivations is wanting to be their own boss. The idea of “working for the man” has lost its luster, and the pursuit of freedom to do what you want, when you want is extremely sexy and appealing. However, getting to be your own boss is one of the biggest myths about entrepreneurship. First, one of the most important assets of a company is its customers. If you have no customers—or more accurately, no paying customers—you have no business. It is impossible to have a business without any customers. This gives your customers the ultimate power—basically, they own you. So, if you believe owning a business means that you get to be the boss, forget it; the customer is the number one boss, bar none (September 28, 2016).
I once was at a lunch table at a clergy conference listening to a young priest who was chafing about being an assistant priest and whining about wanting to be a rector so he could “be his own boss.” I chuckled inside and thought, “You have much to learn, young grasshopper.” The ordination to the priesthood vows in The Book of Common Prayer state, “You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor” (531). There is nothing in there about the freedom of being your own boss.
So you may be wondering, “Where are you going with this sermon? Why are you talking about the myth of financial freedom, and the myth of sexual freedom, and the myth of freedom from being your own boss? Because when it comes to the gospel, there is freedom that is no myth at all, as Paul wrote in today’s passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
At the outset of his earthly ministry Jesus, after being baptized in the Jordan and subsequently enduring forty days of temptation in the wilderness, arose in a synagogue and read these words from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim release to the captives…to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18).
This kind of freedom is not something we can create for ourselves; it is a gift from the Holy Spirit—“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus did exactly what Isaiah had prophesied as he proclaimed release to those taken captive by their own efforts to achieve freedom. To those who sought financial freedom through wealth only to find themselves enslaved to it, he proclaimed, “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21) and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
I recently came across a story of what this looks like. A waitress, seven months pregnant with her first child, was working at the Lamp Post Diner in Gloucester Township, New Jersey. One of her customers was a police officer who was eating lunch alone. The bill totaled $8.75. When she picked up the signed credit card slip on the table she was stunned to see that the police officer had paid $108.75, giving her a tip of $100. Underneath this ridiculously generous tip was written, “Enjoy your first (child). You will never forget it.” The waitress’s father, Brian Cadigan, posted the following thank-you note about it on Facebook: “What a wonderful person to not only leave a VERY generous tip, but a lovely message. I don’t know you, Mr. Police Officer, but you made my little girl cry, and made her year. Thank you. I always had the utmost respect for Officers, but you went above and beyond not just being an officer but a beautiful human being. God bless.” The officer insists on remaining anonymous. True financial freedom looks like that.
To those who sought sexual freedom through sexual license only to find themselves in trouble or victimized Jesus proclaimed, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more” (John 8:11, KJV). Jesus gave forgiveness and grace.
And to those who sought freedom from being their own boss only to find themselves enslaved to their own lust for power Jesus proclaimed, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). In other words, Jesus taught in word and action the truth of what we pray in The Collect for Peace in The Book of Common Prayer—that true freedom comes not in serving ourselves, but in serving God, “whose service is perfect freedom” (57). As Jesus taught in what became known as The Lord’s Prayer true freedom is found in “Thy kingdom come” not “my kingdom come”—true freedom is found in “Thy will be done” not “my will be done.”
Jesus proclaimed “release to the captives” and “let the oppressed go free” to those who sought the myth of financial freedom, or the myth of sexual freedom, or the myth of freedom from being your own boss—because Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”, because as Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
And on Good Friday Jesus used his freedom as the Son of God to give his life in your place, to set you free from the cages you have created for yourself in your own futile efforts to achieve your idea freedom, to show a world of “no rules football” what the single rule of love looks like.
The gospel is good news for those who have learned the hard way what Kris Kristofferson wrote and Janis Joplin famously sang: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose” (from “Me and Bobby McGee”).
The gospel is good news for those who have been burned by the myths of financial freedom or sexual freedom or freedom from being your own boss because “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”
And that kind of freedom is no myth at all.