Reflect on Freedom
What is freedom? Last two days, we have reflected on “Going beyond” through Simon’s lectures.
Going Beyond the Life that Controls Us
Going Beyond our Broken Places
The Power to Go Beyond
Thank you, Simon, for guiding us with rich materials for us to reflect on.
Let us reflect on freedom this morning.
This is what St. Paul said in today’s passage.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence… (Galatians 5:13)
“Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” We can see that in Paul’s mind, freedom is not to do whatever you want. Freedom is not about self-indulgence. Eat whatever you want to eat. Say whatever you feel like saying. Do whatever suits you. In Paul’s mind, that is not freedom.
In the beginning of this chapter, St. Paul said,
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Stand Firm: Yes, that is what freedom does. It is the power to stand firm. Freedom to me is the power. It is the power to go beyond not to be bound to my wishes and desires. It is the power to leave behind what holds us back and takes off to the unknown. It is the power to overcome our own fear and weaknesses, take challenges and go beyond where we are. It is the power to live freely the life that is truly worthwhile without reducing it because of fear.
Fear and Empowerment
No one is FEARLESS. Fearlessness is not what is required to live a courageous life. Everyone has fear.
Especially when you are called to do what is beyond your ability, you have this fear. Because you have to go beyond your comfort zone.
When Jeremiah was called by God, this was what he said.
Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy. (Jeremiah 1:6)
When challenges come to us, we look for ways to escape. We come up with reasons. But these reasons are only excuses.
I am only a boy. – that was Jeremiah’s excuse.
God did not say, Oh, I understand. Go and live as only a boy. That was not what God did.
This was what God said to him.
Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them… (Jeremiah 1:7, 8)
GOD DID NOT LET HIM LIVE OUT HIS FEAR.
When God called Moses, Moses did the same thing.
O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.(Exodus 4:10)
“I have never been eloquent…” – that was Moses’ excuse.
But God did not let Moses to live out his insecurity.
This was what God said.
Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak. (Exodus 4:12)
When God called Isaiah, the same thing.
Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips… (Isaiah 6:5)
“I am a man of unclean lips” – that was Isaiah’s excuse.
God did not let Isaiah live out his spiritual inadequacy.
God did this to Isaiah.
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’(Isaiah 6:6, 7)
Then God asked,
Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:8)
Then Isaiah said,
Here am I; send me! (Isaiah 6:8)
You see a pattern here. No one is fearless. When they received a challenge to go beyond their comfort zone, they all feared. And they came up with good reasons not to take the challenge. Excuses. They wanted to get away.
But God did not let them live out their fear. God reassured them. God empowered them. WHEN THEY HAD THAT EMPOWERMENT, THEY EXPERIENCED FREEDOM. The power to go beyond their own weaknesses, shortcomings, inadequacy, and insecurity.
That power – that is freedom. In that sense, freedom is not to do whatever you want. Doing what you desire. But the real freedom is to go beyond yourself, not just to please your insatiable desires.
Many times, the greatest bondage is ourselves. We are the ones who limit ourselves. We are the ones who restrict ourselves. We are the ones who hold us back. We become our own shackles that bind us.
For the rocket to go beyond our earth, it requires explosive power. But when you go out in the universe, you can see the earth in a clearer view from outside. You see the whole picture and also see how beautiful it is.
The power that fires off the rocket from the earth atmosphere – that is the freedom. It is the freedom to fire you off from yourself so that you can go beyond yourself. You can see yourself from outside. You can see the whole picture of who you are and also you will see how beautiful you are. Then you can see not only yourself but also others and their beauty. How beautiful the life of freedom is.
Narcissism is a trap. Narcissism is dark power that makes us be bondage to ourselves. Narcissism is the opposite power of the power of freedom.
That’s why Jesus said. You want to follow me? First deny yourself. Be free from your own narcissism. Experience the power of freedom.
That was what St. Paul experienced. He had fallen into narcissism of his own righteousness. He thought he was pretty righteous. He thought his righteousness separated himself from others. But he didn’t realize that that was only his narcissism. It was all about I, I, I. He thought that his righteousness would save him.
But when he met Christ, he was free from his self-idolatry.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:19, 20)
He is saying that his narcissism has been crucified. He no longer lives with his power. He lives by the power Christ gave him.
The Power of Resurrection
That was how all those people overcame themselves. Jeremiah, Moses, and Isaiah. They experienced the power of God that helped them to go beyond themselves. They overcame their fear, their insecurity, and their spiritual inadequacy by the power of God not by their fearlessness. When they experienced the power of God, they experienced freedom.
It is a bit long quotation. But listen carefully and see what’s going on in Paul’s mind. It is a confession of a man who experienced the true freedom in Christ.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:4-11)
It is the power of resurrection that frees us not only from the fear of physical death but from the fear of losing ourselves. This is the power that inspired many people to die in their struggle to pursue freedom rather than to live without freedom.
Break the Chain
My friends, now you go down and you may face many challenges. Don’t let your fear handle your challenges. Be free in Christ. You can be creative.
You need to practice every day to be free. YoYo Ma, probably the greatest cellist, still does scale every day.
Engage with new ideas. Try something new. Don’t be stuck in the old pattern. Unstuck yourself. Don’t be afraid of failure. Failure is a necessary step of growing up. Failures can be your great teacher if you are free. Break the chain that binds you. Go forward and go beyond.