Freedom in Love
Sermon Preached on November 13, 2022, Proper 28C. Sermon Text Galatians 5:13-15 Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you, Amen. Journey with me back to the Old Testament era. I want you to picture in your minds the early parts of the story of Joseph. Joseph was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Joseph, the young boy who was despised by all of his older brothers. Joseph, who was given the beautiful coat of many colors by his father. Joseph, who was beaten and then sold by his brothers to slave traders. Joseph, who came to live in the house of Potiphar in Egypt. That is where our attention begins this morning. Joseph in Potiphar’s house. When you picture Joseph in this situation, would you describe him as a free man? Does Joseph have freedom in his predicament in Egypt? Practically speaking, he was for all intents and purposes a slave. He had a master who demanded his complete obedience and service. This master had literally purchased Joseph from the traders. It certainly doesn’t look like much freedom. The Genesis 39 text does give us some interesting details about Joseph’s time in Potiphar’s house. We are told in 39:3 “[Potiphar] saw that the LORD was with [Joseph] and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” A fine reminder of God’s promise to all His children that He is always with them. Even in this plight in Egypt God was surely with Joseph in every moment. But more than that. Through Joseph’s hands, through Joseph’s service, God was bringing about an unexpected good. As Joseph lived out his calling for that moment, a calling that involved living as a slave in a foreign land, God was bringing blessing. To borrow a phrase from Genesis 1 and creation, Joseph was being fruitful and with God’s blessing.
But let’s go back to the question I posed a few moments ago: does Joseph have freedom in his predicament in Egypt? From all outward appearances the answer would appear to be no. He is a slave. He is not free. But what if I told you I firmly believe Joseph was living in complete freedom. That Joseph was living out precisely what God had designed him to do in that moment and so Joseph was from a spiritual perspective entirely free. After all, God was not only with Joseph but was causing all that he did to succeed. Joseph was living out his faithful calling in that moment and God was giving blessing to all around him. True freedom is about living our life under the will and ways of God our maker. He is not only our maker but our designer and He has designed us to live and be fruitful and multiply and has even told us how that all works. When we live within His design for us we are truly free. When we live contrary to His design we become slaves to all sorts of maladies for our lives. We would be wrong to think true freedom is about just doing and being whatever we want. Think about it this way: God has designed horses to live as horses. They live in freedom as they run in the fields and use their legs to move about God’s green earth. They were designed to do all the things we see horses do and it is good. But what if a horse suddenly decides it was really meant to be an eagle. What happens if the horse steps out onto a precipice and it chooses to take flight, jumping off the edge flailing its legs to catch the wind and fly away. Well we know what happens, the horse plummets to the ground. It wasn’t designed for flight. It isn’t freedom for the horse to seek to live outside its design. It isn’t freedom for that horse to make a choice and say “I want to be an eagle.” In reality, its slavery at best, as the horse seeks to twist and contort its life against its design. It is death at worst, when the horse realizes that without eagles wings it will not take flight and instead plummet. Freedom looks the same in our lives. God designed us to be fruitful and multiply according to His will. Freedom is living under the providing care of our Creator and Maker. Freedom is doing what God made us to do. The idea that freedom is having the ability to make choices and to do whatever we want is simply not true. The choice of doing what we want only leads to slavery, a slavery to sin and death. If you want proof, look at Adam and Eve in the Garden. They were created with freedom. They were created to live under God and with God. It was their use of choice, a choice to act independently and against God that ended their freedom and began a life of slavery and death. Maybe at this point you’re beginning to wonder, is it really freedom if we are bound by God’s will? If we aren’t supposed to freely act out whatever choices and actions we want in this life, and are instead living according to the will of our Maker, are we truly free? And the answer is yes. We are truly free. We are free because our Maker and Creator, our Lord and God has given us a special gift to empower our freedom, even while under His will. This gift guides us in all our actions to be graceful and glorious and vibrant in our lives and in all our actions. This special gift that opens us up to true freedom is the gift of love. That is the key to freedom. That is the key to our lives and to our relationships. We only know true freedom in this life when we live within the confines of true love as God has given it to us. Love makes our freedom one of the most valuable gifts and possessions in our life. Love fills this freedom with beauty and with joy. Imagine all the things we can do in this life, and when they are all driven by love, the wondrous outcomes that God can bring about. When we live and serve in love, there’s no limit to what we could do. Now, as a quick aside, when we talk of love, true love, in Holy Scripture we need to be reminded of its definition as God has given it. The world has twisted and destroyed all true definitions of love and what the world calls love us often full of heinous lies and sin. True love is practically defined by Jesus Himself, “greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” True love is sacrificial. It is giving. It is patient and kind. It does not insist on its own way. True love does not rejoice at wrongdoing or sin but rejoices with the truth. In this kind of love, we can know complete freedom. We might look at this gift of freedom in our lives like having a great fortune of money. This great fortune, if it is used rightly, could be a wonderful blessing to one and to many. But if this great fortune is abused it will cause great harm and destruction. This is why in Galatians 5:13 St. Paul warns “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” When we need to see a right example, a righteous path for us to follow Jesus is always the answer. We can see true love in action when we see what Jesus has done. We can see what God has designed us as humans to do when we live in our freedom through love in Jesus. And what did Jesus do? Well in the hours before He was to be arrested and ultimately crucified, Jesus exercised His freedom in love to wash His disciples’ feet. Yes, of all the things He could be doing in that tender hour He chooses to love and to serve. For Jesus always loved His disciples and even in that moment, knowing His hour was imminent, He had one more powerful lesson in love to share with those men. He even tells them “what I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” What He meant by that is it just didn’t make much sense in the moment for their Lord, their Teacher, their Everything to be on His hands and knees washing away their dirt and grime. That doesn’t compute with earthly reason. But after the cross, after the resurrection, after their Lord’s great victory then they would see. Then and now we can all see. Only through love are we truly set free. Love like our Lord’s death on the cross where He laid down His life for His friends. Now do we see? Now do we understand? Our freedom means that we must serve. It is why I believed at the beginning today that Joseph, though a slave in Potiphar’s house was truly free. His earthly predicament and status didn’t matter when his heart and mind were truly free to glorify God and serve and love in whatever each day lay before him. The same is true for us. In Christ we are set free. In truth we are set free. In love we are set free. Like Joseph, no matter our earthly predicament, we are free to love and glorify God. With Christ as our guide, Christ as our Lord, may we also be free in His love. To God be the glory, Amen.