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Faith column: We have freedom to act with love toward one another

In our nation we have to decide how are we going to use the many blessings, gifts and freedoms we have received.

GALEN SMITH
Smith
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WORTHINGTON — For much of the first part of summer we, as a nation, celebrate our freedoms. Our celebrations begin with Memorial Day as we remember those who have died in the service of our country. We celebrate Flag Day in recognition of the flag that symbolizes our great land.

Then we celebrate Juneteenth National Independence Day on June 19. A day, according to Wikipedia, “commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.”

Our celebration continues with Independence Day on July 4, the day we celebrate the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.

As we celebrate these days with pageantry through events such as concerts, speeches, picnics and fireworks, we proclaim our commitment to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation. We also, if we are honest with ourselves, gloss over some of the challenges and difficulties of those same ideals, which remain unfulfilled. That is not a condemnation or judgement, rather an acknowledgement of the truth of scripture that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.

Acknowledging our shortcomings, as individuals or as a nation, does not signify the end of our journey or that we are unpatriotic. Being honest with ourself is the beginning of a new journey.

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Scripture does not leave us stranded in self-pity, instead we are placed on a new path with a promise and an assurance, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”

That verse was part of the Sunday scripture readings a couple of weeks ago. The Apostle Paul was calling the Galatians to recognize being forced to follow some of the Jewish traditions that enslaved them as much as the sinful behaviors they had engaged in before they became Christians. This is actually a common theme in the Apostle Paul’s writing.

In the letter to the Galatians, he uses the example of circumcision. In letters to the Corinthians it involves the foods they eat. The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) includes this theme of freedom in its statement on Interreligious relations. It states, “We approach others in a spirit of openness and trust as we follow Jesus Christ in respecting and affirming the freedom of others.”

The Apostle continues in his letter to the Galatians with the statement “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Thus, for Christians, freedom is not liberty to do whatever we want, nor is freedom constrained by a bunch of man-made rules, rather it is freedom to act with love toward one another.

Understanding the freedom we have in Christ is a freedom to act in love is also important for us as a nation.

A long time ago, in Jr. High social studies, I learned that the freedoms we have in our country come with responsibility. More recently, in the Spiderman movies, Peter Parker’s uncle tells him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Both of these statements find their basis in Jesus’ words, “to whom much has been given, much will be required.”

In the story Jesus tells, the actions of two servants are contrasted. One servant uses the authority the master has given in accord with the master’s directions, the other uses that authority for personal purposes.

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In the Spiderman movies, Peter Parker is challenged with how and for what purposes does he use his ‘super power.’

In our nation we have to decide how are we going to use the many blessings, gifts and freedoms we have received. When we seek to impose a rigid set of moral standards on one another it is no different than the Jewish Christians who followed the Apostle Paul around and sought to impose rigid Jewish customs on the Gentile Christians.

When we seek to prevent individuals from freely choosing how they live and act, and instead demand they think and act in prescribed ways which we determine, we deny the grace of Christ and the freedom we have in him.

When we claim the “self-evident truths” and “unalienable Rights” espoused in the Declaration of Independence for our use, but then restrict them for others, we imprison ourselves, deny justice and destroy “the blessings of Liberty” as called for in our Constitution.

May we in our lives and in our nation celebrate the manifold blessings of this great country. May we focus on the need of others and thus fulfill the law of Christ. And may we bear witness to the freedom, love and grace we have been given through Jesus Christ.

Galen Smith is pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Worthington.

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