Freedom!

By Pastor Reed Bernick

I’m not good at small talk. Maybe you can sympathize. To a fault, I want my conversations to matter. I want to grapple with difficult and controversial subjects, to seek clarity about something that’s too often left unsaid, or best of all, to feel like I’ve gained fresh insight on a topic or another person. The weather just doesn’t do it for me.

And that certainly informs the way I understand ministry. When I get the chance to teach or preach, I’m intent on breaking new ground. I want what we say in church to matter, too. It’s not just that we lack the time to waste, but that we have so many important things to talk about – so much ground to cover. It’s essential that the church not become a repository of tired, old ideas (nor the pew, a storehouse for tired, thoughtless Christians). The gospel is much too important.

So during our first J-Term session in 2020, Ann Smith and I taught a class called The Gospel According To Money. I had become convinced, and still am, that one of the main ways the gospel changes and challenges us, especially in this area, has to do with our wealth and our stuff. Then last January, in the heat of the pandemic, Heather Cirmo and I taught How and Why Christians Lament – because we all know these last months have seen us grieve and complain in ways we may never have before.

This January, Na Na Jeon and I are leading a class called Christian Freedom. There have been many lessons thrust upon us during the Pandemic – things I know I’m still working on; questions put to the church about how we ought to react and respond. But one thing I’ve noticed in myself is a propensity to view our situation with an eye towards my freedom, and to (as any typical American) seek to defend my own liberty and my own interests as inalienable rights – regardless of the consequences.

My hope is that by examining some key passages of scriptures that address freedom, we can become more conscious of where those propensities originate – and then, hopefully, choose to act in ways that aren’t so much determined by culture as they are by the Bible and the message of the gospel. Could it be that the ‘way of Jesus’ is far less interested in my independence and my autonomy than I am? What exactly is freedom as the Bible defines it?

Let me just give you a taste of what our conversations have been like: In our first week together we talked about some of the normative ways we often define freedom – highlighting the legacies of John Locke, the Bill of Rights, and even the Baptist distinctives. In the next session, Na Na led us to consider John 8 – and Jesus’ claim that to be free is to be free from sin and slavery to it. Then last Sunday, we looked at the argument Paul mounts across three chapters in 1 Corinthians (8-10) – encouraging his readers that the freedom of Christ isn’t something you flaunt or exploit for its own sake, but something you renounce, in love for the sake of your neighbor.

Next Sunday – our final Sunday together as a group – we’ll be looking towards Galatians and considering the way that our freedom as Christians is limited and constrained not by the law or a dead letter, but by the Spirit. True freedom, I hope we’ll see, is the freedom of the Spirit that works in us to bear the Spirit’s fruit. That’s actually the main freedom we have as disciples.

I pray that whether the others in the group arrive at my conclusions or not, our J-Term will have been well spent. We’ll certainly have refused to waste precious time – and instead decided to talk about things that really matter, to consider words that never wither or fade.

If you haven’t joined a J-Term class, throw yourselves in for this last week! Sure, it would have been better for you to be there for a four weeks, but even a taste is better than nothing. You are always welcome, whoever you are and wherever you’ve been.

Thanks for reading!

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