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It's for Freedom that Christ has set us Free

2 months ago

Stewart Fyfe once again gives us a thoughtful piece, this time about what it means to be truly free in the service of Christ. He unpacks the paradox that we are set free when we become a slave of Jesus. And he helps us to think how this was true for Simon of Cyrene, and how it can be true for us now even within all the restrictions and limitations of the lockdown. It is as we serve Jesus that we find our "perfect freedom".

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”  That’s what Paul says in Galatians 5.1.  But what does that freedom look like?  Our culture encourages us to think that freedom involves having choices available to us, choices about what we buy, what we do with our lives, even what our identity might be. 

But ironically, I think all those choices are enslaving us.  If we keep unpicking our choices in order to have the freedom to make new ones, we simply end up being brought back to the same old crossroads endlessly.  And if our identity is based on consumer choices, we need to keep consuming and that strikes me as a bit like going back into slavery, where we work ever harder only to make money for someone else.  But Paul says, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” 

So what does that alternative freedom in Christ, actually look like?

There is an ancient prayer of the Church that, when I was a young Christian, always used to puzzle me.  It goes:

“O God, the author of peace and lover of concord.  To know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom.”

The Christian faith is full of paradoxes, but few are so counterintuitive as this: we are set free by becoming a slave.  To be more specific, perfect freedom is serving Jesus.

But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense.  When we serve Jesus we’re taken out of ourselves, no longer focussing on our ourselves, but on those we serve in his name.  And that cultivates love in our hearts, which gives us a purpose and meaning that consumerism never could.

But there’s more.  When we serve Jesus, we stop focussing on what we lack and focus on his endless resources of grace.  We open ourselves to the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, who is able give us all the strength, hope and faith we need.

And when we serve Jesus, we serve the only master who doesn’t want to use us for his own purposes. 

Jesus doesn’t need your money, he doesn’t need you to make him feel better or more important.  He doesn’t need anything from you.  He just wants to serve you.  So serving Jesus, means we are serving someone who, in turn, only wants to serve us.  And it is in that dynamic of mutual service that true love and freedom is found, the love that expresses itself in wanting to provide kindness and joy to the other, with no thought for self. 

I’ve been thinking recently about Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’s Cross. 

In that, most menial of services, carrying Jesus’ Cross, Simon found true freedom in the service of Christ.  There, at the end of Jesus’ journey to the Cross, Simon found himself, completely inadvertently, living out the teaching Jesus first gave back at the start of that journey:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”[1]

For Simon, that teaching turned out to be surprisingly literal, but as he literally took up the Cross and followed Jesus, he was somehow caught up in the life of a Christian disciple.  We know that he would go on to become a follower of Christ because he his named.  Not only was he known personally to the Gospel writers, but so also were his sons, Alexander and Rufus - they had become part of the Church family.  So Simon as he literally took up the Cross, also found, in that act, his freedom and his new life.

Simon reminds us that Christian service is not always glamorous.  It can be very menial, painful and costly.  It can come with a glorious sense of vocation, or it can be thrust upon us against our will.  It can be obviously fruitful, or it can be apparently hopeless, the smallest act of mercy for someone who is destined to die anyway.  But in every act of service for Christ, we find perfect freedom.

I think sometimes as charismatic Christians, we lose sight of that. 

We’re so used to those wonderful highs, where the Holy Spirit meets us in prayer, speaks into our hearts and encourages us, that he can feel remote when life feels dry.  But he speaks to us just as much through our acts of service, as through those moments of personal intimacy.

This is something I keep reminding myself at the moment.  During lockdown, a lot of my service has felt unrewarding, un-noticed, desk-bound, menial and joyless.  Yet, the daily disciplines of the Christian faith: prayer, Bible study, fellowship and service have been life-giving and liberating.  To be honest, at the moment, each day it is a struggle to do them.  But taking up your Cross each day sounds like a struggle doesn’t it?  But I keep in my mind that phrase of Paul’s: “don’t be yoked again to slavery.”

I’m sure Paul intends us here to hear echoes of Jesus saying, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  It’s still a burden, it’s still a form of slavery, but it’s being yoked to Jesus, who takes the strain, who does all the real work and every step we take is a step on the road to freedom.  However much of a struggle the disciplines of the Christian life are, they are all struggles to be free.

So Simon of Cyrene reminds me that in the face of every enemy, in the face of every threat, in the face of every difficulty, the simple life of Christian love and service is our surest defence and our freedom.

“O God, the author of peace and lover of concord.  To know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom.  Defend us, your servants, from all assaults of our enemies, that we, surely trusting in your defence, may not fear the power of any adversary, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

 

[1] Luke 9:23

 Testimonial

"Michael’s combination of theological insight, pastoral sensitivity and sense of humour enabled us to see the challenges that Jacob faced in a new light. There was an underlying sense that the Spirit was at work amongst us as we explored the themes together. Even more refreshing was the way in which the Spirit gave us new insights in our discussions. This was a truly encouraging, if brief, retreat and we returned to our parishes with fresh enthusiasm to keep on going in the power of the Spirit."
Geoff Mumford, New Ainsty Deanery, Diocese of York

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