I heard an interesting story the other day about a young man recently out of law school. He was very gifted, presented himself well and quickly gained a job offer at a prestigious firm. To say the least, the offer was excellent and the firm was highly regarded. Further, the pay, particularly for a first job out of school, was outstanding. When the representative from the firm made the offer, the newly minted attorney looked at the man and said two things. First, he thanked the man who represented the firm for the opportunity and shared that he was honored to have even been interviewed. Second, he said to the man the unexpected. He said, “If you don’t mind, I want to go home and talk to my mom and dad about this. I will call you tomorrow with an answer.”
Now, let me dissect this for a moment if you will. Here was a young man who was really experiencing a new level of freedom and perhaps the greatest level of freedom that he had known up until this point. He was out of school, about to start his first job and have more money at his disposal than he had ever had. In essence, he had arrived and was now his own person.
But, at the same time, this was also a young man whose first instinct was to want to go home and talk to his parents. This was simply what his mind and his heart told him to do. It was his natural instinct. No matter what he was told freedom meant, his actions suggested that plenty of dependency still existed in his life including a deep desire to continue to rely upon the wisdom and guidance that he often found in his parents.
If we have lived much of life, we get it don’t we? We understand full well that the notion of freedom comes with a significant amount of false advertising and understanding. To say that we are free implies that we can do what we want. It implies that we don’t need anyone’s help. And, it implies that we need not worry about what anyone else thinks. Yet, while this is the idea that the term freedom often suggests and while it is what many people often think, there is virtually no truth in any of it.
Tommy did a wonderful job with his sermon about freedom last weekend over the Fourth of July holiday. He said something that I want to repeat and then zero in on with the time we have left. Tommy reminded us that freedom and independence are not the same thing. I would say it this way. While we use the words independence and freedom as synonyms, the word independence is not a good definition of the word freedom. Freedom doesn’t mean we are now independent.
Freedom doesn’t mean that we can do whatever we want. Freedom doesn’t mean we no longer need anyone’s help. And, freedom certainly doesn’t mean that we no longer need to worry about what anyone else thinks. Instead, a healthy understanding of freedom always comes with the idea that freedom, responsibility and dependence remain words that we must balance.
You may have heard before the quote attributed to Winston Churchill on the evening of December 7, 1941, the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Churchill was appalled by the Japanese attack in Hawaii, but, he said that he went to bed that night and “slept the sleep of the saved and thankful” for he knew the US would now enter the war. Britain was fighting for the free world but they were dependent on others to help. They could not do it alone.
Psalm 33, our text for today, gets at this idea too. Psalm 33 is unique. Not only is the Psalm set within the context of worship, it is also the very first Psalm in which the use of instruments is connected to the act of worship as verses 2 and 3 invite us to praise God with the harp and strings. At its foundational level, this hymn of praise says two things about God. God creates the earth with God’s word and sustains the earth with God’s work. The earth is here because God spoke it into being. And, we are here, because God continues to be at work in our lives. I love verses 16-18 which speaks of our false beliefs that kings or horses are what save and sustain us. It’s not kings and horses Psalm 33 seems to wants to shout, it is God. Imbedded under this beautiful statement of praise which is Psalm 33 is the strong affirmation of our dependence on God. Our world in general and our lives in particular are not the result of our good work. They are the result of God’s abiding presence. Without God, we would not be here.
Let me make two quick points. First, our freedom in Christ is a result of our dependency on Christ. Freedom from sin, our past, what other people think, our worries and on and on the list goes is hinged on our dependency on God the maker of heaven and earth and the sustainer of the earth. The more we live into our dependence on God, the more freedom we receive.
Second, the balance of freedom and dependency in the life of faith should serve us well in life in general. If you look at Psalm 33, particularly in verse 12, it is clear that there is a trickle down effect at work. Affirming a dependency on God appears to lead to a good society. Why? Well, first and foremost as we have already said dependency on God means we keep God at the forefront of our lives. But, I think one could also say that a dependence on God also leads to a recognition that we must depend on each other too. Our freedoms are always connected to our desire to want to make life good and meaningful for others. As odd as it sounds, our dedication to others preserves all of our freedoms just as our dependency on God preserves our freedoms as people of faith.
Something needs to be said right now and that is that we are struggling mightily with this idea as people today. I am not sure I have ever witnessed a time when we as a society are more determined to only care about ourselves. We act as if we can do whatever we want with no regard for how it affects others. If I am not affected, I don’t care. That is not my problem. Me, me, me which has nothing to do with the way scripture invites us to live. Free yes but also dependent.
King Dixon passed away this week. Along with being a tremendous athlete, war hero, successful leader and deep man of faith, King was a terrific citizen. One of my fondest memories of King came one night while listening to the radio. Laurens was playing football. I couldn’t go to the game and so I listened to WLBG’s radio broadcast and King was providing color. At a lull in the action, King complimented our church on something we had done in the community that week. The compliment came totally out of the blue. I certainly wasn’t expecting it and it caught me off guard. But, it also stuck with me. Here is why. Of course, King was a member of First Presbyterian next door and he loved his church. But, he didn’t want to only see his church do well. He wanted to see all Laurens churches do well. Why? Because he recognized that when all of our churches succeeded we all benefited. To desire everyone’s best, not just his best, was a way to support others while knowing in the process his own life would be bettered too.
To seek the good of others is to seek our collective good. Mark it down, to live without care for anyone else is in the end to create our own destruction. We must, we must come to understand this and to understand it now.
Freedom and dependence go hand in hand in faith and in life today and every day. Amen.