Preamble to the Declaration of Independence

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
Gal. 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery....13   For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
I have been thinking about freedom in recent days.  Tomorrow my family, like many of yours, will celebrate the 4th of July.  We will grill steaks, perhaps enjoy a wee dram of our favorite beverage, and give thanks for the nation in which we live and which has been good to us.  We will be glad for the birth of a nation which states at the start that all people are created equal in the Creator's eyes and that all should, therefore, enjoy the privilege of the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

Someone said to me a few months ago that Europe and the US would approach the response to COVID-19 very differently because in Europe the core value was "community" and in the US the core value was "freedom."  I don't recall who said that to me and from where they got that information . . . but as I watch the unfolding response to the global pandemic, it does look like those core-values are at work both here and overseas.

Think how often the need for social-distancing, or mask-wearing, (or any other suggestion made about how to lessen the infection-rate and death toll) is met with complaints that these precautions are an impingement upon our freedoms.  They are, in fact, an impingement upon our freedoms . . . or at least they are an impingement upon a certain notion of "freedom."  If to be "free" is defined by "having what I want and doing as I please," then to wear a mask or be asked to shelter at home is to ask that I be less free.

But the faith which we Christians hold has a very different notion of "freedom."  The apostle Paul, in his passionate (and sometimes acrimonious) letter to the Galatians addresses "freedom" in the context of Christian discipleship.  Paul reminds us that the enslavement we formerly knew was precisely the definition of "freedom" I cited above.  What Christ's life, death, and resurrection does is liberate us from the selfish and self-serving impulses which lie behind the "have whatever I want and do whatever I please" philosophy of life.  He writes, "For freedom Christ has set you free . . . for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another."  We have been set free from self-serving ways and have been invited to live into the freedom of a loving deference to the needs of others. To your pastor's way of thinking this accurately explains why I wear a mask, and maintain a respectful and safe distance from others, and choose to eschew the delights of social gatherings et cetera.  I gladly adopt these reductions in my liberty as expressions of my intent to follow the law of Christ "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Paul's final cautionary words also seem eerily appropriate as I glance over this morning's news-feed where I see at least half a dozen stories about tense, sometimes violent, interactions between people over the question of how to live together in mutually respectful and healthy ways.  Paul warns, "If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by the conflict."

So, this Fourth of July I will be celebrating freedom, but I'll be celebrating the freedom to which my faith calls me and I'll be expressing that freedom by submitting to the demands of the moment to love my neighbors more than I love my liberties.

Your pastor and friend,

Paul Lang