Scott Stearman KBC June 28, 10
A young man who grew up here at KBC is as we speak responsible for guarding President Bill Clinton…Since he is in the secret service, and since we podcast this to the universe, I’ll leave his name out. But most of you know of whom I speak. He was in South Africa… going to meet Mandela.
I said: I don’t know any other true political hero still alive…
In prison for decades, his people slaves to a system of apartheid of inequality, discrimination, of taxation without representation, of oppression. At the time the South African president enforced a system which all the world believed to be unjust and evil.
Is it true, as some have suggested, that Mandela as a prisoner in a small concrete cell was more free than the white and rich de Klerk who was but shackled by an evil system which in his heart he knew was wrong?
Is there such a thing as spiritual freedom that transcends our physical freedom – that you can be locked up and freed up at the same time? That you can have your hands tied and your heart loosed at the same moment?
I think so, and I think the Bible tells me so. AND moreover I think it is also true that you can have unrestricted movement and unlimited wealth and perfect health, and be a trapped animal weighted with the bondage of obligations, addictions, of passions, of what Somerset Maugham called human bondage.
This is Paul’s experience – before he says trapped under a heavy obligation that he had to meet all of the law’s expectations, all of God’s expectations as expressed in countless rules and regulations… but then he found grace.
Here’s what ought to interest only the humans in the room (all else can go to sleep)… centuries later Matin Luther had to make the same discovery! Why!? Because as Dostoyevsky so beautifully put it: there is nothing more alluring than freedom of conscience, but nothing more fearful.
It is the fear of freedom that inexorably leads us to create an endless list of obligations, rules, ways, customs, traditions… which become weighted with the ostensible will of God and these then can take the place of God. The early Christians got this. Peter discovered this in Joppa when he had his vision that God was extending his grace to all, w/o restriction to diet, or ethnicity, or gender, or nationality, or… anything else.
Our church is about to celebrate 140 years of ministry. This is something to commemorate – for it is a glorious gift that for these years we have celebrated a kind of faith which has emphasized the grace of God over the rules of men. We have, at our best, taken the best of our Baptist tradition and have promoted individual freedom in a responsible community. We have committed togetherness, but as our mission statement says: we are together in freedom… to care and reconcile.
Together by God’s grace – having a myriad of differing views of many lesser subjects this we know is our true obligation: to love one another. And in this world loving has two clear commands: to care for needs, to reconcile hearts.
This morning I want to celebrate our tradition of freedom which I know will be our means of thriving in the future. The things I want to mention are why you are so wonderful… they are gifts of God and know we aren’t perfect, but for 140 years we’ve been shaped by these values and we’ve been imperfect incarnations of these values. Around the globe there are KBC missionaries who have been touched by this community of faith.
But let me start with a story… An acquaintance was being driven through a suburban Texas community – there speaking – and he was taken to see all the town’s highlights. So five minutes later he says… he was driving down a suburb and ask they came down the street he noticed a car pulling into the driveway of a typical home. Out of the door of the house sprang a quickly moving man who walked briskly and with a smile to the driver door of the car. He opened the door and bend down as if to embrace and kiss his wife. He thought: now there’s a suburban marriage that’s lost none of its fire.
But then saw him do what he had so clearly done 100s of times before, with the smoth actions of a gifted athlete he picked up the woman in the front and swinging around was able to open the back door and pullout a wheelchair.
Ours isn’t the freedom of empty idleness, but the freedom of slaves, where we are captive to what matters. Here is how we celebrate the grace of God in our lives and in our community. We emphasize:
Love over Literalism –We believe the Bible is worthy of understanding and interpreting, but every passage must be interpreted within its historical and our contemporary context. The lens through which we read the Bible is the love of Christ. This love compels us to bring all of life to the text (e.g., science, experience, reason, tradition). In the end only the ethics of love will conquer human evil.
Mystery over Magic – By definition God is beyond our human understanding. We recognize that both in scripture and theological tradition God is understood to be inscrutable and ineffable. Hence we resist the temptation to provide predictions as to what God will or will not do in this life. We reject the claims which intimate that through faith we can twist the arm of God. This perspective is reflected in our worship which seeks to embrace both the transcendence of an unknowable God and the imminence of a loving God. We sing to a God closer than we can imagine and a God beyond our imagining.
Praise over Proof – We praise God out of a sense of the wonder of existence and of the joy of life and hope for eternity. We do not worship out of a doubtless and faultless theology. Nor do we feel the need to live without doubt or questions. We sing what we cannot say. We praise what we cannot prove. We embrace the mystery of existence and give gratitude for every moment we can praise God.
Science over Superstition – We do not believe that faith and science are fundamentally incompatible. Nor do we believe that faith and reason are necessarily at odds, although they are often in tension. We believe that a part of the “narrow way” to which we are called requires us to let our faith inform our science and science inform our faith. In general terms science answers how and our faith why.
Tradition over Traditionalism – There are traditions which nourish the soul and there times when slavish dedication to tradition becomes traditionalism, a soul crushing exercise of futility. We believe the annual church pilgrimage of the church year, for example, feeds our understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is more than habit and yet it is less than the heart of our faith. That is a relationship of faith. Our faith is empowered by tradition but birthed by a mysterious work of God.
Morals over Moralism – A consistent theme of Jesus was the opposition of the Pharisee’s moralistic power plays. They demanded of others what they weren’t willing to do themselves. A fundamental value of Jesus is servant-hood and an essential part of being a moral human being is self-reflection. We are committed to an ethical journey of self-reflection and a spiritual journey of sanctification; the goal of both being transformation.
Justice over Handouts We have embraced our call to be the “presence of Christ” in our church and in our community. This is more than “being nice.” We desire to give more of a hand up than a hand out. Justice requires eyes of faith looking out for the “least of these” and doing our part to meet their needs. The sheer weight of biblical verses dealing with economic justice is an indicator that we are not only called to moral purity, but to economic recovery: leading all people to a more just world; that it might be here as it is in heaven.
Community over Ideology – A part of our Baptist tradition is the individual’s responsibility to interpret Scripture for themselves but within the community of faith. This emphasis requires freedom be granted for differences of opinion on non-essential matters. What we do know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, is that we are called to love one another. About more complex issues we may have belief but not knowledge. This disposition reflects the emphasis of Jesus (particularly evident in the sermon on the mount) that our personal ethics are vastly more significant than traditional orthodoxy.
Athens in 1994 – a young man in Singapore was to be caned for vandalism. Like chewing gum in public… or some such nonsense. If you remember it seemed crazy to much of the world – certainly to the average American. I mean a man from Singapore and we discussed the issue. How, I asked can you government be so draconian, so oppressive? It is we, we said, who are truly free. Free to walk down any street unmolested. Free from violence, free from vandalism, free from gum smacking…
It’s fascinating… but this isn’t political philosophy 101, but this story reminds us that real freedom isn’t some internal or external anarchy, but real freedom is being enslaved to the right things, to pure things, to lovely things, to the real thing.
For the audio: