Thursday, January 8, 2009

Judgment Day, Part 2

Freedom in the Son

Framing Scriptures
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

Christmas represents our chance to reflect on the astonishing gift Jesus is to us—fully God and fully human, Jesus brought us the truth about God—Jesus is what God is and God is what Jesus is. Jesus is also what we are so that we can be what Jesus is—people who pay attention to our father in heaven and do what we see our father doing. Jesus completely understands what it means to be human—the Bible says he was tempted in all ways as we are—in all ways—yet was never enslaved by sin. He loved the earth and the people in it, and he loved them so much that their refusal to see God in him frustrated him, particularly because they hid behind religious law in order to avoid real relationship with God. That real relationship is where human beings are really free—paradoxically, we are God’s slaves in order to be completely free.

Suppose you are living in a dark jail cell awaiting your trial. Your worst fear is of the day when someone will show up at your cell and haul you before the judge. Deep in your heart you know there are countless offenses that have given the judge the right to have you imprisoned for life or even executed. Yet you complain about the cell and your cellmates and insist you did nothing to merit this imprisonment.

Then one day, a guard shows up and calls your name. Trembling, you follow the guard down the long hall. Your hands are manacled, and you are wearing prison orange. You enter the courtroom. The judge is all you feared—imposing, high above you; you cannot meet his eyes. Your guilt is written all over you. The judge says to the prosecutor: “What are the charges?”

The prosecutor begins a long list of all the things you thought were secret, all the things you did to get ahead of other people, every time you lied, every time you acted out of malice, every time you hoarded your stuff rather than sharing, the ways you dismissed and disrespected others. And it goes on and on. Before the list can end, you drop to your knees and cry out, “Have mercy on me. I’ll do better, I promise. I’m a different person now. I’ll be good.”

Unbelievably, you hear the judge say, “It’s obvious this person will never be able to pay for these wrongs. Let’s try this: freedom.”

You cannot believe it, and you still don’t dare look up from the ground. You leave the courtroom; you are given civilian clothes. You step out onto the street, your own voice ringing in your ears. “I’ll be good.” You get in line at the burger bar to buy a meal, and someone pushes ahead of you. Without a thought, you throw that person to the ground and start kicking. No one is going to take what’s yours, including your place in line.

The girl behind the counter dials 911, and when the police show up, you have your hands around the neck of the person who cut in front of you, and you are closing your fingers as tightly together as you can. The police yank your hands off and behind you, handcuff you, and take you back to the courtroom you just left.

The judge says, “Didn’t I just set you free? Why are you enforcing all the rules I let you out of? You don’t understand freedom, so you will remain in prison.” As you walk down the hallway, you are weeping and grinding your teeth together. Even as messed up as you made it, you loved being out of jail. But you had never really been free.

This is my version of the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18. I want to be sure that this point comes across: The freed prisoner didn’t get thrown back into jail because she wasn’t good enough. She ended up in jail because she didn’t listen. The judge had set her free. Nothing she had done was held against her. But she didn’t live as if she were free of those crimes and laws and rules. She was still insisting that she would pay for her crimes by being good

When Jesus came, Jesus brought freedom for us poor sinners. Jesus said to so many people: you are free. Be alive in that freedom. Let’s pay attention to scriptures that describe what Jesus means to us:

God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son; whoever has confidence in Jesus will not perish but have life that never ends. I am come that you might have life, and not just a pinched little life, but one filled with abundance, where you understand finally the overwhelming generosity of God. I saw Satan fall from heaven—but this isn’t why you rejoice; instead, rejoice that your names are written in the book of life. I do not condemn you—go and live freed from sin. Adam brought death into the world, and now all die; Jesus brought life in order to make everyone completely alive. You have not received a spirit of fear and slavery and imprisonment, but a spirit of adoption into God’s own family as God’s children; you are free to think of God as your own “papa” or “daddy” no matter what your earthly father was like. You have the freedom of a son or daughter. When you realize you have been set free, don’t be entangled again in a net of rules and don’t let sin tell you what to do. Don’t use freedom as license to do wrong, but live free. If Jesus, God’s Son, has set you free, you are in fact free. Who is your judge? The same one who gave himself to set you free. Confess everything you are ashamed of to him, and he will erase your record and you will be innocent. Walk in love toward others, love that is embodied in action, and you do not need to fear a guilty conscience.

Be abundant.

Abide in Jesus, let fruit happen, accept the pruning of God which increases the amount and quality of fruit, the fruit that grows naturally from being connected to Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit access to your whole self. Obeying God’s Holy Spirit results in a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. No one makes laws against these things. You can tell if you’re slipping if you start becoming conceited, competing with other people, or envying someone else. Get out of that jail as soon as you can by confessing and having confidence in God’s love for you.

Bear with one another. Bear each other’s burdens. If you see someone slipping out of God’s freedom, gently approach that person with the truth, always remembering you too are likely to slip on occasion. Anyone who says he or she doesn’t slip into conceit, competition, or envy is likely to be self-deceiving, so be merciful to each other, just as God has been merciful to you. Don’t judge, so you won’t be judged. Don’t be like the folks who missed the freedom Jesus brought in his life on earth, who said to him, “You should be more careful to observe Sabbath, you should fast, you should pay temple tax, you should accept our authority”; he said about them that they tied burdens on other people they were too good to help carry.

Jesus is not too good to help us carry our burdens. He says, “I will be yoked with you—come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden; be my partner, my yoke-fellow, and learn from me, for I am tenderhearted; you will find that your souls have rest.”

Suppose a different end to the parable: Suppose that you looked into the judge’s face and saw his eyes. After that encounter with love, you walk out of the courtroom a free soul, and you notice a new holy light on everyone and everything you see. You sense that love is at the heart of things. You are standing in line at the burger bar, and someone pushes in front of you, and you are filled with light and love, and you say to that person, “I see you are hungrier than I am—do you have enough money for what you want to eat? I have a little extra because the judge was so generous when he let me go this morning.”

You live free, you live abundantly, you share yourself and your God-given abilities with everyone, never once worrying about whether you are getting it right, meeting expectations, following the rules adequately. When you get even a hint of measuring yourself against others, you say, “O God, I am so prone to do this. I confess that for a moment I lost sight of your eyes and your love, and I was wrong. I will never be able to keep from this unless you help me, and I want that help.” Then you go on your way rejoicing.

And when you die, and you come before the last judgment, you look up, and whose face do you see? You see the face of Jesus, God’s Son and your own brother. When he speaks, you hear the same voice you have been listening for and obeying for your whole lifetime.

It is just possible that people reading this have not yet understood or lived into the love of God. If you want to, you can start today. What is God saying to you?

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