We have been freed to love and serve one another

Pastor David Armstrong-Reimer
July 3, 2021

This weekend we celebrate Independence Day. We celebrate the vision of freedom that we citizens strive to achieve with those words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

We know that this vision has only been imperfectly achieved. We have had to expand that vision throughout the last 245 years.

Non-property owners did not gain the right to vote until 1828.

It took a civil war to end slavery and the 15th Amendment in 1870 before African-Americans could vote. Even then, obstructions placed in their way would not begin to be removed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And the fight continues today.

Women did not gain the right to vote until 1920.

Native Americans were not fully granted that right until 1924, and Asian Americans were not fully granted that right until 1953.

We continue to struggle to ensure that the freedom we proclaim is for all people.

Thus, we must do more than celebrate Independence Day. July 4th should call us to live up to the ideals we proclaim. We must ensure that we do not restrict “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for anyone.

Yet, let us be clear about what we mean by “freedom.” Too many understand “freedom” as doing whatever they want. During this pandemic, many thought that mask-wearing or getting vaccinated somehow restricted their personal freedom. That is not what freedom means.

Freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” Yet, such freedom does not apply simply to ourselves. By our power or right to act, we must ensure that all have the power or right to act.

We have the freedom of speech, but when what we say slanders or libels someone or when what we say incites others to do violence against others, then that speech is restricted. It is restricted because it has prevented others from their right to speak.

We mandated masks during the pandemic, because it was a public safety measure. By wearing masks, we ensured that others – including ourselves – could remain healthy. We wore masks during the pandemic, just like we wear seatbelts in cars or airplanes or helmets on motorcycles.

Paul tells us, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) According to Paul, if we act according to our own desires, we are no longer free but are serving the “flesh.” Paul says that Christ has set us free to live according to the Spirit, according to God’s will.

Martin Luther put it this way: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” We have been freed to love and serve one another. And we work to extend that freedom for all people.

Think about how that changes the conversation on freedom in the United States!

In freedom I get a vaccination and wear a mask during a pandemic, because I wish to work for the health of myself and all those I come in contact with.

In freedom I speak and act for the dignity of all people. In freedom I speak and act out against such words or actions that will cause harm to any individual or group.

In freedom I declare that Black Lives Matter and that the killing of African American young men must end in this country.

In freedom I embrace Pride Month and the inclusion of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and declare that we must stop treating them as outside of God’s grace.

In freedom I embrace the Me Too movement and stand against any exploitation of women.

In freedom I stand with my Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and atheist brothers and sisters, declaring that they have the right to worship or not worship in the same way that I do.

In freedom I stand with the immigrant and declare that their economic and physical exploitation must end.

This July 4th, I encourage all of us through our displays of fireworks and celebrations to renew ourselves in what freedom truly means and to continue to work toward the freedom of all people.

David Armstrong-Reiner is pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church, 2375 Ga. Highway 20 in Conyers. Contact him at pastor.david@conyerselc.org.