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June 2, 2019, 7th Sunday of Easter

 

 

LectionAid 3rd Quarter 2019

June 2, 2019, 7th Sunday of Easter

Freedom Redux

Ps 97, Acts 16:16-34, Rev 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17:20-26

Theme: Freedom and Belief in God

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

This is all about freedom. Something we in this country take for grant. But do we really understand true freedom in the biblical sense. How many of us realize how few people had any real freedom in the ancient world? Those that had freedom like in ancient Athens was totally different from what we understand as freedom today. The basics of freedom need to be re-examined in light of the Biblical understanding.
We need to go beyond the confusing political and modern definitions of freedom back the New Testament. What is freedom? Willimon points out that by the end of the story, everyone who at first appeared to be free—the girl’s owners, the judges, the jailer—is a slave. And everyone who first appeared to be enslaved—the poor girl, Paul, and Silas—is free. Then Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). At Philippi it was demonstrated that there is freedom and then there is freedom. Freedom comes not from our restraint upon government nor our restraint upon the rich it comes instead from our belief in something beyond ourselves. We are only free with God. Freedom from want and government interference are important but do not give us true freedom. We find true freedom in love and being loved particularly the love of God.
You can understand the reading to be a great drama, almost as if author Luke is playing with the idea of freedom. Almost as if Luke slips from behind the curtains as the show begins, and asks: "Who is free, and who is not?" As Act I begins, the slave girl is center stage. She is obviously enslaved-just by the fact that she is a slave. There is more, however, for this poor girl. She is thought to be possessed by a python spirit, a kind of snake-god. So, controlled and ruled by this spirit is she, that she had no control over her speech. People believed that she predicted the future.
In the wings are the girls' owners, free to do whatever they want-or so they think. Costuming has dressed them in t-shirts that proclaim, "It's All About Me!" They use the girl for their profit and sing all the way to the bank at the end of the day.
Enter stage left, Paul the Apostle. Paul knows what it means to be un-free. He knows what it is like to be so horribly possessed with hatred that he breathed anger and murder. He was obsessed with persecuting those who called themselves "the Way"-until he met Jesus. Now Paul knows what it is to be free, so spiritually free that he knows that freedom has not to do with who I am, but whose I am.
The next scene presents Paul and Silas and their traveling companions as the miserable little slave girl stalks them. She keeps screaming that the men are servants of the Most High God. Perhaps it is this, and not her continuing presence and the repetition of her screams that angers Paul. Paul and his friends are in Gentile country here. By the fact that worship is at a place of prayer rather than a synagogue, it appears that the Jewish population does not include the ten men required to constitute a synagogue. It is therefore probable that the girl does not recognize Paul and his followers as slaves of God, but instead accuses them of worshipping the Roman God Zeus or even of emperor worship. Whatever it is that annoys Paul, he lashes out in anger and the spirit is exorcized.
Anger produces a healing. Perhaps a few lines got left out of the script here. Maybe underneath the anger, Paul remembers what it is to be as obsessed as this poor slave girl. Perhaps it is compassion that spurs Paul to action. Maybe Paul chose, in spite of his anger, to act as God might act. Whatever details are omitted from the text, the scene is a re-enactment of Isaiah 61:1 and the words of Jesus: "…to proclaim freedom to the captives".
At this, the owners of the slave girl drive wildly onto stage, slam on the brakes of their Mercedes, and bolt from the car. They are enraged. Now we see that they are not so free as they thought themselves to be. They are hostage to themselves and their wallets. They throw Paul and Silas into the back seat of the Mercedes and head off to City Hall.
In Act II, it is the two men of God who appear, on the surface, to be un-free. Treated like common criminals, rather than the Roman citizens they are, they are cast into the innermost cell, the darkest and loneliest place in the prison. Welts and bloody wounds cover their backs. Their bodies are stiff and sore. Chains bite into their wrists, and as a final measure to ensure they can't escape; their feet are put in stocks. F.F. Bruce says these are not just ordinary stocks, with a hole for each leg. Rather, they have several openings so that they become an instrument of torture as the legs are stretched further and further apart. (F.F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951], p. 318)
Here the plot turns, and the drama undergoes a great reversal. From the furthest and darkest corner of the stage, Paul and Silas are heard singing and praying. They are having a worship service at high midnight! It is a remarkable, almost shocking, display of what spiritual freedom means rising above the most miserable circumstances that the human mind can imagine, to turn one's eyes upon Jesus. To be so spiritually free, that one can choose, in the midst of pain and physical captivity, to turn to God, and the things of God.
Then the earth begins to move. The stage rolls wildly, and the audience gasps in terror as the ground shakes beneath their seats. There is a great cracking noise and the doors of the prison burst open. The prisoners shake their wrists and the chains fall off. They step from the stocks that have been splintered to pieces at their feet.
The logical thing for Paul to do at this point is to gather the prisoners together and make a run for safety. They are free from their physical captivity. Why do they stay? Why don't they think of themselves and run for their lives?
Almost before we can ask that question, the jailer bursts onto stage, his sword in his hand, and we observe that it is the jailer who is un-free in this scene. So much captive to his responsibility to the authorities and the social expectations placed on him, that he will kill himself rather than face the consequences.
Now we understand why Paul stayed. Relieved by the assurance that the prisoners are all accounted for, the jailer asks an astounding question: "What must I do to be saved?" Paul is there, free enough to risk the dangers of the aftershocks-and to respond to the jailer's yearning for what he needs most.
At curtain call, the stage is packed with people-all the characters of this great drama, gathered around the table, to enjoy the feast. Everyone made free, except possibly the owners of the slave girl, who are still held captive to self. The entire play is a re-enactment of Isaiah 61. As we in the audience leave the theater, we know some new truths about freedom. We also know that we, like the Apostle Paul, are called to re-enact the words of Isaiah and Jesus-and to set the captives free wherever we go.

Exegetical Comments

If there is one virtue on which we can all join hands, it is freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion. Freedom is the blessed treasure of academia—freedom to think, teach, and publish. Freedom is also a blessed treasure of the pulpit—freedom to speak as one feels led by God to speak. Freedom? Surrounded by our burglar alarms and medicine cabinets and our fears—heart attack, impotency, insanity, insolvency—this is freedom?
We Americans have built a society which has given an unprecedented measure of freedom to its citizens. I am given maximum space aggressively to pursue what I want—as long as I do not bump into you while you are getting yours. What we call culture is a vast supermarket of desire where citizens are treated as little more than self-interested consumers. I have freedom of choice, but now what do I do with my freedom? We are free but also terribly lonely, terribly driven. The nine-to-five job, monthly mortgage payments, over-programmed children, dog-eat-dog contests for grades at the university—this is our freedom.
There is freedom, and then there is freedom. One of our problems in this matter of freedom is that we may not even know what true freedom is. Acts 16:11–40 tells stories about people in Philippi who were in bondage and people who were free. Who in the story is free?
First, we meet Lydia (v. 14), a rich businesswoman and worshiper of God. God opens her heart to the gospel and she immediately demonstrates the Christian trait of hospitality, opening her home. The conversion of Lydia is interesting for a number of reasons. First, the narrator makes clear that her conversion is due to the work of God, not Paul’s skill. Second, Lydia is a woman. We need not be startled that Paul and Silas, Near-Eastern males though they be, are talking to women in public (v. 13). Twice in his Gospel, Luke mentions the women who followed Jesus from Galilee (Luke 23:49, 55). The detail is typical of a writer who shows throughout his Gospel and in Acts an interest in “those of low degree.” Women, low on the social scale, were the first evangelists who ran to tell the male disciples (who were hiding!) that Jesus had risen from the dead (Luke 24:9).
When compared to conventional Jewish and Greco-Roman ideas about women, the church must have seemed radical in the way it welcomed women and featured them as leaders and prophets (1 Cor. 11:2–16). Women could be members of this movement without the permission of their husbands, and they may, though Paul advised against it, initiate divorce from a pagan husband (1 Cor. 7:13). The early church had women leaders like Lydia even though it seems to have struggled to square the cultural presuppositions about women with the experience of the gifts and leadership of women within early congregations—as, for example, in Paul’s rather confusing words on the issue of women as leaders (1 Cor. 11:2–16; 14:33–36). Perhaps Luke gives prominence to the role of women like Lydia to assure Theophilus’ church—a church which may have regressed to more conventional cultural mores regarding the status of women—that the leadership of women had apostolic precedent.
Third, Lydia is a rich woman. In the opening of his Gospel, in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:51–53), Luke sounds a warning to the rich. Throughout both the Gospel and Acts, Luke portrays possessions as a special danger. “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Yet Luke never lapses into divisive notions of Marxist “class struggle” or simplistic “preferential option for the poor” of some theologies of liberation. Jesus redeemed the wealthy Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10), with the result that Zacchaeus gave over half of his wealth to the poor. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the good that can be done through the right use of wealth (Luke 10:30–37). In the church wealthier members give for those who have less (Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–35). Cornelius, the first gentile convert, is depicted as a philanthropist (10:2), and now a rich woman named Lydia demonstrates her conversion through hospitality. That Paul consented to stay in her house as the recipient of her hospitality indicates that barriers which sometimes divided male and female or divided Jew from gentile. Jewish converts within the synagogues do not hold in the church. Lydia is now free to be hospitable, and Paul is now free to welcome her as a sister in Christ (v. 15).
This mixing of classes is particularly interesting, given the context of the Roman world where there was virtually no movement out of the social class to which one was born nor any expectation of movement. Classes were hereditary, fixed at birth. Only the Roman army (and sometimes marriage of women into the ranks of the socially privileged) offered much hope of movement towards the more economically advantaged classes. Acts’ picture of relaxed familiarity and warm hospitality between social classes in the church would not have been missed by Luke’s readers (Meeks, pp. 19–26).
Celsus, the first pagan author who took the trouble to write a book to discredit Christianity, alleged that the church deliberately excluded educated and wealthy people because this faith appealed only to “the foolish, … slaves, women, and little children” who gathered at “the wool dresser’s shop, or to the cobbler’s or the washerwoman’s shop, that they may learn perfection” (Meeks, p. 51). Many modern scholars feel that Celsus’ description of the church was inaccurate—though it has been a favorite of Marxist historians or those who romanticize poverty. There is good evidence that early congregations attracted a surprising cross-section of first and second century society. Was this because the early church—unlike our church’s all-too-frequent application of economic determinism to explain everyone’s situation in life—failed to take either a person’s poverty or wealth with ultimate seriousness? Wealthy Lydia as well as the impoverished beneficiaries of Dorcas’ generosity (9:32–43) worship together in the church.
Paul and Silas were going to the place of prayer and were accosted by a slave girl. Because this girl could tell peoples’ fortunes, she made money for her owners, who hired her out to read palms and provide entertainment at business conventions. She was possessed by a demon; mentally unbalanced, we would say. She took to following Paul and Silas around, shouting at them, saying things about them. Here is a picture of enslavement—the grip of mental illness, schizophrenia, some “demon” which holds the victim in bondage.
Paul has enough of the young woman’s raving and in the name of Christ cures her. Thank God, she is free! Yet no, she is not free. She is a slave, someone who is not a person but a piece of property. “When her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers” (v. 19). The Philippian chamber of commerce moves into action.
One day Jesus healed a mentally deranged man by casting his demons into some swine (Luke 8:37); for this act of charity he was promptly escorted out of town by the local Pork Dealers Association. At Ephesus, Paul had a big revival, and many were converted, and it was all wonderful—except for the members of Local 184 of the International Brotherhood of Artisans of Silver Shrines to Artemis (Acts 19:23–41). They did not like it at all.
Here is a young woman, chained her whole life to the hell of demon possession, and now she is free; there ought to be rejoicing. But no, her owners are not free enough to do that. It was fine to give a dollar to the Mental Health Association drive last fall, but this is another matter. Religion has somehow gotten mixed up with economics here, and so her owners do what the vested interests always do when their interests are threatened. The girl’s owners say to the judge, “We’re not against a little religion—as long as it is kept in its place.” But “these men are Jews and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs which are not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (vv. 20, 21).
No, we do not come right out and say that our financial self-interest is threatened; we say that our nation is threatened. “These missionaries are foreigners.” Buy American!
Besides, they are Jews. And we all know what they are like, money grabbing, materialistic. If the nationalism and the anti-Semitism fail to work, we will throw in an appeal for old-time religion saying, “They advocate customs not lawful for us to practice.” Nation, race, tradition—all stepping into line behind the dollar.
Then the crowd, democracy in action, falls into line behind the business leaders of the town; and they attack and beat Paul and Silas. Paul and Silas are put into the back cell of the town prison and the jailer takes their feet and locks them in the iron shackles. The liberators have become the imprisoned. Jesus has helped set a pitiful young woman free, but two of Jesus’ people get jailed in the process. That Jesus who preached, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)—you know where he ended up.
Paul and Silas end up in prison, languishing there (v. 24). No, the story says, “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, …” (v. 25). Wait, these men in chains, legs locked in shackles are singing, praying, having a sort of rally in jail.
The earth heaves, the prison shakes, the doors fly open and everyone’s chains fall off. The jailer wakes, and when he sees that the doors are open, he is horrified. Knowing what happens to jailers who permit their prisoners to escape he draws his sword and prepares to do the honorable thing for disgraced jailers. Having the key to someone else’s cell does not make you free. Iron bars do not a prison make.
Paul shouts, “Don’t do it. We’re all here, just singing.” The jailer says, “But you were bound in chains, now you are free to escape.” Paul says, “No, we prisoners are free and you, our jailer, were chained but now you are free to escape.”
And the jailer asks, “What do I have to do to be saved” (v. 30)? What do I have to do to be free? And he was baptized.
What is freedom? By the end of the story, everyone who at first appeared to be free—the girl’s owners, the judges, the jailer—is a slave. And everyone who first appeared to be enslaved—the poor girl, Paul, and Silas—is free.
After I spoke at a conference on women in the church, someone rose and said, “The federal government has done more for the cause of women in this country than the church ever thought about. At last, because of government help, women are enabled to be on an equal level with men in the workplace.” And I had just heard on the radio that for the first time in history the rate of lung cancer among women is as high as it is among men. The rate of hypertension, heart disease, and other stress-related diseases is climbing among women, and some feel that in not too many years the life span of the average American female will have shrunk to that of the average American male.
You have come a long way—to get where you have gotten to today? There is freedom, and then there is freedom. Earlier, Jesus had said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31).
They stiffened their necks, held their heads high, and answered, “What is this ‘will make you free’ business? We are descendants of Abraham and have never been in bondage to anyone” (cf. John 8:33).
They lied. The ones who spoke so pridefully of their freedom spoke with the heel of Caesar upon their necks—slaves of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Rome, anybody big enough to raise an army and blow through town. In truth they were not free.
Then Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
At Philippi it was demonstrated that there is freedom and then there is freedom.
(Willimon, W. H. Acts [1988, Atlanta, GA] p136–141)
Paul and company are on their way to “the place of prayer,” a daily occurrence while in Philippi. The riverside destination is the place where they had previously baptized Lydia (16:15). As they go, a female slave who is possessed by a “spirit of divination” confronts them. This woman stands in marked contrast to Lydia, who was free and apparently had her own business interests (16:14). The slave’s owners use the girl to tell fortunes for their financial benefit. But each day when Paul and Silas pass by she goes after them, naming them also as slaves, of “the Most High God” (see Gen. 14:19 and Ps. 46:4 as other examples of this divine name), and as proclaimers “of a way of salvation.” Day after day this occurs, at no charge, but much to Paul’s annoyance. Why he is irritated is not specified. Certainly, the girl is not bearing false witness. Perhaps Paul desires to be in charge of how his teaching and identity are presented and conveyed in the city. He does not seem to be annoyed at her enslavement but does cast the spirit out of her.
Their source of easy revenue ruined by Paul’s action, the girl’s owners seize Paul and Silas, hauling them to the marketplace at the city center in order to bring charges against them before the authorities. This action draws a crowd, as might well be expected. Paul and Silas are not accused of interfering with presumably legal, though despicable, commerce, but rather of disturbing the peace. They are identified as Jews (presumably the distinction of Jews and Christians is not yet known nor understood) and as advocates of customs illegal for Romans, although what these might be are never specified. It may be that the owners’ complaint against the two involves not only their personal loss but also awareness of what Paul and Silas have been teaching down by the riverside. In short, Paul and Silas are fully credentialed outside agitators: Jewish foreigners bringing in new and disruptive practices. Confirming the abuse the crowd is already heaping upon Paul and Silas, the magistrates find them guilty in short order and have them stripped, severely beaten, and securely imprisoned. No word of defense from Paul is recorded.
In the “innermost cell,” their feet in stocks, Paul and Silas pray and sing, using the occasion to witness to the other prisoners. A miraculous midnight earthquake shakes the foundations of the jail, knocking the doors from their hinges and the shackles from bolts in the walls. The jailer, equally sure the prisoners will have fled and of what happens to jailers who fail in their duty, decides to put himself to the sword, when Paul intervenes, assuring him no one has left. When the situation has calmed a bit, the jailer asks Paul what he must do to be saved. Does he mean from the consequences of his job failure? Does he mean from his sins, whatever they may be? Paul assumes the later, and after offering the formula for belief implied by the slave girl, baptizes the jailer and his entire household (as he had done with Lydia). The tending to wounds, bringing of food, and rejoicing ensue.
Clearly the possessed girl of this narrative is enslaved, doubly so in fact, to both her owners and to the spirit speaking through her. But many other characters in this story are enslaved as well. The slave girl’s owners are enslaved to their greed, which is supported by an economic system that condones their exploitation of the girl. The magistrates seem influenced to the point of being in bondage to the crowd’s expectations, and their “court” is of the kangaroo variety (compare Pilate’s relationship to the crowd in Mark 15:15). The jailer is enslaved by a judicial system that offers only death for failure; his life is centered in, defined, and bound by nothing larger than the legal system he is to enforce.
And in a certain way, Paul and Silas are also enslaved. Certainly, the girl is right that they are “slaves of the Most High God,” the only acceptable form of servitude. But some blindness to the breadth of Christ’s invitation to discipleship prevents them from extending the offer made to Lydia to the slave girl. They free her from the possessing spirit (and thereby show that the spirit itself is subject to the power of God), but do not invite her into the freedom of faith offered to Lydia earlier or the jailer later. Not only does she continue in bondage to her owners, but also to her separation from the very God she names. Paul does not yet seem to have added “no longer slave or free” to “no longer Jew or Greek” and “no longer male and female” (Gal. 3:28).
Paul and Silas bring the jailer and his whole household to faith, but the story is haunted by the question: But what about the slave girl? She, unlike the jailer, doesn’t ask what she must do to be saved; but in her possession, she may not be able to seek the path of freedom. Why do Paul and Silas not reach out to her? What social prejudice enslaves them so they do not perceive her as one for whom Christ died and rose?
Certainly, they are not afraid or unwilling to challenge implicitly the economic system of the day, for surely it is this, rather than the trumped-up charges of being antiestablishment, that lands them in jail. Indeed, Paul and Silas are to be commended for their courage in challenging a corrupt and exploitative business practice. Would that they would go even further and challenge the institution of slavery itself! Nevertheless, the Christian community of today would do well to emulate them by having the courage to challenge unjust economic practices that are cruelly exploitative of human beings and the creation.
Everyone in this story, not just the jailer, stands in need of salvation. The girl needs not only to be saved from possession and slavery, but also to be brought into communion with the Most High God whose emissaries she can somehow recognize. The slave owners need to be saved from their exploitation of human beings and from their idolatry of financial gain. The magistrates need to be saved from meting out popular justice (Paul does even the score with them in vv. 35–40). The jailer needs to be saved from a life bound by an unjust legal system. And Paul and Silas need to be saved from a too narrow view of the gospel’s invitation. The broad appeal of the gospel with which Luke began the book of Acts in his account of the Day of Pentecost is not easy to hold on to and must ever be renewed, particularly if Luke’s understanding of Christ as a messiah for all people is to be honored.
Like Paul and Silas, all Christians struggle with the unconverted aspects of themselves, the parts yet resistant to the fullness of Christ’s desire for the whole person, as they make the journey of growth in faith. “Being saved” surely begins in baptism, as it does here for the jailer and his household, but it continues in the process of sanctification wherein the believer comes ever more fully to comprehend, live, and extend to all others, regardless of social station or circumstance, the gracious acceptance known in Christ as Lord and Savior. This text’s unspoken question, but what about the girl? leads to each hearer asking, “But what about me? What is yet to be saved in my perception and behavior?” Answers abound in this story—from financial idolatry to classism to fear of public opinion to xenophobia to anti-Semitism to legalism—and in every human life, time, and place. (Farris, L. W. Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C. In the Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts, Volume One [2001, Grand Rapids, MI] p580–582)

Preaching Possibilities

Our modern day understanding of freedom tends to be a political football thrown by both the right and left. One calls for freedom from want and the other calls for individual freedom. One side sees freedom from fear of health disaster and the other calls for freedom from government interference. They both call for freedom. But maybe just maybe there should be a better understanding of what freedom means in the New Testament.
The New Testament story about Paul and Silas first shows that we are easily deceived about who is truly free. It shows the shackles of economics and government that we do not see. The story about Paul and Silas are saying that the feeble understanding of freedom by the left are right means nothing. The true freedom can only be found by a sure and certain belief in God understood in the light of Jesus Christ.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Philosopher Ben Constant explains how democracy today is “nothing like what it used to be”. His arguments show us that debates around what freedom actually is can go in very strange directions. Remember how busy the Athenian citizens were next time you think there are too many questions on the ballot. When people talk about freedom and democracy, they often trace the lineage of both back 2,000 years to the rocky shores of Greece or to the Senate of Rome. However, the freedom they had in the ancient world was a bit different than what we have today, with significant benefits for us.
The ancient democrats wouldn’t think you live in a democracy. According to French philosopher Benjamin Constant's lecture The Liberty of Ancients Compared with that of Moderns, the freedoms enjoyed by ancient peoples were fundamentally different than the ones we enjoy now. He explains that Greek democracy consisted in exercising collectively, but directly, several parts of the complete sovereignty; in deliberating, in the public square, over war and peace; in forming alliances with foreign governments; in voting laws, in pronouncing judgments; in examining the accounts, the acts, the stewardship of the magistrates; in calling them to appear in front of the assembled people, in accusing, condemning or absolving them.
That is to say, democracy and freedom meant popular participation in the political process. Any citizen might find themselves weighing the merits of war and peace, having to cast a vote on significant issues, or giving a speech on the need for more public spending to a crowd of hundreds. However, this increased democratic power came at a high personal cost. Ben Constant explains among the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations. As a citizen, he decided on peace and war; as a private individual, he was constrained, watched and repressed in all his movements; as a member of the collective body, he interrogated, dismissed, condemned, beggared, exiled, or sentenced to death his magistrates and superiors; as a subject of the collective body he could himself be deprived of his status, stripped of his privileges, banished, put to death, by the discretionary will of the whole to which he belonged.
For the citizen in ancient times who could say they were free, the freedom part was the act of voting. After that, little was assured. Socrates was put on trial for "not believing in the gods of the state"—an affront to our idea of religious liberty that didn't strike the Athenians as strange at all. Ben Constant holds that idea up against the notion of personal liberty and representative government that we have today; we have rights that the state can't violate, and the state is to be managed by representatives working on our behalf. We have popular sovereignty, but not direct participation in the workings of the state. He calls this "modern liberty," and it is a far cry from the Athenian system where you could be randomly selected to facilitate a meeting of the assembly.
This is a pretty significant change for such an important concept. How did it happen?
More slaves... more democracy?
Ben Constant argues that the change was a practical one. He points out that "modern" states simply cannot operate in the same way as ancient Athens did. After all, if the city of Chicago were to have an assembly that only 20 percent of the adult population showed up to, like in ancient Athens, they would have to find room for 300,000 people to have a meeting. The physical size of modern states also exacerbates the problem.
On the other hand, the increasing variety of options available to people at the dawn of the modern age and impossibility of micromanaging everybody's affairs lead to the idea of personal liberties that the state shouldn't infringe on. Constant also thought the state would have a hard time trying to infringe on these rights anyway since all of the familiar means of repression were originally designed for small city states. When he said that in 1819, he might have been right.
Ben Constant also reminds us that we have it pretty good with these modern liberties, as it allows the individual much more freedom in their personal lives at the cost of making our political participation less direct. Given that being part of a large electorate would leave our personal impact on the political process minor at best, he argues this is a fair trade. (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/11/how-our-definition-of-freedom-has-changed/)

The question of human rights is not a new phenomenon in modern societies. It has always dominated the foundations of modern democracy since 17th century. The discovery of the concept of human rights has contributed to formation of many social and political movements. Many social philosophers have grappled with and discussed the meaning, scope and general application of human rights. Thomas Paine is one of those philosophers, who discussed the rights of human beings in defending the principles of French revolutions (Fink 41). This concept was further developed by Locke, who was preoccupied with the idea of liberalism, following the introduction of English revolutions (Fink 43). As described by Fink, Locke was of the opinion that all human beings have a right to life and ownership of property, an argument that led to introduction and implementation of liberalism political system that left a great human impact in North American and French political revolutions (46). Fink further explains that the liberalism continued to expand with the social and scientific developments in Europe and North America (Fink 69).
China is dominated by authoritarian governance that is characterized by dictatorship and abuse of human rights (Yang 18). The country does not hold elections for national leaders, and it lacks freedom of worship. In addition, the country lacks freedom of the press, whereby the media and the internet are heavily censored (Yang 21). Furthermore, the government does not tolerate any form of opposition and criticism towards the leadership (Sen 21).
On one hand, power can be used negatively by leaders to oppress, manipulate and control people under their leadership, while on the other hand, it can used constructively to foster democracy and country’s socio- economic empowerment (Panu, SY309, 2011). Power has been used to create social identities and political movements, whereby a great number of political philosophies are based theoretical and practical frameworks of human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of religion (Panu, SY309, 2011). In addition, power and knowledge are two inseparable concepts because power is a useful tool in the understanding and application of knowledge (Panu, SY309, 2011).
President Obama’s observations about China clearly show the lack of freedom and the domineering political oppression faced by the people of China as a result of the authoritarian governance, despite the country’s economic growth. He points out that China’s authoritarian governance contradicts values of the basic human rights and reiterates the need for Chinese government to promote the ideals of democracy based on the values of Western liberalism. Western liberalism system of governance allows the citizens to engage freely on issues affecting them in relation to governance. Its main strategy is not simply to repress dissent, desire or behavior but to promote the citizen’s engagement with social, political and democratization process (Panu, SY309, 2011).
According to Merton, Western Liberalism is based on capitalist values originating from the American culture that promotes individualism, universalism, materialism and achievement (38). China’s explosive economic growth has been attributed to introduction of capitalism in 1978, whereby the government aimed at eradicating poverty by abolishing communalism and embracing Western culture and modernization for the citizens to work hard in the belief that “getting rich is glorious.” However, the China’s governing authorities have refused to embrace Western form of governance by holding on to power and denying citizens their human rights and freedom of expression (Yang 28).
The question of human rights is not a new phenomenon in modern societies. It has always dominated the foundations of modern democracy since 17th century. The discovery of the concept of human rights has contributed to formation of many social and political movements. Many social philosophers have grappled with and discussed the meaning, scope and general application of human rights. Thomas Paine is one of those philosophers, who discussed the rights of human beings in defending the principles of French revolutions (Fink 41). This concept was further developed by Locke, who was preoccupied with the idea of liberalism, following the introduction of English revolutions (Fink 43). As described by Fink, Locke was of the opinion that all human beings have a right to life and ownership of property, an argument that led to introduction and implementation of liberalism political system that left a great human impact in North American and French political revolutions (46). Fink further explains that the liberalism continued to expand with the social and scientific developments in Europe and North America (Fink 69).
China is dominated by authoritarian governance that is characterized by dictatorship and abuse of human rights (Yang 18). The country does not hold elections for national leaders, and it lacks freedom of worship. In addition, the country lacks freedom of the press, whereby the media and the internet are heavily censored (Yang 21). Furthermore, the government does not tolerate any form of opposition and criticism towards the leadership (Sen 21).
On one hand, power can be used negatively by leaders to oppress, manipulate and control people under their leadership, while on the other hand, it can used constructively to foster democracy and country’s socio- economic empowerment (Panu, SY309, 2011). Power has been used to create social identities and political movements, whereby a great number of political philosophies are based theoretical and practical frameworks of human rights, freedom of the press and freedom of religion (Panu, SY309, 2011). In addition, power and knowledge are two inseparable concepts because power is a useful tool in the understanding and application of knowledge (Panu, SY309, 2011).
President Obama’s observations about China clearly show the lack of freedom and the domineering political oppression faced by the people of China as a result of the authoritarian governance, despite the country’s economic growth. He points out that China’s authoritarian governance contradicts values of the basic human rights and reiterates the need for Chinese government to promote the ideals of democracy based on the values of Western liberalism. Western liberalism system of governance allows the citizens to engage freely on issues affecting them in relation to governance. Its main strategy is not simply to repress dissent, desire or behavior but to promote the citizen’s engagement with social, political and democratization process (Panu, SY309, 2011).
According to Merton, Western Liberalism is based on capitalist values originating from the American culture that promotes individualism, universalism, materialism and achievement (38). China’s explosive economic growth has been attributed to introduction of capitalism in 1978, whereby the government aimed at eradicating poverty by abolishing communalism and embracing Western culture and modernization for the citizens to work hard in the belief that “getting rich is glorious.” However, the China’s governing authorities have refused to embrace Western form of governance by holding on to power and denying citizens their human rights and freedom of expression (Yang 28).
Stepan observes that the concept of freedom has been used both negatively and positively; arguing that in the positive sense, freedom is characterized by absence of coercion or unconstrained decisions (34). Furthermore, freedom should involve making decisions without being controlled by any form of external power or authority (Panu, SY309, 2011). Freedom in a liberal government is where citizens are allowed to make their decisions about normal conducts without being coerced by governing authorities. This disqualifies China from the list of liberal governments because decisions are made by government for citizens to implement without questioning (Panu, SY309, 2011). Furthermore, anyone opposing government policies in China is severely punished.
By and large, the theoretical applications of power relations imply that power can be contested and resisted. Resistance of power is based on people’s perception and reactions to different rules, whereby in liberal societies like the U.S, public demonstrations, political activism and political struggles are allowed and accepted within the law (Stepan 34 ).Resistance to power in such countries can be done through the media discourses, public debates and political representations (Panu, SY309, 2011). Nevertheless, in countries characterized by authoritarian governance like China, resistance to power is viewed as a crime and it is totally unacceptable (Yang 28). Sen argues that democracy is a universal value but a contested concept, applied differently in various contexts (Sen 17). For a country like China to become democratic, it needs to undergo radical social transformation and reforms.
In conclusion, democracy is based on respect for human rights, freedom of press and access to information. In the U.S, it is based on liberalism, allowing the citizens to make decisions without the interference of state or authority figures. Liberal democracies embrace press release, public discourse and political struggle as a way of contesting power for their citizens. On the contrary, non-liberal countries like China view any attempt to resist power as a crime that is punishable by law. This calls for need for human rights activists and international organizations that embrace democracy to seek the way forward in creation of democratic governance for countries dominated by authoritarian leadership like China. (https://www.ukessays.com/essays/politics/human-rights-and-freedom-in-modern-society-politics-essay.php)

This is apropos of nothing in particular, but I happened to be thinking about the question of whether we’re more or less free than we used to be, say, 50 years ago or so. The usual answer, of course, is that government at all levels now intrudes into every facet of daily life, which makes us less free. And yet, speaking for myself, I very rarely find myself prohibited from doing something I want to do. In practice, I’m pretty damn free.
So, which is it? Less free, freer, or no real difference? First, I want to make a few stipulations: If you’re black, or gay, or disabled, or female, you’re a lot freer than you were 50 years ago. Let’s acknowledge that and put civil rights to the side for now.
I think it’s unquestionably more onerous to start up and run a business than in the past. We can argue about whether that’s good or bad, but again, let’s put that to the side. I want to focus on personal freedom.
I’m not interested in whether 2013 is “better” than 1963. Obviously, we’re freer to send text messages and ship packages overnight in 2013 because, you know, that stuff was impossible 50 years ago. So, the focus here is on regulatory freedom, things the government makes harder or easier on individuals. Here are some examples to give you an idea of what I’m thinking about:
Ways in which you were less free 50 years ago:
Most shops were closed on Sunday, thanks to blue laws.
You stood a good chance of being drafted into the military.
X-rated movies were illegal, and movies in general were more heavily censored.
Travel to foreign countries was more onerous (getting visas and other travel documents was a huge pain).
It was harder to procure birth control, and abortion was illegal.
Owning gold was illegal.
Casino gambling was banned nearly everywhere.
It was harder to buy and smoke marijuana.
You could not bank across state lines or get more than 5¼ percent interest on your savings.
Ways in which you are less free today:
There are lots of places where you can’t smoke a cigarette.
Boarding an airplane is more hassle, and just generally, there are more security-related restrictions on our daily lives.
You can’t dump hazardous crap anywhere you want.
The permitting process for building on your property is generally harder. (If you live on the coast in California, it’s way harder.)
Buying a gun requires a background check and, sometimes, a waiting period.
You have to wear a seat belt when you drive.
Your taxes are higher.
It’s harder to buy raw milk.
I hope this gives the flavor of what I’m looking for: legal and regulatory hurdles that affect us in our daily lives. What else have you got along these lines? Freedom is so easily misunderstood. (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2013/01/freedom-now-vs-freedom-past/)

A pastor remembers preaching on freedom in her first homiletics class. She delivered the sermon and delivered the manuscript to the professor, as required. When it was returned, a note at the end of the manuscript, written in red pencil, said: "I preached on this once, and didn't do much better." He gave her an A-.

A stroll through a children's clothing shop is reflective of our culture. There are racks and racks of t-shirts, many of them bearing the images of adorable animal characters. Under the picture of the creature it says: "It's all about Me!"

That freedom is an important subject to people today is revealed by a search of the web. There are 31,710,935 sites concerning freedom-everything from furniture, fragrances, an airline, handbags, intellectual freedom, emotional freedom, freedom from fear, freedom from hunger, and more. On the subject of spiritual freedom, there are a mere 3,871,351 sites. Few of these have to do with Christianity.

When I was a very young child, living in Ohio, my grandmother ran away every now and then. I always thought it was an incredible act of freedom. She got on a bus and disappeared. For a woman in the tumultuous years of the forties, it was shocking to run off somewhere. Today, it would be rude and un-thoughtful to not give one's family an itinerary, a destination, hotel location and phone number, cell phone number, and e-mail address-but a woman can go anywhere she wishes. Then, it was unthinkable-but Grandma ran away anyway. Three weeks later, perhaps more-we received a postcard from Phoenix or Portland or some far-off city. It was wonderful. When she returned, she came laden with gifts for all of us: a Navajo doll, a silver and turquoise bracelet and other delightful trinkets. Recently, I was stunned to learn from one of my sisters that it was not a matter of freedom for Grandma. She disappeared because she was angry with Grandpa!

"…to obey Love…who above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves." (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC [New York, et. al.: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973], p. 30)

"…freedom is frightening. It involves responsibility that tests our strength and patience and faith. And if our faith [in] the loving, enabling God wavers; we leap from freedom to slavery in one quick motion…" (Jerry D. Benjamin, Freedom: Studies on Galations [Franklin, Tennessee, Providence House Publishers, 1993], p. 74)

"Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing. After they have exhausted all other possible options." (Winston Churchill, quoted in Homiletics, May-June, 1998, Volume 10, Number 3, p.37)

"Doing the right thing" sometimes seems like the surest way to get a slap on the hand….The city of Cincinnati recently took it upon itself to prosecute a Good Samaritan who had slipped a quarter into a parking meter that had expired as she passed it by." (Homiletics, May-June, 1998, Volume 10, Number 3, p.33)

A cartoon shows the human tendency to think of "me first." There are several people gathered around something-we can't see what. They are yelling, "Mine!", "I saw it first!", and unprintable things. An observer comments, "The weird part is that it's over a flu shot." (Marshall Ramsey, The San Diego Union Tribune, December 14, 2003. From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

When the earth moves in California, Californians get moving. We don't just sit there as Paul and Silas did. We dash for the nearest doorway or for an inside hallway where the structure of the building is strongest. We duck under a desk or table to protect ourselves. If we live in a mobile home, we move to a place higher than the floor--a bed or a sofa. If we are in a building constructed before 1939, we know it will sandwich when it falls, and if we are given the opportunity, we get out of there immediately. When the first movement stops, we rush to turn off the gas lines and the electrical power. We fill the bathtub and sinks with water to prepare ourselves for the nearly certain shutdown of water supply. Then, those who were wise enough to assemble an earthquake kit beforehand, settle down to wait out the aftershocks and the disruption of every social service and utility. If our homes have been structurally damaged, we move again-to a park or shelter where we will be safe.

It's not enough to want to help. In the aftermath of the San Diego 2003 firestorms, someone was dropping hay from the back of a truck to feed the "starving deer." Zoo and wildlife official were distressed by this kind of "help". Turns out that the deer cannot digest hay. It blocks up their digestive system and eventually they die. Human "help" could decimate the deer population. Officials urged waiting-the grasses would soon sprout. The deer could live off their fat, meantime. Then the deer population would replenish itself naturally. (Channel 10-television news, date unknown.)

"Marie" tells about disagreements with her longtime friend. She felt hurt and overpowered by her friend's unilateral decisions concerning things that affected Marie and made her uncomfortable. Marie told her pastor that she would normally sit down with the friend and discuss the differences. She would share her hurt feelings with her friend and try to reach a mutual understanding. In this case, Marie found the freedom to do something quite different. She somehow knew that the friendship, though long, could not bear the discussing of disagreements. Marie therefore chose in favor of the friendship, and decided to simply tolerate her friend's strong personality.

On the October morning that the San Diego firestorm began its march across nearly 300,000 acres, killing several people, destroying about 3000 homes, scorching the landscape and killing countless wild animals-an amazing thing happened.
A man named Jimmy awoke at 3 a.m. and saw the wall of fire approaching his Muth Valley home. He got in his car, and began making the rounds to the neighbors-honking his horn until they acknowledged that they were awake. Jimmy's house burned to the ground. That's not the important thing, says Jimmy. The important thing is that every neighbor escaped safely. They are grateful. "I've never been a material kind of guy," says Jimmy. (Channel 10-television news, December 4, 2003)

They could have been close to being empty nesters. One daughter is in college and the other almost there. A few years ago, rather than looking forward to the time when their two daughters would be grown, Cynthia and Bill Collins became aware of the three million babies in China who are abandoned, often to die. They began to feel called by God to save the lives of some of these children. Though there were initial doubts whether they could afford to do so, and a ton of red tape-the Collins adopted three girls over the next few years. Now, though they are both 44, they don't believe that they are too old to adopt more children. They may never be empty nesters! (Ozzie Roberts, Couple adopts a life-saving approach for orphan girls [The San Diego Union-Tribune, December 16, 2003], pp. E1 and E4)

Few contemporary images of self-giving are as powerful as the pictures of fire-fighters going up the stairs of the World Trade Centers as frightened people rushed down to get away from the buildings.

Picking up any copy of People magazine is enough to convince the dispassionate reader we are awash with individuals who believe "it is 'all about Me!'"

A Scoutmaster in Vacaville, California, offers the following insight about the power of an adult volunteer leader by sharing a letter another Scoutmaster received: "Dear Sir - Six years ago, I was a Wolf Cub Scout of the pack of Duri, Indonesia. I was leaving to move to Scotland, and you, the Cubmaster of the pack in Indonesia, handed me a written letter as I was leaving my last pack award ceremony. I still hold that handwritten letter, and it means quite a bit to me. You encouraged me to continue the long trail to Eagle, and that if I achieved Eagle, you would attend my Eagle court of honor. Right now, I live in Cairo, Egypt. I have 28 merit badges and lots of Scouting experiences under my belt. My Eagle court of honor is scheduled for June 7. It is not necessary for you to go out of your way to attend - times are difficult right now with the Iraqi crisis. I will certainly understand if you have to decline." After the conclusion, the Scoutmaster says to his friend, "This is what it's all about, I think." (Scouting Magazine, October, 2003, pg. 6)

Despite being stripped, beaten and thrown into a Macedonian jail, Paul and Silas are found, way past bedtime, praying and singing songs-and Luke tells us that the other prisoners were listening to them (I think he meant as opposed to complaining that they were disturbing everyone's sleep) We see a similar irrepressible spirit and faith in characters in two other films wherein they are imprisoned. In the inspiring TNT film Freedom Song teenage Owen Walker joins fellow students when the SNCC workers come to his small Mississippi town in 1961. His father Will, who has felt the sting of the white man's anger years earlier (during which he lost his business), opposes his son's involvement, but Owen undergoes the rigorous training for nonviolence anyway. Sure enough, Owen is arrested and jailed with dozens of other Civil Rights demonstrators. Like Paul and Silas, however, the young people refuse to be cowed by their captors-they keep singing. As with Paul and Silas, their songs are heard, but the whites definitely are not pleased. The songs help keep the prisoners' morale high and focus their minds and spirits on their goals, as per the words from one of the songs, based on Paul and Silas' experience, "Keep your eye on the prize, hold on, hold on."
The other film is one previously described, The Apostle. The story of a pastor who has fled from a murder charge and changes his life around when he recommits himself to God, it shows the pastor, when he is caught and imprisoned, preaching and singing in jail. His physical condition has changed, but his commit to spread the word about Christ continues to provide purpose and meaning, even in jail.

In "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" Charles Wesley celebrates the liberating "triumphs of God's grace" in Christ. The name of Jesus frees us from "our charms and fears" by breaking "the power of reigning sin" and setting "the prisoner free." We see a parable of this in the last scene of the film Cool Hand Luke. Luke was a prisoner whose rebellious spirit had affected all of the prisoners so much that they came to share in his fearlessness in regard to their brutal guards, even when Luke's third, and last, escape attempt ends in his being shot and killed. The scene following Luke's cruel slaying shows the prisoners whacking weeds along the road where Luke had fled. They pause in front of the run-down church into which Luke had fled and fruitlessly sought to pray to God for some sign of meaning and deliverance. The prisoners ask Dragline, Luke's best friend and companion at the end, to tell them, once more about Luke. Dragline does, and as he talks about what "what a world shaker he was" and how "they wuz never goin to beat him," we see a montage of scenes in which Luke's defiant smile is unleashed against his captors. The camera comes down for a close-up of Dragline, showing us that his legs are still chained, but from his triumphant tone of voice we see that his spirit is very much unchained.

Babies are notoriously self-centered. Observing our newest grandson, and his total self-absorption, and the efforts of his parents to cope, is fascinating, but only amusing when you have the life perspective to realize it is just a stage of development for most. Part of the challenge of parenting is enlarging the perspective of children to include others. This is a life-long challenge, and some never grow out of their self-centeredness.

Recently we met a woman who proudly told us she had sacrificed for years, and now "it's all about me" (her exact words) Shortly thereafter, she went through her second divorce. It was sad and difficult to watch others who interacted with her gradually withdraw and disconnect, in reaction to her selfishness and arrogance.

I've wondered for years why, with so many fairy tales and childhood stories about wicked stepmothers and mean-spirited siblings, and the price they pay in broken human relationships, why there continue to be such people in real life. Haven't they read the stories? Or is there something stronger, some inclination so overpowering, some fear or desire so compelling, that they are blinded from seeing themselves as they really are. Is this sin?

Sometimes helping others requires us to focus on their needs rather than concentrating primarily on our own. An ancient desert father named Paphnutius was known to seldom drink wine. Once he was on a journey when he came upon a place where some robbers were gathered, and they were drinking. The leader among the robbers immediately recognized Paphnutius and knew of his reputation for not drinking wine, but he saw that the religious man was exhausted from his travels. The robber proceeded to fill a cup with wine, and held a drawn sword in the other hand, and said, "If you do not drink, I will kill you." Paphnutius perceived that the robber was trying to obey the commandment of God regarding hospitality. In order to help the robber achieve the good work he was trying to do, the religious man drank. Afterwards the robber said, "I am sorry, Abba, that I grieved you." Paphnutius replied, "I believe that because of this cup my God will have mercy upon you in this world and the next." Somewhat stunned by the religious man's statement, the robber announced, "I believe in God and from now on I will harm no one." As a result of what Paphnutius did, temporarily setting aside his scruple about drinking, he helped to bring that robber to faith. In fact, not only did that chief robber begin to believe, but Paphnutius won over the whole band of robbers to Christ.

Do we show care for all who are around us, or are we selective about who we express our Christian concern for? That's an issue that is being raised by Britain's Industrial Christian Fellowship. According to Reuters (9/26/03), that group believes that people offer a disproportionately large number of prayers for teachers and nurses. The Industrial Christian Fellowship thinks that people should also remember to pray for those who work in the financial sector. They are planning to distribute a booklet of suggested prayers for those who tend not to be specifically prayed for. The pamphlet is titled "When did you last pray for your stockbroker?"

Trevor Ferrell is someone who has been willing to look beyond "me." An Associated Press (12/14/03) story tells about how as an 11-year-old, 20 years ago, Ferrell gained fame for traveling from his affluent suburb to bring hot food and warm blankets to the homeless of Philadelphia. Back then in 1983 Ferrell watched a news report about how homeless people in the city struggled to make it through bitterly cold nights. He reported that he had always been aware of needy people in Ethiopia, India, and other distant lands, but he said that he never knew there were people who needed help so close at hand. As a result, he asked his parents to drive him from their suburban home into the city so he could see firsthand what life was like for those people. But he didn't go just to sightsee. Rather he took with him his own blanket and pillow to give away. As word spread of what he did, others stepped forward to support his efforts. After a while, Ferrell was receiving recognition from the White House, appearing on national television shows, and meeting with the pope and Mother Theresa. Over the years he had spent so much time and effort caring for the homeless that he even failed a couple of grades. His work eventually became organized into a non-profit called "Trevor's Campaign." But at age 18, he knew that sitting at board meetings discussing million dollar budgets was not for him. Finally Ferrell stepped away from the leadership of the organization, but its work continued on. Ferrell now enjoys manning the counter and dealing directly with the homeless and needy people of Philadelphia. Once in a while he meets up with individuals who are successful and have families, and they tell Ferrell that they were some of the people who he had helped to feed and clothe years before. Although Ferrell himself lives a rather hand-to-mouth existence, he says that he has no regrets about the way that he's always tried to put others first.

"No man in this world attains to freedom from any slavery except by entrance into some higher servitude, There is no such thing as an entirely free man conceivable" (Phillips Brooks)

"God forces no one, for love cannot compel, and God's service, therefore, is a thing of perfect freedom" (Hans Denck)

"There are two freedoms-the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought" (Charles Kingsley)

"The only lasting treasure is spiritual; the only perfect freedom is serving God" (Malcolm Muggeridge)

"The man who lives by himself and for himself is apt to be corrupted by the company he keeps" (Charles Henry Parkhurst)

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship (based on Psalm 47)

Leader: Clap your hands, all you people!
People: Shout to God with loud shouts of joy!
Leader: For God, the Most High, is awesome!
People: A great ruler over all the earth!
Leader: Sing praises to God, sing praises!
People: Sing praises to the King, sing praises!
Leader: God is ruler over the nations!
People: God is exalted in the earth!

Prayer of Confession

God who empowers us by your Spirit, we confess that often we use our freedom for our own selfish advantage. Forgive us when we forget to consider others as we plan, when our focus is entirely inward. Turn our eyes upon others. Expand our vision. Include in our horizons the neighbors you call us to love and serve, in order to honor and glorify you. Blast through our pride and defensiveness, and set us free to love others as you do. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Receive, O Lord, the first fruits of our freedom. Use us as instruments of your generosity. Hallow these offerings, as gifts of gratitude, freely given in thanksgiving for your boundless love. May they enable your mission, here and in the wider world, in the power of the risen Christ. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

O God, we live and work in an atmosphere of acquisitiveness, in a generation of greed, in a measure of "me-ness" that overwhelms and captivates us. We are prone to become prisoners of a way of thinking and behaving that enshrines selfishness as a virtue, that makes the bottom line the measure of success, that encourages us to ignore the needs of others, and focus on our own satisfaction. Yet you call us to another lifestyle, a higher thought, an alternative community. May we be a light in the darkness. May we consider each day an opportunity for significance.
By your Spirit, may we live the adventure of seeking less our own good than the good of others, of living as instruments of your peace, of implementing in our spheres of influence the same justice we want for ourselves. May we so walk in the way of Christ, that others are set free, and motivated to live responsible, joyful lives, to your honor and glory. Amen.