Yesterday I watched Selma, a film showing one of the particular battles that Martin Luther King Jr fought, when fighting for the civil rights of black Americans. This particular battle was about voting, which is quite appropriate this week as we find out that we have a general election coming up in June, and yet there are still so many people who don’t vote (but we’re not going to get in to that here). What was Martin Luther King Jr fighting for? He was fighting for freedom. His people were supposed to be living in a country of freedom, and yet his people, although not slaves anymore, were still treated as second second class citizens. They kept being given more freedoms, such as no segregation, but they had to keep fighting.
It is easy for us to forget how lucky we are to live in a country where we are free. Free to vote, free to believe what we want to believe, free to speak out. It is also easy to forget what people had to experience in order for us to have freedom, and lives that were lost in the process. There are still so many countries around the world where that freedom, that we take for granted, isn’t a reality.
The element of our Easter identity that we are looking at the week is “I am Free”. Last week we looked at being a child of God, and we all know the most important job of parents is to buy presents for their children. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said “Free Choice is the greatest gift God has given to his children”.
Rules rules rules, this is what a lot of people associate with Christianity, a list of things you’re not allowed to do, and a list of things you must do. Where does free will come in to it and how does it link with Easter?
When I look at the 10 commandments, I see common sense guidance. If everyone used them as guidance then the world would be a much happier place. Rules, bizarrely, are a necessity for freedom. If we didn’t have rules then the world would be in mayhem (more so than it already is). Having free will means having the ability to choose, choosing whether to follow the rules, choosing whether to do right or wrong. People often use the argument of there being wars, crime, horrible people in the world as a reason to not believe in God. Yet, those things are caused by people’s personal choices not by God. If God were to stop everything bad that was happening, then we wouldn’t truly be free. What would you prefer a life of freedom where people make mistakes, or a life of dictatorship where you are essentially a robot with no ability to make a decision? Therefore no ability to learn from mistakes.
Free will comes with responsibility. People make mistakes and people break rules – after all that’s what they are there for. If you think back to the story of Genesis, God had created this amazing world, and humans. The humans could eat from anywhere in the garden except one tree… what did they do? They ate from that one tree. There were consequences for those actions. That is always the case, yes we have free will but we have to think about the consequences of our actions, not for ourselves but for others as well. Free will doesn’t mean blindly following rules, but it does involve a thoughtful process. Martin Luther King jr and Mahatma Gandhi are two famous examples of people who were willing to go against the rules in order to fight for freedom for all. Sometimes that is a necessity. For both of them they believed they were fighting (peacefully) in order to reflect a world they felt God would want – where all were free and equal.
How does this link to Easter? In Jewish tradition, in order to atone (make right) when they had sinned they would have to offer a sacrifice to God. However, in Christianity, there is the belief that when Jesus died on the cross, because he was innocent, he died as a sacrifice for us all, and that is why he rose again – he defeated death.
Therefore, as we saw last week, it doesn’t matter if we do things wrong because we can be forgiven and God will always love us. We don’t have to do anything special to gain that forgiveness we just have to ask for it! Does the mean “hey hey free will, I can do whatever I want, I’ll get forgiven anyway”. Not really, it means we have been given the gift of freedom, we should use that gift to reflect the love it was given in, but safe in the knowledge that we are going to make mistakes and that is absolutely fine and will not take us away from God.
Prayer: father God, we thank you for your gift of free will, and that we live in a country of freedom. We pray for those countries around the world where people do not have freedom, and the people fighting for freedom. We also pray that people in this country we acknowledge the freedom they have and what has gone in to it. May we use our freedom wisely to show love, safe in the knowledge that when we do make mistakes we will be forgiven. Amen
Challenge: find out about countries where there isn’t freedom, or about people who have fought for freedom in the past. Are there any areas in your life where you think freedom is being taken away, is there anything you can do?