Tom's Sermon: June 26, 2011

Enslaved to What?
Scriptures: Genesis 22:1-14, Psalm 13, Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

In his inauguration address on January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy stated:
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
Can you imagine Prime Minister Harper saying to Canadians today, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”. Politicians in 2011 get elected, not by challenging commitment to the country, but rather on promises of what they will give people out of their own money that is collected and controlled by government.
In the decade that followed Kennedy’s election, the world in general -- and North America in particular -- turned against the idea of freely giving for the sake of the nation, or the sake of the corporation, or of the church, or of tradition. In fact, some called the youth of the 60’s the “me” generation as thousands of youth and young adults filled their back-packs, headed to the highways, and put out their thumbs in search of “self”. Instead of asking what they could do for their country, after experiences like Kent State -- where national guards gunned down unarmed protesters -- they distrusted leaders and would taunt them. For example in reference to the Viet Nam War bombing of Hanoi they would confront President Johnson with shouts of, “Hey, Hey, LBJ, How many kids did you kill today”. The military in the Second World War, having witnessed such things as the concentration camps in Europe, or the Japanese Prisoner of War death camps, knew that war was terrible, but that evil had to be confronted and defeated. The veterans of Viet Nam came home wondering why they were sent over there in the first place, and in the second place why their own country was so hostile to them, conscripted to fight over their personal objections.
No longer do we unquestionably trust government leaders. In fact, we learn that almost any government in power over a period of time forgets that it is called to be a servant of the people, and instead assumes what ancient kings called “the divine right of power and entitlement”. Similar things have happened with all the established institutions of society. When we distrust governments, big business, the church, and other groups and organizations, John F Kennedy’s remarks are senseless.
In today’s reading from Romans 6, Paul talks about having been a slave to sin, and only being able to overcome that slavery by voluntarily becoming enslaved to God.
22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let’s reflect for a while on this concept of becoming enslaved to something that is of value and worthwhile. I have a grand-daughter who was accomplished in both ballet and piano who had to make a hard decision last fall. To get to the level she wanted to reach in both, she would have to give up one to free the time to practice the other. She gave up ballet, and once again one the award for the best twelve year old musician in the Grande Prairie Festival. However, she still tears up if somebody asks about ballet because she misses it so much.
To achieve excellence in almost anything: performing, sports, academics, relationships, career, one has to focus in on the target and keep distractions at bay. Like my grand-daughter it often means difficult choices. Jesus once said,
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. Matthew 6:24
People will enslave themselves to things that only bring pain and suffering things such as alcoholism, drugs, sexual promiscuity, greed and the like. Sometimes they enslave themselves to ostensibly good things that just get out of proportion. How many families have fallen apart because one parent or the other has put career above family relationships? I’ve seen farmers neglect their herd in calving season because they felt it was important to be at worship no matter what. Some great performing artists are never able to make deep and lasting relationship because they are always on the move.
We choose what we become enslaved to. Sometimes that choice is subconscious and we are quietly and gently drawn into something like losing our home, our family and our self-respect to gambling, or just having another drink when we are down in the dumps.
For our society to be strong, and the kind of place we want to live, we have to listen again to what Kennedy said. We have something to offer the world. Our church has things to offer the world. We have gifts that should be used to help others rather than piling them on the altar of self-satisfaction.
In our decisions about the future facilities to house the ministry of Grace United Church to Lloydminster and district, are we looking to maintain a worship club house for ourselves or are we looking for how we can best serve God’s will to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the community of which we are a part, including from the richest among us to the homeless who regularly walk through our doors during the week, seeking bread but needing renewed souls?
At this time we are not sure how God will provide for whatever alternative we choose. We are called to proceed, like Abraham wanting to sacrifice to God, but not knowing how God would provide. Only when Abraham was prepared to act did God provide the sacrificial lamb. Will we approach our future convinced that God is calling us to a new and greater mission, or will we simply provide for our own comfortable future? What are we enslaved to? How we answer that will determine whether we raise money for just another organization we support, or whether we respond with heart and soul to make God’s will live and through us.