This Sunday is a call to the slavery that frees us for life.
Some people are all about “freedom.” But they haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. In this pandemic they have become slaves to a political lie that wearing a face mask is an insult to our President—a man who has consistently minimized the risk of the virus. These people proudly proclaim that they live in a “free country,” and that wearing a face mask is a surrender of their rights, a surrender to fear, and a tacit attack on their heroic President.
Of course, wearing a face mask is none of these things. It is, instead, an act of respect for community. Community lives, and we live, by helping each other. And we do that in this time of Covid-19 by wearing something that reduces the chance that I may infect, make ill, and possibly kill other people.
Our reading from Romans gives us a dense essay on what freedom and slavery look like.
Bob Dylan had an instinct for Paul’s reasoning here when he wrote the song, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The first stanza and refrain go like this:
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
The Apostle recognizes that, as God is infinitely different. God is holy, just, righteous, and loving. We are not. In other words, God is life, and we are death. To choose life we must choose to be under the dominion of God.
But, while all of us fall short, God gives us life as a gift. But the way we take hold of this gift is to turn our faces toward God, and not the other way. Jesus would say we hunger and thirst after righteousness. We know there is a difference—a sharp and absolute difference—between sin and righteousness—between good and evil. And that difference is the difference between living for self and living for the sake of others—the sake of community.
Of course, as we cannot be God, or know God completely, but only reach out for God in faith, just so we cannot ever live only for community. But as we enslave ourselves—as we live under the dominion of the God who is at the Center of our Circle of Community, we will know life.
Paul sums all of this up in verses 22 and 23 of our reading:
22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Everybody’s gotta serve somebody. Freedom used only for self is a slavery leading to death. Freedom used to serve the community God has given us is a slavery leading to life.
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