Reformation Sunday, 2012: “Freedom, Crooked or True?” – John 8:31-36

“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  This is a concept that has shaped this nation… FREEDOM!  This nation was founded on absolute importance of freedom.  Patrick Wayne proclaimed, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.”  And Samuel Adams wrote, “The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil constitution, are worth defending against all hazards: And it is our duty to defend them against all attacks.”  The American people have always highly valued their freedom.  We have fought to obtain it, we have fought to perfect it, and we have fought and still fight today to prefect it.  To be an American is to be free.  So this text would be truly appreciated by Americans right?  But what does it mean for the truth to set you free if you are an American.  We are FREE!  We have always been FREE!  And if you are committed to the preservation of the ideals of this nation, you are determined that we will always be free.  So what does it matter that Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free?  We don’t need to be free.  Aren’t we free already?

That’s just what the people said to Jesus.  “They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’”  And Jesus’ response on its surface seems a bit odd.  He says,  “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”  Isn’t that a rather strange thing to say?  I mean yes, maybe we are fallen in sin; maybe we are not what God intends us to be; maybe we do things we shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean we are slaves.  I mean that is the very essence of what freedom is, isn’t is.  I can do whatever I want, and as long as I’m not hurting anyone else, it is my own business; my own responsibility.  After all, I am FREE!  But would it surprise you to hear that there are two definitions of freedom?  The one definition we all take for granted is the one we have just been talking about.  It is best characterized by the statement, “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.”  Which coincidentally was written by the foremost satanist of the 20th century, Alistair Crowley.  But there is another definition that you may not be aware of.  That definition of freedom is the right and ability to seek the ideal.  That’s rather cryptic isn’t it?  So what does it mean, to seek the ideal?  It means to pursue the best of all things: the best of knowledge, the best of wisdom, the best of virtue.  Imagine the best that could be and aim toward that, pursue that.  This is what it means to be free.  Well that’s a rather different thing than we had in mind.  That’s a different idea of freedom than what the Jews Jesus was speaking to had in mind as well.  Isn’t it?  So how are we to understand what Jesus saying to us here?  What does it mean for the truth to set us free?

I think we will better understand what Jesus means for us to be free if we understand what Jesus means when He says that we are slaves to sin.

There was a crooked man, and he went a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

How many of you remember that Mother Goose nursery rhyme?  That rhyme has been rolling around in my head all week and it took me a while to understand why.  It is because, that is us!  We are the crooked man.  What am I talking about?  Let me explain.  Well the Hebrew language has around 20 different words that are translated as sin.  But the three words that are most often used are HET, PESHA, and AVON.  The first two words (HET and PESHA) refer to individual acts of sin, but the 3rd word AVON is different.  This is the only word that speaks of a sinful nature.  The word AVON, literally translates “CROOKEDNESS.”  We are not straight, we are crooked. We point the wrong way.  If you had a rifle with a crooked barrel – even just a little crooked – what is the result?  You can’t shoot straight.  What you aim at, you miss.  The only way you can hope to shoot straight is to have a straight barrel.  This is what it means to be sinners – not to sin (to do sinful things) – but to be a sinner.  You can’t help but sin, no matter how hard you try to do right, you do wrong.  Why? Because you can’t hit what your aiming at.  And even if you can adjust, so that on the surface you look like you are on target, it doesn’t change the fact that you remain crooked.

So what does it mean for us crooked people to be free.  What does our crooked freedom look like.  In the Declaration of Independence our founding fathers innumerated the three inalienable rights of a free society (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness).  Since 1973 the people of this nation have aborted the lives of 55,000,000 unborn children for the sake of the liberty and pursuit of happiness of others.  This year, CNN reported that America – the land of the free – holds over 6 million of its citizens incarcerated.  That’s not just many more than in most other developed countries but 7 to 10 times as many.  And as of 2010 in our land of liberty, 22.6 million Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to drugs, and that number is rising.  This is what our crooked freedom looks like.

We are all crooked man, and we walk a crooked mile,
We take our crooked money from against a crooked stile;
We buy crooked pleasures, which catch others in our game,
And live all together in crooked freedom all the same.

Now if that is all their was, this would truly be a sad, sad, rhyme.  But that is not all there is.  Remember, Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  The truth will set you free.  What does that mean?  How can truth set us free.  We have just seen the truth for ourselves and I don’t feel all that free, do you?  Well here again, we have two different definitions of truth to consider.  The first is the one we all typically think of.  Truth is that which is in accordance with fact or reality.  This is what we mean when we stand up in court and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  But like with freedom, there is another less known definition of truth.  It is the quality or state of being true.  Now I did not just repeat myself.  You see, because when I say true, I do not mean to in keeping with the facts.  I mean true – like in construction – to bring into alignment.  In other words, to be straight.  And Jesus is not saying that we will learn about the truth; learn how to be straight.  Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  And later in the text, He says, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  So what is the truth? It is the Son.  Jesus is the truth.  The straight one.  The only one pointed to our true freedom; the the only true ideal of freedom, God Himself.  Jesus is not telling us that He will teach us how to be true, He is telling us there is only one truth, one straight way to God our heavenly Father.  He alone is the only way that points to God; all others are crooked and lead not to the freedom of the Father, but the slavery of sin.  But through the faith that abides in Jesus the truth, we are truly free.

There is a true man, and he walked in truth for us,
He took all our crookedness and nailed it to the cross;
Through His death He bought us out of our crooked chains,
And through faith in Jesus our freedom forever now remains.
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