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Midweek Message: "Revisiting Christian Freedom Close to Home"

Week of the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Throughout the pandemic, I have written repeatedly that our practices of restraint – mask wearing, physical distancing, and earlier, refraining from worship indoors – emerge in our Christian freedom, a freedom understood as a stance taken in love for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Recall Martin Luther’s take on freedom understood from a Christian point of view in his treatise, “Freedom of a Christian” – “a Christian person is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one. A Christian person is a dutiful servant in all things, subject to everyone.” That’s the double-sided paradox of Christian freedom.

In the popular imagination of many in current American society, it seems that the understanding of freedom is limited to the first part of Luther’s paradox, that each of us is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one – full stop. Concerning the refusal to wear masks, freedom is frequently invoked, but it’s a liberty understood as a freedom from restraints, constraints, laws, and mandates. There are genuine flash points – sometimes fisticuffs erupting on flights in rebellion against federally mandated mask wearing requirements.

In my view, understandings of freedom reduced to freedom from constraints is more aptly described as licentiousness, a term often used to refer to sexual promiscuity, but more broadly can refer to a kind of reckless abandonment of and disregard for any kind of limitation or restraint on behavior. Quite frankly, such reductionistic views of freedom can be dangerous and can literally lead to the death of innocent people. Thus, Lutheran understandings of freedom are called for in our current societal debates.

We are all sick and tired of being sick and tired of the pandemic. Adding to the struggles, scientific views shift as scientists acquire new understandings and knowledge – and then public policy shifts as well provoking confusion and frustration. Should we wear masks or not? Should we get a vaccination booster or not? It’s all so bewildering.

Certainly, as we make plans for the beginning of a new program year on September 12 – Gathering Sunday on the ELCA’s God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday – we anticipated greater freedom from restraints in our life together. But the Delta variant and its effects have reintroduced a renewed sense of caution, and a return to mask-wearing in a lot of places and circumstances. I am weary of it all and confused.

And in this weariness, and its attendant frustrations, it could be tempting to abandon or sidestep our loving Christian discipline and backslide into a one-sided view of our freedom as a licentious freedom from constraints.

Moreover, notions of freedom can be philosophically and theologically abstract on their own and sometimes far removed from our personal experience, especially when we who are privileged may not have personally known many who have suffered from the ravages of covid and the pandemic’s effects.

Thus, it’s important to bring all of this close to home and to introduce a personal dimension to the debates tearing at the fabric of our society. So, I offer here a personal testimony, a word of thanks from one of our own members, a testament of appreciation for the loving restraint of many of our congregation members in their response to the safety concerns of Sandy Lindamood, who continues to struggle with the complexities of recovery from recent major surgery, and who thus is among those most vulnerable to Covid.

Here is the note of thanks I recently received from Sandy’s mom, Judy Hughes:

Pastor Linman,

 

In trying to count my blessings during this crazy time, I’ve been reflecting again on Christian freedom, the freedom of a Christian to love one another and do the right thing. As I've acknowledged Sandy's situation and the need for us to be around only fully vaccinated, masked people who limit, as much as possible, their own exposure to the unvaccinated, to a person, no one in our RELC community has been negative. Members have been supportive and affirming, individually and collectively. Our RELC unvaccinated children are a concern for all of us, of course. I received a loving email from a mother that I serve on a committee with who offered to not attend something so Charlie and I could! Unnecessary, but I so appreciated the loving embrace. Anyway, hope this lightens your day. Faith in action.

 

God is Good,

Judy

May this personal testimony close to home put the winds of the Holy Spirit back in our tired, worn sails to redouble our efforts in Christ, helping us unwaveringly to do the right and loving thing in seeking to be dutiful servants in all things, subject to everyone.

For God in Christ is good indeed,

Pastor Jonathan Linman