You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
Jesus (John 8)
You will know the truth and the truth will make you odd.
The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.
David Foster Wallace
Dependence starts when we are born and lasts until we die. We accept our dependence as babies and ultimately, with varying degrees of resistance, we accept help when we get to the end of our lives. But in the middle of our lives, we mistakenly fall prey to the myth that successful people are those that help rather than need, and broken people need rather than help. Given enough resources, we can even pay for help and create the mirage that we are completely self-sufficient. But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.
Welcome to this week that includes the Fourth of July. For the church, it is observed as the Feast of Independence Day, one of the few national holidays making its way into the liturgical calendar (along with Thanksgiving and Labor Day). So in this week when there will be summer time fun and days off and celebration it’s worth asking what this Independence Day has to do with our lives as people of faith.
I was not able to find the word “independence” in scripture. But the word “freedom” comes up a lot. That may because the notion of independence may make us think of the freedom to do whatever we damn well please. It may suggest autonomy or even license, things often pursued in our culture.
But as usual, Jesus comes with slightly annoying reversal of the ways we think about things. Jesus said that you will know the truth and the truth will make you free (interesting enough, those words are carved in stone over the entrance to the CIA building in D.C.) And what is the truth Jesus taught? For me, it is a call to discover freedom not so much in our independence but rather in our dependence on God and our dependence on each other.
Augustine picked up on that and talked about faithful discipleship as a matter of service to the one in whose service is perfect freedom. In the 19th century, theologian Freidrich Schleiermacher described faith as a matter of absolute dependence. Paul Tillich built on that to see faith simply as the acceptance of being accepted. In our own time, many people discover that is only in recognition of a higher power that they find freedom from powers that otherwise control them, even captivate them. A favorite rendering of the first of the beatitudes puts it this way: Blessed are those who know their need of God. As a church, we affirm our dependence every time we offer the baptismal covenant and say that we will fulfill its promises with God’s help.
From that place, we recognize our dependence on others and their dependence on us. Aka, community. That’s why in Jesus’ economy love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. One day, Jesus discovered his disciples jockeying for position, trying to figure out who would get platinum status, who would nab corner office in heavenly corporate headquarters. Maybe they were imagining a life of powerful independence, reflective of their own magnificence. After all, they had been with Jesus from the start. They had bet on the right horse. Soon they would be in charge. Independent. Free agents.
Jesus spoke instead of the greatness that comes to those who serve. Yesterday’s reading from the letter to the Galatians put it this way:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.
None of this is to detract or distract from this week’s celebration of the blessings of freedom that has made our nation great, freedoms to be cherished and protected and practiced now more than ever.
But in this week, as in every week, we are to celebrate the freedom that comes when we grow to depend on the life of the Spirit, and then to let that freedom find expression in service to others. How might you do that today?
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
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