Reading: excerpt from Martin Luther’s Freedom of a Christian
“[The faithful Christian] ought to think: ‘Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches? I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ.”
We live with the rather misguided notion that freedom and independence are closely related, if not one and the same. Particularly here in America where we celebrate Independence Day with lines like “let freedom ring,” it’s easy to see how we’ve arrived at this conclusion.
But what if I told you they aren’t the same thing? What if I told you there is no such thing as independence? What if I told you it was all a farce? If you read last Friday’s devotional, you know where I’m going with this. There is no such thing as independence because we are inseparably linked to one another. It is famously claimed that we are no more than six connections away from anyone in the world. You are connected to your family and your friends, and your friend’s family, and your friend’s family’s family friends. You are connected to your coworkers and their friends and family. The connections ripple out to encompass the entire world and there is no way, not really, of disconnecting yourself from this intricate web of connections. There is no such thing as independence.
This is important for us to remember today of all days: Reformation Sunday. Today is the day we celebrate our Christian freedom. But we have made the mistake of thinking that Christian freedom means Christian independence. We have come to think that our status as Christians means that we owe nothing to anyone, that we are free to do what we want, that we are free to determine our own destiny. But nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no such thing as independence. Freedom, like all things, exists in relationship and connection.
So what is our Christian freedom? Christian freedom is actually a freedom from self. It is a freedom from independence. We have been saved by grace through faith. This means that we no longer need worry about our own salvation, we no longer have to seek out salvation for ourselves, we are no longer the focus. We are free of that burden, the burden of having to save ourselves. And now we can do what we were always meant to do: focus on other people, the neighbors all around us to whom we are connected.
Christian freedom does not lead to independence (no such thing) but rather liberates us to care for those around us, to drive us deeper into relationships with our neighbors, to draw us deeper in the web of relationships that binds the whole world.
We give you thanks, O God, that you have freed us and put us in relationship with others. We thank you that you have freed us to dedicate ourselves to the love and service of others. In those moment when we think we are independent, remind us of our connection to others and to you.