SCRIPTURE:  Joshua 24: 14-17, Galatians 5:13-23


In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!



            On these four Sundays in July we are focusing on what has come to be known as the Four Freedoms. President Franklin Roosevelt first enumerated these in an address to Congress and the nation in 1941. Today we are focusing on the second freedom, the “Freedom of Worship.”

          Some people who are new to a community will “church shop.” They will say, “We are looking for a church and a pastor we like.” I know what they mean, but my personal experience in church shopping has been limited. In our United Methodist tradition pastors are appointed by a Bishop. The Bishop calls us and tells us where we are going and we go. That is the extent of shopping from our perspective.

          When someone says to me, “We’re just here church shopping,” I feel like a head of cabbage in the produce aisle of the grocery store, and they have come to squeeze me to see if I am firm enough for them. Now, I’m a “talking head”, but just the same I feel like a head of cabbage.

          Regardless of how I feel, church shopping is a reality of our time. People shop and compare everything, even churches. We at Chugwater/Wheatland would like for more people to come here to shop. The reality is people shop and choose, even their churches.

          But friends, this is nothing new. Many of those who first came to this country were looking for the freedom of worship, the freedom to choose how they would worship God.

          One of the deep wounds in most all faith traditions developed when faith and political power united and a state church or a state religion was created. The enforcement of adhering to that established tradition brought pain, torture, and death in many situations.

          If you ever take a bus or walking tour of Edinburgh, Scotland, most likely one of your stops will be at the Greyfriars Church right off the Royal Mile. (Where the Scottish Military Tattoo starts!) There a tour guide will probably tell you a most heart-warming story about “Greyfriars Bobby” a wee Skye terrier who kept vigil at his dead master’s grave for fourteen years. Bobby is also buried there. It’s a wonderful story of loyalty and devotion.

          However, what most likely won’t be told is that in that same cemetery are the graves of one hundred people executed because they refused to use the Prayer Book of the Anglican Church. What is also seldom told is that the church grounds were also the site of a prison, where in 1679, twelve hundred people were held as prisoners because they would not worship according to the will of the government. These people held field communions so they would not be arrested for worshipping in their own way.

          There are many such stories of religious persecution in that period of time. Consequently, people came to this country to share in the freedom of worship. The First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, also guarantees our freedom of worship. It does so in two ways. First it says the government cannot establish a state-church. Second, the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of one’s faith.

          When President Franklin D. Roosevelt was trying to rally our nation and the world to a new cause of freedom, he chose the freedom of worship as one of his four freedoms. In enumerating these, he said, “The second freedom of every person to worship God in his or her own way, everywhere in the world.”

          There is a good foundation for this sense of freedom of worship in our scriptures. Our passage from Joshua speaks directly to the freedom of worship. Let me give a little background context to what Joshua says. The Bible starts out with a liturgy of abundance.

          Genesis One is a song of praise to God for God’s generosity. From the very beginning these words paint us a picture of the nature of God. It tells us how well the world is ordered. It keeps saying, “It’s good, it is good, it is very good.” It declares that God blesses, that is endows with vitality, the plants, and animals and the fish and the birds and humankind.

          It pictures the Creator saying, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Everything in its kind is to multiply the overflowing goodness that pours from God’s Creator spirit. Israel continued to celebrate the abundance of God in such places as Psalm 104 and 150. Later in Genesis, God blessed Abraham and Sarah and tells them they are blessed to be a blessing to others, all the nations of the earth.

          This idea of the abundance of God continues in Genesis until Chapter 47. There we meet the Pharaoh of Egypt. Pharaoh has a dream that there will be a famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control, and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world’s economy.

          For the first time in the Bible, someone says, “There is not enough. Let’s get everything for us.” Because Pharaoh is afraid that there aren’t enough good things to go around, he must try to save them all. Because he is fearful, he is also ruthless. Pharaoh hires Joseph to manage the monopoly.

          When the crops fail and the peasants run out of food, they come to Joseph. On behalf of Pharaoh, Joseph says, “What is your collateral?” They give up their land for food, and then the next year, they give up their cattle. By the third year of the famine they have no collateral but themselves. That’s how the children of Israel become slaves in Egypt.

          The notion of scarcity has been introduced into the bible. The Book of Exodus records the contest between the theology of generosity and abundance and the myth of scarcity.

          God, ever abundant in generosity, moves to free the people from their bondage. Consequently Moses is called to lead the people through the wilderness, and then Joshua is called to lead the people into and settle the Promised Land.

          At the point of our passage today, Joshua calls all the tribes together to bid them farewell and to say now you have to make a choice about your new freedom. He recites the story of God’s generosity, and then says, “Put away the gods your ancestors beyond the river and in Egypt.”  The gods he is referring to hear are the gods of fear, greed, coveting, and scarcity, everything they learned from Pharaoh. He then concludes by saying, “I don’t know about you, but I and my house will choose the Lord.”

          For the first time in generations the people have the freedom of worship. Joshua leads by his example in helping them make the right choice.

          In the passage from Galatians, Paul is putting the same choice before the early Christians, the choice of abundance or scarcity. He reminds them they have been called to freedom, but then directs them that they are not to use their freedom for self-indulgence. They are not to be selfish, greedy, hoarding, keeping things only for themselves, using others, and operating out of a view of scarcity.

          Rather, they are to give themselves to serving others. He then offers two lists. The first he calls works of the flesh. These are practices and attitudes that are self-centered, seeking to meet only our wants and desires, and are destructive of healthy relationships with others. These works of the flesh are based in the myth of scarcity that there is so little to go around, we have to grab and hoard as much as we can for ourselves regardless of the effect on others.

          The second list he calls fruits of the Spirit. These are qualities that lead us beyond ourselves, that seek the good and benefit of others, that help us and others to be whole, complete people who can anticipate in healthy relationships, which can be an asset to a community.

          We have this wonderful gift, the freedom of worship. We can choose the manner in which we will worship God. It is, I believe, a daily choice we make. On one hand, it is a choice of seeing everything through the eyes of scarcity, because we believe God only has so much love to give.

          So, we struggle to earn that love and hoard it to ourselves. In turn we begin to hoard things, and grasp at everything trying to store up enough so we think we can live. We spend all our time getting, and never really living.

          This is so contrary to our Judeo-Christian tradition, for our God is the God of gracious abundance whose love knows no end. Our God is the God of manna, new every morning, enough love to sustain us and the community. The only problem comes when we try to store it up for the future. Then it rots and spoils.

          Our God is the God who on the evening of the resurrection, comes back behind the closed doors of fear and blesses us once more, who cooks breakfast for us, and continues to show us how to fish.

          I believe that each day we have the freedom of worship, of choosing how we will see God and thus choosing a basic direction for our lives: either inward toward self, scarcity and death, or outward toward life, abundance and growing and helping others to grow as well.

          Several years ago, a person was new to an adult Sunday school class and confessed to the pastor that she had been church shopping and then said, “This place feels like home.” Later, another member of that class took me aside and said, “Growing up I never had much of a home, let alone a church home, but if I had I would have wanted it to feel like this.”

          You have the freedom of worship. Choose this day whom you will worship, the God of scarcity or the God of abundance. For me and my house we choose the God revealed in the abundant love of Jesus Christ.