Thursday, July 27, 2017

Obedience and Freedom

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice. - 1 Samuel 15:22

Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it! - Luke 11:28

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 89:19-29; Isaiah 49:22-51:16; Colossians 1:1-14

Today's obvious theme is "obedience." That can be an intimidating word, and it may carry a lot of negative connotations. But it's a key concept in the Christian faith, and understood in connection with God's love and grace, makes a lot of sense.

In today's section at the beginning of Colossians, Paul writes:
We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Here, the foundation of grace is clear! God loves us, and reaches out to rescue and redeem us from all sin and brokenness. The gift of Christ is our entry into God's reign of light. We are adopted as beloved children into God's way of life. God's will and God's Spirit are also gifts that fill and guide us. Our lives are no longer self-centered, constricted messes that only result in us falling on our faces in the muck. But now we can "lead lives worthy of the Lord," growing, bearing fruit, gaining strength and endurance. God can work through us ordinary flawed people, to bring the good news of this love and new life to the whole world.

We are set free in Christ, from everything that would hold us down, condemn us to wallow in the stuff that trips us up, and separate us from God. AND the path of freedom is what we call obedience. If God knows the way, if God is our foundation and our strength, then it's only reasonable to stick close to God and not wander back into our former prisons, or new ones.

Maybe our fear and suspicion of "obedience" comes from our human experience. Nobody else other than God can be fully committed to our best interests - not even ourselves! Every human authority that wants to claim our obedience is tainted by a human agenda, intentionally or unintentionally. The world is full of cases where our submission would lead only to servitude or abuse or slavery, our freedom being sacrificed for our loss and somebody else's gain.

It's different with God. Jesus' paradoxical language of gaining our life by losing it, denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily, carries the truth, because it points to God as the only power that really leads to freedom. By giving up our own way and following God's way, we become ever more the people we were created to be. We set aside the illusion of self-will, seeing that we are very poor masters of ourselves, and that the living God can and does and will provide a better way.

Thank you, God, for your grace and redemption. And thank you for not closing the story and leaving us there, but continuing to lead and guide and fill and increase us. Help me to set aside every other influence, and follow you in humble and faithful obedience. Thank you for the freedom and joy and boundless new life that comes in you.

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