BELONGING & BEYOND
Senior Recognition Sunday
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So graduation is on our minds, right?
You high school seniors still have a month to go,
but you’re already tasting your freedom.
And EMU’s graduation
is just a couple of hours from now,
a couple of blocks from here.
Others are around the corner.
When we think of graduation we think of freedom, understandably.
No more required 8:00 classes.
No more assigned readings.
No more deadlines for turning in papers.
After we fling our mortarboards into the air
we have more choices than we did before.
We take on what we want to take on.
We set our own schedules and priorities.
actual freedom is more complicated than that.
All of you soon-to-be grads, a word of caution:
When you graduate,
you gain some freedom, and you lose some,
you let go of some burdens, and you take others on.
Freedom is not an absolute value.
To be fully human,
is to be both free and bound, at the same time.
To be a healthy and joyful and whole
we need to learn how to navigate
the various freedoms and bonds
that make up our life in this world.
The story we heard from Acts 16 today
is all about this complexity.
There’s a host of different characters here
struggling to be free, while being bound.
The first one mentioned, and the most tragic, is the slave-girl,
a beloved daughter of God who was enslaved in multiple ways.
She had owners who made money off her,
controlled her every move,
and likely abused her in many different ways.
She also is described as being possessed by a spirit of divination.
But the owners themselves were also captive to their greed,
to their need to be in control,
to lord it over others,
so they lived in constant fear of losing control,
and losing their revenue source,
to the point that the healing of one young girl,
completely unhinged them,
and they were made captive to their rage and fear,
and acted accordingly, stirring up an angry mob.
The mob was also captive.
They did not each make an independent and free choice
to pick up clubs and attack Paul and Silas.
They were gripped by a collective fear
that their city was being threatened,
and mob psychology overtook and controlled them.
Then, of course, Paul and Silas were made captive,
with physical stocks and chains and shackles.
And the jail keeper was even captive,
since the security of that prison rested entirely on his shoulders,
to the point when the prison doors flew open
and the chains fell off the prisoners,
he was so controlled by the shame
he tried to kill himself,
until Paul and Silas intervened to prevent the suicide,
and bring him to faith in Jesus.
So . . . the most obvious captives in the story—
the slave girl and the prisoners—
end up being the most free.
And those who control the slaves and prisoners,
are shown to be the most captive.
Freedom is complicated.
The God of the Bible is a God who is committed to our freedom.
From the Hebrew scriptures to the stories of the early church—
from the great Exodus out of slavery in Egypt,
to deliverance from evil spirits,
to release from prison,
to healing from diseases,
to resurrection from death—
God is always interested in our being free.
But . . . that does mean freedom to do
as we please when we please to whom we please.
Biblical-style freedom is more than escape from restriction.
God wants to free us to become fully human.
Free from whatever holds us back from God’s intent for us,
from anything that obscures the image of God in us,
from whatever prevents the light of God’s love
from shining through our lives,
from that which obstructs God’s purposes in this world.
In a real sense,
freedom is the capacity to choose to whom we are bound.
We as followers of Jesus
freely bind ourselves to Jesus,
and . . . we bind ourselves to other followers of Jesus,
and we bind ourselves to God our Creator,
and we bind ourselves to the well-being
of this world God created, and everyone in it.
That’s the connection between belonging and freedom.
Belonging to others means you create a bond with them.
We all need bonds to be healthy.
We all need attachments.
But bonds and attachments are, by definition,
in tension with freedom.
Bonds define the limits of our freedom.
We are free to make choices,
but we know some choices will test,
or strain, or even fracture those bonds.
So we choose accordingly.
So, graduates, enjoy your newfound freedom.
It’s real. Bask in it.
But . . . you will still be bound to someone or something.
Choose well who and what you bind yourself to.
Above all, bind yourself to the one who made you.
The one who loves you unconditionally.
The one who will continually delight in you,
as you live out of your best self,
as you fulfill your created purpose,
and help others do the same.
And I hope it’s clear by now to all of us,
no matter what our age and stage in life,
this message is not just for new graduates,
but is the challenge every one of us continues to face,
each and every day.
May our God help us.
—Phil Kniss, May 8, 2022
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