Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Glimpse of Freedom

Mk. 1:21-28[1]

Last week we discussed the focus of Jesus’ gospel: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” And I talked a little bit about how we just don’t get the whole “kingdom” bit. Perhaps the reason is that the biblical view of the “kingdom of God” is pretty much the opposite of what we think of in terms of “kingdoms.” The best way to describe the “kingdom of God” is to talk about freedom. Indeed, my favorite Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann defines the “kingdom of God” as “The Kingdom of Freedom.”[2]

Freedom is a word that, like many other words, has lost much of it’s meaning in our day and time. For us “free” means “without cost” and “freedom” means “carte blanche.” Or “free” means “unattached” and “freedom” means “autonomy.” Freedom is about power and possession.

But the kind of freedom that defines the kingdom of God has very little to do with “rights” or entitlement. True freedom is about being free to love, free to serve, free to hope and dream, free to create.[3] It is not about being “free” to do whatever you want, but being free to be who you were intended to be by God. True freedom is about being free to fulfill God’s purpose in creating us in the first place—to live a life of love for others, for God, and for God’s creation.[4] True freedom, the freedom of God’s kingdom, is about being free to enjoy God’s life and God’s love in a community of people who are also free to live and to love.

Believe it or not, that’s why the Gospels put so much stress on Jesus’ ability to cast out the demons. It’s not that they were trying to make sure that everybody believed in an unseen realm where angels and demons battled each other for the souls of men and women. Pretty much every one in their day and time believed in that any way. The reason why the Gospels emphasized Jesus’ power over the demons was because they were the most powerful adversaries anyone in that day and time could imagine. No human weapons could harm them. Most people saw themselves as basically defenseless and helpless against attacks from demons. Some did resort to various magical techniques to ward off evil spirits. And there were others who were known to be able to expel these spirits, though it took a great deal of “smoke and mirrors.”

The “demons” represented the power of evil in the world, and it seemed to many that their power was unstoppable. That’s why it’s important to notice two features of the stories where Jesus expels demons. First, unlike the so-called “exorcists” of the day, Jesus did not resort to elaborate rituals to compel the demonic spirits to leave. He simply spoke the command and they left. Second, the stories where Jesus expels demons often conclude with a description of the person fully restored to health and wholeness of mind (cf. Mk. 5:15). In other words, Jesus actually succeeded in setting them free from whatever it was that was afflicting them!

I think that’s why the people who witnessed these events were amazed mainly by Jesus' authority/power. In comparison to the charlatans who used “every trick in the book” and charged handsomely for it, the presence of God’s liberating kingdom in Jesus simply released the oppressed from the chains that bound them. In a very real sense, Jesus “practiced what he preached” by effecting the healing and liberating presence of God’s kingdom in the lives of those who were subjected to the powers of evil.[5]

The important aspect of Jesus’ miraculous deeds is that they served to demonstrate the presence of God’s kingdom. They served as concrete examples of the message Jesus preached—where the presence of God’s kingdom is, there is healing, there is freedom, there is life, there is joy. In the context of the Gospels, then, these kinds of events were entirely to be expected in a world filled with domination and death. When God’s kingdom of freedom comes near, the powers of domination and death must retreat.

It may be hard for us to swallow stories of demons being expelled, but the point of them is that they show that God’s kingdom of freedom is truly present. And the good news of the gospel that “the kingdom of God is at hand” is that Jesus established a “kingdom” and a “lordship” free from any kind of domination—patriarchal, political, moral, or religious.[6] Thus the image of God’s kingdom is not one of slaves cowering in fear of an absolute monarch who is able to wield power and hold lives in the balance, but rather the image of God’s kingdom is a community free from subjugation of any kind, free from all domination and oppression, where we are all beloved children and friends of our merciful Creator and crucified Lord, living in the freedom and joy and life of God’s presence.[7]

[1] © 2009 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/1/09 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, ?; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 99: the kingdom of God as Jesus spoke of it is “the ultimately liberating, all-redeeming and therefore eschatological kingship of God over his creation.”

[3] Cf. Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom, 216, puts it this way: the freedom of God’s Kingdom enables people to “dream the messianic dream of the new, whole life that will at last be truly alive.” Cf. also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 86: on the cross “man’s suffering becomes Christ’s history, and Christ’s freedom becomes man’s history”; cf. also ibid., 78, 80, 190-96.

[4] Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom, 216, says that freedom occurs “when people are again one: one with each other, one with nature, and one with God.” Cf. similarly, Jacques Ellul, “Christian Responsibility for Nature and Freedom,” Cross Currents 35 (Spring 1985): 50 , where he says that Christians are free, but that “this freedom is inconceivable without a conversion to God and a life within the love of God and neighbor. People become individuals, yes, but this change is viable only if together with others they form a new community.” Cf. also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 83-85.

[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 104-105, 107-108; cf. also Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom, 69.

[6] Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom, 191-92. He puts it this way elsewhere (p. 71): God’s kingdom is “the kingdom of fatherly and motherly compassion, not the kingdom of dominating majesty and slavish subjection.” Cf. also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 102.

[7] Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom, 198, 202, 210, 221; cf. also Moltmann, Church in the Power, 104.

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