Set Us Free

Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany
OT: Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm: Psalm 112
NT: 1 Corinthians 2
Gospel: Matthew 5:13-20


Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us
the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known
to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns
with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and
for ever. Amen.

This is the prayer for the week. It follows naturally from last week because we will only be able to walk so far while we are still in bondage. So we pray for freedom. Yet it is right that last week should come first because if we did not first know how to walk then we would not know how to leave the place where we are chained up.

Sin

Is it hard to talk about sin and easy to minimize it. Many of us grew up with a gospel that was simply about sin. We are dead because of sins so we should repent of our sins because Jesus died for our sins. And we grew weary of always hearing that so we’ve swung to the other side. The gospel is about love and justice and Jesus’ rule and reign. And we don’t want to talk about sin anymore. Yet, this response is just as half-sighted as the original problem. When we do this we become those who “forsake the judgement of God.” And so there is a time when it is right to “declare the transgressions of the people.”

Perhaps I shall put forward a simple definition of sin. Sin is that which is contrary to love. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. Sin is rooted in dishonoring God and harming others. Sin is that which does not show the glory of God and that which hurts other people.

So maybe we should pause and reflect and repent. What in your life is keeping you from love? Is it unrighteous anger which burns other people and fails to show the love of God? Is it lust which transforms people into objects and fails to carry the compassion of God? Is it lying which takes advantage of others and fails to show the faithfulness of God? Is it selfishness which robs the world for your gain and fails to show the grace of God? What is keeping you from love?

Discipline

The antidote to sin is discipline. When most of us think of discipline (especially in the context of wrongdoing) we probably think of punishment. That picture of Dad taking off his belt to give you a spanking or that time that Mom grounded you for a week. While this sort of discipline can be effective at times, it is not the true discipline that brings life. The discipline that I am speaking about is what is often meant by spiritual disciplines.

Why are they called disciplines? Because they are things we must discipline ourselves to practice. They are actions we must devote ourselves to. They are steps we must intentionally take in our effort to walk. So what are the spiritual disciplines? There is no official list in the scriptures, but there are numerous examples. They are things like prayer and scripture, worship and confession, solitude and community. They are things that do not accidentally happen in our lives but which we must purpose ourselves to do.

This thing about discipline can seem paradoxical. How do I get free from the chains that keep me from walking? By walking with purposeful steps. How do I love when sin is keeping me from it? By loving anyway. It does not make sense, but it is one of the mysteries of the christian life. And it is only possible with God.

The Cross and the Spirit

That is where we can miss it. It is only possible with God. Many of us devote ourselves to these things because we want to get God’s attention. We practice the disciplines because we want God to see us. And there lies the problem. The people whose sin Isaiah declares were doing this very thing. “We have been practicing the disciplines and you haven’t seen it! We’ve humbled ourselves and you haven’t even noticed!” This sort of discipline does not loose our chains, it is a chain in itself.

We must not practice the disciplines to get God to see us, we must practice the disciplines because we want to see God! This is how the disciplines change us. We glimpse God in the scriptures and in worship; we empty ourselves in prayer and in confession. They do not turn God’s attention to us but rather our attention to God. And as we behold God we are transformed.

This is why Paul always declares the cross! “I came to you offering only Jesus Christ and him crucified!” Because when we set our eyes on that we are changed! We see the most incredible display of God’s love and we see the power of sin vanquished. And it is why Paul reminds us that we carry God’s Spirit. We are transformed by his spirit in us. And slowly we begin to share the mind of Christ.

So set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ!

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Further Resources

Books Teachings
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster Seeing and Abiding (Summer 2011)
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard Spiritual Disciplines (Spring 2013)

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