Just so, Jesus has us baited, sets the hook, and reels us in! “If you continue in my word, you will know the truth,” he said, “and the truth will make you free.” Jesus hadn’t said anything about slavery before the Judeans, those leaders in Jerusalem, brought it up. They assumed that’s what he meant, when he was teaching in the Temple. Which is all wonderfully ironic, given that, after Abraham and Sarah, they actually were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, until Moses led them back home. And, even as they spoke with Jesus, they were under the thumb of the Romans. And likewise, it’s tragic for us, in that, one race and creed of people enslaved another race and color of people for hundreds of years, right here in ‘the land of the free.’ By our denial, Jesus reels us in, and points us to exactly what he means about sin and freedom.
Jesus is talking about the slavery of sin that each and every one of us are born into, a condition that we all are entangled in. It’s more than making a mistake here or there, our individual sins, although, we all have these, as well. But Jesus means, the sin of not being able to trust others, worrying that they may take advantage of us, afraid there isn’t enough to go around, so I better get mine first. The kind of sin that makes it hard for me to share with others, building barns to store up treasures for myself, locked away from the common good, as we become estranged and separated from one another.
This is a larger, corporate nature of sin, a condition which we all participate in and ‘cannot free ourselves from,’ the sinfulness of separation from God, and from one another. “For there is no distinction,” as Paul said, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This is when the invitation to the freedom Jesus offers, starts to sound more appealing! This good news that “if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!” Jesus frees us from the curse of the Garden of Eden. Where paradise was once lost, now it is opened again. In the garden, outside Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for a gardener on the morning of his resurrection. On that first day of the week, the beginning of a new creation, Jesus made a way out of no way for all of us to re-enter the new Garden of Eden, the realm of God – “if we continue in his word and are truly his disciples.” Because, in the garden, God makes wide steps for us. In the ecology of God’s garden, there is grace, room to make mistakes and to sin, and also to forgive one another and find healing and new life. This is the responsibility God tasked us with as care-takers of creation. We cannot make our own paradise, but as Jesus’ disciples, we can know the way, the path that leads to, and around, the Garden.
In a wonderful way the ecology of our world is like this, a big garden, our biosphere, created ‘very good’ by God, a diverse and inter-dependent ecology, with forgiveness for us, within its created limits. As in the creation story, God made safe boundaries, separating the dry land from the waters, providing vegetation and animals for food, as long as we care for this ‘very good’ bio-diverse world. As long as we care for one another, and share, out of the abundance of all God has provided.
In our life times, however, we have pushed the biosphere beyond its capacity. Signs of global warming in our science and our weather, speak in a prophetic way to the excesses of our over-consumption. The eco-boundaries of planet earth have exceeded its capacity to recycle our carbon dioxide that we produce. And of course tomorrow, October 31, you know what happens. No, not Halloween. The earth’s population will reach 7 billion for the first time. Which has it’s own set of issues for using the earth’s resources.
What shape does confession and forgiveness take in this context? Who will take the first step in trusting that we can live again together in the new world, the new biosphere, the Garden of Jesus’ resurrection, beyond our race to hoard fossil fuel’s and burn carbon based products past mother earth’s tolerance?
Last Sunday, Unity received the “ComEd Congregational Challenge” award, “In Recognition of Outstanding Energy Conservation Efforts,” a pleasant surprise in the life of our ‘caring for creation’ efforts, and, something to celebrate! Will it save the world? Not hardly! Nothing we do, whatever the size of our efforts, can free us from our bondage to sin. It’s a relatively modest step to have retrofit our old energy-guzzling lights and Exit signs with new high efficient bulbs, and to have calked and sealed our leaky stained glass windows for the winter. But it is a great example for us, and for others, that we can trust one another enough to take a step into the biosphere of God’s grace, the Garden of sharing generously of what God has first given us.
The reformers of the church prized ‘freedom from’ the tyranny of corrupt religious authorities, and ‘freedom for’ the gospel good news for all. That freedom gave courage to let old structures die, so that many could come to know the saving grace of the word in scripture for the first time. Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, curb us who by deceiving ourselves, and others, would bring all that God has made, to naught.
‘We are an urban green space,’ with a beautiful Garden out front. May our “green space” remind us of the Garden of Eden, a gift of abundant life, and enough to live within safe boundaries. And also of the Resurrection Garden, where Jesus, who like a seed planted in the ground must first die, rose to new life. Though we are slaves to sin as part of our human condition, together, as the Body of Christ, we are raised to live anew. And as Jesus’ disciples, steadfast in his word, and fed at the feasting table, we find true freedom in generously giving away, out of the store of God’s abundant gifts!