THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME-A
The cruise ship was pulling out of port, and the first-seating passengers were on their way to the dining room. A lady was walking all by herself. She was elderly and apparently traveling alone. She was dressed in a beige polyester pantsuit and her white hair was cut in a simple bob. And she walked a bit hunched over.
The dining room musicians began to play “Begin the Beguine” [by Cole Porter, 1935].
The people then saw this elderly lady stand up straight and tall, throw her shoulders back, and shimmy and sway a little bit. She did a very graceful “Lindy step” – back, shuffle, slide – and then, a moment or two later, arriving at her table, she slouched over and looked like the same little old lady all over again.
But for a moment, she enjoyed a freedom that she had not experienced in a long, long time.
On this Independence Day weekend, we look at the freedoms that we enjoy.
And what is freedom anyway? Sometimes people think that freedom means the absence of responsibility: that I can do anything that I want to do, and that I do not need to care about how this may affect someone else. Even we, as disciples of Jesus, can be tempted to think this way.
Sometimes worn-out parents can long for the day when they are empty nesters. Sometimes weary homeowners can dream about living in a water-view high rise.
But freedom is not the absence of responsibility. I have known some empty nesters who now wish their children would come to visit them a little more often. And I have known some people that have moved to a high-rise with a fabulous view that now wish they had a small lawn and garden to tend.
We see people in our society who have not accepted responsibility for their lives and we see the sad consequences that have followed.
Freedom is always linked with responsibility. And the freedom won for us by Jesus Christ delivers us from the slavery of sin.
As Saint Paul teaches us today in his Letter to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
Sin can leave us tired and depressed and feeling very guilty. Of all the pain that there is in life, I do not know of any that is more acute than that of a troubled conscience. Sin does not deliver the happiness or the freedom that it promises. It is all an illusion. And Satan is its chief advertiser.
I am struck by all of the advertising on television about new drugs. You hear clearly about the health complaints that they may solve. But then, in a quieter and quicker voice, you hear about all of the side effects that might follow. And I come away thinking that I would rather stick with what I’ve already got than risk getting stuck with something worse!
Satan advertises but his temptations do not leave us better off. We sinners know this. “To do whatever I please” is not true freedom.
Jesus, our Savior, delivers us from the slavery of sin and gives us true and lasting freedom – “newness of life” – so that we can live as beloved sons and daughters of His Heavenly Father.
A man named Dale reflects on a part-time college job that he had, cleaning a church.
It was a beautiful day, so he opened the church windows – which did not have screens. And then a bird flew in.
At first Dale thought that this was really neat, watching the bird fly around and listening to it chirp. But then he realized what that bird could do to mess up all of his hard work. So he decided to catch the bird and put it back outside.
But that was easier said than done. The bird flew all over the place. And every time it landed, it took off again before Dale could catch it. But finally it landed on the floor, all bird-tired, and it let Dale pick it up.
Dale carried the bird in his hands to an open window and it flew off into the sky with “newness of life.”
This incident reminded Dale of a time in his life when he felt much like that bird. He was tired and depressed and feeling guilty. He went in one direction and then in another. He had flights of fancy and crash landings.
And then one day he just put his life in the Lord’s hands. And Dale gratefully received a new life of freedom as a beloved child of God.
Freedom is always linked with responsibility. And freedom in Christ delivers us from the slavery of sin and offers us “newness of life.”
On this Independence Day weekend, we thank God for the gift of our freedom in this great nation.
We ask God for the grace that we need to accept and carry out our responsibilities.
And we open our hearts to the One who gives us freedom in this world and in the world to come.
A wonderful way to respond to Jesus’ invitation to put our lives in His hands is the prayer: “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen today that you and I can’t handle together.”
With shoulders back and head held high, we can “Begin the Beguine,” so to speak, partnered with Him.