“Freedom Is Not Free” Sermon by President McCreary at RCA General Synod 2022
June 11, 2022
Rev. Micah McCreary, PhD preached this message on the theme, “Freedom is not Free,” during opening worship at General Synod 2022. It has been lightly edited for the written form.
I will always remember the movie Hacksaw Ridge, the true story of a young Christian pacifist who chose to enlist in the army as a medic. He had promised God as a young man that he would never touch a gun or shoot a weapon after he almost shot his father for beating his mother.
I love the scene where his platoon is retreating and being badly beaten by the Japanese. Seeing his comrades cut down and slaughtered, he looks up and asks God, “What do you want from me? I can’t hear your voice. … What do you want from me?” One could readily see the pain on this actor’s face at that moment.
As we confront our current conditions, we too have been crying out to God: “What do you want from us?”
We have war in Ukraine … What do you want from us?
We have devastating economic conditions … What do you want from us?
We struggle as a society for justice and equity … What do you want from us?
We are befuddled by ineffective government, and even your church is polarized, politicized, and paralyzed.
God wants us to be free, but freedom is not free.
The words “freedom is not free” are featured on the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., dedicated in 1995.
One is also likely to hear “freedom is not free” on many American patriotic occasions, although its original context from 1959 is rarely given or remembered: “Freedom is not free. It is always purchased with the high price of sacrifice and suffering.” (The Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.)
Freedom is not free. It is always purchased with the high price of sacrifice and suffering.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?” Micah 6:8 saved my life.
As a teenager in Detroit, Michigan, who was devoted to living a Christian life, the words of this verse were branded on my heart.
The Lord through the prophet Micah announces to Israel and to us what the Lord requires. The Lord does not call for ritual sacrifice and piety. The Lord calls for change, change in behavior and action.
To act justly means to do the righteous thing. To love mercy means to be faithful to our love covenants. To walk humbly means to live and walk carefully as God wants us to. The prophet Micah preaches, proclaims, and teaches that because the people of Israel were worshiping without love, sacrificing without holy hearts, and had divorced morality from worship and daily practices, they were not free. The same is true of many today.
Some stray from the faith. Some because of pain. Some because of fear and anxiety.
Others lose faith and hope. But these verses of the Old Testament outline a way forward. They tear down walls and build relationships. They spread healing balm on broken spirits. They motivate us to be better and live better.
If only we could live this simple mandate—but freedom is not free. It is always purchased with the high price of sacrifice and suffering.
I believe Jesus best demonstrates how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, through his passion.
I believe that, together, Holy Thursday, Holy Friday, Holy Saturday, and Holy Sunday show us how to be free. Christ has purchased our freedom. Christ has left us a profound example of how to disciple ourselves and one another in this freedom.
First, we must learn to empty ourselves. In Christian language this is called the great kenosis. Kenosis means to make oneself a nothing.
This sounds strange, but our transformation begins with denying ourselves …
- To use privilege for the advancement of societal good!
- To empty yourself of glory for the sake of those who know not God!
- To judiciously handle power.
- To fight for the oppressed and the disenfranchised!
- To act counter to our goal as humans, by helping another along the way!
- To act not for personal gain but for Godly advancement!
- To compete not for the sake of glory and victory, but for human excellence!
This is what Jesus shows us when he washes the feet of his disciples and shares the first Communion.
Second, we must learn to pause and reflect. Self-surrender, self-sacrifice, self-denial, and self-imposed suffering are difficult. This is the harder way. The road less traveled.
To live a life of justice, mercy, and humility is not pleasant and requires fortitude and resilience.
Victor Frankl, the great psychiatrist of the Holocaust, taught that to every stimulus there is a response. But in between the stimulus and the response, there is a space. That space between our cross and our resurrection is our sacred space. We must learn to live in this tension of what we see, feel, and want. It is a space to contemplate and analyze. Dedicated, devoted, and devout Christian believers are made better through contemplating the weight and price of life and life choices. This of course is clearly illustrated in the crucifixion and Christ’s descent on Holy Saturday.
Third, we must wait with expectation. Freedom is found and obtained as we learn to trust that our emptying and our pausing will bear fruit.
Our dream might be deferred, but while we are in the valley, we can find green pastures.
As we spend time pausing, we find hope that our actions will change the world for the better.
We must learn to stand patiently during our crisis. I love the Greek word for resurrection (Ana-histemi). Ana means “up” and histemimeans “to cause to stand.”
We must stand up with a new awakening. Waiting is not a passive act; it is restorative.
Waiting allows you to ready yourself for acting. Waiting allows you to use your space to restructure and renew within. Waiting allows you to power up. To clothe yourself in hope. To renew yourself.
Waiting is the half-time of our spiritual competition. During your half-time you assess the strengths and challenges of your opponent, your team, and yourself. Waiting readies you to be in position to take and make the right move.
Fourth, we must act with power. Too often leaders become comfortable with the luxury of waiting. I love the poem by Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Returning to the true story of Hacksaw Ridge—Private First-Class Desmond Thomas Doss knew that freedom was not free—and he could not quit!
He was beaten by fellow soldiers in boot camp. His company commander tried to get him kicked out of the army for being mentally unstable. His company taunted him and called him a coward because he would not carry or fire a gun. But in the battle, after he cried out to God, “What do you want from me?” he heard a wounded soldier call out for help.
He then ran to the injured. He ran back through enemy fire, found the injured soldier, dragged him to the ridge through the enemy fire, and lowered him down from the top of Hacksaw Ridge with a special knot he tied.
Then he asked God, “one more!” and ran back for another injured soldier.
He would run back, find another injured soldier, drag him, and lower him down from the top of Hacksaw Ridge with a special knot he tied.Then another, and another, and another.
All told, he saved 75 wounded soldiers that day.
Like Doss, we must return and pull our fellow Christian soldiers to this lifeboat we love.
Freedom is not free. It is always purchased with the high price of sacrifice and suffering. So I invite you this synod to pick up your cross, and with the power and conviction of Jesus, return time after time to gather and share with those who are healthy, those who are injured, those who hate you, those who call you names, those who gracefully separate, and those who feel you are wrong.
Peter said to humble yourself under the right hand of God and God will exalt you in time. Jesus was resurrected and ascended to the right hand of God.
Doss was the only conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Freedom is not free; it is always purchased with the high price of sacrifice and suffering. Freedom is not free. But the freedom that flows through the love of Jesus Christ, released by God’s just hand, and guided by the Holy Spirit–is worth it a thousand times over.
So, Reformed Church in America, it’s time for us to stand. Our spiritual half-time has prepared us for an important mission. It’s time for us to stand up for our convictions and dismantle the barriers that stand in the way of liberation for all God’s people. It’s time for us to stand up for the oppressed and draw in the people our world pushes to the margins. It’s time for us to stand up and proclaim that our God is love that perseveres in all things. Our God’s grace knows no limits. And our God’s justice will heal and restore our broken world.
Freedom is not free, but it’s time for us to stand up for it. It’s time for the RCA to stand!