True Freedom in Christ

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
True Freedom in Christ
Saturday of the 4th Week of Pascha
16 May, 2009
Acts 12:1-11 ; John 8:31-42

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is risen

Today, our Lord is saying hard things to the people who are debating with Him. They are certain that they are the children of Abraham. However, the problem with their certainty that they are the children of Abraham is that they are over-confident that this is a guarantee that everything is all right with them. To be a descendant of Abraham according to their mentality (as our Saviour is clearly pointing out) is like having a passport into Heaven. Our Lord is pointing out to them that they have their priorities out of focus. They are depending upon the fact that they are in the direct lineage of descent from the Patriarch Abraham. However, this is not the point.

What is the point that our Saviour keeps trying to get across to them ? It is that Abraham, the faithful one, lived in a living relationship with God. He spoke with God. God told him how to behave, where to go, and what to do. Abraham (because he had conversations with God and asked Him what He meant, and so forth) was able to go and do what God told him to do. God gave a Promise, and He made a Covenant. Abraham entered into and embraced the Covenant and the Promise. The relationship between Abraham and the Lord was alive.

Perhaps the relationship between our Saviour and the people who are debating with Him today is not alive. They are bound by fear. That is what our Lord is trying to say. Therefore, in fact, they are slaves of this fear, and slaves of sin, also. Fear and sin go hand-in-hand. Therefore, ultimately, what is our Saviour saying about who is their father ? When one is living in fear, and one is a slave of sin, one’s father is not God. The question then is : “Who is your father ?” Just after the end of today’s periscope, our Saviour says it very clearly. The answer is, therefore : “If not God, then the devil”.

The Lord is pointing out that the relationship between us and the Lord is supposed to be like that of sons and daughters. He says today “sons” but He really means sons and daughters (or children). He says that we have the right, as children, to live in the house forever as children. If one is an outsider, an employee or a slave, one does not live in the house. One lives in a shack some place outside. One does not have the right to live in the house of the master forever. This is what our Lord is trying to get across today to these persons of hard heart and thick head.

I am quite certain that some of these people eventually understood what our Lord is saying. It is hard not to accept what He is saying on account of Who He is (unless a person is absolutely stubborn, absolutely resistant, and absolutely deceived). It is a very strong resistance that is required to resist God’s Love and His Truth when faced with them. The Apostle Paul (as we hear earlier in the Acts of the Apostles) was one who thought he loved God, but was out of focus. When the Lord met him face-to-face, he came into focus immediately. He immediately began to serve the Lord whole-heartedly with clear heart, clear eyes, clear mind and clear vision. It depends on what is the condition of our heart. Are we slaves of fear ? Are we slaves of sin ? Or are we free, as children of the Lord ?

The event which just occurred with the Apostle Peter in today’s Epistle reading is a concrete example of this. In this reading, we understand that the Apostle Peter is chained not only to the wall, but to two soldiers. He is in prison with guards everywhere. Herod was determined that he was going to do away with this apostle Peter because it was politically expedient for him. He saw that this pleased certain people in power, and he wanted to make sure that he kept his own power base (and this was folly). For these political reasons he was ready to kill the Apostle Peter as he had already killed the Apostle James. However, as we see, the Lord had other plans. The Lord sends His angel and releases him from the prison and sets him free so that he could continue to do what He, the Lord, had prepared him to do. It could be said that the chains that are falling off the Apostle Peter today are a sign of how fear also falls off him. His understanding of his own relationship with the Lord was again reinforced. Because he was not a young man when he encountered the Lord in the first place, he had quite a fixed way of understanding life, and everything else. The saying : “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks” does apply. We can see that in the Apostle Peter’s life. He had grown up in a particular way, and he had understood life in a particular way. These habits of behaviour sometimes overcame his experience and clouded his vision. One could say that these chains falling off could be likened to the way in which fear and the limitations of vision, and limits of understanding fell off him. True freedom was given to him, and he accepted this true freedom in Christ.

Our life is built upon our relationship of love with the Lord, who loves us. That is what the Lord has always been trying to get through to us, and yet we are always so slow to understand this. We are so slow to accept this sort of relationship mostly because fear is so familiar. Nevertheless, the Lord does indeed love us. The Lord does set us free. The Lord does work with us just as He works with the Apostle Peter today, and continued to work with him and in Him right up until this apostle’s death. Right until the end, the Apostle Peter was constantly preaching Christ crucified, risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Let us ask the Lord to renew in our hearts today this love for Him that sets us free. Let us ask Him to keep away from us those bonds of fear that so sneakily keep coming back to us, trying to tie us down, instead of allowing us in Christ to be full of life, full of joy, full of confidence, full of healing, full of reconciliation, full of the Holy Spirit. Let us ask Him to enable our lives to proclaim at all times that “Christ is risen”.