Masks – WWJD?


We are experiencing a dilemma these days. Public health versus personal freedoms. Collectively getting a vaccination for better collective health or refusing to do so using your individual rights. Wearing or having your kid wear a protective face covering to improve public safety or refusing the wearing of masks declaring personal freedom.

I won’t get into the science that overwhelmingly shows the efficacy of both vaccines and masks.

What I want to look at today is what ethics and Christian ethics has to say on the issue of individual freedom versus the pursuit of the collective good, in this case, good public health.

Let me begin by looking at basic, secular ethics when it comes to individual freedom and the public good.

First, we need to define freedom.

I define freedom in general terms as the capacity to live fully, void of forced constraints. Put simply, freedom means being able to live without some kind of power constraining us.

But that “us” is vital. Look at masks. You may say, well, I am free to live free from the constraint of a mask. But unless you are living on an island alone, there is someone else to consider. I and others live alongside you on the island. And if we live in close contact, notions of personal freedom must be considered alongside persons. I deserve to live free from constraints just like you do, namely the constraints that the Covid virus would entail.

This raises a dilemma, doesn’t it? What happens when individual freedoms conflict? We are seeing tha play out now, aren’t we?

This dilemma tells us something crucial – freedom must exist in community, among individuals living together, for it to matter much. If your freedom restrains my freedom, there is no freedom shared among us. You have it and I don’t.

The ideas is to maximize the freedom of all, not just individual me or individual you. How we can all live as free as possible, that is the key question. Is life amid a pandemic feeling so free?

So, the dilemma is really about individual freedom and collective freedom, between your right to personal freedom and the community’s right to be as free as possible.

Christian ethics actually helps us confront our dilemma. In fact, it seems to me what Jesus would do and what Christian ethics has to say is often left out of the debate.

The best way to approach the idea of Christian freedom is to consider two things: where human freedom comes from in the Christian understanding. And what the point of human freedom, what the aim of freedom is.

Well, the source of Christian freedom and the point and aim of that freedom are one and the same – God!

Freedom comes from God. Freedom is a gift of our Triune God. Want to know what freedom looks like, look at the Trinity. Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, on the basis of love, seflessly and freely living in community with one another. The freedom found in the selfless love of the Trinity overflows as a gift to us.

The overflowing gift of freedom is revealed most powerfully to us in the person of Christ. Jesus was the freest person who ever lived, right? He revealed the free life to us most potently and most clearly.

And what did Jesus do? He lived a selfless life, a selflessness that took him to the foot of the cross, and the freest of choices – to lay down his life for us. His selflessness and his freedom were one and the same in him.

As for us, the truest freedom amounts to a life transformed by this selfless and fully free Christ. By taking in Christ, we are given the capacity to freely live, living in a free-flowing way on the basis of his selflessness and compassion.

The opposite of a free life, according to the Christian faith, is a life lived on the basis of selfishness. A life filled with choices and ways moved by selfishness, is a life that is not free at all.

Paul in his letters to the churches of Rome and Galatia focuses a great deal on this enslavement to selfishness. Most Bible translation term this, slavery to the flesh.

The Bible says, we lack godly freedom because of our enslavement to selfishness.

But thanks be to God, the selflessness of Christ frees us from such enslavement to selfishness.

Through Christ, we overcome freedom’s opposite – enslavement to selfishness.

And what does a life freed by Christ, what does a life free from the slavery of selfishness look like. Paul points to fruits of the Spirit as the answer. If someone is truly free spiritually speaking, they exhibit these attributes:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If one is truly free, one is loving, joyful, peaceful and nonviolent, forbearing and tolerant, kind, goodhearted, faith-oriented, gentle and humble, and self-controlled.

So what it the effect of all this, as we come to a close? Well, when it comes to public health or anything else in our collective lives, a choice or decision based primarily on self-interest is not the mark of a free person. Freedom and selfishness are not in the same camp, according to the Christian understanding.

The freest thing we can do as Christians is act out of this sacred knowledge – that we don’t exist alone but live connected to God and interconnected with the world around us  The freest thing we can do is to act out of this sacred insight – that our freedoms are tied together and are sourced in God’s freedom, and God’s freedom is always based in selfless love. The freest thing we can do is to free ourselves from selfishness in service to God and to others.

As we come to a close, we ask what would Jesus do?

Its clear where Jesus stood. The story most often told in the gospels, told some 6 times, is Jesus feeding the thousands. You know the story. Jesus’ disciples just want to get on with things and leave the scene after working all day helping Jesus heal and teach. Despite his disciples and his own weariness, Jesus says, no, no, we are all about sacrificing our personal comfort, we are all about getting past our desire to do what we want to do. Jesus says, yes it’s hard, but let’s feed them!

Then there is that Ol Rugged Cross, the heart of the Jesus story. Remember the story? Jesus sacrificed his individual life for the collective good of all. Remember the story? Christ selflessly giving all away for the sake of all, giving away his freedom in an ultimate way, all to free us. Remember the story? Jesus endured the pain and the persecution out of love for the world, even portions of the world nailing him to the cross.

We are called to be like Christ! The very word Christian means just that – Christ-like. To use that name means to assert that selflessness and sacrifice are core to who we are and to carry our own crosses.

As for masks, show your freedom in God and wear your masks out of a free-flowing love for others! It’s what Jesus would do.

Saved From What?

Sermon by Rev. Don Erickson, delivered 7/25/21

In a chest in our guest bedroom, there are a couple huge 3-ringed folders, one blue, one green. Inside those folders are precious items. Not sure how many of these items there are, more than 100 for sure. What are these items? Letters. Good, old-fashioned letters, mostly love letters, written between 1991 and 1994 by these two people you may know – Holly and Don.

Feeling a bit nostalgic lately, I was going through those letters. One letter, written by me before we were an official item, speaks of discontent with the Christianity I was handed as a child. This Christianity I was handed will be the subject of another sermon or set of sermons coming soon.

Here is what I wrote in January of 1993:

Christianity, Christ, as Savior. It is something we sing about. We invoke Jesus as savior in prayer. Scripture points to it. But have you ever asked an important question – Saved from what? Or for what?

To answer those questions, I think it might help to understand the Greek word that is often translated saved. The Greek word is sozo.

The word sozo occurs some 108 times in the New Testament.

Here is one famous example: in Ephesians 2:8, we see the word: “For by grace you have been sozo – saved – through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Here is another example of sozo being used. We alluded to this story last week. After a woman touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed from internal hemoragging, Jesus said this: “Daughter, your faith has sozo – made you well or healed– ; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

One last example – at the end of Mark 10, there is a story of Jesus healing a blind man. The King James version ends the story with these words: “Go thy way; thy faith hath sozo – made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.” As it does with various healing stories in the gospels, the 1611 King James version translates sozo as “to be made whole.” 

So, sozo can be translated saved or made well or made whole or healed. Here are a couple other words we could use for sozo – delivered or liberated. These “non-saved” translations of the Greek word are telling because they help us to answer our question, saved from what?

Take the translation “healed.” Well, healed from what or for what? The answer is easy. We are healed from ailments and the ultimate end to unhealed ailments – death.

Jesus saves us or heals us from the spiritual ailment of being disconnected from God and from its ultimate consequence, death. In Jesus our savior, we know the healing for our spiritual ailment, namely sin, and hence we know life eternal.

Made whole by Christ dwelling within us, we are delivered from the finale called death.

Still, we can’t get away from discussing another H word that sounds like heal but is kind of its opposite – hell. Christ saves us from hell, as the saying goes. This is true indirectly. But what is hell?

First of all, let me say here, nowhere in the Bible is sozo associated directly with a literal place called hell, as in being saved directly from that place below us, hell. We are saved from sin and the end of sin – death. That is what the Bible says.

Still, what about hell? Here is my thinking – at its most essential, hell amounts to a person being wholly separated from the love of God.

Some see it as a place, a place of suffering. Now, I see hell not as a place but as a conditional state. Hell means being spiritually separated from God’s love. And being separated from God’s love means suffering – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.

Maybe you were here Friday to watch the movie Soul. One of the themes is the “lost soul.” A soul being lost, separated from God, that is a living hell.

Christ saves us from this separation and from this suffering as a result. And I believe, eventually, all will be saved from this separation.

As a hospice chaplain I’d often lead a kind of ad hoc ritual at someone was in the final journey home. With family gathered at bedside, there was one scripture I’d read regularly. That scripture comes from Romans 8, verses 38-39.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christ saves us and will save all of us by ending our separation from God’s love. Christ heals our God-separatedness. How? By loving the world so much that he was willing to die to connect us back to God.

Christ’s love fully revealed on earth and most powerfully on the cross connects us back to God’s love. Let me say that again, Christ’s love fully revealed on earth and most powerfully on the cross connects us back to God’s love. Christ ends our God-separatedness by connecting us to God’s love. Christ is our Connector.  By saying Christ is ous savior we are saying Christ is our connector! Can I get an amen!?

What is the take away for us as we live our lives in our communities this week?

As Christ has connected us to God, let us connect to others in a way that helps them connect to God in the process. As Christ has bridged us back to God’s love, let us be a bridge that connects us all to one another and to God. Let us be living proof of God’s love, working for justice, embodying compassion, progressing forward, humbly connected to God. Let us promote in the ways we live, interact, and communicate the way of sozo – wellness, healing, wholeness, salvation, deliverance and liberation from separatedness, separatedness from God and from each other. And let us work to dismantle systems that uphold the opposite, the lack of wellness, healing, and wholeness. and a maintainng of the ways of separatedness.

Amen.  

Backpack Collection for Covenant to Care Children

The summer is speeding along and our Covenant to Care for Children backpack initiative is underway!

This church has participated in Covenant to Care for Children’s Adopt a Social Worker program for more than a decade.  We partner with a particular State of Connecticut Social Worker, Ashley.  The children and families on her caseload are from Plainville and surrounding towns, and all of the backpacks and school supplies to fill them will go to those children.

There is a collection bin in the narthex, and The Mission Social Action Committee asks all of us to put this on our radar as the sales on back to school supplies begin.  Those of you with school age children might want to involve them as you make choices.  If you need help, Covenant to Care has a list of suggested supplies on their website:  Covenanttocare.org.  We welcome contributions of a backpack, or a filled backpack, or supplies.

Thank you.