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Get it Out of the Way
February 22, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 19:16-30

One of my favorite comic characters is the British Andy Capps, the short little guy with a potbelly and always wearing his cap. In the first frame of one strip, he’s carrying a bottle of beer in one hand, and looking back talking, probably to his wife, saying, “So the beer’s my master, yeah?  All right, I’ll show you.” In the next frame he’s standing at the end of the pier throwing the bottle into the water. In the third frame his body is facing the land, but his head is facing the water. In the fourth frame, he’s diving into the water. It’s difficult to be free. 

It’s difficult to be freed from that which enslaves us. Sometimes, perhaps often, the means we use to be liberated, the means we use to free ourselves, in turn become our masters and enslave us as the beer was Andy’s master. Often the means that we use to be liberated, turn around and enslave us. A man or a woman trying to be free from the nagging suspicion that, “I am inadequate, I am inferior, I can’t make it on my own, the gnawing suspicion that I can’t make it.” To be free from that gnawing suspicion, a person might turn to alcohol. Alcohol will inhibit and subdue such agony. But, then the alcohol turns around and becomes the new master, enslaving the one who used it to be free. 

A generation ago our youth were caught up in the idea that to be free, to be liberated, to enter a new spiritual experience, LSD could be used. LSD was a means of freedom, of release into a new and liberating life. But the drug mastered and enslaved, the counterculture enslaved. Take political revolutions. We don’t know the full story of Patty Hearst. We don’t know yet if she voluntarily or involuntarily participated in the revolutionary movement, but she symbolizes the many youth who out of idealism, out of hope for a new society, for a better, improved and more equal, more just society, in their idealism, use it as a means to free, a movement that in turn becomes a master and enslaves. The SLA, Symbonese Liberation Army, is an oppressive, cruel system that is more evil than the one they are trying to overthrow. 

Youth have been caught up with Charles Manson who in turn enslaved them with a movement far worse than that from which they were trying to escape. Or take some of the popular religious movements— Moonies, the Children of God—that catch hold of a youth in their idealism and brainwash them, subjugate them, make slaves of them to a system that is worse than that from which they were trying to escape. 

How thankful we are in this Bicentennial Year for people like Thomas Jefferson. The American experiment with revolution brought to this earth a system that was better than that from which they were rebelling. They brought a system that is exemplary to the whole world, but a system that is very tenuous, and always in danger of being overthrown. The American system of democracy is constantly under attack, constantly being threatened by leftist political activist revolutionaries on one hand, and the far right patriots on the other who in the name of patriotism would handle the dissidents in such a way that democracy would be lost in the process. The precious civil rights upon which our country is based, the super patriots would cast them aside in order to stifle dissidents, and we would lose our democracy in the process. 

Freedom is a very tenuous, shaky enterprise. Often the means we use to be free, in turn enslave us. Haven’t you talked to people over the years who in their desire to be free from home, free of their parents, free of the restrictions of their home, enter into a marriage at a young, early age that in turn became more oppressive, more inhibiting, more restrictive, more evil than the home from which they were trying to be free? The means of freedom often becomes the means of slavery.

Our window this morning illustrates a biblical principle to us that is extremely relevant: You will become enslaved by that which you worship, by that which you supremely are devoted to. You will become enslaved by that which you desire and want to possess. You will become enslaved by whatever is first in your life. This principle is illustrated by a young man who came up to Jesus. One of the Gospels calls him a ruler, another of the Gospels say he’s young, so we call him the rich young ruler. He came up to Jesus said, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The question is for all of us. What do I do to enter the kingdom of God? What do I do to find life that is meaningful, beautiful, sublime and will give me happiness, fulfillment— life that is illustrated in Jesus Christ. How can I be like him? 

Jesus itemized the commandments. The man said, “I’ve observed those from my youth.” Jesus said, “There is one thing more, one thing you lack. Sell all that you have, distribute it to the poor, and come, follow me.” The window depicts Jesus standing with outstretched arms. The inscription above the window reads, “Come, follow me.” And the young man in the window (it’s very artistically done) is standing there, not looking at Jesus.  He can’t quite look at Jesus. And the Gospel tells us that he went away sorrowful—too much to ask. Jesus said, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The young man could not give up his riches. He could not give up his wealth. He was enslaved by his wealth. Things will do that. Whatever you desire, whatever you want to possess, whatever you want to own, whatever you want to love will in turn, take and capture you, enslave you whether it be money, honor, or fame. There are tragedies of people who have attained their money, have attained their fame, have attained honor and are miserable for they missed life. They’ve been captured by things and those things let them down. 

I shared with you this before, but I like the article by David Smith called “They Own Us”, “Before we had all our possessions, we slept soundly and never worried about thieves. Now we have so many things, we don’t get much sleep. We worry about burglars stealing all of our goodies. We now realize we don’t really own these things we have acquired, they own us. They require us to spend the majority of our time working to pay for them, the rest of our time is spent worrying about how to protect them. And if by chance we have any time left over, we spend it by getting our things fixed. My wife and I seldom have time for each other. Our children are young strangers in our house. We never have time for good books, long walks or fireside chats. And for some reason, we seldom find time to be thankful. We are too busy with our things and they are in control.” 

You say, “Well, I see how that principle holds true with things. But how about people? How about relationships?” The same principle holds—whomever you desire that is first in your life, that relationship will enslave you. Whether your love for your spouse, your children, or whomever is your sole passionate, first place in life, that relationship will enslave you. That relationship will become possessive and manipulative. Where another human being has been placed in such a high priority in your life, you will become possessive and manipulative, and probably lose the relationship in the process. The recipient of possessive and manipulative actions will either stifle their personality, lose their initiative and become just an ”it”, a pawn, a puppet or they will escape from you. They will cut loose, will leave you and you’ve lost the relationship. You can become enslaved, mastered by people, as well as by things. 

Freedom results, life results, eternal life results, the kingdom of God results when you are willing to get it out of the way, to give it up, to surrender. When you are willing to give up anything and everything in your life that is important and precious to you, then you are free. When you are willing to surrender your things and the important people in your life, when you are willing to surrender them to Christ, then you are free. For only Jesus Christ is worthy of your worship, only Jesus Christ is worthy of your supreme devotion, only he is worthy and only his salvation. Only the relationship with him is worthy of your desire to possess. When the number one thing in your life that you want to possess is a living, vital, dynamic relationship with God, you are free. When Christ is first, he becomes your master and you become his slave. The same principle holds—whatever is first in your life, whatever you worship, whatever you desire to own and possess—if that is Christ, then he becomes your master and you enter into a master-slave relationship with him. But that relationship makes you free because God is love. Jesus is the truth, the way and the life. Only God is worthy of such honor and such glory. 

When you are mastered by Christ, then all the other relationships fall into perspective. Your possessions become things to be used and not things that use you. Your riches become means by which you can serve Christ. When you can share with the world and further God’s work across the world, you are masters of your possessions and they are not masters of you. When when you are mastered by Christ, your relationships with other people fall into proper perspective and the relationships become healthy. You can love another person, you can love a spouse, you can love a child, you can love them and allow them to be free in his or her own right because your security lay not in that relationship. Your security lay in the relationship with Christ. Your security lay not in human frailty for human beings will let you down, human beings will fail you, human beings will disappoint you. If your security is all tied up in the response that you expect from another human being, you will be sad, disillusioned, frustrated. But when your security lay in the relationship with Jesus Christ, then you are free to love another in their freedom. You do not need to be possessed by anyone else. You do not need to possess anyone else because you are possessed by Christ. His love satisfies your needs. His love frees you. 

The means by which you want to be free often turn and enslave you because whatever is first in your life is your master and you will be enslaved by whatever’s first. Jesus challenged that young ruler—“Come, follow me.” He went away sorrowful. How do you go? What way do you go?

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris