NED & TED
Once upon a time there two trains – Ned and Ted. Both of them lived in the same roundhouse where they were housed after their long days on the tracks. Late at night when all of the people were gone home, Ted and Ned talked a lot about what it is like to be a train. Ned was a happy train. He was most content to run on the rails all day long, delivering goods and people to various destinations. He loved nothing better than when the conductor opened up the throttle and sped to the next station, wind blowing along his sides, corn fields and cattle ranches rushing past as far as the eye could see. For him life was good.
Ted, on the other hand, was one of those trains that thought that life always looked better on the other side of the tracks. He talked about his desire to be free to go where he wanted to go rather than being stuck on the tracks all the time. In fact, more than anything else, he wanted to be like a cow. Cows can go where they want to go. They can do what they want to do, eat what they want to eat, sleep when they want to sleep. They weren’t stuck running the same rails day after day, going to the same stations, doing the same things and seeing the same people. For Ted, there had to be something more than being confined to the track. He wanted to be free.
And so one evening, he told Ned of his plan to escape the tracks and break free, to move out on his own. The very next day, he was going to jump the tracks. He knew of a spot where the rail spikes were old and the timbers a little more rotted than they should be. He figured that when he got there, if he just gave a good hard pull to the left, that the track would break and he could escape and be free – just like the cows in the field.
The next morning, the people returned to the roundhouse and prepared the trains for their departure. Ted was the first to leave. And before he knew it, he was loaded up and headed for the very place where the track could be broken. Today he would claim his freedom. Minute by minute, kilometer by kilometer he got closer to the spot. His excitement increased. His expectation caused him to run all the faster. And then there it was. As they rounded the last bend, he saw the cows standing in the fields munching on tender tufts of grass. The spot was now only a hundred meters away and he prepared to pull hard to the left. Soon he would be free. And then he was there. With a sudden lurch he pulled to the left with all his might. Sure enough the track broke and for the very first time Ted felt his steel wheels touch the soft earth and it felt so good.
But then, just as suddenly, his wheels caught in the earth, his front end stopped while his back end kept going, spinning him to a ninety degree angle at which point he tipped over and landed on his side a mere ten meters from the cows that had looked up to see what was going on. The cows said, “Moo,” and then nonchalantly went back to munching their grass. Ted, to his utter surprise, discovered that he was unable to move. Maybe freedom wasn’t so great after all. Or maybe freedom was something other than he expected.
Meanwhile Ned, who never even considered life as a cow, left the roundhouse in the morning, stayed on the tracks and did everything he was created to do.
What’s the point? The point is freedom. What is freedom? How do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we maintain and secure it? And what does it mean to have freedom in Christ?
What is freedom? Some people think it is like being a cow, that you can go where you want to go, do what you want to do, eat when you want to eat, sleep when you want to eat. It’s like Ted who thought that if he could just get off of the tracks that someone else had made for him then somehow he’d be free. But Ted was wrong. Getting off the track for him meant that he got stuck in the mud and was unable to do what he was created to do.
For a Christian, freedom is not defined by our ability to do whatever we want to do. It is defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Galatians 5:1 (NIV) says this: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” It is for freedom that Christ set us free. We are set free by Christ. We are free because of Jesus and what he did for us. That is why we are free and that is the only reason we are free. We are free because Jesus set us free.
Here’s the next question. If Jesus set us free, for what did he set us free? For what purpose? Let’s look at Ned and Ted. Ted thought the cows were free. They could do what they wanted to do, go where they wanted to go. He felt confined by the tracks that only allowed him to go and do certain things. And so, he wanted to get off the tracks that hindered him and step out on his own, to go where he wanted to go. How did that work out? Not very well because, when he finally was free of the tracks, he discovered that it wasn’t all he thought it was going to be. In fact, it wasn’t freedom at all.
Ned had a better sense of freedom. He didn’t see the tracks as in any way limiting. Rather he saw them as a way to fulfill his purpose. As long as he was on the tracks, he was free to do what he was created to do. He was free to be the best train he could be.
What is freedom? Ned had it right. Freedom is not about doing whatever you want to do. True freedom is about being free to do what God created you to do. That’s a huge distinction. Doing what you want is often about being self-centered and even selfish. Doing what God wants you to do is about being Christ-centered and selfless.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) says this: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are God’s handiwork – are we not – just like a train is the engineer’s creation. We were created in Christ to do good works just as the train was created to transport people and material from place to place. God knew in advance what he wanted us to do and he created us for that purpose. The engineer knew in advance what he wanted the train to do and he created the train to serve that purpose. As long as the train stays on the track, it can do its job. As long as we stay on the road the God wants us to travel, we will fulfill God’s purpose for us.
Each of us was created for a purpose. No one is here by accident. Everyone is here for a reason. The freedom we have in Christ is the freedom to fulfill that which God put us on the earth to do. That is the freedom that we have in Christ.
FREED TO FOLLOW
But freedom is not free. There is a cost to following Jesus. In Luke 9:51-62, three people approached Jesus and wanted to follow him. Jesus told them that that would be fine but for each person, there would be a cost. The cost to the first person was that he would no longer have the security of having a place to call his own. In Luke 9:58 (NIV) Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Are you prepared for that?”
The second person wanted to follow Jesus but had a condition. He wanted to first go home and bury his father. But in Luke 9:60 (NIV) Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” This, by the way, was not an indication that Jesus was insensitive to a grieving man. In fact, the man’s father was not yet dead. He just wanted to postpone following Jesus until after his father had died, whenever in the future that might be. Jesus said, “If you want to follow me, then follow me now. Don’t wait until the parents are gone because by then it could be too late.”
The cost to the third person was that he would no longer be free to reminisce about the good old days. In Luke 9:62 (NIV) Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Or basically, “If you want to follow me, then follow me. Don’t waste your time thinking about what could have been or should have been. Keep your eyes not on the past but on the goal moving forward.”
If you want to follow Jesus, you are not free to do whatever it is you want to do. But you are completely free to become the person God created you to be.
Freedom is not just about the freedom to do something. It is also about having the freedom from various things. That’s important to understand because there are all kinds of things that the world tells us that we should be doing that we really should not be doing. I don’t think that any one really knows how many ads the average Canadian sees every day. I tried to find a solid number and really couldn’t find one but they range anywhere from 500 to 5,000 different advertisements every day. All I know is that it’s a pretty big number. Just go online and count how many pop ups and how many little ads are in the corners and edges of the screen. I’m not against that because I’m all in favour of capitalism and the ads and pop ups are how Google, Facebook and the rest of the tech companies make their money which drives our economy and helps to support our pension plans and RRSPs.
Drive down the street and count the number of billboards you see. It’s bad enough in the county. In the city, you can’t hardly look anywhere on a main street and not see a billboard staring down at you. On Tuesday, I had to take one of my cars into a shop on Howard Ave in Windsor. We timed it so that Ruth could pick me up on her way home from work. She had never been to the shop before and there wasn’t much sense giving her a street number because it would be rush hour with lots of traffic and it’s often dreadfully difficult to find street numbers on main streets. So, I tried to give her some direction, some sign to look for so that she knew where to find me. But there were literally dozens and dozens of signs within half a block where I was standing. Eventually, I just forgot all of the signs and told her that I was just south of Eugenie on the right hand side of the street and I would wave her down. There were so many signs that they were completely unusable. That’s how many signs are on a main street in the city.
Advertisements are everywhere and each of them is trying to get you to buy something or do something. Buy this car. Upgrade to this phone. Eat this food. Take this drug. Vote this way. Many of those things are good but some of them are not. How many times do soft porn pop ups appear on your screen? How many hateful political memes do you see every day on Facebook that affirm things that are contrary to what the Bible teaches? How many times do we encounter racism and bigotry on Twitter? In how many ways does Hollywood promote sexual immorality? It happens all of the time. And the world tells us that all of these are just fine.
In response to those things, Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV) says this: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” And then in Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) we read about it in more detail: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
These are some of the things that we are tempted to do by a world that does not know God. Some people mistakenly think these things represent freedoms to do whatever you want to do. But they are not freedoms. Rather they are chains that bind us in slavery to sin. They bring us down along with those around us and they prevent us from fulfilling our God given purposes in Jesus Christ. In fact, they are the very things that prevent from experiencing the real freedom that is ours in Christ.
These things can be most tempting and persuasive but be clear about something. In Christ, we have the freedom to resist these temptations and not do what they want us to do. We are enabled to live lives that are free from these things because, through the Holy Spirit, we have strength to resist and stay on the track that God has set for us. And even if we do from time to time wander a little off the path we do not have to despair for as God says in Isaiah 30:21 (NIV), “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
God does not expect us to be perfect. He only expects us to be human and, as we all know, human is a long way from perfect. That’s why he always calls us back, no matter how far we may roam. And when we listen, he will set our feet back upon the path of his choosing and once again free us to be who he created us to be.
In Galatians, we read what we are freed from but we also read what we are freed to do. Galatians 5:22-24 (NIV) says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” These are the fruit of the Spirit. They are the attitudes that we are called to live because if we live them – if we are loving, joyful, peaceful, forbearing, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled, we will do the thing that God calls us to do.
Let’s keep in step with the Spirit. Let’s keep on track by doing the things we are freed to do and not doing the things that we have been freed from. Then we will know what it is to experience freedom in Christ.
I want to share three ways in which we can apply these principles in our lives. First, claim the freedom to stop doing something that you know you should not be doing. What are you doing that you need to stop doing? Just because social media tells you that you need to act in a certain way, just because advertising tells you that you need to acquire a certain product, just because Hollywood tries to sell you a certain morality, that does not mean that have to buy into it. Stay away from that which is harmful and cling to that which is good and godly. As it says in Proverbs 4:14 (NIV): “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers.” Keep away from the path of the wicked and do not walk in the ways of evil people. All of us do things that we know are contrary to the teachings of Jesus. You can’t change them all right now but you can work on one or two of them. You have a choice. I understand that it is not always an easy choice. It’s not always easy to zig when everyone else is zagging but remember this; it is not up to you to please those who stand against the will of God. The only person you ultimately have to follow is the one who has given you freedom – that is Jesus Christ.
Here the second principle. Claim the freedom to start doing something that you know you should be doing. Each of us has something in life that we know we need to work on if we are to be more faithful. Maybe it’s your prayer life. Maybe you’d like to get to worship on a more regular basis. Perhaps you want to learn more about what’s in the Bible. Or perhaps there’s a ministry that you’d like to support with your money, your time or both. What is God laying on your heart? Claim your freedom to do that. Maybe there’s more than one thing you’d like to change but you can’t change everything at once. Pick something and make the change. You have the freedom in Christ to do that.
Claim the freedom to stop doing something that you know you should not be doing. Next, claim the freedom to start doing something that you know you should be doing. Finally, claim your freedom in Christ to stand firm in the face of persecution and belittlement. One thing I can tell you is that when you change the way you live, others will notice. Some of them will like what they see but some of them won’t. And the ones who don’t like the change will do everything in their power to get you back to where you were. They may tease you and call you names. They may tell you that you’re no fun anymore. They may try to trick you into going back to your old ways. But you have a choice. You always have a choice and the freedom that you have in Christ will enable you to make the right choice.
At the very heart of the Christian gospel is the strange truth that real freedom is found only in giving up everything secular culture touts as freedom. True freedom, the gospel tells us, is trusting obedience, the obedience of faith. Stay on the track that God has set before you. Claim the freedom to be who God created you to be.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Your love abounds, O God, and your mercy thunders. You are the one who created us, who redeemed us and who sustains us every day of our lives. We offer our thanks for your many blessing, blessings that we know and even those which we have forgotten.
We thank you for the strength and peace that we have through faith. Many things are subject to change. Emotions, feelings, and circumstances can vary from day to day, moment to moment. But you are constant and faithful. We are never alone for we live in your world. When the circumstances of life bring us down, you build us up. When all around us falters, you give us consistency and a firm resolve. Help us to always look to you and know that all is well because your Holy Spirit lives within us.
We also give thanks for Canada. With Canada Day coming up later this week, we remember that we enjoy freedom. We enjoy prosperity. We enjoy the security of property and person. Sometimes we take our privileges for granted but help us truly appreciate all that we have. Bless our leaders and inspire them by your Spirit.
Our prayers are lifted for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine as they continue to seek to stave off Russian aggression. Give them strength. May we who value freedom support them.
We remember those who are sick this week at home or in hospital, especially Carol, Ron, Mark, Hazel and Rachel. Bless them, O God, with your Healing and Holy Spirit. Touch all of us in those places where we need you the most.
Holy God, we are so thankful for the confidence that we have in you. You never ignore our prayers or reject our cries for help. You hear us and honour our heartfelt petitions. Your love for us is so absolute that we can hardly comprehend it. We want to trust in your love more confidently, without doubt, having complete faith that you will never fail to deliver us. We raise these prayers in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 26, 2022 / Pentecost 3 / Proper 8
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Luke 9:51-62; Galatians 5:1, 13-15
CALL TO WORSHIP
Remember, O people, the wonders of the Lord;
Remember, O people, the grace of the Lord;
Remember, O people, the love of the Lord;
Let us rejoice in the presence of God as we come to worship.
God of Love and Joy, you are our heavenly Father and we come to you seeking refreshment and renewal. We hunger after the things of your Spirit. We rejoice that we have a secure relationship with you. Keep us confident that you are near, hearing our prayers and responding to our needs. You love is unfailing. Your grace is endless. We praise you, O God, from the depths of our hearts and thank you for your constant presence. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Grace and Mercy, we seek your forgiveness for we have sinned. We are aware of the way that we have treated others. We have hurt them with our words and actions, just as they have hurt us. You forgave us when we did not deserve it. You have called us to extend the same mercy to those who have caused us pain whether or not their actions were intentional. Your love is unconditional and limitless. That is the same love that we are called to show towards others. Enable us to keep your example of forgiveness before us at all times.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The mercy of God is so amazing that nothing can stand in the way of forgiveness when we truly and humbly confess our sins to God. Like the perfect parent, God always welcomes us home and gives us healing, rest and peace.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
For gifts given, for lives dedicated, for generousity shown towards others, and compassion which stands strong and gentle in the face of great suffering, we offer our thanks. Give us the wisdom to use all that we possess for the glory and grace of your realm. Amen.
May the love of God which is beyond our understanding keep our minds active, our hearts gentle, our hands strong and our lives eternal. Go in the name of Jesus Christ to love and serve all those whom we will meet in his Holy Name.