The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:
Every major religious tradition teaches that our true freedom lies in serving others. That wisdom is reflected in other arenas of life.
Speaking before Congress in January 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt stated his vision of the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Roosevelt’s freedoms touch the heart of every person, whether they’re first-world or two-thirds world, in a life of privilege or a life without essentials, one who does what he wants or one who does what she can to survive. Inherent in Roosevelt’s words is the perspective of inclusion; ultimately the human race is tethered to one another, and working for the freedom for one in Africa, the Middle East or the inner city of America means working for freedom for all. Such an understanding of true freedom is sorely missing in the hue and cry we hear from contemporary patriots who cry out for the restoration of “their” freedom.
True freedom moves us toward the concern and embrace of the other. Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Love means being responsible — responsible to our family, toward our civilization and now by the presence of history, toward the universe of humanity.”
“The spirit of liberty,” wrote Judge Learned Hand, “is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women. It weighs their interests alongside of its own. ... The spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, 2,000 years ago, taught humanity a lesson it has never learned but has never quite forgotten: that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.”
True freedom is not my freedom; it is ours.
— Send e-mail to Kent Winters-Hazelton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darrell Brazell, pastor, New Hope Fellowship, 1449 Kasold Drive:
On July 4, 1999, I preached my first sermon in Lawrence. I preached on Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” The problem, however, was that I didn’t really understand freedom. I understood it intellectually but not experientially, because at that time, I was trapped in the bondage of my own addictions. I had tried to find freedom for many years, but no matter how hard I fought on my own, the noose just kept getting tighter.
In Jesus’ first sermon he also preached on freedom: “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18). It is sadly ironic that part of what kept me trapped in my bondage was my religious system, which fed my denial and my fear of anyone knowing my real struggles.
Thankfully, soon after my first sermon in Lawrence, Jesus showed me the freedom that comes from the transparency of being honest about my struggles.
“Freedom for the prisoners” became my reality. In the years since, he has continued to show me other new freedoms as well. He has shown me freedom from the bondage of living up to my perception of others’ expectations by showing me I am completely loved and accepted by him. He has released me from the bondage of a performance-based religious system and led me to the freedom of a relationship with him based on his work, not mine. He has shown me the freedom of genuine community where even the pastor can be the broken vessel that God uses.
On July 4, 2010, I will preach on freedom once again. It will be a very different sermon.
— E-mail Darrell Brazell at email@example.com.