Freely Giving Out of Freedom
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
Pastor Ken Shigematsu shares the following true story about his wife’s pet chipmunk named Forte:
“My wife Sakiko’s family loves animals. They regularly take abandoned cats or dogs or even an abandoned ferret into their home. In the city of Osaka, Japan, her family’s home has become the neighborhood’s de facto pet refuge. At one point she even took in a wild chipmunk. This chipmunk had been the runt of the pack and the veterinarian had said it would probably only survive for a few days. She named him Forte—with the hope that he would grow strong. He not only survived but he began to thrive.
“When Sakiko came back to her apartment in the evening after work, Forte would wake up and run excitedly around her apartment doing figure eights. Or if Sakiko was working on her computer at home, he would scamper up and down the keyboard, pressing on random characters. She noticed that Forte would take his most treasured possessions—his walnuts—and place them where he slept. Apparently this was a kind of hibernation instinct for him. But as his relationship with Sakiko developed, he began to take half his walnuts and put them under her pillow. He somehow came to understand that Sakiko was the one who provided for him and was his family. So out of gratitude, he wanted to share with her what he had so freely been given.”
If we would only live our lives as Forte, the chipmunk! I don’t mean putting walnuts under pillows, but I do mean living lives overflowing with gratitude and generosity. Look at the cross—it is empty. We did nothing to receive such a gift of love from God.
In the gift of the cross, we have been set free from sin. We did absolutely nothing to earn this freedom.
In the gift of the cross, we have been given eternal life and been freed from being held captive by this world. We did absolutely nothing to earn this freedom.
We may have even done things that we might have thought put our freedom from God in jeopardy. Yet, out of God’s love for us — freedom is not denied to the repentant heart.
“Father Greg Boyle is in the business of erasing the past. A Jesuit priest who is the founder and director of Homeboy Industries in East Los Angeles, Father Boyle has put together a team of physicians trained in the laser technology of tattoo removal. The team is part of a program that takes the tattoos of ex-gang members and wipes the slate clean. For many, it is as crucial a service as it is merciful. (Three of our youth accompanied me to Homeboy Industries on Friday.)
“Gang-related tattoos prevent many former gang members from getting jobs or advancing in work. For others, the markings critically impinge on mental health or put them in serious danger on the streets. There is no fee or community service required to receive the tattoo removal offered by Homeboy Industries. It is strictly a gift—perhaps a modern look at Christ washing the feet of his friends. Currently, there is a waiting list of over a thousand names.
“For those involved, the spiritual imagery is often compelling. The seeming permanence of a gang tattoo fosters the attitude that the gang’s claim is also permanent. It is a mark of ownership as much as identity. The emotional consequence is that it seems a part of you that can never be shaken.
“I suspect some of us have felt like this with past mistakes—sins whose mark we cannot shake off, though we know we have been cleansed by Christ. Perhaps the imagery of tattoo removal can evoke a renewed sense of our blessed assurance. Like former gang members who have had the marks of a former life removed, so our sins are blotted out by the blood of Christ. They are remembered no longer.
“One of the curious things about the growing list of people interested in laser tattoo removal is that Father Boyle is straightforward about the procedure. The process of tattoo removal is extremely painful. Patients describe the laser procedure as feeling like hot grease on their skin. And yet the list grows, each name representing a life that longs to be free and is willing to endure the pain to seize it.”
Seizing the freedom that comes from God is not the end of the story. They learn how to embrace life and find purpose in their days. Embracing the freedom given in Christ takes them to a deeper place of gratitude.
Seizing the freedom that comes from God does not end the story for you or me either. Embracing the freedom given in Christ takes us also to a world of gratitude and generosity.
Listen again to our scripture passage today: “ Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous…” Jesus doesn’t say you have to welcome his friend nor does he say you have to welcome him. What he says is whoever welcomes… If a person invites Jesus into his or her heart and embraces the freedom that comes his or her way through Jesus, the person is not under obligation to reach out, but the person will want to do so and could not imagine not responding.
A ‘ministry of welcoming’ might be a catholic priest starting a whole industry to help gangbangers reclaim their lives, a church like Covenant running an after-school program for young people (whether associated with the church or not) to create new possibilities for their future, or simply someone providing a cold cup of water to one who is hot and thirsty.
At St. Francis High School, a catholic college prep high school for boys, in La Canada, California, math teacher Jim O’Connor is known for his tough, no-nonsense approach to algebra, pushing his students into shape. He doesn’t seem to worry about what his ’boys’ think about his no-nonsense style. He lives in awareness of Jesus’ love for him and that frees him from needing other’s good opinion of him. O’Connor, a Vietnam vet told CBS News, “It drives me crazy when people say school should be fun. I mean, it’s nice if it could be, but you can’t make school fun.”
Pat McGoldrick, a senior at St. Francis says, “[Until people get used to him,] they think he’s really mean.” But that all changed for Pat and his classmates when they visited Los Angeles Children’s Hospital to recruit blood donors for a blood drive they were organizing. When the boys mentioned where they went to school, they were immediately met with awe. The hospital staff said things like, “Oh, so you must know Jim O’Connor. Isn’t he wonderful?”
The boys were stunned and, if they were being honest, a little confused about the man they thought they knew. That confusion was cleared up when they saw a plaque in the hospital for all-time donors. At the top of the list? Jim O’Connor. A universal blood donor (type O-negative), O’Connor has donated a total of 72 gallons of blood and platelets since 1989, surely saving countless lives along the way.
But there was more that the boys learned that day: Jim O’Connor lives in awareness of Jesus’ love for him and that frees him from needing others to notice the good deeds he does. Jim, who never married or had children of his own, volunteers three days a week holding and rocking sick and dying babies when their parents can’t be there (and has been for over 20 years) . O’Connor says of the babies, “I don’t want to see them alone. You can’t do that.” O’Connor’s students were blown away. “I’ve always respected him,” says Pat, “but now it’s to an even different degree—really to the point where I try to emulate him.”
Jim O’Connor has a relationship with Jesus and knows the gift of freedom that he offers. He also served this nation and risked his life so that the freedoms of our country might be preserved. He freely gives out of all the freedoms he has been given. He asks for nothing in return. He teaches school, he challenges young people, he donates blood, and he loves on sick children.
Let us embrace the freedom from sin and death we receive in Jesus; out of gratitude and generosity, let us look for ways to freely give and touch lives; with open hearts and arms, let us seek ways to be agents of freedom; let us not take for granted our nation’s freedoms.