We might be trapped and think we’re looking for a way out. A way to be free. A way to be liberated. Our current lives aren’t good enough and we need something more. We have to get over the hump. We so often are not satisfied with our current circumstances that we long to change them in order to find true freedom. We are trapped by our obligations—our singleness, our marriage, our dating relationship, our mortgage, our student debt, our jobs, our careers, our children, our families, whatever. We might feel like George and Jerry and really wonder if there is more to life—our current circumstances just aren’t going to cut it. There has to be more to life. We often wonder that and so a company like Ashley Madison ends up existing.
A perfect billboard. You’re stuck in I-95 traffic on your way home from a terrible job with a unsatisfying relationship and you are wondering what to do. You are stuck and frustrated and there’s nothing you can do. Something’s gotta give. All of the strip clubs along the Delaware (by the way, coupled with the casino, the strip clubs, and the big box stores—Philadelphia really doesn’t know how to develop its waterfront, but that’s neither here nor there) plus the billboards for having affairs really point to something. The advertisers are right, we are longing for that freedom. Just like George and Jerry. Kramer’s right though, marriage and kids aren’t going to magically satisfy them. They aren’t prisons and do bring a great deal of joy to many of us (and hardship, let’s be honest)—but truthfully, they aren’t your ticket to getting untrapped. Neither is your career, a new car, house, or graduate degree. What’s in your way? What’s causing you to get stuck?
You might feel jammed up at a dead end job wondering what the point of it all is. But you can’t leave because your student loans which allegedly were supposed to free you need to get paid.
You might hate your relationship so much but you don’t believe that getting out of it or having a conflict that would make it better is worth it. You’re not worth it. You won’t get anything better.
You might feel stuck in Philadelphia and you don’t know where to go. Your opportunities here seem limited and there isn’t any freedom here.
You might feel trapped because you are oppressed and disenfranchised by the world around you. You can’t seem to get out of debt. You can’t get a job. You can’t get an education. The prejudices and imperialistic powers around you are limiting what you can do.
You are stuck. And there doesn’t seem like there’s anything out of there for you. You’re looking for a way out. Jerry and George are there; ready to make a change. You might be too.
And so here comes Jesus. And you think he’s going to save you from everything. He’s going to make your relationships meaningful, he’s going to fix your marriage, he’s going to make your kids listen to you, he’s going to bring meaning to your job, all of your debt will be cleared, and you’ll be free from it all.
That might be how to the Jews felt in occupied Palestine.
Talk about being stuck. These people went from being one captive to another meanwhile being promised liberation.
Here he was, the savior that was going to liberate them is finally coming into Jerusalem. And they are longing for it. They waiting for the liberator to come and free them. One that’s going to have the government on his shoulders like Isaiah 9 states and he’s going to free them from their Roman oppressors.
Jesus is bringing the stuff that the Jews need to get untrapped, but he’s also bring it to the Romans who are trapped in their own ways too. And in his last week on earth, he manages to bring so much upheaval, so much resistance to his mission, that both groups of people begin a criminal conspiracy to have him killed.
Ironically, it is through his death—and the fact that death can’t stomach Him—that he’s frees us all.
But so often what Jesus offers us isn’t enough. We’ve been sold the myth of redemptive violence so much that we only really feel free if someone else gets killed. The Jews are struggling right now because they want to be free of the Romans but they can’t seem to get that. Jesus, riding in on a baby horse—or a donkey, worse yet!—isn’t the savior they expected. There has to be more. Where is his entourage? Where are his chariots and horses?
They grew up hearing the story of when God dropped the whole Red Sea on Pharaoh’s Army and they were liberated. Where was the crushing power now?
Jesus called them to submit to something greater than even that crushing power and find peace and hope and freedom in him.
And of course, to those in power, that same gift is offered them, but they can’t seem to grip it. And so they are equally frustrating. How Jesus talks to the Romans heads of state declaring that he only answers to the Father—how frustrating.
Jesus needs transformed followers, not ones that just happened to get their way. He needs people that are going to sacrifice their notions of freedom for him. And you see that clearly in this passage. The disciples just listen to him. They go and steal a colt and just do what he tells them to do. “The Lord needs it.” Faith in Jesus liberates us.
Let’s really believe that service to him changes us and frees us. If we are stuck, let’s just believe in Him and His promises and take the risks that it takes to do something so radical. Let’s go and do what he asks us to do, even if it gets us in trouble.
My brother Joshua Grace told us this week how ten years ago and he and dozens of his friends surrounded the Federal Building in Old City and locked it down after the U.S. started the painful, deadly, costly, and meaningless war in Iraq. The Lord needed them to do that. Be free and find our war the Lord needs you to do today.
The beautiful symbol of the animal shows us that Jesus can use all of us—we are his ambassadors on earth, sharing what he asks us to share, and changing the world. Allowing Jesus to use us liberates us.
Put away your concerns, your notions of freedom, and serve a God who will fill you up and will show the world your love. If you have doubt and you wonder if it makes any sense—even the most stubborn among us can be used for the sake of freedom. If you believe that you can only contribute after you pay off your debt, or get married, or go to grad school, or start your business, or whatever else—drop those expectations (no need to lose the ambition), but follow God first.
Do you really believe he can use you? Let him use you. Pray and ask him the show you where you can go and do that good work. We have numerous opportunities for service among us. Volunteer at our thrift store; help out at Childs elementary; work at an Urban Farm; learn more about MCC and see what you can; give your money to us and to other causes. No one owns you, no one has you enslaved, you are free in Jesus—he’s made it that way. And he’s bought you too, so you are owned by Jesus too; find freedom in that allegiance, knowing that it is greater than any man-made prison or liberator.
Know the cost of your silence, too. So many of us are free and liberated and can do what we want because we’ve tasted the sweet wine of liberation. Go and share that with others and don’t let anyone rebuke you for doing it.
The message of Jesus will be spread, your ticket to freedom comes with doing it yourself. Don’t keep quiet. Use your voice, your actions, and your life to declare that there is a much, much greater truth out there. Not keeping quiet liberates us.
Our human frailty so often limits us and keeps us stuck. Going forth with such radicality is hard to do. We are limited and insecure. Worried about tomorrow, afraid of getting trapped, enslaved, addicted, and ruined again. The truth is that following Jesus won’t automatically change our circumstances—we’ll still have bills to pay, we’ll still have broken relationships, jobs that aren’t as fulfilling as they could be, we’ll still be ignored and oppressed—but in Christ, in his love for us, we are free. He won’t kill our enemies, but he’ll transform us so that we love them. He won’t make our jobs meaningful, but he’ll help us make meaning of every waking moment we have. He won’t make our marriages perfect, but he’ll help us have the conflict that will get them there, he’ll help us build the trust that we need.
Lent is a great time to throw away the idols that promise us freedom but only enslave us. Let’s find out what is keeping us stuck and what is enslaving us. Let us find our loyalty only in Jesus.
Jesus may have declared in Luke 19 that you need to drop everything to follow him. That you need to have faith in Him alone to break out of your liberation. And that even through your stubbornness he can us you. But do it with the eloquence and grace that he did. May we be relentless, but tender, liberators, ones who know the hardships and difficulties of enslavement or entrapment, but ones who have been liberated themselves.