NOTE:  Because of various local conflicts in Seward on Sunday July 4th, and our congregation's involvement in the community celebration, our normal Sunday worship was re-scheduled for Saturday, July 3rd.

6 Pentecost Proper C9 (Independence Day)        
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 10:1-11; 16-20 Sermon                                            
July 3, 2010

Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
339 "Before The Lord We Bow"
360 "My Country 'Tis Of Thee"
358 "God Bless Our Native Land"
346 "O Beautiful For Spacious Skies"
521 "God Of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand"
356 "Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory Of The Coming Of The Lord"



 TEXT (vs. 17-20): 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."  18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

             When was the last time you celebrated something?  I think that's a fair question to ask, since one of the things any human being does, is to celebrate something good that happens.  And when you stop and think about it, there can be a whole variety of things worth celebrating.

            For example, I had a retired couple in one of my former congregations.  They have been married a long time, and they have grown children and grandchildren.  This couple has a special way they celebrate Valentine's day.

            Ever since they've been married, they have made this day very special in their lives.  On the weekend closest to the day, they have their own get-away time.  They rent a hotel room someplace within an easy drive from home, and they do things like eat at a fancy restaurant, take in a movie, go see a play, attend a concert, or just whatever happens to suit them at the moment.  They might have a few things planned out, but mostly it's a type of serendipitous adventure; they kind of take things as they come.

            The important thing to them however is that this is their "alone time" together.  They are celebrating being a couple, and they enjoy the time they are together.  This celebration makes it just that much more special.

            The part of it that I think is so neat, is that they've been doing this every Valentine's day weekend throughout their married life.  When their children were small, and their time alone was limited, this was especially well-needed.  And as the years progressed, this was a time they both looked forward to.  This was and continues to be a very special celebration in their lives.

            This weekend is a time of celebration for the entire United States.  This is when we celebrate the birthday of the United States of America.  This year, "Uncle Sam" is celebrating his 234th birthday.

            On July 4 1776, a group of men declared their freedom from the rule of King George.  They knew that declaring independence was only the beginning.  They knew that blood was needed to earn the independence they declared.  Many men gave their lives during the following years so that we could have our political freedom.  Because we live in an imperfect world, people are still giving their lives for that freedom.

            The celebration of Independence Day is a celebration of the freedom that we enjoy as United States citizens.  And yes, we must also be reminded about the cost of that freedom.

            Our national liberty did not come cheap. Just over 643,000 American soldiers have given their lives in various wars since the birth of our nation in the pursuit and defense of freedom.  And that's a sobering thought. 

            I think this is best expressed in a tribute entitled "The Price of Freedom" by H. T. Rose that concerns those who fought in distant lands defending our freedom.  I quote:

            "Some were ready and prepared, Others were so young and so naive. Some of them chose to serve our country.  Others had no choice, they were called to serve.  As they hugged and kissed their loved ones good-bye, their hearts were heavy and tears filled in their eyes.  Not knowing if they would be coming back home, or if they would die, it was all so unknown. As they prepared to fight for our freedom, we prayed to God for their safety.  They all left their loved ones, And their lives that they had known. They departed to an unfamiliar land, risking their lives and making so many sacrifices. Being away from family and friends, giving up what most can't even comprehend.  The horrors and atrocities that our Veterans faced and endured, you may not ever know or totally understand. They protected our rights, our freedom, and the rights of others, so that we could have and enjoy freedom in our land.  Some came home to a Hero's welcome, others didn't come home at all--they made the ultimate sacrifice. Some came home and were disgracefully shunned, while others have been so shamefully forgotten.  All of our Veterans served our country, with great pride and true honor.  There is a price for freedom, which they ALL so graciously paid.  They ALL greatly deserve to be remembered and honored; after all they are truly America's Heroes!"

            One of the things that we can celebrate as a congregation is the freedom we have to come into a church where we are free to worship, free to hear God's Word preached and taught without any reservation at all, free to pray as we wish, and free to publicly identify ourselves as a group of Christians. 

            We don't have to worry about censorship laws, or other laws that infringe upon our first amendment right of free speech.  We can criticize our government and our leaders as we wish, because ultimately they are answerable to every citizen.  We vote them into office, and we can certainly vote them out.  Voting is a privilege all citizens can enjoy. 

            My dad always pointed out that if you don't exercise your right to vote, then you forfeit your right to complain.  You had your chance to do something, and you chose to sit back and do nothing.  I've always wondered how different things would be if we handled voting the way they do in Australia.  There, it's the law that you have to vote or be fined $150.  That pretty much guarantees a 100% voter turn-out, as opposed to the United States where we think that anything over 40% is a good turn-out.  And this is a right we have that people died to defend.

            Today, part of our Gospel reading from Luke chapter 10 talks about a celebration as well.  This celebration had several different facets to it, because there was so much to celebrate. 

             Jesus has assembled 72 of his followers.  Even though there is some question as to the exact number (some say 70, others say 72), the actual number isn't the important thing here.  It's what they did that interests us.  They were to go out into the towns and villages and prepare the people for Jesus' arrival in those towns.

            This was not going to be an easy task either.  These people were going out into a potential hostile environment with basically nothing.  In verses 3 and 4 of our Gospel reading, Jesus says: "3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road."

            They couldn't be encumbered with a lot of extra baggage on their journey.  They also couldn't be distracted from their mission by unnecessary interruptions.  They had a job to do and a mission to fulfill.  They were to proclaim the kingdom of God, and do so faithfully.

            The thing that interests us today is what happened upon their return.  Our Gospel text tells us in verse 17: 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."

            They came back "with joy!"  They were celebrating!  They had a mission experience that was so overwhelming and so powerful that they returned like a soldier from a successful battle.  Jesus had sent them out, and they could hardly comprehend just how powerful the message of the Gospel was.  Hearts had been changed and lives had been restored.  They were ready for their Saviour to come.

            They were armed with the power of God himself.  That power was what defeated the enemy of God's people, none other than Satan himself.  Jesus explains this power a bit more in verses 18-19 of our text:  18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you."

            In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul describes this power even further: "10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes....14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."

            These 72 people were up against the power of a very strong adversary.  But Jesus assures them of victory because he tells them about Satan falling from heaven like lightning.  God is the one who is in charge.  Jesus came to this earth to thwart Satan's soul-destroying mission.  Victory had been assured. 

            In the first few verses Isaiah chapter 61, we read the prophecy about the victory Jesus has won, and what that means for us:  "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,  and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

            Yes, Jesus has secured our freedom for us.  And we also know what that freedom cost him.  He laid down his very life so we could be free from Satan.  In John 8 verse 36 Jesus says:  "36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

            Satan has done everything in his power to beat us down and to keep us captive.  He doesn't want us to be free; instead he wants to keep us bound in the chains sin and misery.  He wants to keep us running full-tilt down the path of destruction.  He wants us as his slaves, and keep us from any form of freedom.

            But when Jesus laid down his life, he bought our freedom.  When Jesus descended into hell, he led a victory march unlike any other.  He announced hell's destruction and Satan's defeat.  And when he rose from the dead, he proved himself victorious over even death itself.

            This victory is ours as well.  We are the benefactors of all that Jesus accomplished.  We have this through nothing more than faith alone.  When we look to the cross, it's not a symbol of death, but the symbol of forgiveness and life.  Jesus has restored our fallen image, and brought us into God's eternal kingdom.  When we know Jesus as our personal Saviour from sin, then we also know the true meaning of freedom.  The Gospel of truth is the good news of our salvation by grace through faith.  In John chapter 8 verse 32 Jesus says, "32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

            As I was preparing for today's sermon, I was doing research on different topics for Independence day.  The thing that struck me the most were all the negative things people were saying.  I will agree that we can indeed find many things to complain about.  There's the economy, and the war, and the moral decline amongst the people, and abortion, and violence, and the ACLU's constant attacks against Christianity, just to name a few.  These certainly are problems we face, and we can't just wish them away or bury our head in the sand and pretend they don't exist.

            But today, we haven't come here to dwell on various political issues or to complain about how bad things are.  We are here to celebrate something.  As a nation, we are celebrating the 234th anniversary of our freedom.  Even though we have our problems, we still have a lot to celebrate and much for which we can thank God.  We wouldn't have any of this had people not thought it important enough to defend and preserve.

            If you ever want to feel good about where we are living, all you need to do is talk to someone who is an ex-patriot of another country who has become a United States citizen.  Comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who came out of a very oppressive situation in the Soviet Union, is thankful to be here and call the United States home.  Even talk show host Craig Ferguson who came from Scotland, who lived under a government with freedoms not that much different than our own, still is very proud and appreciative to be a United States citizen.  They had to work for their citizenship, the same thing we have simply by birth.  The old saying proves true many times:  "We do not cherish that for which we do not work."

            We're free Christians living in a free society.  Our freedom in society is something that many brave people fought and died for.  Our freedom as Christians is something that Christ Jesus died for.  For both things, we can be eternally thankful as grateful recipients of what has been done for us.  We most certainly have been blessed.

            And so this weekend we can celebrate freedom in our lives, both nationally and spiritually.  And as Christians, we can continue to bring the message of the Gospel of peace to a world in turmoil.  It would be so nice if everybody in the world were Christians--that would make things far easier.  But even so, we can influence things in this world according to our conscience.  It might not seem like much at times, but still we are free Christians living in a free country.

            Therefore we can always remember the words of Psalm 33:   "Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD....May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you."  And may we always exclaim with the hymn writer:  "From every mountain side, let freedom ring!"