Freedom, where is it? A Yom Kippur message

Given at Kol Nidre service
Bondi Junction (Sydney) NSW
29 September 2017

Janis Joplin sang a song at Woodstock which was the anthem of a generation. Me and Bobby McGee, which contained this conclusion,
“Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose 
Nothin', don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no 
And, feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues 
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me, good enough for me and Bobby McGee.”

I sang that song along with Joplin, with Waylon Jennings in 1973, with Willy Nelson when he covered it in 1979 and still that conclusion about freedom lingers in my memory to this day.

Nothing left to lose. Like the North Queensland Cowboys who will be playing with nothing to lose on Sunday in the NRL Grand Final. When no one expected the boys to carry on after the loss of both their co-captains, they have nothing left to lose. Is that freedom?

One website, Live Science, defined freedom as “Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, and the absence of a despotic government.

Freedom for the Live Science mob is living without restraint, and without hindrance, mostly from government, but by extension, from anyone’s rules or authority. That has to be a fascinating concept given that science operates under a rubric of rules and authority.

For those reading this online, read Mike Treder’s piece from September 2009, AND the commentary/ responses of many after his article.

People usually define freedom as something we all long for. Mike Treder wrote, “Freedom stands for something greater than just the right to act however I choose—it also stands for securing to everyone an equal opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To most reasonable people, freedom means more than just ‘free to do whatever I want’. Taken literally, that approach would produce anarchy—every man, woman, and child for himself or herself. Fortunately, none of us has to live that way (unless you’re reading this in Somalia or a similar disaster area).

Franklin Roosevelt was the US president during WWII. He was elected four times and in one of his major addresses given in January 1941, he spoke of four freedoms, made forever famous by American illustrator Norman Rockwell. The freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These words would ring in the ears of Americans throughout the next four and a half years during the World War. And still ring in our ears to this day. Rockwell’s illustrations, Roosevelt’s words, Janis Joplin’s lyrics… all speak of a mystical, deep longing in the hearts of people, from Uganda to Utrecht, from Uluru to Uruguay, and here in Bondi Junction. Where then is true freedom?

Google ‘freedom’ and the word “Australia” and the top 10 sites are all related to the furniture store. Seriously. Capitalism and Google have met together and given us no philosophy on this one. But that doesn’t stop us from thinking about this just now.

So how would you define or notice or desire freedom?
Let me take you with me to Yom Kippur, out in Chicago. The year 1983. I was 31 years old. Patty and I had spent the US summer there and our daughter Jessica was born in August there. At the end of my ministry assignment, and as school was to begin in September, Patty and our two children went back to New York City where we lived. I stayed behind for the High Holidays, and the services Jews for Jesus ran then.

Most of the time, after big events, our staff likes to get together and debrief, and the best way to do that is over a meal. So after Rosh Hashanah services, we went out. After Friday night gatherings we often went out to eat. So when it was my old boss Baruch and I who were the skeleton crew running the Yom Kippur service, it didn’t seem odd that we would pack up the boxes, the bulletins, the other goods from the service into our van, drive to the Chinese restaurant and eat out. Oh, wait, we said, halfway through the chicken soup… it’s Yom Kippur! Oy! Guilty!

A young woman who lived with her boyfriend for years, recently got married and said, “Somehow I felt in bondage.” After three months of marriage, she went on a date with a work colleague, and it wasn’t long before she and her husband filed for divorce. She later said, “I felt free, for the first time in a long time.” Was that freedom for her?

Yeshua said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8.32) Is being dismissive of contracts or legally binding situations, where flat mates argue and fight over who paid what utility or who signed with the landlord…when one of them excises the other, is that freedom? When I was 19, in the South of the USA, I was in jail for 40 hours or so, in Florida, for vagrancy, and after a man in jail paid my fine, I left, kicked my heels and felt liberated, smiled, danced, but had nowhere to go, no one with whom to go. I was terribly alone. My freedom was escape, freedom from the bondage of jail, but not free to be alone with myself and with God.

Let me tell you a story, about a Jewish rabbi and jail. It’s a true story and happened in a Greek city of Philippi, which was a major city of the district of Macedonia.

Rabbi Saul, of Tarsus in modern Turkey, had disturbed the town, and was arrested by the police force, taken to the magistrates, and they found him guilty.

Here is the text:
They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.  When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.  But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.  But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 

The scene zooms in on Saul and his mate, Silas. They’ve had the worst day ever. The crowd has dobbed them in to the authorities; the beating was painful, beyond human capacity. Their aches and pains would have been substantial and grueling.
Arthur Katz in his book, “Reality” describes the scene,
“Can you picture Paul and Silas, their clothes stripped from them, publicly humiliated in the market place? Then the first crack of the whip. You see the ugly red welt appear as that rod comes crashing down against the naked flesh, and there are yet many more stripes to go. As those rods keep swishing and cracking, what was first red has been turning somewhat blue. Then the skin is torn. Those rods cut right into the open flesh all the way to the bone, and we have not yet counted ten. When those men were finally cast into the inner prison, they were as pitiful a sight as one could ever imagine.”

Then the Bible says it was midnight. Have you ever been put in stocks, or had a long grueling bushwalk, or gym exercise, and your body is aching. Your back hurts; nothing is without pain. And you lie on the hard ground in a jail cell. An inner cell, a lower cell, where the smell of human urine and feces still lingers. It’s a hellish incarceration. Katz goes on to describe the scene, “rats and vermin would scurry about, and the groans of other prisoners would be heard from other parts of the prison.”

What would you have done? What would have been your response? Aching and pain in the physical; wondering what you did wrong in the spiritual. Emotional outbursts, and arguing with the God of the universe.

What did this rabbi Saul and his offsider Silas do? They sang praises to God in the middle of the night. WHAT? Outrageous. What was going on?

Paul and Silas were in jail, but they were free. They knew a freedom the other prisoners didn’t know. They knew a freedom the jailer didn’t know. The jailer had the keys, but he wasn’t free.

The singing filled the jailhouse. Over the groans of others, the songs of praise to the Almighty were as a bouquet of fresh flowers. And the Bible says, “The prisoners were listening.” This is different than hearing; they were considering, even as some of you here tonight are hearing AND listening to the message. You are considering whether the message about Yeshua being our messiah is true. You are weighing in your heart this conclusion of Paul, Silas, Bob and all the others gathered here. The prisoners were listening; are you listening?

Then the amazing earthquake happened. A seismic reality, a particularized ground shaking that only touched the jail, and loosened the chains that locked in Rabbi Saul and Silas. And they didn’t run. The prisoners didn’t run.

Why didn’t they run? They were already free. Their freedom was not related to the new house in Vaucluse or Hunters Hill. They were not free because a government told them they had beaten the previous government and established a new nation. They were free because they had been forgiven of their sins and received new life in Yeshua. So whether in jail or outside, they knew the Messiah; they knew peace; they knew God’s love.

But the jailer was different. He was afraid for his life. The charge had been given, that if the prisoners escaped that his life was over.
So who holds the keys?
The jailer held the keys but was in bondage.
The prisoners were in jail but were free. Why were they free? They were forgiven!

How were they forgiven? By the blood of Yeshua. By faith in what Yeshua did in his dying for their sins. The Eternal Yom Kippur took place on a hill in Jerusalem called Moriah or Calvary. There the Son of God took our sins on himself and died to be the kipporah, the atonement for us. For each of us. If we will believe.

No wonder Paul and Silas didn’t run. They had been forgiven and knew true peace.

I’m reminded of the time when God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Sinai. There the Bible says in Exodus 32.16 that the two tablets of the 10 Commandments were God’s work, the writing was God’s writing, engraved on the tablets. The Hebrew word for ‘engraved’ is Harut.

Why does this remind me of the jailhouse rock with Silas and Paul? Because the Hebrew word for ‘freedom’ is herut, a variant of the word for ‘engraving.’ When God writes His Torah on our hearts, when we are born again by the Spirit and by faith in Yeshua, our Messiah, He engraves His Word in us, and we are free. Even as Yeshua said, ‘You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.”

My prayer for each of you, for each of us tonight, is that you will know this engraving, this freedom, this encounter with Messiah.

It’s not another word for ‘nothing left to lose.’ It’s freedom in Messiah, who bore our penalty in Himself and gives us life abundant with Him. And may your fast be easy, may your life be free, indeed.


Bob Mendelsohn said…
If you want to watch this on video here is the link:

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