When my son was in the second grade, his nightly homework assignment was to read a short story and write in his journal his thoughts on the story’s lesson. One night, he looked on his bookshelf and chose a kid’s story Bible, which takes popular biblical stories and retells them in language children can understand. This particular night, he selected the story, “The Day Jesus Died.” I asked him why he picked that story and he said “because I know what the lesson is.” Fair enough. At seven years old, he had probably already been to more “church” than most. It doesn’t hurt to have two seminary-educated parents who have dragged him to worship in nearly every conceivable Christian tradition.
“What’s the lesson?,” I asked him.
“That Jesus died for our sins,” he replied.
I was troubled by his response. It made me wanna holler. It is only with Bible stories, I suppose, that our culture deems it appropriate for seven year-olds to read about someone getting publicly executed and feel good about it.
I offered an alternative to him, that Jesus died to help people be free. Intrigued, he asked what I meant by that. I invited him to share what he remembered most from the story and he responded, “Mean people teased Jesus for pretending to be a king, but I don’t understand why Jesus was bullied.” I told him that Jesus was a different kind of king, and was bullied because he helped people and some folk don’t like it when everybody gets help.
He decided to write, “Jesus died to help people be free. Jesus can help people stop getting hurt and being bullied.”
There are many definitions for freedom. Nina Simone described freedom in part as the “feeling” of having “no fear”. Assata Shakur says “Freedom is the right to be yourself, to be who you are, to be who you want to be.” In John 8:36, Jesus says “Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.” I believe the freedom Jesus talks about here is a freedom from sins of oppression that lead us to do harm to ourselves and others. Sin attempts to hold us bound by fear, despair, hatred and bigotry, keeping us captive from God’s call to healing, wholeness, reconciliation and justice.
Jesus died (and Christians believe resurrected) leading the struggle for salvation and freedom for himself and all creation. As followers of “the way,” we follow Jesus to discover, create and fight for this freedom.
What’s Going On: The Seven Last Words of Jesus is an endeavor to explore this freedom through worship. My local church voted to join Uplift Inglewood, a coalition of community organizations, small businesses and faith communities that is struggling for freedom of fair housing for residents in Inglewood, CA. If we take Jesus’ call to love our neighbors seriously, then fighting for rent control in a city that is pricing longtime residents out is living the gospel of Jesus. When Jesus taught us how to pray to God, he said, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” There is temptation of the powerful to be ruled by greed and temptation of the powerless to be hopeless. We believe Jesus delivers us from the evils of greed and hopelessness, and liberates us in love for the freedom of all people.
I hope you can “holler” with us tonight. If not, we still have much hollering to do in Jesus’ name. Tonight’s offering will go to support the work of the Uplift Inglewood coalition. We’ll have voter registration and petition signing for rent control in Inglewood and the Schools and Communities First Campaign. Let’s get free. The struggle continues. God is with us.