I wonder what you would say if I asked you what freedom means?
Would you say: words like liberty, salvation, delivered, pardoned, independence, rescued, unshackled, relief…
Maybe it’s easier to ask you to share what freedom is not, or what words come to mind when I ask you what the opposite of freedom is? Captivity, imprisonment, detention, trapped, apprehension, confinement, restraint, slavery, …
What about if I ask you what freedom looks like?
o Maybe freedom to you looks like unlimited hours on Fortnite or Roblox or FC24.
o Maybe freedom to you looks like lazing in the sun for hours without sunscreen, reading a book or just watching the world melt away.
o Maybe freedom looks like heaps of lollies!
o Maybe some of you are thinking that freedom looks like no war in the Ukraine or in Gaza?
o Maybe it looks like what we saw at the cricket on Friday on Australia Day where people exercised their freedom at the Gabba and broke the rules to run on the grounds and stop people playing cricket?
o Maybe freedom looks like everyone having a home to sleep in or a meal to eat?
o Maybe it looks like being able to say what you think without being ridiculed or liking what you like without worrying about people teasing you.
So, why start with freedom in 2024? What does school have to do with freedom? Surely after the holidays no one feels free to be at school!
I think school and freedom have a lot to do with each other.
You see, freedom is all about knowing and learning, knowing the truth, understanding what is true and what is not and learning how that helps us to live free all the time. And I don’t just mean the truth about something that happened, or whether a math equation is right or wrong, or what did that author really mean.
I am talking about the kind of freedom that comes from knowing who you are; who you were made to be; what you were made to do. And it is not found on some mythical quest where you go on a long journey to find freedom. The freedom I am talking about that is related to school comes from learning in detail real truths that empower you, and those around you, to be free.
There is this part in the Bible where Jesus was teaching about truth to a whole bunch of people who were listening. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the time, were listening, his disciples, those who hung close to him, were there. There were randoms from the streets listening too. All of these people though were ruled by the Romans, a group of people who basically told everyone else what to do and made them kinda like slaves. I am not sure if the Romans were there, but I suspect they had their spies listening too.
Anyway, in the gospel book of John, in chapter 8, with everyone listening, Jesus challenges the people and says this: if you listen to my words, and live them out, then not only will you become a bit more like me but you will know what is true and that truth will make you free.
Now, I think when people heard this, they started to get pretty excited. Here was this guy, talking about being free if people would do what he did. And when he said free, I think many people started thinking about the old days when they weren’t just free, they were kings and rulers. So, I think people started thinking that Jesus had the truth and it was a way to free them from Roman oppression, to stop the Roman bullies. I think the people were getting pumped, ready for the rebellion to begin!
I think the people listening wanted power more than freedom and so they misunderstood Jesus a little. You see, in another episode of the same series in John, Jesus calls himself, The Way and The Truth and The Life. So when he is speaking about knowing the truth and following it, he is talking about himself, knowing more about and being a bit more like Jesus. Meaning that if we look at how Jesus lives, then we will understand Truth.
You see Jesus, all through His story, is all about loving God and having a relationship with Him. His form of rebellion, of taking the power back, comes through loving God and loving others, not gaining power, but giving it up to empower others. He was talking about a truth that goes way beyond how to be a king or a bully, it is a truth that goes back to our original design: to be in community, to be buddies if you will, with God and others.
So when Jesus speaks of a truth that will set us free he is talking about setting us free from slavery of a different kind – not the Romans. Spoiler, I think this is why people got a little upset with him. When they realised he was challenging them to be better versions of themselves rather than liberating them physically, they felt too challenged. They didn’t want to do the hard work, they just wanted the power. So, they had to get rid of him before people realised that Jesus was talking about being free no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, and therefore not following them anymore either. I digress though.
The fact is, the people were challenged: Jesus’ truth was one that meant you were free indeed, free in hope, purpose, identity, free to be who you were created to be, free in a way that no one could ever enslave you.
Jesus says that when we live like him, focussed on loving God and others, we become free. Free from being slaves to living up to others’ expectations or trying to please everyone, free from hard words actually hurting, free from always doing the wrong thing because knowing Jesus’ truth and being like him makes you start to want to look after others, free from feeling like we must prove ourselves or pretend to be better. Jesus’ version of truth and freedom brings life, empowering everyone to realise they are sons and daughters of God with value, identity, purpose and hope that no one can steal.
This kind of freedom comes with a responsibility though: if we live in Jesus’ truth then everyone is worthwhile, everyone is to be loved and valued and respected. There is no rule against being kind is there? So, the responsibility is to be kind and everyone is responsible for it. When you have this truth at your core, there is no rule against it. There is no circumstance, no war, no bully that can stop you knowing that you are worthwhile, loved, that you have a purpose and a plan to do good things. This is freedom. And this is what we learn here, this year.
Other freedoms, I think aren’t that free, they actually trick you into being a slave: the freedom to buy what you want may just be tricking you to be a slave to money; the freedom to play what you want, when you want may just be tricking you to be a slave to Roblox or Fortnite; the freedom to communicate with whoever, whenever, however, may just be tricking you to be a slave to social media telling you to be something you are not.
Ironic isn’t it, that something that feels like it is freeing you is trapping you and something that may seem like it is trapping you into a way is actually setting you free.
This year, it is our hope, my hope, for RCC students that they not only learn more about this kind of truth, but that because of this truth you know you are free, and you end up freeing others. We want you to be free to be who God made you to be; to do all the good things God has planned for you to do. Free to be responsible to help others, encourage others, empower others. Free to make a difference and learn what matters.
I want to welcome you back, students, to a place where we are encouraging you to find this truth, search for it until it is clear to you and then use it to live. Powerfully and purposefully for God, for others and for yourself.
So, this year, as we learn about our world, as we learn together whether in class, on the stage, in the music room or on the pitch, being part of this learning community, which has its foundations in faith, means that you will start to know a deeper truth about living that will set you free. This year, it is our hope for you and your family that we can walk more in freedom and less in fear; more in truth and less in lies; and more in hope and purpose and less in doubt and uncertainty because you learn about the truth, and it sets you free.