What are the most freeing words ever spoken to you? For me, the words that give me the most freedom in life are, “I am not God.” And a close second are the words, “And I don’t have to be God.”
“I am not God and I don’t have to be God.” Those words have freed me from myself and my need to fix things for people, from my need to save them from their pain, from my need to make everything right for everybody. Ask the congregations I served as an interim…what they heard on my first Sunday was this: “I’m not Jesus and I’m not here to save your congregation. Jesus has already done that.”
As a leader, even as a follower of Christ, not being weighed down by the expectations placed on me by myself and by others and letting God be God so that I don’t have to – that’s the greatest experience of freedom I can have because it allows me the freedom to focus on what I can do and be. I’m now free to be who Jesus calls me to be and to do what Jesus calls me to do.
However, being a human being who is not God and who doesn’t have to try be God does not mean that I get to abdicate my responsibility as someone created in God’s image. I don’t get to say “well, I’m not God so I don’t have to do anything. I can just sit around and let God do all the work.” That is not what it means to not be God. That’s not even what it means to have faith in God.
In Christ, God frees me from having to try be God. I no longer need to turn in on myself and focus all my attention on me being the center-of-the-universe superheroine who has come to save the world. Jesus has already taken care of that.
Now I can be the free me God creates me to be: a person created in the image of the God of love and new life, intertwined in God’s abundant creation with the diversity of all human beings also created in the image of God. I get to be the baptized follower of Christ who is called to participate in God’s mission of love and justice and hope for the world. I get to be free from my need to be God over others so that I can follow the Spirit’s life-giving guidance in the work in which God invites and encourages me to participate.
Also, it is here, in this space of not being God, of not even having to try be God, that I get to most fully live out my freedom to follow Christ and love others. How? Well, in human beings, there is this space between something that happens to or around us and our response to that something. For example, imagine someone says something mean to you. Now, before you respond to that something, there is a moment of freedom when you have the choice to choose what you are going to say or do next. Nobody else gets to make that choice for you; only you.
You can choose to react instantly without thinking or without recognizing the possible consequences of your words or actions. Or you can choose to sit in that moment of pure freedom and remember, “I am not God.” You can choose to stop in that moment and ask yourself “how God is calling me to respond to this moment?” You can take that moment and choose to let the Spirit be your guide into following Christ in love and compassion.
That moment of choice between event and response, that is where the fullness of freedom in Christ lives. For Jesus claimed that moment for himself and ultimately for us, when he prayed to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if possible, take this cup from me. Yet not my will but your will be done.” (Mt 26:39) In Christ, that moment of choice for God is God’s moment and it is in God that our true freedom stands.
“I am not God, thank God! You are not God, thank God! God is God, thank God!” Owning that truth deep in our souls and letting it burst forth every time we face a choice, any choice – that is true freedom. A freedom not found in any bill of rights but finally in the first commandment as God reminds us again and again: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me, including yourself.” (Exodus 20:2)
In the end, the first commandment is not really a command at all; it’s a promise and it’s a gift of a true freedom that comes only in God. So let’s let God be God and live in the truth of not being God, giving thanks always for the freedom that comes in Christ!
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod