This week, on the 4th of July, we celebrate the beginning of our nation. We celebrate the freedom we have in the United States, to pursue a life that makes us happy, to choose where to live and what job to take, if we want to date or marry, and what hobbies we want to pursue. We have many freedoms, including the freedom of religion, to choose if we want to live a life of faith or if we do not.

It may seem strange to some who consider religion to be full of "do nots" and behavioral restrictions, but in fact, freedom is a vital part of the religious and spiritual life. Theologian and reformer, Martin Luther, recognized this and wrote about it in his treatise, "On the Freedom of the Christian," way back in 1520. Luther recognized that true love and faith could only come when one freely chooses them.

However, by freely choosing love and faith, we must then accept the pulls and demands that loving (God and others) places on our lives. Freely choosing love naturally brings some restraints and demands, which is a dichotomy, prompting Luther to write in this same tract, "A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all."

This also makes perfect sense if you think about it.

The American culture does not favor arranged marriages, as we value the freedom to date and find that special person who we want to love, live with, and annoy for the rest of our lives. If we are lucky enough to find that person, the commitment we freely offer through marriage naturally includes behavioral expectations. We are no longer free to date others, we freely choose to put our loved one's desires or needs above our own at times, and sometimes we have to go to an event, a store, or a family gathering we would rather avoid because it's important to our loved one. The freedom to love naturally brings us to care for and serve one another.

Twenty-seven years ago, on the 4th of July, I married my husband. Truthfully, the date was picked a little out of convenience - he had several family members working in government jobs and we knew they would be free to come - and my family farmed, so July would not interfere with either planting or harvest seasons. It was more than that, though. The symbolism was not lost on me. Individually, we might be very different at times and we should have the freedom to be unique individuals, even though we were also going to be a couple from that day forward. Our marriage was a commitment of each of us saying we would choose the other person, freely, every day (sometimes a more tenuous promise during hunting season!)

In the same way, love for God must be given freely to be real. Once we fall in love with God, we are compelled to live in a different way. We are still free, but we are free to love the way that God does - with abandon, with grace, and with heaping amounts of forgiveness. That kind of love lifts one another up and makes the world a better place. So this 4th of July, may you celebrate freedom, but may you also celebrate love and the gift our God has given us in allowing us to make choices about who we want to be and how we want to live.

Galatians 5:13-14 - For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your

freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."