Herald Journal Columns
Aug. 29, 2005, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

Boundaries: a fence that set us free

By Rev. Sherri L. Sandoz, Bethel Lutheran Church,
Lester Prairie

In my mind’s eye, I can still see the Keystone Cops, dressed in black from the top of their domed helmets to the bottom of their hook-eyed boots.

Running in a pack with batons flailing, the “coppers” scurry after the bad guys. The lively music crescendos as the sergeant turns face-left toward the camera.

With a gloved palm raised and blustery cheeks blowing his whistle, the caption reads: “STOP! In the name of the law!”  

But, do the bad guys in striped suits stop? Of course, they don’t. They run all the faster.  

I wonder what it is about the law that makes it so difficult for some people to keep. Why is it that some people are always brushing up against the law and others never do?

Perhaps it has something to do with our basic concept of boundaries. Do they fence us in? Or set us free?

Our neighbors had a handsome Dalmatian puppy by the name of Abe. Now, Abe loved people. Whenever anyone walked near his yard, he came bounding up, all snuffles and sneezes, with tail wagging enough to knock you off balance.  

This wouldn’t do, so Abe’s owners installed a buried electric fence. After that, Abe wore a box around his neck that looked like goiter from a distance. If he came too close to the fence, he got a shock.   

We always felt bad walking past Abe’s yard after he got the collar because he would come bounding toward us. Then, we’d hear the zap, followed by a whimper, as Abe sat back hard on his haunches.  

Abe thought he had all the freedom the world could give him – until he reached his boundary.

Boundaries. There is something about that word we just don’t like. It probably has something to do with our concept of freedom.  

When Moses led the people out of Egypt, away from Pharaoh and toward the Promised Land, it created chaos. The Israelites had been slaves. In every aspect of their lives, they had been told what to do and when to do it. Now, suddenly, they were free and on their own, all 6 million of them when you include women and children, with no one to give them the direction to which they had become accustomed.

Through Moses, God gave the ancient Israelites 10 commandments that served as a Word to bring order to a people who had more freedom than they could handle.

That Word of God, through the 10 Commandments, brought order out of chaos. It was the “fence” the Israelites needed to keep them safe and secure. It gave them the freedom they needed to move forward safely toward the Promised Land.

 Human beings don’t do well with too much freedom. We need a fence, border, rule, or law to know when we’ve gone too far.    

St. Paul knows that about human beings. In his letter to the Romans, he asks, “Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed, I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’”  

So, the borders and fences given to us help define the boundaries that keep us safe, but also serve to establish the vast freedom we are given within them.

The founder of my denomination, Martin Luther, was fond of saying  “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” He was speaking of the freedom of Christians who, though being bound by the law, are made free to love and serve their neighbor in need.  

 When we look at it this way, we see how the law in all its forms, religious, civic, and family, is put there for society’s safety and livelihood. Within the law, we have all the freedom we need to love and serve our neighbor as God and good government would have us do it.

Whether we see the law as bane or blessing, we can thank our Lord, Jesus Christ, for making those of us who are law breakers and sinners right with God. We cannot do it on our own.  

Without the law, we cannot handle too much freedom. Within the law, we overstep our boundaries and sin. That is why we need a Savior.  

Boundaries. Do they fence us in? Yes. Do they set us free? Yes.  

Yes and yes.  It’s all good.  Thank you, Lord.  Amen.

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