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July 7, 2013

“Freedom”

Rev. Barbara Lorbach

Galatians 5: 1, 13-26

Galatians is a letter attributed to the Apostle Paul. In this letter, Paul is addressing a major controversy of the early church—did one have to become a Jew in order to be a disciple of Jesus? The Galatians, who were Gentiles, are being told that the way they came to faith through Jesus was wrong. Paul, who taught them about Jesus, has heard about this. The Galatians are being told that they must become Jews first—be circumcised and submit to the law of Moses. Paul is furious—furious with the strong-arm tactics of the old guard and furious with the Galatians for caving in.

The Message

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Paul believes that through Christ, God offers a relationship without preconditions except that one remains in the relationship itself. There is no need to follow the law especially as it pertains to being a Jew. This does not mean that Paul has abandoned ethical values, although some of his opponents accuse him of just that.

Paul makes it very clear that freedom is not just release from something - in this case the demands of the Law - it is also freedom for something, namely a relationship with the God who loves. It is about letting go of selfish, me-first, get-my-own-way thinking.

Listen to the list as Peterson translates it: “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.”

And what happens when we live in the Spirit? Traditionally we hear this list as the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Peterson gives us specific examples of what those fruits are: “affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity, a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We are involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Just a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people is huge. What if we really lived with that conviction that people are holy? Could we ignore the needs of anyone? Could we harm anyone? Would we be able to get beyond the labels to see each person?

Paul says when we live in the Spirit and follow the way of Jesus, we will find the abundant life Jesus promises. Often we talk about this letting go of self as learning compassion and helping others. There is a difference between helping others and serving others. Henry Fischer, a Lutheran pastor, said “When we help we see others as weak. When we fix them, we see them as broken. When we serve, we see others as holy.” That’s the conviction, the passion that comes from following Jesus, who saw people as holy.

Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

St. Teresa of Avila