Sunday, June 27, 2010

“Free at Last”

Galatians 5:1, 13–25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

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." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

A Message from the Pastor
“Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!” We’ve all heard those words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. They were the last words of his “I Have a Dream” speech. And, no matter what you think of Martin Luther King, Jr., those words have to bring positive feelings to us. After all, we all want to be free. We all want to be able to do and experience whatever we choose and not be hindered by rules and regulations.

However, we all know that we are never completely free. There are rules and regulations. We need them in our secular world to provide order in our daily lives. We need boundaries to protect ourselves and others. However, we also know that with rules and regulations come the need for individuals who create the laws, administer the laws, and interpret the laws. People designated with this authority therefore have the power and control in our secular world. Many times we don’t like it. We don’t like laws being enacted, administered, and interpreted, no matter what our political persuasion.

In the religious world there are also the dynamics of power and control because there are those who have the same authority as those in the secular world. Paul knew this. He didn’t like it. He had been to Galatia and had proclaimed the loving gospel of Jesus Christ. He had told the people who had become Christians that they no longer were subject to the law. Jesus Christ, through no effort on their part, had been made one with God, because Jesus had been crucified died and rose again through the love of God. They, and we, are now one with God, justified by faith through grace. The law was no longer applicable. It had been our disciplinarian. However, Christ’s redeemed act had changed all that. We were free. However, after Paul left Galatia, people, who Paul named as the “Circumcision Party,” came after him to say that there were still laws they needed to follow.

Paul, in this reading today, provided a good comparison between law and gospel, Spirit and flesh, and the spiritual world versus the secular world. There was no need for law, as long as we did not become self-indulgent but, through love, were slaves to one another.

He identified the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. (Please note that the “works” are something we are in control of.) The fifteen works of the flesh that he named can be classified into four categories. The first three can be identified as sexual immorality. The next two can be identified as idolatry. The next eight – that’s right – eight can be identified as communal discord, or conflict. (Whenever there is conflict, power and control are involved.) The last two can be identified as self-indulgence. They all involve power and control.

Then, there is the fruit of the Spirit. These are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Please note that fruit comes of its own accord. We cannot make the bush or tree bear fruit. We can work the ground, nourish and feed it, and tend to it, but the fruit is beyond our control. Sometimes, when I wake in the morning, I commit myself to being patient, gentle, and exerting self-control. If you are like me, before the day is over, you find out that you can’t do it. It is beyond your control.

While the works of the flesh are experienced in the secular world, the fruit of he Spirit is experienced as the reign of God draws near. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur with the reign of God. It’s what we all desire.

The gospel reading gives us an idea of what we can do to nourish and tend to that which bears fruit.

The author of Luke gives us an idea. I love his imagery of Jesus. Here, in today’s gospel reading, we find that Jesus has “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. He knows what he is going to face, agony, brutality, pain, torture, and death on the cross. But nothing will prevent him from going to Jerusalem and following the will of God. Yet, when we read the story, we find how he acts and responds. Jesus is not received in this one village in Samaria, because of his determination to go to Jerusalem. James and John, “sons of thunder,” want Jesus to reign down fire and consume them. Do you hear the enmity, anger, and strife? Jesus rebukes them and moves on to another town. Then, Jesus faces three people. The first wants to follow him, Jesus accepts this but lets him know that where Jesus goes might not be where he wants to be led. Jesus asks another to follow him. While I don’t fully understand what it means for “the dead to bury their own dead,” I believe Jesus is saying not to let ritual and rules get in the way of proclaiming the reign of God. The last one wants to follow, but has some things to take care of first. Jesus told him that we don’t look back or we will not be able to experience God’s reign. Jesus mentioned to them, and to us, that the highest priority is following Jesus. The importance of family, social priorities, religious significance, business obligations, and, yes, patriotism – as we get ready for Independence Day – are all secondary to following Jesus, on Jesus terms.

The are at least six steps for following Jesus, or six marks of discipleship. We need to be in daily prayer; that’s daily conversation with Jesus in hopes of strengthening our personal relationship with our brother. Next, we worship regularly. We come into communal relationship sharing with one another our desire to thank and praise God, after acknowledging our character defects and shortcomings. We come to worship to receive the means of grace, word and sacrament. We come to be fed for our human journey as spiritual beings. Thirdly, we read scripture. Yes, we read the Book of Faith to find out what God wishes for us to do, but, more importantly, we read the Bible to find Jesus. Wishing to follow him, we look for his presence in history and in our lives. Being fed by these three, we joyously serve. As Paul said, through love we become slaves to one another. We generously give. As people have said to me, “Pastor, I know that everything I receive comes from God; therefore before I do anything else, I give a proportion of what I receive back to God. And then, the sixth mark is to seek spiritual friendships. We come together to worship, we enjoy fellowship after worship, we experience get-togethers, such as “The Lunch Bunch,” we work together on our parade entry, we participate in the vision retreat, and we consider being in the spiritual retreat. All of these are ways to set our face toward Jesus Christ.

We all desire to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These help us to experience the reign of God. When we are able to do so, we can shout out, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”

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