Alternative Ways to Worship
You can watch our Sunday Morning Worship on our Facebook site, or on our YouTube Channel.
First Presbyterian Church Worship – 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 6/28/20
“We Are Here To Help You in Your Walk With God.”
Sermon for Anyone in the Presbytery
From the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area
Scripture: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Theme: The Fruits of Flesh & Spirit
5 1 Christ has set us free for freedom. Therefore, stand firm and don’t submit to the bondage of slavery again.
13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love. 14 All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.[a] 15 But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other! 16 I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. 17 A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. 18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. 19 The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, 20 idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, 21 jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.
A couple of thoughts with you, if I might,
on this shared, if accidental, confluence
of religion and culture,
courtesy of a day on the calendar—
we call it Memorial Day—
and a core word from today’s text: freedom.
In the United States, of course, when we hear the word freedom,
we hear it most often in political and patriotic terms:
And even if, practically, what this weekend
has become is simply the
unofficial beginning of summer,
Memorial Day was and still is a day
to remember the sacrifices it took
to gain freedom for and in this country.
And what we mean by freedom.
We are the land of the free,
and because we are free, we say,
we have the ability to do what we want.
This idea, and ideal, of freedom, has been at the
core of the current debate about staying at home
or opening-up our states.
But truth be told, the concept of freedom originates
neither in the Declaration of Independence
nor in American individualism or exceptionalism,
but in the very heart of God.
In the beginning, God created women and men
with the full capacity and the responsibility to act,
not a puppets or pre-programmed entities,
but as free moral agents.
The desire for freedom is a function of the human spirit,
its source is nothing less
than the free will of the Living God.
But freedom, as we know, carries responsibility,
and freedom exercised in community
often can create conflict and anxiety.
As it did in the fledgling church in Galatia,
where freedom in theory formed the core of their belief,
but freedom in practice
had deeply divided this early church.
In their case, the presenting issue was circumcision—
Would it be required or not of those new followers of Jesus?
There were those who believed that freedom meant
freedom from the law and its strictures,
That included a release from the requirement
Of circumcision, to be sure, but more than that,
Freedom was license to do whatever you pleased;
individual desires and beliefs were
the greatest consideration, amidst
whatever other considerations there might be.
Another camp in the church in Galatia, however,
thought it remained imperative
to temper any freedom with the
requirements of religious ritual,
the most significant of which was circumcision.
For that group, freedom was constrained
by the community and its rules,
as it had always been and always should be.
It was a light-switch argument: either on or off.
One way or the other.
Right or wrong.
Individual choice or group requirement.
Does this sound at all familiar, by the way,
in this age of COVID-19 and the debates
over stay-at-home or opening up?
This way, or that way.
It was tearing the church in Galatia apart,
In ways similar to debates
tearing our own society apart.
Enter the apostle Paul,
who could take one side or another,
but instead chooses a third way.
You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;
This is who you are.
Who God created you to be.
Only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity
to indulge your selfish impulses,
but serve each other through love.
All the Law has been fulfilled in a single statement:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Freedom as love for another.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, Paul concluded
this portion of his letter by telling the Galatians,
exactly what God’s freedom looks like in real life:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
We have come to know those nine qualities
as the fruit of the Spirit.
All that I could have said years ago.
It’s what scholars and faithful believers
through the ages have said about
this passage from Galatians.
But it’s not years ago, or even months ago.
and boy, has our world changed.
That’s the debate we’re having all around us, of course.
What does freedom mean in a world of COVID-19?
What does freedom look like on Memorial Day 2020?
It would be easy to frame this text,
And especially on a weekend dedicated to freedom,
the same way we frame so much
of our lives and points of view:
through the lens of a deeply polarized society
battling not simply a pandemic, but each other.
Your task is simply to choose which side you’re on,
And for good measure, to demonize the other.
That’s not Paul’s frame, nor is it his answer.
Not to the church at Galatia, nor to us.
To be truly free, Paul is saying,
is to be able to move beyond the self;
to risk love and to give of
oneself to the demand of service.
To be free, Paul argues, is to be free for responsibility,
not free from responsibility.
The need of the other is really your own need.
The suffering of the other is, in a real sense,
your own suffering.
Your freedom depends on theirs.
Four years ago,
At a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church,
one that actually met in person—
we won’t this year—
we added a document to our Book of Confessions:
the Belhar Confession.
Written in another time of crisis,
the depths of apartheid in South Africa,
it calls us as the church and its members,
to embrace not a series of individual
and intellectual beliefs,
as most of our other confessions do,
but rather to make a deep commitment to each other,
by living out the biblical themes of unity,
reconciliation, and justice.
It is a deep and profound statement.
A fruit of the Spirit statement.
That in this fractured age, there is no a better example
we can give to the world than to live out
God’s freedom through a commitment
to unity, reconciliation, and justice.
Gathered not simply as a collection of individuals,
Each accountable to her or his own desire,
As our society would have us,
But rather gathered, together, with and for each other,
as the body of Christ.
Of course, as was true for the church in Galatia,
Sorting out what freedom in Christ actually looks like
is hardly that simple.
Soaked as we are in the individualism of the 21st century,
Where freedom is walking
into a state capitol building
with an automatic weapon
because I can;
Where freedom is making as much money
as possible in whatever way possible,
because I can;
Where freedom means what I want when I want it
is finally the only thing worth fighting for.
What does love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,
and self-control look like that world?
Besides being a pushover.
From its very first,
the core of the Christian faith was never simply
to provide a place where individuals
could pursue their private spiritual agenda.
Nor was it shaped and formed simply
to provide a safe haven in which
to hide from a wicked world.
Christian faith was never something we simply choose for ourselves—
but from its very first it was an understanding
that we were chosen by God.
Chosen for a tough and insistent set of practices,
shaped by words like love and goodness and self-control. Chosen not to be some kind of passive people
who can’t do any better,
but as bold people who can.
Chosen to understand freedom is an act of will,
a commitment to act in a way that emulates Christ,
and not simply to fulfill our own yearning.
We don’t choose Christian freedom.
It chooses us.
We have over the centuries invested a lot
of time, energy, and money
in this concept of freedom.
And still, the world remains a terribly chaotic and unsettling place.
Which is how it is, and why it is, and continues to be,
that the deepest calling of Christian disciples
is to throw ourselves into this turbulent life
and world God loves so much,
with the principles and practices God has given us,
trusting that God will join us in the adventure
through all the ups and downs,
and bring us in time to the other side.
And when we, like those churches of Jesus’ first followers,
fall short yet again, then all we can do
is give thanks that Jesus takes on
our chaotic lot and joins us
in our turbulent lives,
in ways that remind us that nothing
can separate us from the love of God.
That’s true freedom.
Its Memorial Day weekend.
There is much we must remember this weekend
about sacrifice and freedom.
But if that means nothing more than getting what I want,
Then I am not free at all.
We are finally free only when we live
into the costly grace of Jesus Christ,
by loving our neighbor and being stewards
of the good fruits born of the Holy Spirit’s planting:
Freedom? It is
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
There is no law against things like this.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.