6/26/2016 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Galatians 5:1,13-25.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Gary Carver writes about one of his favorite stories. It is about Abraham Lincoln as “he emerges from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. It seems that Stephen Douglas had accused Lincoln of being two-faced. To which the rail splitter responded, “So, I am two-faced. Let me ask you. If I had two faces, do you suppose that I would have chosen to wear this one?” Lincoln, who certainly was no George Clooney, used his appearance and self-deprecating humor to endear himself to others and potential voters in particular. But, Lincoln was not without concern for his looks as he actually grew his familiar beard late in life because a young girl had remarked that he might look better with one. So, our looks and appearance are significant whether we are a politician, movie star, or regular folks like us.
“In fact, we can become too occupied with our looks, as evidenced by the fact that various generations have sought to look like specific personalities. I remember my parents talking about a time when everyone wanted to look like Gary Cooper or Lauren Bacall. I remember well the time when everyone longed to look like Elvis or Elizabeth Taylor with her funny-looking eyes in Cleopatra. Shortly thereafter we were wearing our hair longer like the Beatles or dressing like Janis Joplin. Then there was Madonna and Princess Diana. Who is it today? Brittany Spears, J-Lo, or Regis? I am so out of style, I do not know. But isn’t it fascinating how we model ourselves after a model or personality who has the current “look”? Equally amazing is how an entire decade can take on a certain look! Just watch a movie made in the ’60s with its long hair, bell-bottoms, and polyester galore! We are all prone to fall slave to the opinions of others.
“The bottom line is that we are free to choose how we look, not just on the outside but on the inside as well. Someone has said, “What you look like at 25 is nature’s choice. What you look like at 45 is your own.” We have the freedom to choose, even how we look. Too, we must bear the responsibility of the results of our choices.” [Sermon by Gary L. Carver based on Galatians 5:1, 13-23 excerpted from Sermons On The Second Readings: Series I, Cycle C (SermonStudio)]
Paul is well aware that there is an internal conflict between flesh and spirit raging within each of us as he writes, “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.” As free children of God, we have choices and our choices do more than govern the way we look. What we do with our freedom can actually destroy community if it leads to legalism or permissiveness. My freedom is not to infringe upon the freedom of another, instead it takes up where yours leaves off. In Christ we are free. We are free to accept his invitation to enter the whole new world he has created where there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. As equals, we are free to live in a community of redemptive love. But it’s not easy to live in this fashion when we live in a world governed not by the love of Christ, but by the powers of the flesh. For while we are free to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, there are those who would exploit these things and use them for their own gain.
In a perfect world, that wouldn’t happen. Kindness would beget kindness. Patience would beget patience. Gentleness would beget gentleness. Peace would beget peace. But we don’t live in a perfect world and that creates a dilemma for us who belong to Christ.
That is the dilemma the people of the United Kingdom faced when they went to the polls this week. They voted to leave the European Union in order to protect their freedom, but also to create a barrier between them and those who seek to enter their country in order to harm. Would Paul call them unchristian because of this vote? Some would say so. But in his letter to the Galatians Paul isn’t addressing issues of immigration or the threat of terrorism or national pride or the strain that a large influx of people can have on the economy. Paul is addressing the people of Galatia who don’t understand that the freedom we have in Christ is not a blanket permission to do whatever we want. He is addressing the freedom that we have as forgiven and beloved people of God to live by the Spirit and to bear the fruits of the Spirit. Our freedom is such that we love our neighbors and we treat them as we want to be treated, and we don’t use them in order to gratify our desires.
The freedom we have in Christ is to govern the way in which we interact with others and the way we live out our lives. In freedom, we are not jealous of others and what they have. We refrain from drunkenness and carousing. We don’t look at another person and use him or her as an object of our sexual desires. We are slow to anger and stay away from quarrels and dissensions. Instead, we live by the Spirit and let the Spirit guide us as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.
Is this a tall order? Of course it is. Is it impossible? Without God’s help, it is, but with God’s help through the Holy Spirit, all things are possible, including a change in attitude and behavior.
So, we are free in Christ Jesus…free to live according to the Spirit. We are free to put God as number one and not idolize anything or anyone else. We are free to experience the joy of living without envy. We are free to look for the best in people. We are free in Christ Jesus.
May we use our freedom wisely. And, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.