5 Pentecost, Lectionary 13
June 27, 2010
Galatians 5: 1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
“When the days were fulfilled for (Jesus) to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51
My classmate Patricia just lost her husband, Gary. It was so sudden, we have not actually heard what happened to him. The funeral will be on Monday. Patricia was late to ministry, like me, and was a firm and gentle pastor who brought relief and new direction to a congregation which had been without a pastor for nearly two years. She moved from family and home in Flagstaff to take the call in the desert of Southern California. After five years with them, she took an opportunity to do a year of chaplain residency in Texas, and she and her husband moved to San Antonio. She was just a little more than halfway through her training when this happened. She will finish her training and be eligible for a position as a hospital Chaplin in the Fall. So suddenly she has no husband, no home, no job. She has nothing to root her. Well, except for her call to serve God’s people and the Church’s commission to do it. Except for her family who is rushing to her side. Except for her colleagues who know how to hold people who face sudden death. Except for us, her far-flung classmates who hold her in prayer.
It’s hard to be a grown-up. We set a course to do what we think is right and suddenly the world changes. What’s all this talk about freedom? We are not free from the havoc that life can wreak on us. Jesus may have set his face toward the inevitable course which he chose and be able to follow through on it, but we are not like Jesus, we are just ordinary people. Jesus suddenly seems so harsh to the people who come, wanting to come along with him. He’s usually so gentle and welcoming.
Both these texts tell us that life is hard. In Paul’s community disagreement is splitting the community. After his preaching that we are all saved by our faith in God through Christ, there is ‘another Gospel’ being spread by other evangelists who say that you can’t be a real believer in Jesus without following some Jewish laws. Paul is furious at the factionalism in these congregations which had gotten along so well before. His argument is that we have all been freed from our sin through Christ’s death and resurrection. We are therefore God’s people because God loves us and chose us, not because of the rules we keep. Our humanity is the place where God meets us and changes our hearts, but it is also the place where we feel free to indulge ourselves in habits which turn out to be destructive of our bodies and our relationships. Paul gives us a list of the indulgences which separate us from God and from each other: casual sexual relationships, putting things before people, anger, thinking we’re always right, disrespecting people who are different, addictions.
But if we live by the Spirit, which transforms our humanity by love, then we enjoy the fruit of the Spirit: you see the list of this fruit. It is not separate fruits, notice, but one fruit which has all these flavors. We are shaped into something which is loving, joyful, knows peace, is patient, is kind, and generous, faithful, gentle and has self-control. This is the person who loves because God loves us. We don’t just decide to be these things, we are transformed into them through the on-going work of God’s Spirit within us. These are the gifts that God gives to create the community which is Christ’s Body in the world. “But through love we become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus words sound harsh: no one who puts his or her hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. But I think Paul gets it exactly right. Either we live by the Spirit, or we don’t. God longs to come into our hearts to transform them. God longs to bring us into loving community where we are not alone, but held and loved by the people who are slaves of God’s love. God longs to give us the joy, peace, patience which are the fruit of life in the Spirit. God calls us to join in the re-creation of the world where there is no separation between people based on race, gender, social position, but rather all are freely forgiven in Christ. Nothing that happens to us in this life can change that love or interrupt the power of God to bring us to new life. We can stand on that.
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.