Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Fruits of Freedom: July 4, 2010

In an effort to boost recording signal, so the Dragon software might work better, I tried the counter-intuitive approach of turning the recording level to low. What I got was a recording of such low level I couold not even hear it with all the software's boosters. the software certainly could make no sense of it, so this sermon is a reconstruction from memory of what I said last weekend. The learning curve continues!
Galatians 5: 13-26

“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.”

Did you know that the area that Paul is writing to, Galatia, in what we know as North Central Turkey, is named after the Celts? Apparently the story goes that some petty king or another hired mercenaries from central Germany to come down and do his fighting for him, and those german tribesmen were Celts. This may have even been before the Celts had moved west far enough to have settled Ireland. But that’s why Galatia is named that; Greek for Celt.

There’s your Bible study for the day.

The issue that Paul is addressing in Galatia is one of how to follow Christ. Paul had founded the church in Galatia, and now, other believers, with a slightly different outlook on how to follow Christ, have come along and taught the Galatians that one of the ways that you must follow Christ is to live like Christ—observe the festivals he observed, follow the rules, eat the way he ate. Paul has gotten wind of this, and has written back, in this letter, to address the issues that these “judaisers” have created.

It centers on Freedom. Yes, Jesus has freed us from the law. You don’t have to keep kosher. You don’t have to observe Passover. You get a sense that Paul’s point, stated simply is that in Christ, you can live the way jesus told us to, not as Jesus did.

As followers of Christ, Paul is saying, we have become free from the rules society has placed on us. We are not bound by our economic or social status, we are free to associate with Christians of all stripes.

What freedom doesn’t mean is to be able to live however you want, to indulge in every want and desire, knowing that we have still been forgiven in grace. The “works of the flesh” are even listed by Paul in the text.

So freedom still carries with it a responsibility, by Paul’s way of thinking.

Which brings me to today, the 4th of July, American Independence Day. And we talk about freedom an awful lot, too. But what kind of freedom is it?

For me, I think back to the history I was taught, and one of the things that Americans have always valued is the ability to make our own choices. We will live where we want, if we are willing to work for it-clearing the trees, planting the crops, or working in the factory hard enough to buy a our own house. We value being able to go to the church we prefer, choose the mate we want, raise our kids the way we think is the best.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about Self-Reliance, and I seem to remember my teachers referring to that essay as a supporting document of the ability of Americans to be able to make our own choices. That it is necessary and valuable for Americans to make their own way as much as possible.

And so, I think, it is.

But what troubles me is that Paul seems to speak of freedom a little differently.

Americans seem to claim to be free to make their own way, to forge their own path, and to heck with the people around them. At least that’s how it seems to be taken today. But in Paul’s thought Christians are free to be able to follow Christ, and care for God’s people in the way they see fit.

But they are not free to follow their baser desires. Or stated more accurately, they will not evidence the Spirit of God if they choose to use their freedom in ways that do not produce the fruits of the spirit, and that is their call, as it is ours today; to live our lives in such a way as to show God’s love as much as possible.

When you try to observe national holidays in religious contexts, it is always a bit like running a rapid. It’s an uneasy bit of paddling, with certain hazards that aren’t always visible threatening to gash your boat. If you ignore the holiday completely, certain people are offended. If you turn the elements of worship over to national symbols too easily, you threaten to worship a nation rather than God in Jesus Christ. And if you wrap the two together inappropriately, you look as if you have made America into the new Israel, the new chosen nation. And for some folks, that just fine. But it is wrong.

We hear talk an awful lot about America being a Christian nation. But if we look at the bedrock values Americans hold as their basic freedoms, and then look at the fruits of the spirit that Paul lists in today’s scripture passage, I do not see one flowing from the other.

The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Given what we understand as American freedoms, how is that “America is a Christian Nation” idea working out, these days?

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