Posts Tagged ‘Galatians’

Feelin’ Fruity
6.27.10 Pentecost6c
Galatians 5:1, 13-25

This is perhaps the best known passage in the whole book of Galatians. Like we do out of so many other passages that we love, countless needlepoints and posters have been made out of the wise words that we’re offered here. We love hearing about freedom, and the “fruits of the spirit” makes a nice bible school lesson for which we can cut out fruit shapes and more or less call it a day.

But I wonder if this passage says all that we think it does?

As I was looking at it again this week, the very first thing I noticed is that nowhere (at least in the translation I was studying) does the word “from” appear. I might be the only person in here who gets worked up about grammar, but this little tiny thing is actually pretty big when you think about it. When we think about freedom, we always seem to think of it as if we have been “freed from” something. Next Sunday, we’ll celebrate our independence. That is to celebrated that we’ve been freed from the tyranny of another country’s rule. When teenagers are finally released from being grounded, they’ll say something like “I’m finally free!” That is, they are freed from that punishment that they are certain is too harsh. Even in Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, he said, “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we’re free at last.” What he was talking about was being freed from the oppression of racial division. Think about it for a second. Most of the examples you can think of that regard any sort of freedom are freedom from things.

Hmmm… but oddly, Paul doesn’t mention that we are freed from anything. (It sure might have made my sermon easier if that’s the move he made!) That makes me think about a couple of things. First of all, Paul doesn’t make any empty promises about how easy our Christian life is going to be– as if we’re free from all these things of the world that are such a pain. And besides that, he doesn’t leave any room for excuses. There’s no way we can twist his words into a scapegoat for ourselves as if we could say, “Nuh-uh… I’ve been set free…that doesn’t apply to me.” But the other thing that Paul’s grammar makes me think is that there must be different types of freedom. Maybe the “From Freedoms” are the political sort.

And if that’s the case, then maybe the “For Freedoms” are a spiritual sort of freedom. For what could we be set free? For service, for love, for being real and genuine Christians.

Christian Freedom
I guess that makes me ask the question “What is Christian Freedom?” If you look closely at Paul’s words, as he talks about making ourselves slaves to one another, we get the idea that Christian freedom isn’t exactly a “whatever suits your fancy” sort of freedom.
First of all, we’d tend to think of freedom maybe as an absence of the things that tie us down. When Donovan was out of town last week, several people (let’s be honest…of course they were all men) said that Donovan was probably having the time of his life. Footloose and wife-free in Atlanta. He could eat all the terrible food he wanted, he could park my car in all the places in which my doors are likely to get more dinged up. Heck, he could even drive faster than the speed limit, which his old woman of a wife won’t let him do. Yep…that sounds pretty darn free.

But Christian freedom isn’t the absence of the things that encumber us. Christian Freedom, in a lot of ways, is more a characteristic of the relationships we’re in. And it becomes especially apparent as a result of our relationship with Christ. Christian Freedom, I think, shapes the way we love our neighbors. What’s interesting about this Christian version of freedom are the opportunities presented to us. With this freedom, we can either focus on ourselves, or we can use it as an opportunity to focus on others. We can allow the things on Paul’s list of no-no’s (or the things that we do that should be on a no-no list) to rule our lives, or we can be free to love and serve Christ, trusting that God will work out the details. We can bear the sweet, sweet fruits of the spirit, or we can watch as that sweet fruit turns to soured wine.

Paul asks the impossible of us: to stay away from a whole list of things that are quite common to our world. But here’s the catch: we can’t do it on our own. The fact that we have sense enough to run away from those things is nothing short of a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work is about transforming us to a newness of life, shaking us up from our own stubborn, hard-heartedness. The fruits of the spirit are gifts to us, but they are more than the results of being guided by the Spirit in ways that allow us to completely love our neighbors as ourselves. The Spirit shapes us through these “Fruits of the Spirit” so that we become people to whom these fruits taste sweet.

Conclusion– Bearing the fruits
I had a whole sermon written, at least in my head, but then Donovan and I watched a movie this week that, in a lot of ways, rocked my world. And I think the clip I’m going to show says it a lot better than I could. The movie is called “Amish Grace”, which admittedly is a “Lifetime Movie”, but it really blew my mind that people could actually be like this. Perhaps some of you remember the shootings in the Amish community at Nickel Mines a few years ago. A shooter came into the school, sent all the boys away, and held a number of girls hostage– for reasons you can only imagine. But before the day was finished, he shot and killed five of those girls, before turning the gun on himself.

Imagine how you’d feel if you were in that community. Imagine how you’d feel if one of those girls was your daughter or sister or friend. What would your first actions be? As I thought about my own response, I’m pretty sure I’d be in shock. Then maybe overcome by grief, and probably finally, filled with rage–at the gunman, maybe even at God. Oh, I’m sure over the next months and years, I’d work really hard at finding a peace about the whole thing.

I guess that’s why the Amish community’s response blew me away and drove me to tears–because what they did is definitely not something I could do. The very same day as the shootings, a group of Amish men–including one father whose daughter was killed– went to the wife of the shooter’s house and expressed their sorrow for her loss. But more than that, they offered her complete and utter forgiveness on behalf of the community.

I wonder if you’re thinking that forgiveness like that is cheap or “easy”. That’s the question we see raised as a mother who lost her daughter becomes irate at her husband’s actions when he went to the shooter’s wife’s house. The man and woman get in an argument, and the woman makes a statement about how his actions of forgiveness cheapen her daughter’s life. But the man, as he starts crying, responds that forgiveness at this time is one of the hardest things he’s done, and it’s not easy at all. He says, “It is NOT easy. The Lord does not set us on an easy path. Faith, when everything is as you want it to be, is not true faith. It is only when our lives are falling apart that we have the chance to make our faith real.”

But the place in this movie that touched me the most is right here. (And this is near the end– but even if you know this part, you still need to see the movie.) Here you see the mom who has been so angry–especially at the shooter’s widow who is in the plaid shirt here, among other parents that lost girls in the tragedy. Watch and see how the fruits of the Spirit not only allow something so amazing, but how the fruit of the Spirit starts to taste sweet to those who embrace it.

[Show Clip]

Did you see that? That whole section just absolutely blows my mind, and I guess it struck me as especially powerful as I’ve been thinking about both the fruits of the spirit, and Paul’s words, “For Freedom, Christ has set you free.”

How free those people really were! They freedom they show us– freedom from needing to hate and worry about how things will wind up– isn’t necessarily necessarily what we think of when we think of freedom. These people were completely free to trust in Christ. And because of that “For Freedom”, they were able to bear beautiful fruits of the spirit. Our real freedom is evidenced by our character– and that is shown by the fruit we bear.

The Message phrases some of the words from the text we read earlier in this way: “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

May it be so! Over and over, on every day, may it be so. Amen.


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What Not to Wear
Father’s Day/Pentecost 5c
Galatians 3:23-29

You don’t necessarily have to rush to agree with this, but I’m not much of a clothes or makeup person. They’ve never really held great amounts of interest for me, and if you happen to see me during the week, there’s a good chance that I won’t have any make up on. And bless your heart if you happen to see me “out” when I’m away from the church, especially on my days off. If I’ve managed to get out of the house without Donovan seeing me, there’s a good chance my hair is pulled back in a sloppy ponytail, and my standard uniform of a T-shirt and jeans and some well worn flip-flops. If, by chance, Donovan has seen me, I might look a little better because he regularly lets me know that I can’t go out “like that”.

There’s a relatively new show that’s come out, and I guess it’s there for people like me. It’s called “What Not to Wear”, and while it’s not exactly high quality programming, I’ve become pretty well fascinated by it. The hosts, Stacey and Clinton, will take an unsuspecting person–who has been nominated by their well-meaning friends and family– and they will go through the person’s whole wardrobe, often making terribly insulting comments about their clothing choices. They usually wind up throwing away 90-95% of a person’s clothing. But then, Stacey and Clinton teach the person what kind of things will work with their lifestyle and body shape, and then the person is given a card with $5,000 on it to go buy new clothes. There’s only one catch: the person has to shop according to the “rules” Stacey and Clinton have given them.

I’d like to believe that if I were given a set of rules about what I could and could not wear, that I might become style conscious. Heck, who knows, but with the guidance of someone, I might even become fashionable. But maybe I’d be happier if we all wore uniforms of some sort– that way I didn’t have to work at it.

Maybe that’s why I like this passage so much. This passage suggests a covering that makes us one: Christ.

Probably many of you can’t quite imagine what that’s like, unless you have been somewhere that required a uniform of you, where you pretty much looked the same as everyone else. When I was in high school, they instituted a “standardized dress” policy, where we didn’t have uniforms exactly, but there were only a very few things we could wear. We could wear only khaki or navy pants or skirts, and only solid color shirts with a collar. Shirts were to always be tucked in, and we were always to have a belt– and there were no exceptions to these rules.

The ideas behind the standardized dress were clear: no one could really stand out because we were all the same. A walmart polo shirt looked about the same as a big name brand shirt (or at least that’s what the adults told us.) And in the days of school shootings, in theory, it should be pretty easy to tell who wasn’t one of us. Certainly, we complained. What kid wants to be told what they can and can’t wear? What kid wants to have their wings clipped just as they are starting to become their own people? Besides that, all of us could definitely tell the difference between a walmart shirt and a big name shirt, and all the “in” kids still wore the good names.

But the interesting thing was that it did make us more closely one. Clothes weren’t as big of a deal, and we quit talking about who was wearing what, because we were all wearing the same thing. Even those of us with less fashion sense more or less blended in with those who could wear even a garbage bag fashionably.

Don’t get me wrong– we were still quite divided as every high school is. We still had the art kids and the band kids and the football players and the cheerleaders and all the other groups, but it was pretty hard to tell us apart if you weren’t a part of the atmosphere. And if we were asked to evaluate the plan after graduation, most of us, I think, would admit that maybe the new dress code did make us one body in some ways.

What’s most important about our common faith?
I heard a colleague of mine talking about an experience he had one day where he was in a particularly contentious environment (full of church leaders, no less). Things were getting heated and no one was being especially rational. And finally one of the leaders of that group stopped everyone and said, “What’s most important about our common faith?”

I really can’t imagine this working the way it does, because my guess would be that a question like that would cause more division. Maybe it would be worship? Maybe good theology? The room became completely silent, but slowly people began whispering their best guess: Christ, one by one they said it. And little by little, folks realized that they had completely lost sight of what’s important.

That’s such a profound statement to me, because some times we forget. We get wrapped up in all the ways that we are different, especially when people don’t agree with us, and we forget that Christ is our center. But more than that, we lose sight of the fact that that our most profound differences are nothing compared to the power of Christ to reconcile all things.

Paul is so frustrated with this fledgling church at Galatia. And the heart of his message lies in one of the verses we read today: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul has a vision of what the church could be: one body with a single vision. And he is so frustrated that people are getting dragged down in small little battles that are really inconsequential to the mission of the church, which is to proclaim Christ.

The differences that divide
I’ve been thinking about this letter and about the categories that Paul thinks the church divides themselves into. Slave or free, Jew or Greek… except for the Male and Female groups, we don’t really worry about the other groups that he names. But just because we don’t divide ourselves the way he names doesn’t mean we are off the hook. I wonder how this church, and the larger church divides itself? Young or Old, Wealthy or poor, Republican or Democrat, Baptist or Presbyterian…of course the list goes on…and on…and on…

What if Paul were to say to us “ There is no young nor old, no wealthy or poor, no republican or democrat, for as many of you as were baptized in Christ are one”? I wonder if we’d get upset? In some ways, we’re proud of who we are and the people we associate with. Most of us would think that those things make us the people we are, and if we eliminate those lines…well, who are we?

But as I’ve read back over this passage, and looked at the original language, and what other people have said, I’m not entirely sure Paul is trying to do away with those groups. I don’t think Paul minds us being a part of the groups that we think we fit in, but what really irritates Paul is when those things become our identifiers. Because if our identity is in those things, then all there can be is division– there is never a hope for anything more. But if our identity is in Christ, then what have we to be divided over?

That sounds great, but truth be told, it’s probably one of those things that’s “easier said than done”. I came across a great quote as I was studying this week (and wish I had thought of it myself.) The writer says this, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been difficult and left untried…When will the church proclaim its life giving truth to the world rather than cannibalize itself by targeting its own members, weakening its own witness from within?”

Gosh, put in those terms, the ways that we war over our differences really becomes glaring. That author called the church “cannibals”–as if to say we might just eat each other. I’ve definitely never thought about it like that, but the lady is right. When we worry so much about our differences, we “eat” into not only our resources but our proclamation that Christ is Lord.

What Not to Wear
I started my sermon by talking about one of my favorite shows, “What Not to Wear” and how I wished someone would give me some fashion rules. Maybe in some ways, Paul does offer us some rules about the things we should be wearing, because he sees that the things we ourselves would choose to put on are causing problems and division in the community.

Maybe as we’re looking at this whole of Galatians and the larger body of Paul’s writings, we can find some things that we are never to wear. Only Paul isn’t so much interested in whether we’re wearing baggy blouses or tailored pants. Paul’s rules on what not to wear would probably look something like this:
No meanness
No big egos
No haughtiness
No lack of patience
No judgmentalism
No narrowmindedness

I could go on, but my guess is that if you thought about it, you’d really already know. You’d know there’s a favorite article of “clothing” that you insist on wearing, even though it’s most definitely on the “what not to wear” list. Just like we do with actual clothing, when we have “go to” clothes that we wear and wear, we do the same things with certain attitudes. On the show, the hosts every now and then will like an article of clothing, but they’ll look at it and shake their heads and say, “It’s just worn out.”

As Paul stands with us today, imagine that he could see what you’re really wearing–that he could somehow see through the cloak of niceness we all put on. Would he look at our attitudes and say, “Eeeek…that just doesn’t fit” or “Wow, you’ve really worn that one out”?

So Paul invites us to something different. He invites us to trash those worn out and ill fitting attitudes, and instead clothe ourselves with Christ. I wonder what that could mean? As I’ve been wrestling with that, here’s an idea I have. Maybe every morning as each of us are getting dressed for the day, we could make a conscious and conscientious effort to take off those things on the what not to wear list– that’s a good place to start. But we have to wear something, even as far as attitudes are concerned. So what if we made a conscious and conscientious effort to put on Christ? That is, what if we put on niceness, and acceptance, and love, and patience, and inclusion. What if, on every single day, we put on the uniform of Christ–the uniform that lets people know who we are and what we’re about.

If our worn out, unbecoming, and ill-fitting attitudes towards each other are causing division, what might happen if we worked really hard at clothing ourselves instead with the thing that fits us best: Christ?

Gosh, the church might just become the thing we were created to be: a beautiful conglomeration of all people who have one goal– to tell everyone we meet about the amazing things Christ has done for us.


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