Beresheth Experiential Worship: Tonight's Sermon. Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Oh Galatians, you are a tricky, tricky text.
We read you and we want to run out into the streets dancing naked, chinking our beer mugs together with one another over and over again, toasting and singing of freedom while we kiss the people around us as our love overflows from our hearts and often from our loins and we revel in our freedom in Christ.
Or maybe that’s just what the Irish do when facing freedom from the British.
I’m not sure.
It happens, upon occasion, that Christians (often teenagers or maybe seminary students) speak of freedom in Christ as they get obliterated on Bud Light or their parents old bottle of vodka that they found in the back of the glass cabinet, stowed away for that special occasion that never came.
“Freedom in Christ” kids say as they head off to college to really live the life they always wanted but never had, oppressed for 18 years in their parents loving homes: sex, beer, frat parties, bad mouthing professors and skipping class. Don’t hold me back, I’ve got freedom in Christ!
I’m exaggerating of course. Most of the college kids I know have more sense than to screw a bunch of people, get an STD and flunk out of school.
Still, you know the sentiment I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. Our God is a forgiving God and temptation towards the ways of this world are, well, tempting, and it’s not like its easy to be good and model humility and live simply all the time.
Gossiping is fun
Vulgarity is funny
Pride is a right
Gluttony is cultural
Judging others is easy
Hating them is even easier
I actually know very few Christians superficial enough to actually adhere to the mantra, “if we know we’re going to be forgiven anyway then why not…?” It’s infantile reasoning that makes God out to be a bi-partisan forgiver, roped into a covenant of forgiveness that She can’t get out of.
Rather, the more mature Christian response to God’s abundant forgiveness and the freedom we receive in Christ often concerns questions of balance. If everything God made is good, and if alcohol is good, and if it is only our abuse of alcohol that wreaks havoc on the world, then how do we maintain a healthy balance of delighting in the goodness of God’s beer made by the Monks in Belgium while keeping ourselves and others healthy and safe? If sex is a spiritual intimacy given to us by God, how do we participate in something that is good and fun, and keep ourselves in check that we are not using others or objectifying the people around us? If our land guarantees everyone certain inalienable rights, how does that affect the way we vote?
Ugh. I hate this sermon. I hate talking about things like alcohol and sex and cursing and all the other token things that the church has confiscated to judge the world and even it’s own Christians. I hate talking about the law and freedom because the church has corrupted these issues, using them as a litmus test for whether or not people are actually Christians. The church in the last thirty years has begun to use what we do or don’t do as an abacus to calculate who’s “in” and who’s “out.” I hate the legalism of it. I hate the fundamentalism of it. I just hate it. And such methodologies is why the world hates the church.
And rightfully so.
“You whitewashed tombs!,” Jesus screamed at the pharisees. How dare you judge a woman for getting an abortion and yet you don’t adopt children, you don’t foster parent, you don’t sponsor kids through international agencies, nor do you volunteer in orphanages overseas. You don’t vote for universal healthcare for children, and you don’t write your representatives advocating better education standards and textbooks in our schools. Shame on you, you whitewashed tombs! You appear so pious and righteous and clean and noble on the outside, but on the inside you are dead and rotting because nothing has changed!
We adopt superficial standards for how we should behave as Christians and fail to allow ourselves to really be changed by Christ… which takes time!
Almost all the great (and terrible) theologians would say sanctification takes time. But when we submit ourselves to Christ’s way that asks us to be resurrected daily to new life, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to love our God by loving our neighbor, then the fruit of the Spirit - the repercussions of allowing the Holy Spirit of God to teach us, begin to inform the decisions we make, the lives we lead and communities we serve. And that fruit is as apparent to the people around us as the big red apples growing in an orchard of trees.
Who cares if we smoke, or drink, or have sex before we’re married, or dance, or play cards, or work on Sunday, or vote Democrat, or fill in the blank…?
Wanna know if you’re free to drink as a follower of Christ? Well, does drinking give birth to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Or, wanna know if you should cut back on drinking? Use the same criteria. Wanna know if it’s “okay” to vote democrat or vote republican as a faithful Christian? Well, do the platforms for the issues promote love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Wanna know if you should date a certain person? Well, does that person inspire you to live life more abundantly in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
Jesus speaks often of the Kingdom of God which, I believe, He asks us to help usher in here and now. God lives in us right here and right now making us residents of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Creating the kingdom means creating a world birthed out of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And if that language is too flowery for you, let me put it another way.
There’s no “kingdom of God” in objectifying others, so no matter what our sexual inclinations, we must make sure above all that respect, love, kindness and faithfulness guide our love lives. There’s no “kingdom of God” in oppressing the people around us - immigrants or citizens, aliens or residents - so make sure acceptance and peace and generosity define our hospitality. There’s no “kingdom of God” in spending every Saturday trying to remember what happened the night before while our day is sacrificed to the toilet and a bottle of Gatorade, so let us take care that self-awareness, joy, and self-control define how much is too much. There’s no “kingdom of God” in buying and buying and buying more and more things and gadgets and toys so that our families suffer from our overindulgence. Rather, our communities should benefit from our generosity and self-control.
If you’re coping or compensating or creating an exaggerated world to replace the one you actually live in then you can be sure you’re not living in freedom. Freedom isn’t a tangled web of lies that forces us to remember who we’ve told what to and worry if the truth will come out. That’s too complicated to be freedom. Freedom isn’t taking advantage of everyone around you because, by God, it’s your right to be happy and successful and in charge of your life and your future. Freedom isn’t infringing on the rights of others so you can enjoy your own. Freedom isn’t hiding, or worse yet, forging who you are because you are afraid the world won’t accept you. Freedom isn’t hurting yourself and everyone else along the way because you’ve got parents who will always bail you out or a God who will always be with you.
I don’t care how much alcohol you drink or how much sex you have or if you vote Republican (well, maybe I do care just a little). But what I really care about is what Jesus Christ advocated: that your inside matches your outside, that the love and mercy God shows you you will show yourself and others, that the freedom you intellectualize is the freedom you feel. All the rest will fall into place when freedom reigns.
We must allow our fruit to demonstrate our freedom and we must free ourselves to live fully and abundantly in the Spirit.
And who knows, maybe in the process of freeing ourselves, we’ll free God too…