On this Sunday before Independence Day our second reading from Galatians is timely. It’s a celebration of freedom! The freedoms we enjoy are not to be taken for granted. On the other hand, Independence Day is an exclusive celebration. On Thursday the picnics and parades and fireworks we will enjoy are all about us: our country, our history, our people.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For Christians, the freedoms we celebrate as a nation pale in comparison to the freedom described by St. Paul. The message of today’s readings is proclaimed, as you see on your bulletin cover, from the corner of Christian Liberty (+). The message we proclaim is not exclusive. The gospel of Jesus Christ is inclusive. The invitation to freedom that we proclaim has in mind all people. As Paul writes in last week’s reading from Galatians, There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
The freedom of Jesus Christ is a freedom that in last week’s gospel story led Jesus into a foreign land, not to convert, but to offer hope and healing. The freedom of Christ leads him in today’s reading again through foreign lands, this time through the land of the Samaritans. Jesus walks among outsiders, risking rejection. And indeed, he is rejected by the local people. Angry at this snub, his disciples ask him, Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?
You see, the disciples still hadn’t grasped Christian freedom. They hadn’t yet found the corner of Christian Liberty (+). They were still living as slaves, stuck in human ways of thinking that divide the world into clean and unclean. Their allegiance was still to one nation, one language, one religion, one way of doing things. In response to this “us and them” thinking, Jesus turns and rebukes his disciples.
Christians stand firm at the corner of Christian Liberty (+). This is not some out-of-the-way place impossible to find. Christian freedom is not some difficult idea reserved for scholars and geniuses. No, Jesus keeps it simple: To embrace Christian Liberty means, as Paul writes to the Galatians, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. And then, Paul adds, If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Christian freedom, writes Paul, doesn’t mean doing whatever you like. It doesn’t even mean doing what you think is right. Live not according to your own needs, Paul writes, but live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. In our sex-obsessed nation, when we hear “desires of the flesh” our minds go straight to sex. When Paul speaks of the “flesh” he does include sex, as in v.19: fornication, impurity, licentiousness.
He adds to that list idolatry and sorcery, and later, drunkenness and carousing. So far, so good, right? It’s a list that most of us can assign to other people. But listen to what comes next. The “desires of the flesh” include: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy. These, too, are “of the flesh.”
Even if we’re able to admit to these weaknesses we may be quick to justify ourselves. In today’s story from Luke, one person asks to follow Jesus; another, Jesus invites to follow. Both are eager to follow, but not immediately, and not on Jesus’ terms. First, let me go bury my father, says one. Let me first say farewell to those at my home, says another.
Well, what do you think? Those sound like pretty good reasons to me. Notice they’re about commitment to one’s family. “Honor your father and mother.”
St. Paul teaches that strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, and envy are not of God. And yet, how easy it is for us to make excuses not to follow Jesus, and our reasons sound to us just as good and reasonable as those who asked to say good-bye to family. If we’re angry, we say, it’s for good reason. I have a right to be. It’s someone else’s fault. Well, maybe you’re right. Or, maybe Jesus is right. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. Or, as Paul puts it, I am warning you… those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But freedom is not about following rules. Or, as Paul says, Christian Liberty is not about following the law. It’s about freedom. You can’t be angry and free at the same time. You can’t be jealous or envious, and be free at the same time. Every minute of every day we’re forced to choose: Freedom, or not.
What does it mean to live free? There is, as the sign at the corner of Christian Liberty (+) says, ONE WAY: By contrast [to anger, dissensions, envy], he says, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is true freedom.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is about freedom—a deep and abiding freedom that doesn’t depend primarily on the circumstances of our lives or the choices of other people. We are called to stand firm at the corner of Christian Liberty (+). It’s our job to live this kind of freedom and to invite the world to experience and embrace this kind of freedom.
This is why what we do on Sunday morning is so important. It is here that we remember who we are. It is here that we name the fruits of the Spirit, identify where we see the fruits of the Spirit and celebrate the fruits of the Spirit. We need to do this each week because as soon as we go out those doors the world will try to pound into us a different definition of freedom. Freedom, we’re told, is about protecting my individual rights. But gospel freedom is not about rights; it’s not about you or me. To stand at the corner of Christian Liberty (+) is to live for the other person, as Paul teaches: Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the ONE WAY to Christian freedom.
There’s a lot at stake in our Sunday morning worship. The world will try to pound into us a different definition of freedom. Freedom, we’re told, is to be found in financial independence. But you know from experience, and you see all around you, that money can’t buy you love. Or joy. Or patience. Or gentleness. Or self-control. In fact, chances are good that the more wealth we have the harder it will be to live at the corner of Christian Liberty (+). The harder it it may be to experience the fruits of the Spirit. If we live by the Spirit, Paul says, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Dear Friends in Christ, you were created to be free people. This is good news! Hear God’s Word. Take this meal. Let it fortify you and embolden you in the week ahead to stand at the corner of Christian Liberty (+), for all the world to see.