Sermon Pentecost 6
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This time of year, we hear a great deal about freedom. This week we will be celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, our ancestors declared independence from the King of England. They fought a war to get the right to govern themselves.
We will hear a lot about American freedom this week. We will remember that we can say what we think, and worship where we want, and gather with others whenever we want. We are grateful we can elect the people who run our government. American freedom is about freedom to make those choices ourselves.
In our second lesson, Paul talks about our freedom as Christian people. Paul uses the idea of freedom in a different way than the writers of our Declaration of Independence.
Christian freedom is not the same thing as American freedom. Many people get the two mixed up and I don’t want you to misunderstand. First of all, you never have to fight a war for Christian freedom. It is not about declaring independence. Christian freedom is not the same thing as American freedom.
When Paul talks about Christian freedom, he does not just talk about the things we are “freed from.” He talks about the things we are “freed to do.”
Let’s look at the things we are freed from:
First of all, Paul says we are freed from slavery. He doesn’t mean the kind of slavery where people own other human beings.
He is talking about slavery to sin and the demands we put on ourselves and each other. Paul starts by addressing the Christians in Galatia who were Jewish. He was talking to the legalistic ones. These were the people who loved God’s Law. These people were slaves to the rules and they looked down one everyone else who didn’t follow the rules in their Bible exactly the way they thought they ought to be followed.
We all know someone like that. We know that person who just has to make sure that Robert’s Rules are followed in every meeting. We know that person who doesn’t enjoy just playing the game because they have to measure to see if the ball was in or out. We know that person who has to show us the verse in the Bible to prove they are right.
Paul tells these people that they are not to be slaves to the law. They are not to worry so much about all the rules. Just love your neighbors.
Then Paul talks to the gentiles who were in Galatia. It seems that they have taken the idea of freedom so far, that they think whatever they want to do is fine. Paul gives them a list of sins that he has noticed are problems for them.
We know someone like that, too. We know the person who says, “I can do whatever I want as long as no one gets hurt.” We even know the person who says, “I am only hurting myself, so what’s it to you?”
Paul is very clear to these Galatians that certain behaviors do hurt our neighbors, even when we think they don’t. We may have a different list of favorite sins from the Galatians, but there are plenty of sins on our list.
Paul might just tell Americans to stop being greedy, stop using so much more than your share of the earth’s resources, stop fighting with each other, stop taking such extreme positions, and work together for the common good.
So, if following the rules rigidly is a problem for you, Christ has freed you from the rules. If doing whatever you feel like, regardless of the consequences, is a problem for you, Christ has freed you from selfishness.
So Christian freedom doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. We are freed from those things that enslave us. But, we are not just “freed from” things. We are “freed to do” the things that were never against the law.
There was a bumper sticker a number of years ago that said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
If they just looked at the surface, I think I dress the part and I work for the church. But what if they wanted more evidence?
I think I am a good person, but anyone can be a good person. You don’t have to believe in Jesus Christ to be a good person. You don’t have to believe in Jesus to help other people or give to charity. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a good parent or a good child or a good worker. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a nice person or a good friend either.
You don’t even have to be a Christian to worship or to pray. Lots of members of other religions and lots of secular humanists are good people who help their neighbors.
So how are Christians different?
Paul says we are freed to live by the Holy Spirit and be guided by the Holy Spirit.
He also says, “All of us who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” That may sound sexy, but it isn’t.
He means that when we belong to Christ, our selfish instincts die. Our selfish instincts are all those things that we want to do – without thinking about whether they are good for us or for our neighbors or for the earth.
It means that as Christians we are freed from thinking only of our selves. We are freed to think about whether our choices help our neighbors and serve the common good.
We are freed to change our minds about our choices when we have new information. We are freed to learn from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others.
We are freed to realize that the world God gave us is a complex place. We are freed to see the rules in our book of faith as rules that were written for people thousands of years ago in a different place and culture. We are freed to see that some of these rules may not have the same meaning for us as they did for them. We are freed to interpret the laws in our book of faith by asking what Jesus would do.
As Christians, we are free to live by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit guides us to do those things that are never against the law.
So, how are Christians different?
There is a small tree in the back yard of the parsonage. I didn’t realize it was an apple tree until this week, because last year there was no fruit on it. Maybe the weather interfered or maybe it is finally mature enough. This year I have lots of apples.
When we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit we will have true Christian freedom. Our lives will bear much fruit. That fruit will show what kind of tree we are.
That fruit will not look like apples or cherries or pears. It will look like love and joy. Our souls will be peaceful no matter what is going on around us. We will treat our families and neighbors and enemies with patience and kindness. We will be generous and faithful. We will be gentle and show self-control.
This is true Christian freedom. For this Christ died and rose to set us free. Thanks be to God. Amen.