Friday, May 15, 2020 The Fifth Friday in Eastertide
The dog is sitting, looking out at the ocean from the top of some steep stairs which, thirty or so yards further down, are replaced by some steep, sandy, slippery dirt. The dog is probably watching its owner surf. Waiting and waiting. Valiantly, it seems to me. No dogs allowed on the beach, officially. Last week they fenced off this neighborhood-ensconced beach access. Next day the fence sported a professional quality large-human-sized hole; as we know, some will not be told what to do and will not be fenced in. That's the beach out there, it belongs to all of us, and nobody's going to tell me not to surf. Some sit and wait. Some surf. Some dismantle fences.
We have had Paul’s letters for 2,000 years or so. We, the church, have read them and prayed through them who-knows-how-many-times. Our reading and praying have led us to wrestle within ourselves, with one another, and with God to discern ways to live out their meaning. Two-thousand years of wrestling, and the Holy Spirit continues to breathe new life into us as we bring ourselves as disciples to these scriptures.
Galatians 5 is a passage that bears this out. So although it’s a bit silly to barrage you with Galatians 5 in its entirety this morning – a sort of comical overreach – I encourage you to pause now and read this section of Paul’s letter in what’s now our usual way: PRAY
Pray for the ability to again entrust entire self to God’s care
Pray for willingness to seek God’s kingdom first, willingness in this case to respond to the scriptures as Jesus’ Spirit directs
Pray for the Holy Spirit to breathe life into you as you continue to make your way with Christ
skim Galatians 5, pause, and notice what stands out to you;
read through it more deliberately, pause, and notice;
read it out loud, slowly, and read phrases and sentences that stand out to you more than once;
make a few brief notes about what continues to hold your attention.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offence of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
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. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
Galatians 5. It’s about freedom. God saved Israel from slavery to the Egyptians; Israel plunged itself back into slavery, not once but multiple times. God saved us from slavery to the tyranny of sin and death; we plunge ourselves back into life-sucking slavery again and again. And like those in the early church who insisted that Gentiles had to become Jews to be Christians (which entailed circumcision, which is why Paul rails against circumcision here), we are inclined to insist that others consign themselves to whatever form of slavery we’d like to impose on them.
There are some angry, frightened folks who are insisting that they will not slavishly submit to government imposed shelter-in-place orders, who are demanding FREEDOM: “Don’t tread on me!” And there are some angry, frightened folks who are responding, “Shame on you! You are ‘using your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence!”
I don’t know. This is a mess. We – the collective, human ‘we’ – are a mess. I don’t know what the solutions are. I do know that brandishing bandoleros and assault rifles is not a solution. I do know that dehumanizing those we disagree with (and sometimes despise) is not a solution.
I don’t know what concrete manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit are most needed today, nor where they are most needed. But I do know that they are most needed. And that the freedom for which Christ sets us free is expressed in us as we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-discipline (or, a sound mind).
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a child of the Father belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Set Free. Free indeed. God help us to live by the Spirit, to be guided by the Spirit. To be ‘free indeed.’
I want to know how you all are going to do that today, and tomorrow. If you’ve got some ideas, I’d love to hear them.
That’s probably enough for one day.
pray for grace to live out what God has just impressed on you;
pray for yourself and your loved ones, friends and family;
pray for our congregation as a whole and for individuals (check the prayer chain for specific needs);
pray for our community, our region, state, country, world …
for wisdom and patience
for God’s justice and peace,
for ways to practically enact the presence of God’s kingdom
in our kitchens, living rooms, neighborhoods
in every corner of God’s world.
Grace, mercy, peace, and freedom.
Northminster Presbyterian Church 400 Rancheria Road | Diamond Bar, CA 91765 | PH: (909) 861-4715