Tag Archive | freedom

3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

3rd Sunday after Pentecost, year C, (proper 5), preached 6/5/16

first reading:  1 Kings 17:17-24

Psalm 30

second reading:  Galatians 1:11-24

gospel reading:  Luke 7:11-17


Today we continue hearing from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians – as we did last week, and will for the next four weeks to come.

Last week we read his very angry, person introduction, in which he let the churches in Galatia know, in no uncertain terms, that they were headed down a WRONG path.  Today we pick up exactly where we left off, even overlapping verses 11-12.

In our verses today Paul is reminding the Galatians of his “earlier life,” and the life he is leading in their present tense. And he makes a point of saying that only God could bring about such a transition.  It’s a very stark “before and after.”

Some people come to faith because they reach a rock bottom and they have nowhere else to turn.  This wasn’t the case at all for Paul.  He was doing well.  He was respected.  He was successful and had “advanced… beyond many… of the same age…”  He LOVED his Jewish faith, and saw the upstart Christians as WRONG.  And he would use his respected position to protect the faith which he loved.  He writes, “I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.”

But in the midst of this success, his life is rudely interrupted – changed forever.  The before and after couldn’t be any more different.  It all starts in vs. 15-16:  “But when God… was pleased to reveal his Son to me…”  Without warning, without any desire or effort on his part, his life and purpose were changed forever.

From a worldly perspective it became exponentially harder, filled with persecution from within and without.  Within, there were those who challenged his authority – from without, those who saw faith in Jesus as a threat like he once did.  The gospel did not make his life better on the outside, it made it worse.  He went from powerful to struggling, from persecutor to persecuted.

This is the main argument he gives for the gospel he’s preaching not being of human origin.  It must be God’s work, because it makes no earthly sense at all.

The other way Paul makes the argument that his “conversion” is not of human origin, is the enormity of the grace he has received.  To be the persecutor, to be the one violently trying to destroy the gospel – then to become its chief evangelist is a sign of mercy that can come only from God.

All the pain Paul caused those early Christians, even perhaps sending some of our earliest martyrs to their deaths – and God says, “I forgive you, and I will use you.”  WOW.  Think about it.

If God can forgive Paul and then use him to spread the gospel – if Jesus died and rose for Paul – then there’s nothing that could possibly stand in OUR way of receiving God’s mercy and love.

God took a hateful religious zealot bent on revenge and destruction – and turned him into a missionary for love and forgiveness – gave him the call to reach out to EVERYONE even to the Gentiles!  God called Paul, the Jewish zealot, to spend most of his mission reaching out to those who were the “other” to him in his previous life.  God called Paul, the Jewish zealot, to proclaim to the Gentiles that Jesus loved them too, and that God’s love and grace was just as much for them as for the original followers.

This is a living testimony to the POWER of God to wipe OUR slates clean and give US new beginnings. It’s hard to imagine a modern day equivalent.  Perhaps God converting and calling a member of the Westboro Baptist group to become an evangelist proclaiming God’s love for the LGBT community…

If God can extend grace and new life to THIS extreme, imagine what God can do for you and me.

broken-chains1-1-300x217Is there something that you’ve been holding onto?  Something you did (or WAS) years ago?  Some embarrassing or hurtful event you were a part of that still eats at you?  Do you ever have the feeling that you’re just not good enough? That God couldn’t possibly forgive this “thing” you feel hanging over you?

Even people sitting in churches, even pastors, sometimes have events and feelings either come back to them, or “stuff” they haven’t been able to let go of.  But that’s on US, not on God.  God isn’t holding onto it, WE are.

KNOW THIS – from Paul’s example – if Jesus forgave Paul, including the destruction he wrought in his life before God “was pleased to reveal his Son to [him],” then God certainly forgives you and me and all the awful things we have done and things that still weigh us down.

Let them go.  Because through Jesus they’re already gone.

There’s nothing we have to do – praise God for that.  Nothing required for us to do, because Jesus has done it already. As Paul will make clear throughout this letter, in Jesus we’re FREE.  Free from having to pay for our sins.  Free from all our past mistakes.  Free from having to try to be perfect.  Free from having to do “a” or “b” to “get” God to love or forgive us.

This is what GRACE is.  This is MERCY.  An undeserved outpouring of God’s love.  It means each day we get a new beginning, a new life.  Each time we call our for forgiveness it is there for us because we have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Because of this freedom in Christ, we are free to be bold in faith.  To try and even fail in serving God, just like Paul.

Our mistakes do NOT define us.  Our past does NOT define us.  Even our successes do NOT define us.  GOD’S GRACE DEFINES US.

And that, Paul says, is not of human origin, or from a human source – THAT power is from God alone. Praise be to God.

AMEN.

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, year C (proper 4), preached 5/29/16

first reading:  1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43

Psalm 96:1-9

second reading:  Galatians 1:1-12

gospel reading:  Luke 7:1-10


For the next six weeks our second reading is going to be from the book of Galatians, one of the most important “books” in the whole New Testament.  With that in mind, I’ll spend my next few sermons exploring this foundational book, which is really a letter from Paul, to a group of churches in Galatia.

Have you ever gotten a message, expecting it to be a joy, but instead you’re left speechless, confused, angry, or in pain?  When I was in seminary, I got a Christmas card from someone who had been a consistent support person for me.  But instead of a card sharing the joy of Christ’s birth, inside was the friendship equivalent of a “Dear John” letter.

She told me that she found our friendship draining to her and she didn’t want me to contact her any more.  In a CHRISTMAS CARD.

Anyway, that was the first thing I thought of when I took a look at our reading from the letter to the Galatians. Because in many ways that’s what happened to them.  They were having an internal struggle, but nothing they thought was deadly to their faith.

When they got a letter from Paul I’m sure they were overjoyed to hear from their spiritual founder.  Very quickly they would’ve realized this letter was NOT what they expected.

Paul starts off his letter in the typical manner of his day:  he identifies who he is as the sender – “Paul an apostle” – then to whom he is sending the letter – the churches of Galatia.”

At this point in their culture it was typical to give a salutation and thanksgiving, and this is when it all goes to pot. There is salutation alright, but absolutely NO thanksgiving.

Listen to what we find at the beginning of some of Paul’s other letters:

  • “First I think my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” Romans 1:8
  • To the Corinthians he said (1:4-5), “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…”
  • And to the Philippians (1:3-4), “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…”

NOW… hear what the Galatians heard:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…”

Paul is angry about what he had heard and gets right down to business – and it’s not pretty.  Listen to some of the words in these opening verses:  astonished, deserting, perverting, contrary and accursed (twice!).  Later on in chapter 3 he calls the Galatians “foolish” and “bewitched!”

He was angry – and frightened for them as well.  What had him so angry and frightened?  Again, in vs. 6-7:  “quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to another gospel… there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

For Paul, this false teaching is no small matter – it was a corruption of the meaning of Jesus’ life and death.  It goes right to the heart of our faith in Jesus.

And what was this false teaching?  What was this perversion of the gospel?  It had to do with keeping THE LAW.

There were some who argued that converts had to follow the Mosaic law – including circumcision, along with Sabbath and other ritual laws found in the Old Testament.  Paul will spend the entirety of this letter disputing this.  And he states right up front, in vs. 11-12, that this is NOT a message of his own making.  It’s bigger than him.

He gives us a clue to his main point in verse 4 – that the Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to set us free…”

FREEDOM is his main argument – that we HAVE freedom in Christ.  We are NOT bound by the Law and its demands.  But Paul also tells us what we are to DO with that freedom.

freedom-in-the-shape-of-a-cross

FREEDOM

He sums it up well in chapter 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  So we are free – free through Christ from the demands of the Law. But this freedom isn’t an excuse for laziness or lawlessness.  As he says in 5:13 – “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.”

Our freedom is an incredible gift.  Our sins are forgiven.  Our slates are wiped clean through the love of Jesus.  But our freedom in Christ also calls us to love one another – the ONE command Christ DID give to us.

This is a good thing to remember on this Memorial Day weekend, when we honor those who used their freedom to serve our country, and gave their lives in that service.  Freedom isn’t free the saying goes. That is true in our form of government, but also in our life of faith.

As Paul wrote in v. 4, Jesus Christ “set us free.”  But that freedom, that incredible weight of sin lifted from our shoulders, calls us to then lift up one another.

Losing that knowledge, that experience of freedom in trying to keep the Law – leaves us burdened, wondering, “How well am I doing?” “Am I doing enough?”  THAT, for Paul IS a perversion, “another” gospel – and NOT acceptable to him, or to God.

So today, and every day, let us embrace and celebrate the freedom we have through Jesus Christ – freedom that calls us to love ourselves, and one another.

AMEN.


*The photographer of the photo above is unknown.

Obedience gives Freedom?

This is part four of my reflection on Walter Brueggemann’s Finally Comes the Poet.*  You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, and part 3 here.  While the parts relate to one another, they can be taken separately, so it’s not necessary to read the other posts as a prerequisite to this.

imageOBEDIENCE is a nasty word.  We like to be in control of our lives, of our destiny.  No one likes to be told what to do.  Our life of faith, however, IS a life of obedience – of listening, paying attention to the One who has called us to life.  “In the Bible, obedience takes the form of listening.  The obedient life is one in which Israel listens, attends to, and responds to the voice of God”(p. 81).  Most of what WE call listening is really just being quiet as we form our next sentence and wait to speak it.  Real listening is hard.  And listening for the purpose of obedience is even harder.  Our culture pushes against it.   Again, we like to be the ones in control.  “The preacher, in speaking about obedience, speaks against our modern ways of knowing and controlling.  [It] violates the way we think and know and believe in our culture”(p. 82).

The other reason listening is difficult for us is because we are “greedy children of disproportion, caught in an ideology of acquisitiveness”(p. 82).  That’s a mouthful.  Brueggemann explains, “…social good, social access, and social power are not equally distributed.  Some have too little.  Some have too much.  That some have too much is intimately related to the fact that some have too little….  This economic reality among us impinges on our capacity to hear and respond when we are addressed by God’s voice of command”(p. 82).  We are socialized to always want more and to rigorously protect what we have, so as not to lose it.  This requires a lot of energy on our part.  This energy, this desire to constantly acquire, makes us restless and anxious.

This greed pits us against one another, because it impacts on our ability to make sure that everyone has enough.  Our current political climate reeks with the arguments of those who “have much” not wanting to give anything to make sure that those who “have nothing” can have a little more.  The rich see the poor as lazy and undeserving of more, while the poor see the rich as hoarders (of money, power and opportunity) and themselves as stuck.  Both of these groups of people fill the pews – sometimes even together.  “The congregation addressed by the preacher is thus a strange assembly.  It includes those who guard the disproportion as benefactors.  It also includes those who suffer from the disproportion as victims”(p. 84).   How do we encourage listening when speaking of obedience, knowing it is problematic for all who gather in this “strange assembly?”

Pointing-Blame-Finger pointing isn’t helpful and actually discourages real conversation and listening.  What is perceived as a command, “YOU MUST DO THIS!” only serves to have folks “dig in” and shut down, a pushback against losing control.  Brueggemann reflects, “I have found myself discovering that mostly I do not need more advice, but strength, I do not need new information, but the courage, freedom, and authorization to act on what I already have been given in the gospel”(p.84).  I think what Brueggemann is trying to say here is that rather than having the preacher stand in the pulpit, point a finger and say, “This is what you SHOULD do!” it is more constructive, more conducive to listening, more empowering to say, “This is what you CAN do through God who strengthens you!”

Preachers are to extend an invitation to imagine a life beyond the restlessness and greed, beyond the disproportion.  Both the hoarders and those in want come seeking hope that God has provided a better way.  Because left to their own devices, without the listening that forms obedience, both groups (ALL of us) will die.  Those trapped in restless greed will work themselves to death, not realizing it’s NOT the acquiring of things that will give them peace.  Those who have “too little” will die from neglect.  In the gospel we hear that God is freeing us from that bondage!  When we are able to listen and understand that this is God’s Will for us to be freed from our restlessness and our greed, into a life that has much deeper meaning, we are joyfully and willingly obedient.

Since I used the word bondage above, I will take the time to point out that bondage and willing obedience are NOT the same thing.  Bondage is a forced obedience – the obedience of a slave or prisoner.  Willing obedience is listening, attending and responding to that which we trust will give us peace.  Brueggemann asserts that this call to obedience is rooted in baptism – “Baptism that renounces the old ways of death and embraces a new life,” and, “all our talking and listening is out of baptism and into baptism.  We are a people that is every day summoned to die ‘to the vain glories of the world,’ and to be raised to new life”(p. 85-86).

Brueggemann then takes a look at two of the Ten Commandments (only for space/time constraints, NOT because they other eight don’t apply!).  His treatment of Sabbath and coveting are wonderful, but rather than focus on his always impeccable scholarship, I want to focus on the grander theme of the Commandments as they relate to obedience.  So many times people look at the Commandments as prohibitions, plain and simple.  “THOU SHALT NOT.”  They sound so authoritative, so stifling!  When viewed that way, they certainly are.  God becomes big brother.  Obedience is an oppressive burden in such a mindset.  But when we think of the Commandments as rules that bring order, peace and harmony to our relationships with God and one another, then obedience can become something we desire.

sharing-cake-1940x900_36102

The Commandments create a community in which our priorities regarding the importance of divine and human things are well defined, where there is balance between work and rest, and where there is a culture of respect and honor between neighbors.  We respect and honor our neighbor’s very lives, their spouses, property and reputations.  We respect and honor our parents and our spouses.  And because we not only HAVE neighbors, but ARE neighbors – OUR lives and property and reputations are respected and honored, and our spouses and children honor and respect US.  We love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbors as ourselves(Matthew 22: 34-41).  What freedom this obedience gives – the freedom for our neighbors thrive, and for us to thrive as well!

questions to ponder:

  • What can I do to contain my greed so that I am less afraid/restless and can live more freely?
  • How does serving my neighbor help me fight my greed?
  • What are some guidelines that help us distinguish between obedience and bondage?
  • Does my view of the Ten Commandments change when I see them as rules that create freedom instead of simply things I “can’t do”?

 

*Finally Comes the Poet:  Daring Speech for Proclamation.  Walter Brueggemann, Augsburg Fortress:  Minneapolis, 1989.