Sunday, 27 June 2010

Freedom to love and to serve

Pentecost 6 year C Sermon Galatians III
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters;

if you’re led by the Spirit, you’re not subject to the law.
Don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Can you hear echoes of Jesus’ words… my yoke is easy and my burden is light? Can you here them…in Paul’s letter to the Galatians…

The yoke of slavery Paul and Jesus are talking about… is the heavy yoke of the law. And in the first century… the collective body of Jewish religious law
weighed a

Not just what we know as the Ten
Commandments but

the 613 mitzvot in the biblical law…
along with hundreds of Jewish customs and traditions.
Because the Jews were an ethnic…cultural and religious entity…their law doesn’t make a distinction between religious and non-religious life…there is no difference.
And so the
Jewish law is a guidenot only to right beliefs and rituals…but a guide to the detail of every life.

And while the Hebrew word
Halakha is often translated as ‘Jewish Law’…a more literal translation is
way of walking’ or ‘the path’.
In the 613 mitzvot… found in the Old Testament
commandments for what you’re supposed to do and an slightly longer list of commandments…
about what you are
not supposed to do. There are laws that apply to men and not to women… some that pertain only to those with a certain status… and some that matter only within the Land of Israel.

Judaism places a high value on life
when a life is in
danger…its acceptable to disregard all but three of the six hundred and thirteen mitsvot. And this understanding is founded on the divine declaration in the Torah:
I am God, you shall keep my decrees and my laws and live by them.

But there are three areas of Law that must never be violated…never be broken…even if a life is in danger …and these are murderidolatry…and certain forbidden sexual acts. These three
yehareg ve'al ya'avor …which means
"you should let
yourself be killed rather than break one".

self sacrifice and suffering…in obedience to any law … was highly praised and you would be considered extremely virtuous…were you to take great risks or endure hardship… to keep any law

And so what’s a little
circumcision for an adult male gentile…yeah right. And this was a key issue threatening to split the young Galatians church.
And precisely why
Paul reminds them that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female
…slave nor free…

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, Paul writes…and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

It has to be this way if non-Jews are going to be included in our new community… gentiles and pagans who don’t already follow all our rules and rituals and traditions.

But because Paul is advocating freedom from the Law… not only are Jewish Christians casting doubt on his credentials…they’re accusing him
encouraging sin and social chaos.

They’re screaming… without the law Paul…we’re all going to hell in a hand basket…things are gonna be out of controlpeople will be out of control
there will be no
guidelines …no holiness… without the Law. [Pause]

That’s absolutely untrue… Paul writes…
If we live by the Spirit, then we’ll be guided by the Spirit.

In Christ it’s a
spiritual thing not a legal thing.
It’s a
relationship thing through the Spirit
a relationship with God and other people…
it’s about grace and truth and faith…
not works and the
anyway Paul says…
whole law can be summed up in one sentence…

‘love your neighbour as yourself.’

That’s about relationships…about the Spirit guiding your relationship with God and other people… [pause]

Whether you
abuse your freedom…
depends which way your
facing and what’s guiding you.
If you’re just looking at yourself in the mirror… asking what do I want… what do I need…what’s in it for me… … you’ll be using your freedom for self indulgence…. not right relationships.

if you’re looking in the mirror all the time… you’re just in it for yourself. In your freedom…you’ll be guided by your own selfish desires… and not by the Spirit.
eat and be eaten…you’ll consume and exploit other people …and you’ll be consumed and exploited by them… so

live by the Spirit…let the Spirit point you in the right direction…you can’t face two directions at the same time…self-indulgence and loving your neighbour are polar opposites. Paul writes in his angry letter

When you’re guided only by your own desires…
use other people… you’ll use them for sex and personal advancement…
you’ll even use other
gods to get you what you want… you’ll indulge in sorcery and witchcraft…
when you can’t get
enough of what you want…

when you’re just in it for
yourself… and not for the love of God or your neighbour…well that’s when…
hell breaks loose… and your relationships will be governed by hostility and strife, anger and quarrelling…dissensions and factions.

Paul is angry…and

I’m warning you, he says…as I warned you before:
those who
do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. That kind of selfish… self-indulgent behaviour isn’t what the kingdom of God is about.

By contrast…Paul writes…the Kingdom of God…
is about living to
serve others. We know we’re in it when we see it acted out… in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness…

In the kingdom of God… we aren’t using God and other people to get what we want anymore. When we belong to Jesus… we crucify our selfish passions and desires
in the service of
others…just as he did. In this way we’re a new creation and the old has passed away.
Sure the law was necessary in its time... but now Paul reminds us

God has sent the Spirit of his Son… into our hearts.

And so even though he’s angry…Paul ends his letter with a vision of hope…
for the future of the
church in Galatia.

Just because things are tough… don’t give up…
don’t get
tired of doing good…
for when the time is right Paul
will reap a harvest.
whenever you have the opportunity… do good to all people… especially those who belong to the family of believers.
And carry each
other's burdens.

and in this way… you will fulfil the law of Christ. 
Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule…
Paul concludes…even to the
Israel of God. [pause]

And for us today? Well…the Greek word Paul uses most often for

sin is hamartia ...which means missing the mark
being off
targetaimed… in the wrong direction

The questions for us today… are these:
way are we aiming…
our emotional and physical energies...
Are we guided by self interest… or by the Spirit?…

Are we
preoccupied with getting what we want
or serving
God and our brothers and sisters in creation

The powers and principalities of this world are well aware that if they can just get us to focus all our attention on ourselves and our needs…

will be…uncontrolled consumption

and when our behaviour isn’t guided by God’s Spirit of love… as Paul
we will
devour one another…the earth and all its resources…and of course in turn…as Paul predicted …we’ll be devoured…

But when we love our neighbour… when we seek to serve them… here… or on the other side of the planet … there is hope of a future for the human race…
and for the earth…

when we love our neighbour… which includes sharing what we have with them…then there is hope…
salvation and for the Shalom of God

…and in
this is the good news of Jesus Christ.