Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Fuel and the Roadmap (Galatians Part 5, June 30 2013)

Homily:  Yr C P13, June 30 2013, St. Albans
Readings: 2 Kgs 2:1-2,6-14; Ps 77.1-2,11-20; Gal 5:1,13-25; Lk 9:51-62

The Fuel and the Roadmap

Finally today, we reach the climax of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and the final installment in this series of sermons on Galatians that we’ve been doing together over the last month.  But as was the case with my daughter’s high school commencement that I attended on Friday, this isn’t really an ending but rather a beginning, a new beginning.  Or as T.S. Eliot puts it, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

“For freedom Christ has set us free” is the climax of the gospel of grace that Paul proclaims.  But what is this freedom that’s been gifted to us?  Are we now in a world of “anything goes”?  Of “whatever”?  Of “randomness”?

Not at all.  If there is one man living today who knows something about being set free, it is Nelson Mandela, who at this moment is in critical condition in a South African hospital.  I remember watching live on TV in 1990 when Mandela was set free from prison near Cape Town after 27 years of incarceration.  Now Mandela could have chosen to pursue vengeance against his oppressors.  Or, he could easily have retreated into private life to do whatever he wanted, he was after all already in his 70’s at the time of his release. But that’s not how he understood freedom.  “To be free,” said Mandela, “is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

You see, we’ve been given our freedom but we have not simply been given our freedom.  We have, in Paul’s words, been called to freedom.  We have become people who are capable of acting, not simply of being acted upon.  And so we are called to act.

When we talk about freedom, we need to talk both about “freedom from” and “freedom for”.  What has the grace of God freed us from?  We are free from all the voices that tell us we’re not good enough.  We are free from worrying about whether we’re going to “make it” in life.  We are free from not knowing whether we’re worthy of love, honour and respect.  We are free from rule-bound religion which tries to make us earn our relationship with God.  We are free from all the conditions, all the strings that so many try to tie us down with.  We’re free from all these things because we are children of God, good with God, justified by faith, loved by God and worthy of love, honour and respect.

That’s what we’ve been freed from.  What have we been freed for?  Why have we been called to freedom?  How shall we live?

Here I want to return to the image of the car rental that we started with a month ago.  You remember.  We arrive at the airport, we go to the car rental lot, we fill in the papers, get in the car, follow the lanes and the arrows and the direction markers, and at last we drive out the exit and over those big metal spikes embedded in the road.  Here we are at last, free to head out onto the open highway, with all those other cars whizzing past and the lane changes and intersections and we’re not even sure whether we turn left or right to get out of the rental car lot.

Sometimes freedom is terrifying.  At the very least, it can be unsettling or confusing.  Life is easier sometimes when someone just tells you what to do. 

At a very minimum, it seems to me like we need two things.  The first is fuel in our tank, cause without that we’re not going very far.  And the second is a roadmap that at least gives us the lay of the land as we head out onto the open highway.

And those are precisely the two things that Paul gives us in today’s reading from Galatians.  Well, not Paul, actually it’s God who gives them to us, but at least Paul tells us about them.  And both the fuel and the roadmap are directly related to the identity that we talked about last week, our identity as children of God.

Because you are God’s children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.  That’s our fuel, the gas in our tanks.  Live by the Spirit, Paul says, be guided by the Spirit.  Because you are Spirit-Led.  Anyone heard that phrase before?  It’s the first part of our vision statement for this St. Albans community.  In fact, it’s even the password for our WiFi!  We are Spirit-Led, our vision is to be Spirit-Led, and that vision comes right from this passage in Galatians.  And when we are Spirit-Led, what happens?  Well, amazing stuff happens.  Love happens.  Joy happens.  Peace happens.  Patience happens.  Kindness happens.  Generosity happens.  Faithfulness happens.  Gentleness happens.  Self-control happens.  Is that the sort of stuff you want in your life?  Is that the sort of stuff we want in the life of this community? 

Yup.  Be Spirit-led.  That’s our fuel.

And the roadmap?  What’s our freedom for?  Here’s what Paul’s got in his letter to the Galatians, it’s pretty simple really.  You were called to freedom brothers and sisters so that through love you become servants to one another.  You’re asking how you should live?  Live like this:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  That pretty much sums it all up.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d like a little more to go on.  I mean, I know Paul that you’re big on this freedom thing and you don’t want to give us a whole new rulebook cause that would kind of defeat the point of the gospel of grace.  But can’t you give us a bit more to go on?

And you know what?  I think that we weren’t the only ones to ask for a bit more to go on, few more details if you like on the roadmap.  Because two years later, in a letter that Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome, he does give us a slightly more detailed road map.  It goes like this:

Dear Romans,
This is how you should live:
Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.  Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.  Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder.  Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.  Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.  Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down.  Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.  Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone.  If you've got it in you, get along with everybody.  Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."  Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.  Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

I’ve got three things I want to say about this:

First, this roadmap flows directly from who we are, which is why we talked about identity last week.  The way of life described here flows directly from your identity and my identity as a child of God.  This is how we live in the family of God, this is what makes us who we are.  Love from the centre of who you are;  don’t fake it!

Second, none of this is a way to earn God’s love or to be justified with God, or to become a child of God.  We don’t have to do anything to be a beloved child of God, good with God for all eternity.  That’s a given.  Everything else, all the roadmap stuff, comes after.

And finally, this is what your freedom is for.  By the grace of God, you were called to freedom, so that you could live as a child of God, fueled by the Spirit, with this as your roadmap.  Bon voyage.


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