Pentecost 6, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Galatians 5: Christ has freed us so that we will be free. Stand firm the, and do not get caught again under a yoke of slavery. V. 13, Let the Spirit direct your life, and you will not carry out what your flesh desires.
Immanuel Chapel in North St. Louis County is a diverse congregation which worships about 50 people on a given Sunday. On a Sunday prior to the fourth of July I picked a hymn from the national songs section of the hymnal. Sitting behind the pulpit as the organist introduced the hymn, I thought, I picked a hymn that nobody knows. However, as the congregation sang, the words. “Lift every voice and sing, Till earth and heaven ring. Ring with harmonies of liberty,” flooded over and around me. After the service, 90-year-old Dessie Collins greeted me at the door. She said, “Thank you for picking the Black National Anthem.” “Lift every voice and sing” is a song of liberty from slavery and the segregation which followed.
Next Sunday we will sing another song of liberty, “My country ‘Tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrims’ pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” A song of liberty to worship freely and govern one self.
This morning we consider another declaration of freedom, declaration of independence. The words almost shout themselves off the pages of scripture as Paul proclaims, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That’s not a political statement, but a spiritual announcement. Jesus Christ is our liberator and he has set our conscience free from the guilt of sin. Free from the tyranny of God’s law. Free from the dreadful struggle to keep it. Free to receive unqualified acceptance by God and access to God through Christ. We live in the land where many of our fathers died that freedom might ring. God sent one man that we would have “the free gift of rightness with God…” In Advent we sing, “He was born to set us free.”
Our freedom was declared. when out the darkness of Good Friday, Jesus voice rang out, “It is finished.” That declaration fulfilled the promise that the truth will set you free from slavery to sin and consequent separation from God. And the freeing truth was Jesus. As a sign that grace and rightness with God was now released throughout the world, the graves of the saints were opened and the curtain of the temple was rent in two. A dramatic image of our free access to God is demonstrated at every communion service at the Chapel of Christ the King at Valparaiso University. The altar, symbol of Jesus death and the empty tomb of his resurrection, are set up fifteen or more above the sanctuary. Viewed from the pew once sees the saints of God ascending to Christ the king, gathering around the table to receive his body and blood in anticipation of the eternal meal we will eat with him in heaven.
Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, stand firm and refuse to be loaded down again with the yoke of slavery.” In the book “Chasing the North Star” the mistress of a young household slave, named Jonah discovered he could read. She didn’t tell her husband but she gave him a Bible so that he might come and daily read to her from the scriptures. While the mistress was away, his master caught Jonah with the Bible. Accused of stealing his very own Bible he was severely beaten and placed in stocks. At the first opportunity, 18 -year- old Jonah ran away and followed the north star to freedom and safety. The journey north was perilous, but he vowed he would never go back to being a slave. That’s what Paul is talking about. How then can we dream of putting ourselves under the unnecessary and fruitless effort to make ourselves upright before God through what we do, when Christ has done it all for us? Christ died for our disobedience and bore our condemnation in our place to free us from that slavery. He did this while we were still slaves to our sinful nature.
However, Paul cautions, that doesn’t mean that now anything goes. Do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to indulge your flesh, the old Adam or to use the language of Star Wars, “Turn to the dark side.” No, no, no. Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. We have unrestricted freedom to approach God as His children, not unrestricted liberty to wallow in our own selfishness.
In our culture the freedom we usually embrace is freedom from, -from laws, from responsibilities, from anxiety, from hard work. Another side of self -centered freedom is to demand my rights no matter what and the right to impose my demands on everyone else. Paul warns, “If you go on fighting one another tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction.” Paul’s words sound a warning to be heard and heeded in families, in churches, in communities and in a nation and the whole world.
Paul holds out a better way. Love one another. Use our freedom for doing something in behalf of someone else. Now here may be a surprise. We respond to God’s grace by, “Loving our neighbor as yourself.” But isn’t that a summary of the Law? Yes, it is, but now the law has a positive purpose in our life. Since our salvation is assured through what Christ did, now we can use the law as our guide in doing good. As Martin Luther puts it, “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, but also a dutiful servant subject to all.”
The baptismal font at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina is an example of the change that Christ has brought about. When the monks were first building the abbey, they found a large granite stone that stood at the intersection of two roads. They soon found out that just over a century before, men, women and children would stand on that stone and be sold into slavery. The monks took the stone and hollowed out a bowl at the top. They brought stone into the chapel to be used as their baptismal font. The engraving on the stone reads, “upon this rock, men once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, men become free children of God.” The monks at Belmont showed what it means by not only being made alive in the Holy Spirit, but living by the Spirit.
For living by the Spirit also produces a harvest of love, from which flows joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against those, but there is great blessing. In living in the Spirit we are showing people what kind of God we have and are giving them a glimpse of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Following the Korean War in the early 1950’s, a Christian named Jim Atkinson directed an interchurch relief program to aid the people in war ravaged South Korea. Millions of people lacked food, drinking water, housing the clothing. He managed the arrival of aid packages from all over the world. On one occasion he received a letter from Norway stating that hundreds of packages were on their way. The letter noted that each package contained the donor’s picture. Atkinson wondered at these strange and eccentric Norwegian donors. When the packages arrived he quickly found his answer. All the pictures in the entire shipment showed the same person. Jesus Christ. To the Norwegians, the donor of these much -needed goods was Christ.
So then, live by the Holy Spirit, who directs our paths. The harvest of the winter wheat is almost completed for another year. However, the harvest of the Spirit proceeds daily as we live our lives in Christ. Therefore, as we come to the conclusion of the sermon we end it, as we always do, with these words of St. Paul, “The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus.”