Galatians 5:1; 13-23
I want to proceed this morning by making a few comments about the first reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians and then a few comments about the lesson from the Gospel of Luke. I want to do this in order to help us make an important distinction that I think is necessary if we are to respond to the Gospel call honestly and without reservation.
Like most letters, and certainly most ancient letters when paper was precious and transportation slow, this letter was more than a friendly greeting, it had a point or two to make. We do not have the luxury of knowing what these early church communities wrote when they presumably did asking Paul for help. We have to infer the Galatian questions from Paul’s response. Paul spends the first two chapters greeting them and reasserting his credentials. He responds in chapter 3. And it is strong. He writes, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” He calls his own beloved Galatians anoheytoi -which may also be translated inconsiderate, unintelligent, and unwise people.
Those are strong words from a pastor to his congregation. Why such anger? Apparently, they had been duped by Peter. Peter had been foolishly trying to cozy up to the powerful Jews in the community, and, fearful that the rich and the powerful would deny him if he consorted the the poor Christian Gentiles, turned his back on them. Paul is angry at Peter for what he did, but even more angry at the Galatians for forgetting that no one has the power over them to make them feel insignificant. They have experienced the freedom which set their hearts soaring because it was the freedom not from themselves or their government, but from God. Why turn back on that? Why be awed by Peter? He’s apparently fool too. Judge for yourself.
Today’s lesson, from a bit later on in the letter, is an eloquent reminder of just what that experience of freedom consists.
Significantly Paul does not ask them to remember their catechism, does not ask them to recall doctrine about Jesus, does not even ask them to remember “the resurrection.” He asks them instead to recall their experience of being free. Paul asks the Galastians to remember the experience of re-discovering that basic, unrelenting, unanswerable and ultimately undeniable freedom that makes life, even in conditions of oppression, meaningful and even joyous.
And he says, “this is what it means to love God. It is what it means for God to love us.”
Let me turn now, briefly, to the Gospel of Luke. It was written many years later. Perhaps as much as 50 years later. We know from history, that time will turn something fairly straightforward into something much more complicated. So it is with at least the first paragraph of the text for today. The language of the disciples is here completely out of character. These are fishermen and carpenters whose language is straightforward and not mythological. They question everything that is not immediately apparent. They do not speak about fire coming down from heaven to consume their enemies.
On the contrary, when they first met Jesus their experience was like the anonymous character in the second half of the reading, to whom Jesus says, “Follow me. Follow me and put down everything you are doing, and I will show you freedom” Over and over again, the testimony is that when people risked everything to follow him, they discovered he is right. They discovered freedom which is the real deal, freedom that is basic and joyous.
Our text this morning does not outline or quote Jesus’s call to to this anonymous man going down the road. But we know from other parts of the gospel, that his call is a simple one: “Follow me. The kingdom of God is here.”
What did he mean by this? Jews, and these are all Jews we’re talking about now, had been taught, such that it was a fundamental brick of their being, that the messiah of God would come to establish the kingdom at some point in the future when all the law had been properly fulfilled. But Jesus claimed that that was bunk. That the real thing had to do with God’s always and already loving us. All you have to do, says Jesus is take off the many, many blinders you have that prevent you from seeing this basic thing. And you should do it now.
In other words — Jesus is talking here about a way of life. The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests — but we will not be stuck. Faith is not about staking a claim, like a nest in a tree or a hole in the ground. And here is something new and exciting. Faith, when one risks one’s life for it, never remains like an old comfortable nest that ends up feeling like a trap — but is always prodding us forward, prodding us to be free in new ways for our new situations.
This way is risky. People have certainly, lost their lives for it. Jesus did. He would not curry up favor with the powerful who had large mortgages and who likewise wanted him to enter into one. He would not fear the politically connected who wanted him to stop his preaching about the true freedom of the individual. He would not pander to the religious leaders who suggested that the best way up the ladder was to preach the same old comfortable message.
And here we arrive at the nub of the matter. The gospel call, because it is a call to freedom, is a call to justice. We can no more recall God’s original gift of freedom without at the same time heeding a call to to do justice, than we can open a window without letting in the outside air. For if we are truly acting out of freedom, we are acting out of an understanding that is wider than our own interests. To live for the beloved community is the chance of a life-time — the chance given to us again and again in every present moment to live in what can only be at the most comprehensive level, God’s abiding presence. This is why these songs we sing today, songs of the civil rights era all look to the future — they contain this hope that our basic, God given freedom leads us, albeit slowly, ever more toward justice.
And here we also arrive at the problem which may be in the back of your mind. How can I do this? How can I walk away from my home, my family, my responsibility as Jesus implies in this morning’s lesson? I offer two observations. The first is a matter of logic. The second is a matter of your conscience.
First the logic — A person is characterized by the totality of its properties, and these properties determine its relations with other individuals. For example, one of the properties of Peter Plagge is that he lives in Waterbury, where he preaches on Sunday morning. That means that I cannot preach at 9 am on Sunday morning in Maine. We call the range of properties that can exist together compossibilities, and the range of possibilities that cannot, like my preaching in two places at one time, non-compossibilities. The observation I would make relative to our gospel reading, is that the matter of non-compossibilities must be considered in deciding on how we shall act. The reason for that has to do with my second observation.
Implied in both of our readings today is the claim that we can discover true freedom, only by loving others, only by relating to our neighbor, with the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” We may be called to follow Jesus, but it is never a matter of following Jesus and treating others, with whom we have compossible relations, like dirt. If you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.
So the question before us, the question a sermon should always pose, and the question we find ourselves confronting whenever we think about it, is: “Will we risk heeding that call of Jesus’ cal to love, to serve for the other with whom we find ourselves in relation, our neighbor, no matter her color or job or status.?” To answer yes, is to discover real freedom, and genuine satisfaction. Amen.