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Pentecost 3C Sermon
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
June
30, 2019

 

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Galatians 5:1, 13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
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. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

Okay … confession time. I confess to you today that I have been in dereliction of my duties as your pastor here at Clinton Heights for most of the 15 years I have been here … and yes, this is the final day of my fifteenth year serving as pastor with this congregation. I have done some things well, and I have done some things not so well … but there is one part of my job description that I fear I have ignored most. Listen to this paragraph in my letter of call to this congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: “Every ordained minister shall speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.” Hmmm … on the surface it sounds pretty basic and simple – if you see something that is wrong, say that it is wrong! Don’t go on any political diatribes with an agenda, don’t spread your own opinion but point out the sin and wrong that causes injustice and suffering in the world. It is that simple. Kind of like Paul’s reminder that the whole law is summed up in one commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Only … when we go from the abstract to the concrete, we find out we meet resistance, and not only outside of those walls, but within our own worshiping family as well.

I have my own political opinions, and I know and respect that you have them as well. But I can’t imagine that we disagree on certain things … like the fact that separating children from their parents and keeping them in unsanitary, deplorable conditions is not acceptable. I am not making any judgements on who is responsible for those conditions, or what leads someone to put people into that situation to begin with. I am just trying to live up to the job description according to my call and to the constitution of this congregation and speak out when I see evil happening against my neighbor. This is evil … and we Christians must speak out and take action so that it will stop as soon as possible.

Paul goes on to say, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” Paul has seen fighting within the church at Galatia. In his letter, Paul addresses the whole issue of Christians having to become Jewish first before they are baptized. These legalistic rites included ways to prepare food, how far you could walk on the sabbath, what foods you could not eat, and the men becoming circumcised. This may not sound too serious, but Paul realized that if these kinds of pre-requisites were placed on people who are, “saved by grace through faith,” then what other ones could we place on people? That they be a certain marital status, race, nationality, socio-economic status, or speak a certain language? No, loving the neighbor means loving the neighbor, and it doesn’t matter where they come from, what language they speak or how rich they are.

We may be able to argue about the reasons behind the pictures we have all seen and how long it has been going on, but I hope that you don’t disagree with me that caging children away from parents in unsanitary conditions goes contrary to the way that God wants us to live, and we as Christian people should not be satisfied with our participation in this behavior.

This coming Thursday is Independence Day in our nation. There will be parties and picnics, patriotic music and pyrotechnics. The phrase, “Let Freedom Ring” will be proclaimed through our land. Most people remember what we are free from – slavery, tyranny, a foreign ruling power. But do we remember what we are free for? Have you ever considered that? What does citizenship in this country free you to do? Since we are not slaves to anyone, who are we freed to be slaves to? Kind of strange isn’t it … and if I go back to that paragraph in my call, I can understand that being freed for something is not always easy. Do you know what it says on the Statue of Liberty? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempt-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Our president’s motto is, “Make America Great Again.” First of all, I don’t like the fact that he put, “again” on that. It implies that when he took over, we were in terrible condition. There may have been one time that America was great for a certain demographic of people, but there will always be struggles and conflict within people who are pursuing a good or better life. But even if we leave that qualifier off the end, I still ask this question: Making America great … for what??? So that we can gloat, puff out our chests and tell the rest of the world how great we are? Or so that we can work for justice for all of our neighbors around the world, especially those in countries where justice is fleeting and lives are in danger. Paul reminds us that it is not enough to remember that we are free people. We must also live by the spirit, which means walking the walk of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And that is all summed up in the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is in my own job description as pastor of the ELCA to speak out in this way – sometimes it is called the prophetic office of the clergy. But the whole church is called to be prophets to our nation and world as well, speaking God’s word of love whenever we see evil at work. We do that by how we vote, by writing to our elected leaders, by supporting humanitarian agencies, and by simply living a life of love. Not only to those who are at our borders trying to become citizens of this country, but with those who live in our own houses, who we call family, and those who are literally our neighbors. Sometimes these are the ones that we take for granted and neglect the most.
For freedom, Christ has set you free. Use that freedom to love your neighbor just as God has loved you! May God bless America so that we may be a blessing to all of the world, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.