Freedom in Christ July 5 (Galatians 5) We are beginning a new worship series that explores letters written to the early

church. The early church was quite an interesting and diverse group. Those who heard and believed the Gospel included men and women, those living as slaves and those living as masters, religious Jews and pagan prostitutes, rich and poor. All these people gathered because of a people who were living and speaking in a way that began to transform their own lives. Some were asked to humble themselves in repentance and others were raised up to new found dignity but all were called to this person Jesus who spoke of a Kingdom which was coming and in fact was already being established on earth. Anyone, anyone, regardless of their past or present with ears to hear and eyes to see was called from the kingdom of their world to live in the growing Kingdom of God and many flocked to this kingdom. So early believers such as Peter, James, Barnabas and Paul were thrust into positions of leadership trying to navigate what it meant to live faithfully to this Kingdom and to the lord of this Kingdom Jesus Christ. They struggled with a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit that seemed to extend beyond their comfort zone at times. They wondered how they could be both faithful to the revelations in scripture and sensitive to God’s Spirit that often seemed to flow outside their understanding of these revelations. God has clearly called us to be circumcised and eat meats that were approved by Moses’ law but now the Spirit seems to be reminding us that there is something more to faithfulness than just following those practices. And so we have a significant portion of the New Testament reflecting this period of transition where churches are wrestling with what it means to worship as one body in the midst of diversity. These letters were written to encourage and to discipline. They were written so that God’s Kingdom might to continue to offer a faithful witness to the life of Christ and to the pouring out of God’s Spirit. Our reading this morning is part of letter written to the church Galatia which would consist of the eastern region of modern day Turkey. Paul’s primary concern in this letter addresses how the church accepted the message of grace through faith in Jesus but then began to follow others who came to the church and taught that they also needed to be circumcised as the Jews were (and as Jesus was) and also to follow particular religious practices and times in order to maintain or achieve their salvation from God. What Paul seems to be driving at in our passage this morning and in the book of Galatians in general is what constitutes an authentic Christian spirituality, which means of course simply asking what life in the Spirit is. Today spirituality has become a notoriously difficult term to try and come to grips with. I recently took a class at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. The course was geared for working with children and adolescents. The class was mixed with pastoral students, counseling students and social work students. The course was not taught from an explicitly Christian context but from a broad base of perspectives. I found this approach generally quite effective. One class, however, the instructor thought it would be important to include what our understanding of spirituality was and how it might affect the work we do with children and adolescents. I wish I would have jotted down more of the responses but by the end of that time I was feeling quite unsettled or disorientated. It seemed that spirituality meant just about

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anything that we wanted to ascribe some greater meaning, hope or value to. Spirituality was simply a way of achieving a particular end. Spirituality was just vague enough that it could fit well into our culture of choice and taste. I was left wondering if spirituality was understood simply like a mild prescription drug to help us through life. There is often another view of spirituality that tends to be common among us. In this view calling something or someone ‘spiritual’ creates an almost super-human aura of ability or presence. Here the spiritual person is viewed as the unflinching mystic who can remain calm in the face of any conflict or crisis. Or perhaps it is the visionary who works tirelessly for dramatic change in the world. These individuals are lifted above and beyond the realm of our daily lives. In his book The Politics of Spirituality William Stringfellow tells the story of his friend Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit and activist, who was heavily involved in the non-violent protests of the Vietnam War. Berrigan was being pursued by the FBI for his civil disobedience and hid out in Stringfellow’s home until he was finally apprehended. This capture was heavily covered by the media and one news cast interviewed another Jesuit, John McLaughlin, who was incidentally a candidate for the US senate. In the interview McLaughlin created a division between those who would work within the system for change and those who would work outside of the system. And then at the end of the interview he is quoted as saying, “Of course you must remember that Dan is a poet.” Stringfellow took great offence to this statement. He writes, “With that accusation, he not only dismissed the Berrigan witness against the Vietnam War but also banished Dan from the company of ordinary folk. Dan is different from other people: Dan is a poet: Dan is eccentric: what applies to Dan does not have relevance or weight for other persons. . . . [A]n ordinary human is excused from the claims of conscience which may be thought to influence poets.” Stringfellow sees this distinction of ‘poet’ as how we also view those famous individuals who we would call ‘spiritual’. Practically speaking we separate these individuals from how we understand and live our own lives. So we have on one hand a popularized, individualized account that allows spirituality to simply be whatever will make life a little easier or more meaningful according to our tastes. On the other hand we have those giants of history who seem to have been granted otherworldly gifts and abilities to accomplish their goals. The first view of spirituality leaves us unchanged because we in fact are the ones who have control over what spirituality should mean to us. The other view also leaves us unchanged because here spirituality is too grand, too significant in comparison to our routine and practical lives. And yet in the midst of these views Paul calls out to each member of the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” And again later, “You were called to be free.” Freedom for the Christian is freedom in the Spirit. Our spirituality as Christians is concerned directly with freedom. For Paul this means freedom from both the tyranny of our own whims and wishes and compulsions as well as the commands of our culture or history or religion. So take a moment now and sit with this phrase. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Take another moment and a few deep breathes. Your life, if it is anything like mine or the person beside you, is filled with competing claims and compulsions. You likely know with detailed clarity the claims that you feel around your family, your spouse, your

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parents, your children. You know with clarity at least what you think is expected of you. And perhaps even more clearly than these felt claims you know those places that you think you are failing with respect to those claims. You feel the claims that are being made on you as man or a woman, to be strong or beautiful or nurturing or protective. You feel claims on yourself as a student or as someone with or without employment to be productive or intelligent or submissive. And again you know full well all those places that you feel you are coming up short. And then for many of us God hangs over all of this. What on earth does God want from me in the midst of this? Yes God, I will try harder. God I will do better next time. God, why is this happening . . . what am I doing wrong? God, do you actually care what is happening here? Then in our minds these claims clash and conflict and war with one another pulling and pushing. And worse than this there are times when these claims do not conflict at all but rather they gang up on you and together they push and push until they create a master and you become enslaved to their expectations. And then there are times we can admit, if we are honest, that life is in many ways easier if we can simply follow the rules and expectations of someone else rather then to live in the freedom of the Spirit. Living in the Spirit after all means putting all [I put that in italics here!!] of those claims aside whether they come from within us or around us, whether they come from good intentions or otherwise, whether at the moment we are profiting from them or being hindered. In God’s Spirit these claims can have no more claim on us. What can it mean then to have the Spirit’s freedom touch our lives? If our spirituality is simply a reflection of our own or our culture’s changing whims and claims or if it is something beyond our achievement then it is nothing. Then Christ will mean nothing to us. What is the point of speaking about spirituality if there is no possibility that we as a church and as individuals are called now, here in this place to be free, to be growing in freedom that we read about in scripture? What is the point if Christ’s message makes no difference in the world’s claims and demands that seem to rule us for the other 167 hours of the week outside of Sunday morning? Why bother if there is not something else that we can be living into? In accord with of our scripture reading this morning Stringfellow says that authentic Christian spirituality is the journey of trusting God with every aspect, every single aspect of our lives. There is no specific goal large or small that you have to achieve. There is no set of commands that you need to fulfill. There is only the daily, hourly and momentary trusting that God is with you, that God loves you, that God is at work healing you and making you whole to the glory of God and the peace of the world. Rather than our spirituality being relative, diluted and marginalized our spirituality becomes all encompassing, rigorous and penetrating. And as such it cannot remain only for those we perceive as great men and women. Because it is all encompassing God’s Spirit desires all people, all abilities, all gifts, talents, all weaknesses and faults. The Spirit of God calls everything that has breath. In contrast to how we often understand it Stringfellow calls biblical spirituality the most practical of all expressions of life. This morning the Gospel calls to you saying that there is no claim in this world that can hold you enslaved that is greater than the Spirit and there is no excuse or fault that denies you the chance to live freely in that Spirit. Know only this, as you follow freedom in the Spirit you will be severing yourself from the claims and the temporary

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promises of the world. Life in the Spirit allows no claim to status and privilege by the world’s standards. There is neither male nor female, rich nor poor, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile. Stringfellow says that “biblical spirituality means powerlessness, living without embellishment or pretense, free to be faithful in the gospel, and free from anxiety about effectiveness or similar illusions about success. . . . It means acting . . . in a manner which confesses insistently, patiently, fearfully, joyously that Jesus Christ is the Lord and the Lord already reigns.” A recent speaker I heard who works extensively with churches in Canada and US said that an active spirituality is, surprisingly or not, one of the most absent expressions in the church of North America. It is no wonder if in indeed spirituality means the sort of freedom that Jesus, Paul and even Stringfellow advocate. How you dressed and prepared yourself this morning gives you no status in God’s Kingdom. Neither does what you drove here in or the amount you put in the offering plate. Your intellect or abilities in themselves will grant you no privileged position. This freedom comes to most of us at least at first as jarring and risky. The spirituality of our Gospel says only this. God loves you. Jesus Christ is that love. That love is freedom. The Holy Spirit will fill you with that love so that your moments and your days will be marked by freedom from the powers of death. May this Spirit come and bear her fruit within and among us. Amen.

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