The Focus of Freedom

by Ken Dale

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

It?s always a challenge when the sacred and the secular come together?? usually holiday weekends like Mother?s Day, Father?s Day, or national holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I feel it a safe assumption that this is still the weekend of the 4th and our lesson from Galatians carries that theme of freedom. The story is told of a pastor who gave a children?s message the Sunday of the weekend of the 4th of July and he spoke with them about both national and Christian freedom. He got the kids so worked up one of them jumped up and shouted ?I?m free!? Not to be outdone?another jumped up and shouted, ?I?m four!?

Our reading from Galatians this morning begins, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. You may remember the context is the dispute between the Gentile and Jewish Christians in the early church. In Christ we are set free from the binding list of do?s and don?ts as we affirm that we are made right with God by faith ? not by our actions but by what God does for us in Christ.

But in that next verse of the lesson (13) we read, For you were called to freedom?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. Interesting words for we who live in a society that defines freedom as the space and permission to be utterly consumed by self-concern. Paul says in Christ we are set free from excessive self-concern so that we can be slaves to one another. I wonder if we could attract some of the folks with no religious affiliation to this church if we put a banner out front that said that?s what this church is all about ? set free to become through love ? slaves to one another.

How do we focus our freedom? One focus could be to look at the don?ts or sins ? things that are not of the Spirit. Verses 19-21 and the list includes but is not limited to: fornication, immorality, licentiousness, idolatry,?sorcery, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, factions, envy, carousing and the like. One focus could be to point the finger?at people whose lives are so characterized. What an opportunity to kick into the hellfire and brimstone mode ? but I think it?s already way too hot and we?know better. And how many of us are busy with licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery and the like. But then, on second thought the list includes jealously, anger, quarrels, selfishness, factions and envy. Maybe we should just be sure we do our own self-examination and inventory check. But I can?t help but think that perhaps Paul had another focus.

?I remember at the symposium I went to last month Dr. Ira Byock said that when hospice volunteers receive their certificates at the end of their training, he tells them they now have a license to love. I think Paul?s focus is to those early Christians and he says something more like YOU NOW HAVE TOTAL LICENSE TO GO CRAZY WITH GOOD WORKS. Paul speaks of the fruits of the Spirit ? love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,?generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things. There is no regulation against having too much joy, or being?far too patient, or showing excessive generosity. Paul says, GO AHEAD AND KNOCK YOURSELF OUT. Think about it ? when was the last time someone asked you to stop being so loving, or joyful, or peaceful, or patient. And if we are set free in Christ to let it rip ? why are we so timid about using that freedom we have been given? Too often we?re like those first disciples who wanted to follow Jesus ? they said ?I will follow you wherever you go! ?But first I have to do this?..? Catherine?s sermon last week touched on that ? what do we have to leave behind if we are to follow? She?sent that to me and I read it early in the morning this past Tuesday before returning to work — a wonderful morning devotional moment for me in that sermon. Such a deal we have with faith ? not only do we get the freedom?but we are given the gifts that we are set free to use! What shall our focus be ? the list of don?ts or the list of what we get to do. We are set free to unleash some good works on the world around us ? uncork the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and generosity.

We are called to be loving people ? so how do we behave? Can we view the world with love? Yes, it?s a challenge ? but can we? Will we? Would we take on the challenge to judge no one we meet for the next 24 hours. Love everyone you meet and see and see how it changes your relationships with others. When we judge someone ? he?s lazy, she?s no good, he only wants money, she doesn?t care about me, — we project that and we affect those people. When we encounter someone who is different in some way, or perhaps someone who is going through a change in their life. How important it is that we just listen and take the time to understand ? to love them, or continue to love them as we have in the past, make that our first response. Walk around in a loving way and it?s incredible how people?respond. Last month Kathy and I were in an Augusta restaurant and at the end of the meal we decided to splurge and split a dessert. We had a fun time with our waiter before and during the meal. When we ordered dessert with two spoons, he said that he felt good karma and we got the dessert for half price! It is a give and receive type of thing and it does make a difference.

Warren Buffet gave 85% of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help cure the world?s most fatal diseases — $31 billion. Maybe we don?t have $31 billion but we do have what we do have ? and with love and joy may we seek to be generous when and where we can — it?s not about the money, it?s about the spirit ? it?s the giving, the willingness to make a positive difference when and where we can. It?s about love, joy, peace, kindness ? again, in Christ WE NOW HAVE TOTAL LICENCE TO GO CRAZY WITH GOOD WORKS ? the opportunity is as close as the person sitting right next to you. It?s about people we know well and people we don?t know at all. By faith ? we too can live with an inspired spirit of life as did that little kid and shout ?I?m free? ? and we can shout it in the way we live out our faith in our daily lives.