“We are called to freedom through the Gospel. What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to live the Gospel? Paul says that freedom is found in becoming “slaves to one another” in love.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
June 2, 2013
For a preacher – at least for those who dutifully follow assigned readings for a given Sunday – there are some weeks when you pick up the lessons and just groan: “So what am I going to do with that?” Well, I have to confess that was my reaction this week. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with these lessons; I just find them challenging to preach on for various reasons.
So after much consideration, I decided to start with the 1st verse that jumped out at me. It’s from Paul’s letter to the Galatians… the last part of verse 10: “If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I had to smile when I read that. “Did the apostle Paul just crack a joke?” I wondered. Sure enough. Paul is sarcastically stating the blatantly obvious in order to make a point to his readers. The Christian faith – the faith that revolves around the one who was rejected by his own and crucified by the Romans – obviously isn’t about popularity.
The faith that calls us to follow the Crucified one in a life of service and love for others obviously isn’t about scoring fashion points or cool points or righteous points with either society or God. That is not the life or the way Christ has called us to.
In the 1st part of that verse, Paul sets forth what the Gospel is definitely not about: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people?” he asks.
The obvious answer to those rhetorical questions is a resounding “No!” It is a resounding “no” the Galatians… and we need to hear so that we can welcome into our lives the powerful “yes”that God’s work in Christ works in us.
Christianity proclaims that God in Christ was crucified on the cross by human beings. Through this horrible spectacle, God heals and redeems the world from sin and death. In the process, God destroys all our pretenses and lays bare all our hidden agendas. He puts an end to our game-playing. We are revealed for who we are and for whom God calls us to be. The mistake of the Galatians was that they had come to use Christianity as simply another arena in which to play games of status and advantage and standing.
Worry about how we look… about how others view us… about where we rank or how we measure up against others… these are totally worthless anxieties for the Christian. They completely disregard the truth and purpose of the Gospel to which we’ve been called. And that infuriates Paul because it is wasting an incredible gift. It is taking what is precious beyond words and exchanging it for something that is worthless.
In order to better understand what Paul is getting at it is important to read the rest of his letter. The main theme of the letter to the Galatians is answering God’s call to freedom.
The Christian faith is supposed to be about honesty and truth… about facing God and our neighbor openly, without deceit or ulterior motives, without anxiety or fear. Paul speaks of this as freedom. And truly it is. In chapter 5, verse 1, Paul writes: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Preoccupation with what others think of us and how we measure up against others is dealing in slavery. It is making ourselves slaves to others’ expectations and opinions and at the same time, it is trying to enslave others by manipulating what they think of us through carefully crafting an image we think will get us what we want. All of that is deceit and slavery.
Paul urges his Galatian readers: 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.
Paul is confronting a weakness of the human heart and a common sickness of human culture and society. We think we can gain power by impressing or oppressing others or carefully crafting our image before others; but in truth such thinking only limits us and isolates us and prevents us from becoming what God has created us and called us to be.
One powerful example of the freedom to which we are called is reflected in the song the kids sang before the sermon: “Let Us Go Now to the Banquet.”
This song was commissioned in the 1970s by El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero. In a country overflowing with oppression and injustice, Romero was appointed to the position of archbishop. His appointment was welcomed by the government because Romero was known to be a conservative bookworm. They were confident that they could control him and he wouldn’t create any trouble.
They were wrong. Romero discovered the powerful freedom of the Christian as he encountered the Gospel in the lives of the poor peasants of his country. The Gospel gave him the strength to become the voice of the suffering poor, crying out against injustice and using his power and position to challenge the cruelty and oppression of the government. By the way, his story is very powerfully told in the movie Romero. If you have never seen it, I highly recommend it.
The words of the song, Let Us Go Now to the Banquet, echo the Gospel’s call to freedom.
Let us go now to the banquet; to the feast of the universe.
The table’s set and a place is waiting.
Come,everyone, with your gifts to share.
God invites all the poor and hungry to the banquet of justice and good;
Where the harvest will not be hoarded so that no one will lack for food.
May we build such a place among us where all people are equal in love.
God has called us to work together and to share everything we have.
A community in which all are equal in love, where we work together, where we share everything we have… that is community that is truly and deeply free.
We are called to freedom through the Gospel. What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to live the Gospel? Paul says that freedom is found in becoming “slaves to one another” in love. What a curious expression! Now he’s stating the not so obvious!
Freedom begins with receiving God’s love… knowing that we are loved… letting ourselves be loved… letting that love heal and change us. Letting that love work good growth in us. Letting it show us the way to live.
As God’s love frees us from our own anxieties about where we stand…. We become free to serve our neighbor, rather than feel we need to please them. We become free to share our strength and best selves with others, rather than play image games because we secretly fear our neighbor’s strength or disapproval. We are freed to let the life of God grow in us and reshape the world we live in, as we come to love others like God loves us.
In that world, the strong freely share their strength with the weak and both find themselves healed. The hungry are fed as those who have share out of their abundance, and both find themselves enriched. The true meaning of justice and mercy, power and peace become clear and real in our lives. That is the life of freedom we have been called to… the “banquet of justice and good” as the song describes it. Surely that is one dinner invitation we don’t want to miss out on.