Pentecost 4 + Year C + Proper 8 Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
30 June 2013 St Thomas Isle of Hope GA
I Kings 19: 15-16 & 19-21; Psalm 16
Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62
A pastor just fresh from Seminary, was invited to speak at a chapel service in a prison.
He was very excited but being his very first time, he was very nervous as well. He thought hard how to introduce his message. On the day he arrived at the prison, he was greeted by a large group of prisoners waiting to hear him. As the young pastor walked and stood behind the pulpit, he said, ‘Good morning. It’s so good to see you here!’
How do you perceive 'freedom.'? We will celebrate the next week the concept, the precept, the context by which we are made free by a Declaration of Independence, then later a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. Freedom: Webster defines it this way: : the quality or state of being free: as
a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b : liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another : independence c : the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous. There are others but the question I want to ask is: "What does freedom mean to you?" Paul's focus on freedom is in sharp contrast to a culture in which human slavery was rampant. When he used the allusions that he used contrasting freedom and slavery, they had some sense of a deeper meaning. Those who founded this nation which Lincoln called a "government of the people, by the people, for the people," was the great 'experiment'. No people had ever ruled themselves by 'vote'. Even today when we try to 'export' the concept and spread democratic representative republican government around the world, it is a most difficult concept for the majority of peoples to grasp.
Our founders came at it with a view toward the "protestant" understanding of St Paul. This is even evidenced earlier in Jewish history when God alone was their King and until they asked the prophet Samuel to make them a king "like all of the other nations have." A human intermediary versus directly living under the leadership of God. Hmmmm…neither God or the prophet Samuel were impressed with the idea. St Paul however returns to somewhat of the original argument or principle if you will. Can God trust us with freedom? Yes. But true freedom in Christ is not coming from the 'flesh' or our most human thoughts, words and deeds, but from the Holy Spirit and that new person baptized into Christ that fights against the flesh.
What controls you? Are you controlled by others? Do you have Aself-control@? Many of life=s goods and evils come from the issue of control. As we approach the day we celebrate American Afreedom,@ it behooves us to ponder what it means for us as Christians. . This morning we are going to talk about what God means by Acontrol@ and what the Devil means by Acontrol.@ Many who live in the Aflesh@ or natural sinful nature are in bondage, not in Christ=s freedom. The Epistles are largely about 'how' to live the Christian experience.
Control is important because within it is the concept of Asubmission.@ No one likes to be controlled. When we think of Acontrol@ we often think of Aoppression@. Oppression is why the first pilgrims came to this country. Submission and oppression are not the same thing. Submission is a word of power because only the person being asked to submit can do so. Oppression is one being forced against the will. God does not do that. Freedom in Christ is freedom to be wrong or right.
Submission is to come under THE MISSION of God in Christ. It is to become world-makers, kingdom-builders for the sake of God in Christ. God does not oppress those he calls. God respects our rights so much that he will protect our right to go to hell if we want to. God offers what he offers out of love. It is not for AGod to fulfill his needs@ that God says, Alive by the Spirit@ but for our good, not his. Many in this world who desire to control others, do it for something that is not for the other person's benefit.. Some have been hurt in the past and believe that unless they control others, they will be hurt again. Some learned the behavior from others. After all, it feels 'good' to have authority over others and feel important.
But God did not put us here to Acontrol@. A good rule of thumb is not to try to Acontrol@ that for which you are responsible. Then seek to exercise authority with love and self-less concern. If in this world, someone is controlling us, we need to confront that person, lovingly but firmly and not allow ourselves to be controlled. If we do not, we become as guilty as the one controlling us. If we wish to have favor with God and enjoy the benefits of our salvation in Jesus Christ here on earth, we will seek to submit ourselves to being Acontrolled@ by the Holy Spirit. Each week most of us pray or sing AThy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.@ Do we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice and then when God comes to bring some pain, some change, something in our lives that will require of us a thimbleful of Asubmission@ do we say, ANOooooo GOD !@
Jesus painted a picture of what it means to really follow him in less than glowing colors. In today=s gospel readings Jesus encountered three persons who asked him if they could follow or whom he invited to follow him. Jesus= answers with a no nonsense kind of answer in each case. Jesus give the first guy an advertisement that seems to say, Athis is a really tough life. Can you cut it?@ The second two simply wanted to fulfill obligations that society and family puts on them. Jesus clearly says that the priorities of the kingdom of God take precedent over those obligations. Commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God calls for sacrifice and honestly, few even in the Church of Jesus Christ seem able to Acut it.@ We don=t like sacrifice. Sacrifice is painful. Sacrifice, pain suffering, even death at least to those very human reactions and desires.
What sacrifices are we called to make? They all involve our natural responses.
In the Epistle from Galatians today, notice what St. Paul calls the Aworks of the flesh@. Skip the first four and the last three because those are what we usually think of . Of course most of us do not do these or are not tempted to do these, so that makes them much easier to use as battering rams to talk about all of those Abad people@, who of course, we always believe that we are not. Paul names idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions Some of us have made idols of many things in our lives. An idol is something that we put ahead of God or we consider of the supreme value. But some of these others, if we are honest with ourselves, we commit under an excuse: "that's just how I am." But that is not how the Spirit is.
Do we form factions, become divisive? At times someone does something we do not like or hurts us. Do we confront that person and say, Awhen you did this, I felt this way?@ Perhaps that would require too much effort and potential pain. No, rather we make up our mind that this person is like Athis@ or Athat@. We make a judgment, without all the facts mind you. But we think that we can read their minds! That is why God said, Ajudge not, lest ye be judged, for with the same judgment that you judge others you will be judged.@ Do we keep this to ourselves? We have been wounded, so we go to this person or that person, saying something negative about this or that person or just saying what will leave a little doubt in another person=s mind. But Paul said today in the readings, Abut those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.@ I recently read a quote attributed to Pope John Paul II: "Freedom is not the right to do as you please, but the liberty to do as you ought."
Notice what Paul speaks about: if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (vss. 15 & 16) ABiting and devouring each other@ The Devil wants to control our mouths. ASubmitting@ to that control feeds out flesh. It is so hard not to spread gossip. Gossip of course need not be a false rumor, gossip can be the truth, but it involves something that we are not given the responsibility for. Do you like to talk about other people? The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself..@ Yes, I know some neighbors are more difficult to love than others!
Jesus said, Athe truth shall set you free@, (Jn.8:32) but that of course is only true if we believe the truth and act upon it I have noticed that Satan tries to find a wound, usually an emotional wound, to enter a life, especially if that life has potential for God. So take care how your respond. Do not reward evil for evil but as St. Paul said, Aovercome evil with good.@ (Romans 12:21) Satan doesn't know what to do with that. It is so against our flesh and his. If you want to really Aget@ the Devil, when someone offends you, praise God and show love to the person who hurt you. Submit to the Spirit and find the light of God beginning to shine through you and all of your works and the joy of God=s salvation. St. Paul wrote: A the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self‑control.@ This is true freedom! So this week as we think about American freedom, let us place our own let us remember to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. To cherish their freedom as much as our own.
Notice what we prayed for together in our collect: "Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you."