Trinity 2/Proper 8
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
I have repeated myself over the last few weeks that we are now in a season of teaching. We celebrated Pentecost (the sending of the Holy Spirit) along with the Queen’s Jubilee at the beginning of June. This morning, in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians we see what it is to be led and to live in the Spirit.
The first thing to say is that it is really difficult! We are constantly in a battle between good and evil, right and wrong, moving forward and looking back.
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (in modern day Turkey) he is addressing many of the questions of the early church and like many of his other letters, he includes lists of things to be avoided. He is telling the Galatians basically to work against their natural desires, to not gratify themselves with the fleshy things of this world. The list in Galatians 5 is rather extensive: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness and carousing.
Without making too much eye contact, it can be assumed that many of us here today have done some/many of the things on this list. Some of these things are against our own physical body and some are against the bodies and wills of other other people. None of these are ideals that we should be striving for. Paul is calling the Galatians and us to a different standard of living.
Paul is also clear that it is an ongoing battle for which we need help. There is a better way and that is the way of the Spirit. This is not about following more rules or just behaving ourselves. Jesus came to bring freedom and not slavery.
To have freedom in Christ, means that we are not bound to old ways, however comfortable they might be. Paul’s list is negative and depressing; none of those things bring life and love. The fix is always temporary. A life lived in the Spirit is enriching, nourishing. It does not have time for the petty and temporary gratification that the world offers. Part of our problem is that we try to balance the Spirit and the flesh; we try to make them work together. It is impossible because they are opposites.
To live by the flesh it to satisfy the self first, be inward looking. Living by Spirit means that we look outward first, to the needs of those around us. It is a continual battle to put the needs of another first, especially if they are not in our family or tribe.
It is slow work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the supernatural outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit and the living proof that the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is one fruit with nine different qualities. Think for a moment about your favourite kinds of fruit.
Imagine one, incredibly perfect fruit that combines all the best characteristics of your favourite kinds of fruit. Maybe a seedless fruit like a banana, nice and crisp like an apple, bursting with the flavours of strawberry and nectarine, the tang of pineapple and raspberry. You get the idea. God is developing a fruit in all his children. The fruit that has characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
Who does not need any more of these in their lives right now?! Could you be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, faithful. These are lifelong work friends. The more we grow and develop, the freer we become. Freedom always comes with a cost though. It means we cannot go backwards.
The reading from Luke’s Gospel is harsh and uncomfortable; it sets out the call to look ahead. This is not a friendly version of Jesus. He is hard, unyielding, his face is set to go to Jerusalem, to his death. He is impatient, inconvenient, intense, confusing.
First, Jesus is offering rejection and forbearance. The Samaritan villagers did not receive Jesus, he was ready to heal, teach, spend time with them but they refused. This rejection angered John and James and their reaction was to burn the place to the ground! Jesus took his would-be fire-starters to task over their offer. The lesson here is: how in danger are we of leading with anger rather than love the people we disagree with?
A friend of mine posted a meme on Facebook that said: Survival Tip: If you get lost in the woods, start talking about politics and someone will show up to argue with you. Arguing our opinions is a way of life. Everyone is sharing opinions. Why do we get worked up over perfect strangers and their opinions?! Does it matter? Really??
People get so worked up over the opinions of others over things that don’t really matter! Let’s get worked up over things that matter. Humans that are dying in the world! Injustice and hate and racism! Famine in Africa. War in Ukraine. Cost of living. Strikes. It happened then and it happens now.
Are we letting resentment over-take kindness when our feelings get hurt or egos bruised? The call here is to bring life and not death even to those who reject and insult us.
Second, Jesus is selling inconvenience and hardship. I don’t think that person who offered to follow Jesus wherever he was going really had any idea what was meant! Jesus’ reply about foxes having holes and birds having nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. What is he saying?
One reading is that Jesus was homeless. Inconvenient. He travelled around, no mention of a home address. This is more an advertisement for inconvenience, there is no promise of the fat bank account, easy life, nice things. Jesus instead offered a reprioritization of possessions, finance and geography, a dependence on the kindness and generosity of others.
In the final encounter, Jesus again seems rather harsh towards a chap who wants to say goodbye to his family. As someone who has to say goodbye to her family frequently – I don’t like this! This, I think, is about hesitation. We can always find an excuse not to do something.
There is an urgency to the Gospel message that we sometimes forget. I think that we like to think we have more time and control than we actually do! The time is now, not later.
Where does this leave us this morning?! This is a hard Gospel reading that doesn’t leave us much room for compromise. Jesus is asking us to give up everything for him, even those things that we hold most dear. To follow him despite the inconvenience that it brings and those things we will have to miss out on.
Jesus is hard on us because he knows that our hearts cry out for transformation. For renewal. For resurrection. Nothing else we buy will suffice. Nothing else the world sells can compare. So Jesus bids us to come and die so that his fruit of love, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control can take root and then and only then will we truly live in freedom.