Lectionary Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
June 26, 2016
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
The epistle lesson for this week (Galatians 5: 1, 13-25) begins with a look back at one of Paul’s key messages to the Galatian Christians. Jesus has freed us to be free. He lived on earth to do this, and he died on earth to do this. It was costly, this setting us free, and Paul wants to make sure that nobody forgets that. And Paul is wise to issue this reminder to stand firm because our broken human nature is long on forgetting and disremembering.
Yep. Not only are we prone to forgetting our freedom in Christ, we are also given to not remembering why this freedom matters or what we are supposed to do with it. The freedom we have been given in Christ is not for our self-indulgence, rather it is to be poured out continually in love for God and neighbor. We are given freedom with the responsibility to understand and embrace it in a way different from how the world interprets and uses freedom.
Instead of singing the Isley’s brother’s funk anthem “It’s your thing/Do what you wanna do/I can’t tell you/Who to sock it to” and blithely marching through life to the beat of your own personal drum, we are called to rewrite those words and reframe the cultural heartbeat of freedom along the lines of “It’s God’s thing/Do what God tells you to/Paul can tell you/ what you need to do.” O.K. my apologies for messing with a perfectly fine song, but I hope you get the picture. We aren’t to be about doing our own thing at the expense of others. We can’t allow our freedom to turn into a bloodletting where we fight like a pack of wolves, consuming one another in our need to be free on our own terms. No. Not at all.
We are freed to love one another and to bear fruits of a different kind: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is absolutely no law, rhyme or reason against taking this countercultural approach to what it means to be free. But it’s costly. Oh sure, it probably won’t cost you your life, but it may cost you popularity, financial gain, that which you desire, and even the freedom to be a real jerk to others. We are called to die to our own base nature and wear the new clothes of Jesus that we put on in baptism. We must rise to a new life that requires Holy Spirit guidance.
We are free. We are free indeed. But we are not free if we choose slavery to self and sin. We are free ony when we live into the costly grace of Jesus Christ, loving our neighbor and being stewards of the good fruits born of the Holy Spirit’s planting.
So what do Paul’s instructions have to do with stewardship? Maybe being good stewards of love is what we need in these tumultuous times. It has become so easy to bite and snipe and hate, to loudly clamor for our own voice to be heard above the din, to cut for ourselves a bigger slice of the world’s resource pie than is rightfully ours to have. Perhaps in this election season, we would do well to cultivate those Spirit fruits in hopes of providing an alternative voice and way in the midst of the rancor. By serving one another in love we serve God, and we are freed to be so much more than we could ever be on our own. Dear friends, set your face toward the Jerusalem of your heart and determine to love in the face of everything and anything this world dishes out. You will make a difference in doing so, for you will be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ in this world.
Wow! What a month June has been–and it’s not even over yet. Folks in the pews are likely all over the map in terms of anxiety and fear levels, political persuasions, and personal situations, but most everyone will have been affected in some way by the tragedy in Orlando, the result of the Brexit referendum vote, and other troubling world news. This week’s gospel lesson from the ninth chapter of Luke provides an excellent focus point for worship on how to “set our faces” on Jesus, just as he set his face toward Jerusalem. Being a follower of Christ is not for the faint of heart (as Jesus makes clear in verse 53), but it is the way that leads to real and lasting life. We have work to do as the church, and now is not the time to hunker down in fear and circle the wagons. Consider how you can address the concerns of congregants in prayer, in proclamation, in your teaching, and in song. You might wish to place particular emphasis on Psalm 16 this week, encouraging congregants to sit with this psalm throughout the week in prayer and reflection whenever they feel that the world is simply too much and too troubling.
Take some time with youth to talk about standing firm in the freedom Christ has given us. Invite them to ponder what this means. Are we free to do whatever we want because we are saved? Some Christians take this view. On what do we stand firm? Verses 22-23 of this week’s epistle lesson provide some clues (Galatians 5:1, 13-25). When we cultivate these fruits of the spirit, our discipleship roots grow deep and stay connected to the life source of our faith. We are able to better withstand the works of evil, power, and self to make a difference in Christ’s name, to participate in the inbreaking of the reign of God now, and to be the hands and feet and heart of Jesus in this world. Freedom is indeed costly. It cost Jesus his life, and it may cost us friends, family, opportunities, and popularity. However, in the long run this freedom is priceless because no one can take it away from us, and we can help multiply it one person at a time.
In the Disney Pixar movie Up (2009), Dug the dog is on a mission to get Kevin the flightless bird back to his master. Dug has a wonderful heart and the ability to communicate thanks to a special collar. However, Dug is also easily distracted by the sight of squirrels. Show this clip or another similar one to the children. Talk about how we humans also become easily distracted by things and people and places. Maybe you can even prearrange a distraction to divert the children’s attention temporarily. Tell them how Jesus did not get distracted from his mission. In today’s gospel he sets his sight on Jerusalem and is determined to fulfill God’s will so that we can all be free. Jesus asks his disciples to keep their eyes focused on him so that we can help Jesus make this world a better place for all people and share the good news with everyone we meet. Remind the children to watch out for the “squirrels” in this world and keep their eyes, hearts, and minds on Jesus. Finish with a short prayer.
Photos: Mervi Eskelinen, Mark Rain, and Thor, Creative Commons. Thanks!