02 Jul Freedom in Christ
Wild vs. Domesticated
Did you know wild almonds are naturally poisonous? Their amygdalin makes them not only very bitter, and it breaks down into cyanide. And that chemical is released when there is an injury to the seed itself… if it is bumped or bruised in any way it will release the amygdalin and eating even a handful of them would become fatal. Only when domesticated through what has been a complicated process of trial and error: not eating the bitter ones, enjoying and planting the sweet ones, did humans arrive at the almonds that so many people enjoy today. Domesticated almonds appeared around the Mediterranean around 3000 BCE, and by around 1325 BCE they were one of the foods placed in King Tut’s tomb.
I share this story in an effort to encourage us to enter into the text we heard read this morning from Galatians by thinking about the connections between those wild and domesticated fruits of the earth and the connections between the wild and domesticated fruits of the spirit. It is important for us to recognize the reality that we have newfound freedoms in Christ… freedoms from the onerous requirements of God’s laws and expectations, but this freedom brings with it the responsibility to deliberately select and nurture those traits we wish to see take root in the free Christian community.
The community of churches in Galatia that received Paul’s letter was predominantly made up of people of Celtic origin. They were having heated arguments on the question of what basis the Jewish laws would have as the norm of their community. Some argued that the law had absolutely no basis in their life together, others were starting to follow the teaching of the Judaizers who were insisting that any Christian who hoped to share in the promises of the resurrection must first enter into Judaism before adhering to the Way of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s disappointment with the Galatians is evident throughout his letter but the fact that we have the letter in our possession signals at least two things: one that Paul loved the communities he had planted in Christ’s name enough to respond to their growing pains and two he knew that even in the midst of their disagreements and questions they remained, at their base, teachable.
“For freedom, Christ has set us free,” Paul writes, “Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
So you’re saying…
When I was a newly ordained pastor my boss, the senior pastor, taught the ninth grade confirmation class. Every so often they had a parent night where parents sat in on the class and then when the youth departed for their own small group work the parents could remain behind and ask the pastor anything they wanted.
One week the senior pastor was going to be out of town for confirmation and parent night and so the task of filling in was assigned to me. The topic was justification by faith… the cornerstone of the Reformation, a fastball across the middle of the plate for this young gung-ho pastor, I was going to teach these kids and their parents how there is nothing that we can do to be made right with God but that God, in Jesus Christ, has declared us free and just. Just like that.
So I taught and I taught. When I got to the end of the large group time one youth raised his hand and said, “So, wait, you are telling us that we can do whatever we want and if we ask for forgiveness God will forgive us?” And my response was “Yes, but why would you want to go on sinning?”
The student put his hand down and the youth filed out of the room. It was just parents and me, 28 years old, with no kids of my own yet, Pastor Chris. OK, are there any questions? A bunch of hands immediately shot up. “Yes?”, I asked one mom… “Do you know that you basically just gave our kids permission to go out and do whatever they want with each other with no fear of God?”
“I did what?”
As a parent, now, I see her point. However it is incumbent upon us as growing and maturing Christians to move away from making God the celestial bad cop in our parenting and our relationships, first of all, but also to remember this:
If we are to take God’s promises seriously, and Paul’s proclamation as truth, then, if we have been freed from the results of our sin and failures, if we have been set loose from the prisons and chains that have held us down, why would we ever subject ourselves to them ever again. It would be as though someone flew our prison doors open and we said, “Thank you but I’ll just stay in here.”
Walk in The Way
Our freedom from slavery is not a license to indulge in the worst of our nature, but an opportunity to live authentically with each other, loving our neighbors as ourselves.
And so Paul sets up two tables of vices and virtues: notice how the first list destroys community they are death-dealing works of the flesh: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these. But the second list, that list of fruits of the Spirit, are fruits of the vertical connections we have with each other and with God: love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those traits are worth cultivating in the gardens of our own hearts and our own community.
Discipleship isn’t simply a matter of not breaking the rules, dear friends, it is seizing the opportunity that God has given you to live a real life. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a short story called “Leaf by Niggle” in which he writes this:
There was once a man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him, but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start sometime, but he did not hurry with his preparations.
Brothers and sisters we can spend our whole lives preparing to walk in The Way, as followers of Christ, or we can start today, this morning. The garden has been planted.