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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
June 30, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Subject
Pentecost 3C
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: June 30, 2019—Pentecost 3C

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Freedom For

 

              Dad was leaving for a few days. He’d been invited to a conference on the East Coast, and was about to fly out. During the goodbyes he said to me, “Remember. You’re the man of the house now.”

 

              My eight-year old brain might have taken those words a little to close to heart. A few days later, I got into an argument with Mom. I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember retorting, “Oh yeah?! Well I’m the MAN OF THE HOUSE!”

 

              Use your imagination for what happened next.

 

              Dad had a talk with me when he got home. Just because I was the “man of the house” did not mean I had no obligation to listen to Mom. Quite the contrary. I had mistaken Dad’s half-joking comment to mean that I was free to do whatever I wanted.

 

              And in America, that’s how we often view freedom. Parents, have your children ever told you, “It’s a free country,” when you tell them not to do something? How well does that work? We hear that all the time. “It’s a free country.” Many people in this country have taken that freedom as license to be a jerk. Just look at Twitter and Facebook. Just watch cable news. Just look at what’s happened to our relationships with our neighbors, especially those who aren’t like us. Mistrust, fear, suspicion, even hatred. Our freedom to speak, to assemble, to worship (or not) in the way we choose—we have misused all these good and necessary rights.

 

              I’m not saying “get rid of rights”. That would be a dangerous and stupid thing to say. I’m saying that perhaps we should look at what it really means to be a free person.

 

              Martin Luther had a lot to say about freedom. At the beginning of his treatise The Freedom of a Christian, he wrote:

 

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.

A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.[1]

 

              Luther wrote the rest of the treatise about this idea of Christian freedom—that it was our liberty that made it possible to love and serve the neighbor. And Luther didn’t pull it out of thin air. Luther got this idea of Christian freedom from Paul.

 

              At the beginning of our reading from Galatians, Paul exhorts them, after four chapters of hand-wringing, to stop submitting to “the bondage of slavery”. What does Paul mean by slavery here? Not what we think. The bondage of slavery is anything that defines who we are outside of Christ. And I’m not talking about our roles as a husband, wife, father, mother, child, student, athlete, engineer, teacher, retiree, or farmer. I’m not talking about our geopolitical, socioeconomic, or religious identities. I’m talking about letting those identities and the expectations behind them define who you are at the very center of your being. 

 

Remember, that was what those folks who came to the Galatian church were trying to do. They were trying to get the Galatians to define themselves based on how well they observed the Torah. Whether or not they practiced circumcision. Whether or not they kept dietary laws. And as Paul points out, defining yourself by how well or how poorly you do something is paramount to slavery—even in the holy, just, and good Law of God. The Law has its purpose. It keeps social order. It points out and amplifies our sins. But it can never save. And it can never tell us the whole story of who we are. This goes for any kind of “law” that we encounter. The expectations on how to look, what to wear, what a Lutheran is…and all the expectations that are and will be placed on you, Sydney and Bryce, do not tell the whole story of who you are. Not even close.

 

              No, our identity is in Christ, who frees us from slavery to all these “laws” placed upon us. Our identity is in him who, as Paul wrote earlier in Galatians, was born of a woman, under the Law, to redeem those under the Law so we could be God’s adopted children.[2]

 

              And it is in our identity as God’s adopted children that we are finally set free. We are set free to be the people God created us to be. And this freedom in Christ is not primarily “freedom to”, but “freedom from” and “freedom for”. We are freed from all other claims on the core of who we are so that we can live as God’s children in the world.

 

              And what does a child of God look like? Paul provides examples in our reading with his vice and virtue lists in verses 19-21 and in 22-23. There are behaviors done from selfish motives—an abuse of “freedom to”—and there are attitudes that flow from the freedom given to us in Christ. This is “freedom for”. This is the freedom behind the vows that you will affirm today, Sydney and Bryce, and that we, the congregation, have already affirmed.

 

              Turn to page __ in your bulletin and look at the words below the creed. There, I will ask Sydney and Bryce these questions. I hope you will take them to heart, too.

 

You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:

to live among God’s faithful people,

to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,

to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,

to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,

and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

 

The fruits of the Spirit are behind these vows. We are free to love and serve the neighbor without any regard to what people think of us or what others expect. We are free to live in a community of faith, receiving spiritual food in the Word and Sacrament, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to serve modeled on Jesus’ example, and to strive for justice and peace everywhere. That might sound like law, but it is Gospel because of what we’ve been freed from. We’ve been freed from fear. From selfishness. From everything else that defines us apart from Christ. We are new people, made and re-made in baptism. Today, Sydney and Bryce, you will take that freedom that your parents first vowed on your behalf to make it your own. God help us remember that every day, we all are renewed in that freedom in Christ.

 

Let us pray.

 

Lord Jesus, continually remind us that our freedom in you is freedom from selfishness and what others think, and freedom to serve others as you have served us. Amen.

 

© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.

 

                                                                                                                                             

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 31 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 344.

[2] Gal. 4:4-5.