Since I jumped the gun and did last week’s installment on the assigned gospel text for this Sunday we will use the assigned epistle text for this week’s reflection.
1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
If you are like me you open up your Bible and see what verses the lectionary has skipped across. Galatians 5:2-12 deals with circumcision, law, gospel, grace and freedom. Paul suggests a more drastic circumcision for those who are stirring up trouble—perhaps that is why the text ended up on the lectionary cutting room floor.
We live in a remarkable tension. We are freed by Christ’s life, death, ministry and resurrection. The law’s grip on our lives has been loosened. We are saved not by what we do or don’t do but by Christ’s all sufficient work. Grace saves us—not our tending to the requirements of the law. We are free.
We are bound up by the obligation to serve others. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow after him. Jesus washes feet and invites us to do likewise. We cannot add a thing to our salvation. But in loving response to what God has done we are invited into the service of others on behalf of God. We are bound to service.
Martin Luther captures it this way:
+ A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
+ A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.
Our self-indulgent world leans hard on encouraging things of the list in verses 19-21. We are told to take what is ours. Shows play to our insecurities and our baser instincts. Freedom looks like bickering contestants. Freedom looks like Girls Gone Wild. Freedom looks like self-serving, small-minded living. Freedom looks like “shooting down the ones who did what we wish we’d dared” (lyric from Stand Up [2:12] by Superchick). Freedom looks like unbridled corporate greed at the expense of the future and the environment. Freedom looks like a world that bites and devours and backstabs one another. Freedom looks like the American dream run amok.
We Christians are truly free. But (to paraphrase Uncle Ben in the Spiderman movie) with great freedom comes great responsibility.
We are called to use our freedom to be shaped into people who reflect verses 22-26. Since we know who are and whose we are we can enter into service more fully. When we take the calling from God that is ours it looks like something else. Freedom looks like not worrying who gets the credit. Freedom looks like lifting up the gifts and abilities of others. Freedom looks like a cross. Freedom looks like a washbasin and towel. Freedom looks like two players carrying a fallen competitor around the bases and ending their season for a higher good (see story and picture). Freedom looks like things that at times fly in the face of prudence as generosity and love and forgiveness and grace win the day. Freedom looks peaceful and kind and gracious and bold and joyful.
God, shape us by your indwelling Holy Spirit to be people who use our freedom well. Help us never forget the high price that was paid to set us free. Help us never stop serving and laboring until all know this freedom. Amen.