2/26/2017 Sermon – “Dare to Dream #1”

For the next six weeks, we will follow a book called Dare to Dream by a pastor from Dayton, Ohio named Mike Slaughter.

On Wednesday nights during Lent, we will watch the short video talks that go along with the book and discuss the ideas that go along with the series.  On Sunday mornings, I’ll go into the scriptures he uses and dig a little deeper into what he says.  You don’t have to have the book for Sundays or Wednesdays; I think you’ll do just fine with or without.

Mike will talk about developing a God-sized purpose for your life, no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.  No matter how old or young you are.  We’ll discover some of the principles of living into God’s will.

Mike will talk about discovering and developing a BHAG:  A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (God- Purpose).  This is how you know a God Purpose:  (it will…)

Honor God.

Bless other people.

Bring you joy.

Inside your bulletin, there is a piece of blank paper.  Let me give you a little writing assignment.  Finish this sentence: Someday, I’m going to…

Let’s listen for a moment to Mike Slaughter:

We’re going to think about dreams and dreaming.  A dream can be imagery that comes to you while you’re sleeping.  Or, it can be a vision of something you need to do – a calling.  There are sleeping dreams and visionary dreams.

In the Bible, God speaks many times through sleeping dreams.  These seem to happen only with individuals; I can’t find a story of a group of people having the same dream while asleep.  Then that person describes the dream to someone else and it has an impact on both of them (or all of them).

Visionary dreams seem to be mostly about changing the world in some way, even if it’s in a small place amongst a few people.  But a visionary dream can be shared by a lot of people.  The Apostle Paul had a visionary dream for believers: people filled with the Holy Spirit, living a lifestyle of love.  In different places at different times, Christians have become a movement, or believers have influenced a movement.  God specializes in visionary dreams.  Think Martin Luther King, Jr.  Think of the people who started this church and those who have kept the message of Christ flowing through good times and bad.

Do you have sleeping dreams that you remember?  For now, we’re going to look specifically at Jacob’s sleeping dream.

Genesis 28:10-17.  Jacob left Beersheba and went towards Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ 16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ 17And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

Palestinian shepherd. CN – 2011.

Jacob was not looking for God.  Out in the middle of nowhere, Jacob was on the run, and on a 400-mile trip.  He had deceived his father Isaac into giving him the traditional inheritance birthright instead of his older brother Esau. Esau was not happy and Jacob needed to leave.  Fast.  So Isaac sends him on an errand.  Jacob heads back to the ancestral home to find a wife.  And that’s how he ends up in the middle of nowhere.

Jacob is not what you would call an ideal Bible-hero.  But he is part of the story of how God sets out to save you and me.

The Bible is the story of how God redeems people, saves them from themselves. From beginning to end, humanity goes from riches to rags a thousand times.

Once upon a time, I asked an elderly, venerated seminary professor a question that went like this: (we were talking about the Hebrew people) “As far as anybody knows, was there any other culture in ancient times that preserved such a history of its “heroes” as flawed, imperfect, and damaged as these?  Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…”   He thought for a moment, leaned into the microphone, and said, “No.  Next question.”  God has no one on a pedestal except Jesus.  God’s story of redemption is full of normal people like you and me.

Here are a few important things to know from the story about Jacob we just heard:

Jacob was not looking for God, Jacob had not prepared himself to find God, but out in the middle of nowhere, all alone, God stood beside him.  God knew exactly where to find Jacob.  God had a purpose to accomplish.  God had promised Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac that a nation would come from them, people as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Jacob didn’t seem to be clued in to God’s promises at all, but that didn’t matter to God. In spite of all of Jacob’s faults and imperfections, God stood beside him and made the same promise to him.  And God knows exactly where to find us.

God will keep speaking to Jacob.  God won’t leave Jacob to figure life on his own, and God won’t leave us.  What was the meaning of those angels going up and down to heaven?  Who are angels and what do they do?  Very simply, they are God’s messengers.  God’s communication is always there for us to tap into.  A constant stream that doesn’t stop.  Maybe we just have to be still enough to listen.  Jacob needs to keep listening.

Jacob had nothing to give to God, but God gave Jacob a future… and a future for thousands of his descendants.  God.  I know how reluctant many people are when it comes to sharing their faith.  You might be thinking, “Who am I?”  But when you take a chance to share just a little encouragement to believe, you never know how far the ripple will spread.

Now we’re going to think about an example of visionary dreaming.  Have you heard of the Wright brothers?  What do you know?  Kitty Hawk, NC, December 3, 1903.  Mike Slaughter talks about the Wright brothers and their dream of flying.  What’s interesting is that when they made that first flight, no reporters were there and hardly anybody knew about it.

Maybe it didn’t matter to them.  The Wright brothers lived during an age of visionary dreaming.  Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison were just a few of the people changing the world.  Visionary dreaming encourages other visionary dreaming.  It’s contagious.  Usually, the dreams were built on other peoples’ dreams, taking them a step farther.

Wilbur and Orville Wright ran a Bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio.  Working on bikes set them to dreaming.  Bicycles were a relatively new thing for the average person, and in 1903, many people had never even seen an automobile.  The brothers were a step ahead.  In their shop, while fixing and building bicycles, they worked hard at finding a way to travel through the air with a machine. They borrowed the technology of gas powered engines and made lots of attempts at building gliders.  But here’s a story most people don’t know…

An older man named Amos Root lived in Medina, Ohio, at that time.  Yes, that’s my hometown.  He had been successful in business (industrial-scale bee-keeping) and he was curious about the sketchy news about flying machines down in Dayton.  No reporters had actually seen the Wright brothers do this thing.  So, he drove his 1903 Oldsmobile 200 miles south to see for himself.

Root was so astonished by what he saw that he decided to write about it and became the first person to publish an eyewitness account – in his bee-keeping magazine!  It was from that magazine that the word spread.  Amos Root, this older man who shared the vision of younger men, was convinced that this invention would change the world.

He shared the Wright brothers’ visionary dream.  The future of Christ’s mission in your church depends on older ones encouraging younger ones, even when their ideas might seem a little “out-there.”

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. (Acts 2:17)

I believe that is happening in Manheim, happening in our churches, right now.  We can all be a part of living out God’s purpose, honoring God, blessing other people, bringing us joy.

Prayer

God, you have this amazing ability to surprise us.   Sometimes the dreams aren’t what we expect and the visions involve a lot of work.  But help us step out with courage.  Help our spirits be open to your Spirit of adventure. Help us know dreams and visions as doors that open to new ways of thinking and seeing and hearing.

Keep us open to learning things we didn’t know yesterday; expand our minds.  Keep us curious. Keep us open to meeting new people; help us keep a space in our circle of friendships for the new person.

We believe you walk with us every step of the way, and the dreams and visions you bring are changing us into the people we should be. Amen.

2/19/2017 Sermon – Starting Fresh #7: “The Marks of Jesus”

Aqueduct near Pisidian Antioch, Galatia. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Galatians 6:11-16.  See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

17 From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.

18 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last few weeks as we worked our way through the Book of Galatians (with the Wednesday night Bible study).  I’m really looking forward to the Dare to Dream series, beginning next week.

Let me point out a few interesting things about those words of Paul – and do a little review – as we finish up Galatians today.  As you were reading that passage or listening to it, at some points, you might have thought to yourself, “What did he just say? What did that mean?”  This morning, I want to show you some stuff that most churches don’t get to see. For about three minutes, let me take you to seminary!  I’m going to talk about God’s Word is first expressed in that passage.

Paul starts out by saying…

See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 

In the time of Paul and Jesus, there were people who specialized in physical writing called scribes.  Many people could read, but there were people who were professional secretaries who had learned the craft of writing – physically writing with ink on parchment or papyrus (like paper).  Paul had a secretary, but to prove that this letter to the Galatian churches was from him, he takes over the pen and the ink bottle himself (some think he may have written the whole letter).

Do you remember when people communicated through hand-writing?  Crazy thing to ask, I know.  Today, schools have been trying to decide whether to continue teaching cursive.  Interesting, right?  Computers have taken over the world!  If you can type and hook your computer up to a printer or send an email, why bother learning to write?  Sad, but true.

When I was young, I remember older people who could do Spencerian script – a particular kind of caligraphy.  Really popular in the 1800’s.  If you could do this kind of writing, it showed you had been to school and had class.

Spencerian script began to go away when typewriters became popular, about 100 years ago.  But on your computer, you can find a font that does it!  Thinking “so what?”  You see Spencerian script every day.  Just look at a Coca-Cola or Ford logo.

One of the oldest known fragments of scripture, called P52 (c. 125AD). A portion of the 18th chapter of John.

We would not have God’s Word without people who could use a pen.  In Paul’s time, this is what handwriting looked like.  That’s the oldest piece of the New Testament that anybody knows about.  It dates to 125 AD and is part of the 18th chapter of John.

Yes, that’s Greek, the most common language of the time, and it’s not as hard to understand as you might think, once you get used to looking at it.  When Paul says “look at what large letters,” the hand-writing has probably changed.  Now it’s him!  It’s the end of the letter and he may be proving it’s authentic.

Unfortunately, no handwriting of Paul exists, but he would have written in a style very similar to this.  See how it’s all in caps with no punctuation? This was how people wrote to each other and the folks in the Galatian churches had no trouble understanding it. This is what books looked like.   That’s what the first New Testament scripture looked like.

A few years ago, I had a student in a youth group who could not tell time if you showed her a watch with hands on it.  I think it’s possible that my grandchildren will not be able to do cursive handwriting.  Things change.  God does not change, but the world around us changes.  Amen?

Over the last few weeks, you’ve heard Paul express himself in some strong terms.  That’s an understatement.  He is very upset with the people in the Galatian churches.  He led these folks to faith in the living Jesus, they have begun to experience the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit living in them when through faith, and now they are being distracted by some Jewish people who are saying that to be truly Christian, the men must be circumcised.  Look that up if you don’t know what it is!

Why are they saying this?  Because the message of Jesus comes out of the Hebrew faith.  They know that God said to Abraham:

This is my covenant, which you (Abraham) shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. (Genesis 17:10)

What’s interesting is that even though Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:22) and spent a lot of time around non-Jews, he said nothing about circumcision.  But for Jews, this is what was expected.  It was a physical mark of faith in the one God.

The Apostle Paul (Rembrandt, 1657).

Paul has a headache!  Jews and some other cultures of the time did circumcision, but the Greek-speaking world of the Roman Empire not so much.  So, for the new believers in the Roman colonies in Galatia, this is a problem.  Paul has a clear mission to bring the Good News of Jesus to people who are not Jewish – the most powerful life-giving message there is – and the men are hearing that they need to have a procedure!

To the people who saying this, he says, “Stop it!”  Pushing these religious rules is not okay.  With faith in Jesus, God’s power for right living comes inside you and takes control.  Faith in religious rules leaves you open to what he called the desires of the flesh – that nasty stuff you heard about last week.

So he ends this letter the way he began….

For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!  (Galatians 6:15)

How many people are missing out on the new creation because they think that Christians are only following a religious system, doing what they do because they are following rules, like every other religion?  People are hungry for the new life, for the new creation.  The world is craving this relationship with God that sets things right, that makes things new, that gives you a kind of clarity and purpose for living you never had before.

We just sang a song that said: “Rise, your shackles are no more.  For Jesus Christ has broken every chain.”

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

Heard those words before?  Paul talked about his own new creation at the beginning of this series, in the first chapter of Galatians.  He described how God brought him out of his lifestyle of being one of the most abusive Christian-haters in history.  He called himself a “man of violence.”  Until he met Jesus.  He spent the second half of his life traveling, giving Jesus away.

Ancient road in Galatia, near Derbe & Lystra. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

His first trips away from the Middle East took him to the towns of Galatia (check out Paul’s travels through Galatia in chapters 13-14). He preached, he prayed with people, and they believed. God the Holy Spirit began to work in people’s lives.  Look at what happened next:

Acts 14:8-18.  In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

“But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.”  (Acts 14:19) 

Can you picture what that would have looked like?  Do you suppose that left some scars?  I would think so.  Do you think the people in the churches of Galatia might be remembering that little episode? It wasn’t the only time something like that happened to Paul. He’s been writing about circumcision, but he’s thinking about something else when he says…

From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.  (Galatians 6:17)

Paul, what’s up with that scar on your forehead? I heard your eyesight isn’t so good and that you’ve got a “thorn in the flesh.”  Paul has suffered for bringing the good news of Jesus to the Galatians, in a way that most of us will never know suffering.

You’re ready for an unhappy R-rated story with lots of blood, but his face lights up because you just gave him a chance to talk about Jesus.  He loves Jesus.  He would do anything for Jesus.  Jesus saved him from the dark road he was on. Those scars just bring him closer to the Jesus he loves.  For him, they are a privilege.

Surveys have been showing that visitors to churches aren’t so much interested in whether the preacher says awesome things (a little bit of a relief to me!).  They are more interested in whether the people of the church have faith.  For some people, you are the only Bible they will ever read.  How is God writing that story with you?  How many chapters are there?  Have there been joys and challenges and could you see God working?  We’ve begun to include a moment in the service called “Sharing Faith,” and maybe you can be part of that.  Anyone who is shy about public speaking could give one of us something to read.  I think that between us all, God has written some amazing stories!  And I believe they need to be told.

 Prayer

God, we give you thanks for a beautiful spring weekend and another opportunity to be with you.   We are here to serve you with our worship and give you thanks that we can be called followers of Jesus.  Forgive us for our inability at times to see beyond ourselves, forgive us for becoming closed or thinking that there is only one way to do things.

We pray for our families and our family, that you open our eyes in new ways.  We pray for openness to all people of all types, all colors and all cultures.  Give us opportunities to include them whenever possible. Help our relationships grow, and help us learn the power of living that comes from being one with you through your son Jesus. Amen.

2/12/2017 Sermon – Starting Fresh #6: “A Spirit of Gentleness”

Sometimes, in a daydream, I imagine the Apostle Paul coming to St. Paul’s for a visit., walking under the stained glass over the front door – the stained glass with his name in it. Legend says that he might have been bald; I hope that he’s not wearing a toga.  He’s heard some things, not just about St. Paul’s, but about churches in the area. He also understands what the culture is like around here.  Channeling the Spirit of God, he has some things to say.  What do you suppose he would say?  Like any Christians who ever lived anywhere, we face challenges to our faith and challenges to our lives.

Since the beginning of January, we’ve been looking at what the Apostle Paul has to say to the churches of Galatia – four of them an area the size of a small state in the middle of what today is Turkey.  It was known as Asia in Paul’s time.  The folks in these churches have come to faith in Jesus, which is an incredibly freeing experience, but have lately been listening to people who want to give them a different kind of Jesus – the Jesus of strict religion.

They have been spreading the idea that you can’t be a good follower of Jesus without following the rules!

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

Paul has been trying to tell the folks in these churches that strict religion is great for limiting bad behavior, but not so good at building up faith.  He begs them: Believe in the living Jesus and let God help you follow the rules from the inside out (as the song says).  Let the Spirit guide you.  Surrender to Jesus and God will help you.  Trusting in Christ will make you free in a way that you’ve never felt free before!

Last week, Paul described what life looks like without the Spirit.  He calls it giving into the “desires of the flesh.”

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 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.  Galatians 5:19-21

What did you think of that list (Paul loves lists!)?  Did you see yourself in there anywhere?  We’ve got a few antique words (that are worth looking up), but a few others that aren’t so hard to understand. Jealousy?  Anger?  Quarrels?

When he says that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God,” he is judging, but not being judgmental.  He is trying to describe right and wrong (judging), but not assigning people to hell. The kingdom of God is the world of relationship between God and people. People who persist in living a destructive lifestyle by the nature of what they do separate themselves from God’s kingdom where love is in control. They wreck their relationship with the kingdom and they wreck themselves.  Ironically, the Holy Spirit living in them is probably making them miserable.

People following Jesus may not be perfect, but they are moving in the direction of living out God’s love.  They allow the Spirit in them to grow fruit:

Butterfly. Dominican Republic. 2008 – CN. “…restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. ” Galatians 6:1.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  Galatians 5:22-23

It’s more than just lifestyle choices; these are the attributes that live in you and communicate Jesus to other people.  It’s the Holy Spirit at work.  These are not like the gifts of the Spirit that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians and Romans (speaking in other languages, preaching, teaching, etc.).  The fruit of the Spirit grow in everybody who believes; they are the evidence that God is transforming us.  You may not have all the love, joy and peace that you want.  But with Christ in your life, you certainly had more than you did before.

Eugene Peterson is a retired pastor in his 80’s who lives now in Montana.  You know his name from his paraphrase translation of the Bible called The Message. This is how he translates these verses about the desires of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit:

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.  (Galatians 5:19-21)

A little personal, don’t you think?  Does it describe our times?  He goes on…

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.

We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Here’s what Peterson had to say about translating the Bible this way:

“When Paul of Tarsus wrote a letter, the people who received it understood it instantly, When the prophet Isaiah preached a sermon, I can’t imagine that people went to the library to figure it out. That was the basic premise under which I worked. I began with the New Testament in the Greek — a rough and jagged language, not so grammatically clean. I just typed out a page the way I thought it would have sounded to the Galatians.”  (Clint Kelly. “Eugene Peterson: The Story Behind The Message”. Lifeway. Retrieved 2008-03-28.)

What Paul has been saying in this letter has the potential to be divisive.  There are likely some people who are full of the Spirit and living the Kingdom of God into their world, and some others who need a little correction – and some who are trying to figure out whom to listen to!

And so, in the last chapter of Galatians, chapter 6, he has some final thoughts, and that’s where we pick up today’s scripture.  Try to remember what he has been talking about!

Galatians 6.  My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.

6 Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. 

Let us work for the good of all.  Sometimes that’s not such an easy thing.

I’d like to focus for a moment on the word gentleness.  If you do an image search for gentleness, you come up with lots of pictures of puppies and people holding babies.  But gentleness in its best form happens in times of stress and anxiety.  We’ll end with a short video by a pastor named Brad Gray, then finish up Galatians next week. It’s called The Strength of Gentleness… 

Prayer

O Lord, in these times, you need us to be faithful, trusting, filled with the Spirit, your presence, so that we can help carry the burdens of those who are crying out to you.  We pray today that you would help us understand ourselves, especially our weaknesses, the way we give in to behavior that doesn’t glorify you.  We give in to anger and confess that we are jealous too often.  We are not patient and not very gentle. Our minds are not very pure.

Help us to know, O Lord, that with you, there is always hope.  You are with us no matter who we are or where we’ve been.  Help us understand that true power comes from you and that the abundant life we all seek is found in you.

 

2/5/2017 Sermon – Starting Fresh #5: “Free to Live”

The reading from Galatians today starts with the verse we have been saying for the last four weeks:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1

Paul preached about the living, risen Jesus, people listened and their lives were changed.  As many of you know, faith in Christ opens your eyes and gives you a kind of spiritual life that’s hard to describe.  It sets you free.

The main point Paul was trying to make is this: Galatians! No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, your faith gave you freedom. So don’t be imprisoned by religious laws.  Your new life is not about religion!  The rules and laws of religion work on the outside to limit your behavior.  It can be a “yoke of slavery.”  When you believe in Christ, God begins to work on the inside to change you into the kind of person you should be.  You begin to live the way God designed you to live because that’s what you enjoy.  You are free to live.  God’s laws now work from the inside.  Now Paul has more to say about this freedom:

Galatians 5:1, 13-25  1For 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. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 15If, 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.17For 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy,* 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, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Let me repeat two of those verses:

…through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’   (Galatians 5:13-14)

It’s an inner conflict that plays out in conflict between people.  Paul talks about the “desires of the flesh.”  The flesh is the temporary, consumable self. That part of us that gazes at our navel and can only ask, “What about me?”  It’s that part of ourselves that is convinced that if we can find a way to feel better right now, grab a little piece of happiness, a little bit of feeling good, then I’ll be okay. You fight against whatever gets in the way, including God.  But by the end of the day, you’re always left empty, and tomorrow, you start over.  You run the same cycle again.  Christ comes to break the cycle, to set you free.

I don’t know if you could tell, but as Paul is describing it, there is a conflict going on.  They are tempted to “bite and devour one another, to “be consumed by one another.”  How’s that for a picture?  Relational cannibalism?  It’s a spiritual battle and our culture isn’t much better; in some ways it’s worse., and we all seem to have a bit of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde going on.  In case you don’t remember…

Paul lays it out clearly.  For these Galatians, life is either of the “flesh,” or it’s of the Spirit.  Black and white, or maybe you could say, before and after.  Before you came to faith in Jesus, this is what the focus of life was for you (the evidence is: strife, jealousy, anger, different kinds of addictions…).  You were slaves to things that only hurt you.

Pompeii fresco. CN – 2000. Other images you may find are more “R-rated.”

It’s worth mentioning that the many of the cities of Galatia were Roman colonies.  Pagan temple worship, often sexualized, was common.  Just look up what was happening in Pompeii at that time.  Not exactly healthy stuff that supports a Christian lifestyle or mindset that cares for self or others.

Paul did not intend with this list to give a new set of laws to follow.  It’s that now, he says, you are slaves to the Spirit of God, children of God, followers of the Jesus who gave his life for you, and this is what life looks like (the evidence is: love, joy, peace).

You’d think that it’s a logical choice.  We’ve got pain, suffering and evil behind door number one.  We’ve got fulfillment, health and community behind door number two.  And the doors are labeled; it’s not a guess.  Jesus opens one of those doors and tries to wave us in.

We live in a world addicted to conflict, war, mistrust and hatred.  I believe Satan loves it when all that spills over into the church.  The strife, jealousy, and anger that represents rebellion against God, and the opposite of the community God invites us to.  Those things make us irrelevant in a world addicted to warfare and hungry for love.

I don’t think I’m using a metaphor right now.  It’s a war, and I believe God has an answer.  A solution, an alternative.  There is no substitute for a relationship with the living Christ at the center of life, and getting our minds off of ourselves.

This is not about religion; it’s about simply saying yes to God, saying God, I’m yours.  Real Spirit-filled Christian fellowship happens when believers see how necessary they are to each other, when they start to become slaves to one another (“How can I serve you today?”).

It’s a war.  People are dying on our streets – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  They are lost, and we are called to care.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves to have each other’s backs, to drag them to safety when they are wounded.  It is appropriate that our church’s building served as a hospital during the Revolution.  Our mission is to save, not to fight.  To declare peace and to live out peace through our complete trust in Jesus.

We are all a work in progress.  Knowing none of us is perfect, as Paul said, all those years ago:

“My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…”  (Galatians 6:1)

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Galatians 5:14)

Prayer

God, in our weakness, make us strong.  Through your Spirit, help us rely on you and watch out for each other.  We give ourselves to the One who died for us, so that we can live.  Amen.