Year C, The Third Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 8: June 26, 2022
Year C: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
“For freedom Christ has set us free.”
I know the 4th of July isn’t until next week. But the word of the day in our second reading today is “freedom.”
For freedom, Christ has set us free. It’s a beautiful sentence, conveying a gospel claim in a few short words – that Christ has set us free.
What does such freedom look like?
American Christians are often tempted to define freedom through the lens of American society and culture. So it may be a surprise that the word “freedom” is not once found in our Declaration of Independence. Instead of “freedom,” the Declaration highlighted “liberty,” along with “life” and the pursuit of happiness,” as our inalienable rights.
The most apparent meaning of freedom is the ability to do and say whatever we want without interference from any authority or institution. However, with that definition of freedom, it is little wonder that we often disagree on exactly what it means to be free.
The reality is that our individual freedoms are almost always in tension with the freedom of people around us. For example, some of you know how hard it is to console our pets and people, often veterans, with PTSD when fireworks start going off. I recently saw a post on Facebook asking people to scale down their firecrackers on the 4th of July. One person in response went on a rant about their right to do whatever they want and said they don’t care about animals (or presumably people); sadly, they weren’t joking in their response.
Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever we want, especially if that action puts our neighbors at risk. We have to think about loving our neighbors as ourselves.
I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed for the last week with decisions made by the Supreme Court. I’ve been praying for our community and nation, recognizing that some are elated by the Court’s decisions to overturn their previous ruling on Roe v. Wade and a gun law in New York, perhaps opening the way for open carry in many states. In contrast, many others are absolutely devastated by these decisions.
These are pivotal times for our nation, and we must acknowledge the pain, fear, and hurt many people are feeling right now. I’ve tried to put aside my anxiety and breathe deeply because breath is life. At all times, don’t forget to breathe, especially during these uncertain times. Listen. Listen deeply to what people say and the undercurrents of pain, fear, anxiety, and anger. I’m not asking you to set aside what you sincerely and deeply believe. I am asking each one of us to listen.
And I ask you to respond in love, always.
Our mission as followers of Christ Jesus is to love the people the world doesn’t love, to love all God’s people. And to do that, we must pause, breathe, and listen.
Emotions are running high, and it’s sobering to face the fact that Christians disagree with one another and, quite frankly, sometimes disagree with one another quite virulently.
In our disagreements, which are, as I said, sometimes very deep, remember Paul’s clarion call: Christ is the path. Christ is undoubtedly the path for those of us who call ourselves Christian. Having Christ as our way does not mean we give up on what we believe is right, but remember what Jesus taught us about love.
In this passage, Paul unequivocally says freedom is for love. For Paul, the harsh debates and infighting among the emerging community of Jesus’ followers in Galatia showed ongoing enslavement in body, mind, and spirit. And listen to what Paul is saying. He tells them twice that he is warning and has warned them.
The Galatians were allowing arguments over circumcision to be given precedence over the law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Loving one’s neighbors was not primary in their minds.
Is loving our neighbors foremost in our minds? I certainly hope so. Because as Episcopalians, we are always called to pray for one another, especially for the poor and vulnerable in our society. And when we disagree with one another as we do, we must make our voices heard with love for our neighbors.
For all his imperfections, Paul shared wonderfully encouraging words that can still inspire us to a life in Christ Jesus. The quintessential fruits of the Spirit he mentions still help many to a deeper level of spiritual consciousness. Consider Paul’s uplifting characterization of a healthy spiritual life: “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .” (Galatians 5:22).
Practicing the list of virtues given to us by Paul is an excellent step in the right direction. Love, joy, and other traits are beneficial for humanity. If humanity thought of other people’s best interests, then slavery, which is what Paul was writing about in his time and place, might have been less prevalent.
If we truly live into the best version of Paul, loving people first and foremost keeps them and us free. It keeps us from being prejudiced against them or being hateful or harmful to them. Paul was right in that if we truly embrace the Spirit of the Almighty, we will set aside the shameful, sinful works of the flesh and instead embrace the fruits of the Spirit.
We are called to follow Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, the way to our freedom, the freedom described by Saint Paul in Galatians. Jesus set us free on the cross, embracing us just as we are. We are broken and sinful, but Jesus still sets us free.
We are free in Christ – to do good things and not indulge our desire to control others or to have power over them. Each of us is free in Christ to be what he was for the world: an agent of reconciliation and love.
Our gospel lesson tells us, “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus was walking into a death trap, yet he set his face, stone-like in the Greek, towards Jerusalem. He knew what he was getting into, yet Jesus moved toward Jerusalem because he had the freedom to love. Jesus was determined to love the whole world, including those who actively rejected him.
He loved those who rejected him. Wasn’t that ultimate freedom – the freedom to love those who did not love him, freedom to love those who don’t love us. It’s a tricky thing to do, and we can only do it with God’s help. The Holy Spirit empowers freedom to love our enemies; it cannot come from our own willpower or self-determination.
When we experience the freedom to practice the fruits of the Spirit, we become a blessing of freedom and liberty to everyone we meet.
Our freedom in Christ is shown by the fruit we bear. Jesus tells us to follow him, “Follow me, and you will bless the world with your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
How do we fulfill our freedom in Christ? In his letter to the Roman, Paul tells us, “love is the fulfilling of the law.”
In the Christian tradition, in the Episcopal Church, we see Jesus Christ as the giver of freedom and healer of all people and things. That is what so many faithful Episcopalians have done – even when it has earned them enmity from those around them – they have worked for freedom, healing, and reconciliation. They have worked to protect the safety and life of others and to promote independence, peace, and justice.
That is what we are called to do – to promote freedom, peace, and justice in the name of Jesus Christ.
The great Nelson Mandela once said, “…one who takes away freedom is a prisoner of hatred, and so I am never free if I’m taking away someone else’s freedom.” Likewise, I am never free if I take away someone else’s freedom.
We look to Jesus Christ for the freedom he has given us to live peaceably in the complete and certain knowledge of his mercy and gift of amazing grace.