Thursday, July 05, 2007

Flag with Flare

Flag with Flare
Originally uploaded by jason.s
Through we're pretty much settled in Portland, Texas, we have not yet established our own reliable high-speed internet access. Hence I'm late with this sincere happy birthday. Many of the people who live in Portland and the surrounding area (including Corpus Christi) either serve or have served in the armed forces. To all of them I say "thank you" for your service and sacrifice. It is your willingness to put life and limb on the line that guarantees, among other things, our right to freely worship God without fear of political persecution.

May God bless you.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Holding Out...

... From using cell phones, by The New York Sun's Lenore Skenazy:
"If I were to get one, pretty soon I wouldn't be able to live without one," one holdout, Henry Stimpson, said, neatly nailing the biggest problem with cell phones: The way they turn previously independent individuals into the great unweaned.

"Typical incident," Mr. Stimpson said: "I went to a ballgame with a bunch of my friends and afterward all the other guys in the car were whipping out their phones and calling their wives. I don't need to call my wife! She knows I'm coming home."
[Article - The New York Sun].

Let Freedom Ring

Let Freedom Ring
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
July 1, 2007
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: The nature of Christian freedom. What is it? How does it function? Why is it especially important to remember as we prepare for the Fourth of July?

Sermon Function: To respond to Paul’s call to genuine Christian freedom by reminding listeners that Christian freedom isn’t just an individual “thing” – it can only be recognized in Christian fellowship and love.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


We’ve been speaking about Paul’s letter to the Galatians for the past two weeks. In the first week of this series, we talked about how justification – living in right relationship with God – is an essential part of what it means to live together in the Christian community. Last week, we discussed Christian identity. Do we live under the confines of the law, or do we live by and through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior? This week, we are going to address Christian freedom, that is, what is the character of our Christian community when we are liberated from law through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This is an interesting question to ask, particularly as we are now on the cusp of our great national July 4th holiday. We celebrate our political liberty and freedom on that day. And this is something that should properly be celebrated. But after I read today’s passage from Galatians, I hope you will join with me in re-evaluating what freedom means within the context of our Christian church. I think what we will find is that Christian freedom is a different critter from the political freedom we enjoy today in this country.


Some of you may have heard the sermon I delivered as a senior at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The sermon was entitled “A.D.” and featured the cartoon work by the late, great cartoonist Johnny Hart.

This week’s sermon has a similar cartoon inspiration. A few days ago, I happened to find a wonderful article by Mark Galli on Christianity Today’s wonderful website entitled “I Love, Therefore You Are.”1

In his article, Mr. Galli writes about his experience reading an issue of The New Yorker2 magazine and coming across one of the of the famous cartoons for which the magazine is noted. In the cartoon, a couple is seen sitting on a couch in a nicely furnished room (I imagine the scene taking place in midtown Manhattan). Both are relaxing with a nice glass a wine. Amidst this nice scene, one of them says to the other, “I don’t want to be defined by who I am.”

I think you would agree that the cartoon is very revealing. It is revealing because it points to something about our humanity that we know theologically to be true – that we frequently aren’t very happy with ourselves, even if we successfully surround ourselves with lots of nice things in nice homes in nice neighborhoods. Galli writes about the cartoon, “as with so much of modernity, [our search for meaning is] a highly individualistic quest, and as such, it is a pointless quest. Not because the search for meaning is pointless, but because the context of modernity – the individual – is a myth.”3

Our Problem - The Individuality Myth

So this is the problem we face as we read today’s scripture: Our culture presupposes an individualist bent. We are encouraged to get into the world and that if we work hard enough, we can become a success. Many people are able to live into this dream just fine. Many people cannot, however. Sometimes our poor judgment is the reason. But many times the cause is beyond our control. Perhaps a hurricane sweeps up the Gulf of Mexico and wipes out our home. Perhaps we contract a disease that makes our lives difficult and reminds us of our mortality. Perhaps we get ripped off by a business associate and are left in ruins. The question for us, then, is what do we do with the freedom we’re received through Christ? What does it mean to be a person who lives in such freedom?

Does it mean unfettered existence as an individual, worrying about individual concerns, striving to identify that which makes me me, just as you are striving to identify what makes you you? We begin by thinking that that is the answer. But what we discover is that when we start with ourselves, we end up holding the proverbial bag.

Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, is making a big point here in chapter five. We are not created for lives of social isolation or radical individuality. We are created for living with each other.

“For freedom, Christ has set us free,” Paul writes, “Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Do not submit to that yoke of slavery, says Paul. We might say today, “Do not submit to that yoke of slavery, that lie that says I can do it all by myself. I don’t need you, and I don’t need God. I just need to do the right thing. I just need to be a moral individual. All of that other stuff is far too messy. I’m my own man/woman.” We do ourselves a grave disservice if we accept the notion that we can live without others. Such thoughts can lead to an impoverished life. The path of radically individuality is the path that promises loneliness and isolation. Sometimes, the path leads to more insidious things, like unhealthy addictions and what Paul refers to as other “works of the flesh.”

In fact, we are not called into being to do our own thing. Our loving God did not intend for us to be automatons, responding only to our own physical desires. Instead, Christians are called to live in the Spirit, as Paul writes in verse 16. When we live in the Spirit, we are truly able to love our neighbor as ourselves. Self-indulgent isolation is not true freedom, but is like the yoke of slavery, and that yoke can be a lonely place, filled with fear and sadness, and marked with despair. By ourselves we tend to the destructive things that Paul enumerates as “works of the flesh.” These include “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife [which is probably better translated as “selfishness that leads to strife”], jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these [which mean there is far more that we could add to the list].”

Solution – Living in The Spirit

But then Paul contrasts this life-of-the-individual-first with life in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit is life lived in its fullness with our neighbor. Whereas Paul’s works of the flesh begin by alluding to “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex,”4 he starts his list of the fruits of the spirit with love (ἀγάπη). He then lists joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Life in the Spirit is not lived in isolation in the context of the individual, but in the fruitful context of a relationship with the other, the neighbor in the Christian community. Love is not something experienced in isolation. Love is experienced with other people. Joy is a sharing a sunset with someone else. Joy is also found when you sit with someone who is suffering. Patience is exhibited best when someone we love else tries our patience. Kindness is not showered on the self, but on others. Generosity is exhibited by giving something away to someone who may not even need it. Faithfulness is engendered through public worship with others. Gentleness is experienced when someone we love touches us. The only thing in Paul’s list that refers directly to the self is “self-control.” But self-control in this instance is for the benefit of ourselves only, but so that we might not unduly or unnecessarily offend our neighbor in the community by indulging in those truly selfish works of the flesh.

The contrast between these two ways of living could not be presented any more clearly. The works of the flesh, which can also be called the idolatry of the self, exist in the vacuum of isolation and loneliness. The fruits of the Spirit are the fruits of life. All of them are rooted in love. All of them mean necessarily taking the other person into consideration. All of them require living in a loving Christian community. And this loving Christian community is marked with a relationship with God. This relationship with God is made possible by the presence of his Holy Spirit among us. The gift of his love – that is what sustains us.


Paul concludes this section of his letter with these words:

“[T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:34-25 NRSV).

Our Christian freedom is not the same kind of political freedom we celebrate each year. Neither is it about the false idol of that radical individualism that causes us to say those comic and tragic words, “I don’t want to be defined by who I am.” True Christian freedom is achieved by living fully human lives of discipleship to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus wasn’t known to live for himself, but for the sake of others – his disciples, the sick, the poor, the outcast and unclean, and, most importantly, for the dead. He exemplified love, this most amazing fruit of the Spirit, by taking his place on the Cross for us. We are called to follow, in freedom, this example. Christian freedom is known, then, through the cross, and in the communion of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, as will be exemplified more fully in the Lord’s Supper we will soon celebrate.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas

1Galli, Mark. “I Love, Therefore Your Are.” Christianity Today. June 28, 2007. June 29, 2007. Path: Index; Faith & Thought; Theology.

2Vey, P. C. The New Yorker. June 25, 2007. The cartoon can be see here.

3See Galli.

4See Gal. 5:19-21 MSG.