Freedom.Zenos Frudakis.Break Through From Your Mold.sermon Caitlin Trussell

Freedom: Perspective for Our Enigmatic Present and Uncertain Future [OR Freedom: Beyond a Moral Imperative] Luke 9:51-62 and Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 26, 2016

[sermon begins after 2 Bible readings]

Luke 9:51-62 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Galatians 5:1, 13-25 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.

[sermon begins]

“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

“For freedom Christ has set us free!”[1]

Paul’s letter to the Galatian church is a treasure trove of bumper sticker one-liners.  Except that the opening line of the verses read from Galatians today would need to have a few more bumper stickers added just to clarify things.  Pretty soon they would break the bonds of the bumper and start moving towards the side of the car.  There would be arrows to follow from one bumper sticker to the next. The arrows would be necessary because the language of freedom has incredible power.  Freedom as a theological framework gets especially conflated with freedom as a political construct as we cruise towards the 4th of July.  So, you see, freedom needs to be unpacked from Paul’s inspiring one-liner.

Where to begin?  So many options.  I chose Douglas John Hall, late 20th century North American theologian.  Why choose him?  He has a lot to say about Christian freedom from the current time back through Bonhoeffer, Luther, the Apostle Paul, and the Hebrew scriptures.  He goes way back into scripture and mines historical Christian theology for what there is to be found through a thinking faith.[2]  Here’s why I really chose him.  Because he says things like this:

“The future we confront is uncertain, and the present moment is an enigma. We turn to the past for help, for perspective – not, it should be hoped, for refuge!”[3]

Dr. Hall said great stuff – the future is uncertain, the present is an enigma, the past is perspective.  Perspective is a gift in these early years of the 21st century when so much seems to be shifting.  Cases-in-point, Great Britain’s Brexit referendum to leave the European Union affirmed by popular vote this past week and the scene that is the United States’ presidential primaries.[4]  Perspective is also incentive.  Incentive to mine the past with courage, eyes wide open.

Dr. Hall argues that throughout the many traditions within Christianity’s past, the one most in need of contemplation is theologia crucis – the theology of the cross so labeled by Martin Luther in the 16th century, so preached in the first century by Paul, so rooted in the prophetic tradition of ancient Israel revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament.[5]

Theology of the Cross is foreshadowed in our gospel reading today.  Jesus’ face is set towards Jerusalem.  Up to this point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is working on his ministry in Galilee.  These are hinge verses. He is now resolved to the inevitable end of his life.  He’s brooking no delays with his disciples even to the point of telling one of them not to bury his father.  This is Jesus’ at his hyperbolic finest.  Jesus is resolute as he sets his face for Jerusalem and he draws his followers by and into his resolve.  The kingdom of God that he mentions twice in this story, is already on the way.

Dr. Hall confesses that the cross of Christ is the supreme statement of God’s commitment to a suffering world: “…the theology of the cross takes as its point of departure the brokenness of the human spirit and the human community [placing] its hope in God’s transformative solidarity with fallen creation, with the world in its brokenness.”  In this light, one take on the Gospel passage is a then-and-now moment of urgency for Jesus followers to use their freedom to usher in the kingdom of God.  Especially if you pair the gospel with the Galatians reading and Paul summing up the law in the single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[6]

Paul is encouraging his listeners to use their freedom well.  It’s so easy to take freedom and throw a big party for the self.  Paul gives us a laundry list of options in which we self-indulge our freedom.  He’s the classic party-pooper.  In his list of self-indulgences, he names us all somewhere.  There is a lot we can do with this direction from Paul.  He calls us into freedom, to live out our freedom committed to our neighbor, and not to “submit again to a yoke slavery.”[7]

We can mobilize on Paul’s directions about freedom and slavery quite literally and some people of faith are doing just that in a movement called “No Slavery, No Exceptions.”  Together Colorado, a group of faith leaders across faith and race, are petitioning the state legislature to strike an exception to slavery. [8]

The Colorado State Constitution, Article II, Section 26 reads:
Slavery prohibited. There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.[9]

“Except as punishment for crime…”  So the incarcerated, the literally “not free” people in prison may be conscripted into free labor on behalf of the state.  There’s an upcoming ballot initiative coming up for vote this fall, supported across the aisles, to strike this from the state’s constitution.

This is but one example of the many ways that Paul in Galatians can be read as a moral imperative.  But there is more in these scriptures than a moral imperative.  Who better to take us beyond that moral imperative than Jesus at his hyperbolic best?  He flips the moral imperative in the speech he gives his followers.  In the 1st century world Jewish worldview, hospitality is paramount.  Without a touch of irony, the Jesus followers suggest raining fire on those pesky, inhospitable Samaritans.[10]  Jesus rebukes his followers.  In the 1st century Jewish worldview, honoring mother and father is a commandment found in the big “10.”  Jesus tells two of his followers to ignore the responsibilities set out under these commandments.[11]  The rebukes, the redirection are all because Jesus’ face was set for Jerusalem.”[12]  This is Jesus’ perspective.

Dr. Hall suggests that the past gives us perspective.  For Christians, our past hinges on the cross of Jesus.  Our perspective comes through that cross.  Paul says, ““For freedom Christ has set us free!”  Christ.  In Paul’s language, “Christ” is the crucified and risen One.  Freedom is Christ’s gift through that cross.  Freedom is gifted through baptism.  Remember Dr. Hall’s words?  “The future we confront is uncertain, and the present moment is an enigma. We turn to the past for help, for perspective – not, it should be hoped, for refuge!”[13]  The cross is our past, our present, and our future.  The Holy Spirit unbinds and frees us through Christ’s cross to live in freedom.  Now that we are free, we live out of the gift by the power of Christ’s Spirit for God’s sake and for the sake of a suffering world.

“For freedom Christ has set us free!”[14]

 

[1] Galatians 5:1

[2] Douglas John Hall. Thinking the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991).

[3] Ibid., 23.

[4] Amanda Taub. “Brexit, Explained: 7 Questions About What It Means and Why It Matters.” New York Times – June 20, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/world/europe/brexit-britain-eu-explained.html?_r=0

[5] Hall, 24.

[6] Galatians 5:14

[7] Galatians 5:1

[8] Kieran Nicholson. “Movement Calls for End to ‘Slavery’ in Colorado.” The Denver Post on February 11, 2016. http://www.denverpost.com/2016/02/11/movement-calls-for-end-to-slavery-in-colorado/

[9] Colorado State Constitution, Article II: Bill of Rights, see Section 26: http://law.justia.com/constitution/colorado/cnart2.html

[10] Luke 9:52-55

[11] Luke 9:59-62

[12] Luke 9:53

[13] Ibid., 23.

[14] Galatians 5:1