Tag Archives: Proper 8c

Preserving Freedom

Paul has argued through Galatians against a group who wanted to impose full Jewish Law and practice on those who became believers in Jesus from outside the Jewish community. He insists that faith, and not obeying the detailed instructions of the Old Testament Law, is what makes a person free and right with God.

It might sound very remote in the twenty first century, if it were not for the difficulty we have today as Christians understanding how Christian life is supposed to work. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Clearly it would be terrible, having escaped from the life of a slave, to be returned to it again. But what is Christian freedom, and how is it to be used, and indeed preserved?

Today’s reading (Galatians 5:1 and 13-25) jumps from that verse to explain the difference between a selfish life, dominated by the indulgence of human appetites, and a free life powered and directed by the Holy Spirit. We have become expert at justifying what we want, having our own way, and imposing on others – yet know that this seldom ends well. What we have to learn is how thankfulness for a life set free can lead us to love and serve, and to cultivate the “fruit of the Spirit”. These are gifts we cannot obtain by self-discipline, but that God will develop in us as we allow them to grow.

Freedom can be lost! When Paul sounds as if he speaks from experience, we can echo his concerns. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. ” This leads back to the selfish life, enslaved by human desires. The alternative? “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Tough Jesus? (Pentecost 6c)

This week takes us to Luke 9:51-62, which is interesting for what it tells us about Jesus.  It starts with his determination to go to Jerusalem – he “sets his face” (or, in The Message, “steeled himself”).  This is the tough Jesus, disciplined to the point of being hard on himself, we sometimes forget.

It contrasts with his reaction to an inhospitable Samaritan village.  (They, as Samaritans, would not assist those going to Jerusalem because of the dispute over God’s chosen location for worship).  James and John, nicknamed “Sons of Thunder”, want to incinerate them, probably drawing on the example of Elijah – 2 Kings 1.  Elijah may have been demonstrating the power of God against bullying force, but Jesus shows the power of God in merciful restraint – and the group walks further for supper.

With the three would-be disciples, the tough side seems to return:

  • does the first candidate want to join in with Jesus success? or is he perhaps poor and wanting an easy life?  We don’t know, but are reminded that discipleship guarantees neither success nor freedom from care and trouble.  Jesus’ followers may share some of Jesus’ harder experiences!
  • Jesus wants the second to follow, perhaps seeing the good in him.  But is it that the good impulses lack focus, prioritisation and urgency?  How many people now avoid doing what God would call them to (and thus their real fulfillment) by rather aimlessly “doing good”?
  • the third is a volunteer, but looking the wrong way.  Christians have to accept forgiveness, leave behind the past, including bitterness and retribution, and move on.

Perhaps Jesus was aware that he dare not wait to collect these three because of the urgency of his journey to Jerusalem.  But we also have an urgency in faith.  The window of opportunity – to share faith, to be the Church God intended and needs for his plans for our world, is limited.  Things are changing – rather faster after the Referendum result this week – and more than ever we, like Jesus, need focus, prioritisation, and urgency of action.