Galatians 5:1, 13-25
I want to begin this morning with a question. How is your soul? More often than not, when greeting someone, we ask, “how are you?” Maybe we are interested in the answer, and maybe not. More often than not, the answer is usually I am good or grammatically correct; I am well. Even if we are not good or well, we will respond this way.
When John Wesley was in the early stages of his spiritual awakening, he held “class meetings.” These gatherings would bring people together for a time of spiritual renewal and accountability. Wesley felt that these times were so important that they were required of folx if they wanted to receive communion in his Church. You would attend the class and get your ticket which you will present on Sunday.
These meetings would begin with the question that I asked, how is your soul? Wesley desired to push past the usual pains of life and get to the spiritual pains that, from time to time, we have all suffered from. So, I ask again, how is your soul?
We have been through a lot this week, and, by all accounts, it is not going to get better. For some, our country has taken a radical hard right turn and has taken us on a journey back in time to a place that the majority does not want to go. And to further aggravate the situation, it appears that we may be in store for even more hard right turns and a journey even further back in time.
So, what do we do next?
I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have none other than to say whatever is next needs to be done from a position of peace. We saw on live TV on January 6th what happens when a mob turns ugly, and we know how we reacted. For me, the righteousness of any protest is over when violence or the destruction of property begins. Resorting to violence is never the answer.
But for today, for this moment, I want to focus on the question how is your soul?
I have spoken of my sermon preparation before, but, to just touch on something quickly, I use the Revised Common Lectionary when choosing what biblical passages I am focusing on each week. This Lectionary was designed by the Universal Church and gave the preacher an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, and two New Testament passages for each Sunday of the Church year. The readings often follow a theme each week and for several weeks. It constantly amazes me how these passages, set forth decades ago, will often give you just what you need on a particular Sunday.
Today, in the Letter from Galatians, Paul writes about freedom. It seems fitting at a time when freedom is becoming a thing of the past.
Paul writes a church in Galatia that is fracturing. After a period of zeal for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, some in the Church have begun to follow a more rigid and legalistic road. There were those in the Galatia that were teaching that even the Christians had to follow the laws of the Old Covenant. Paul is writing to them to call them back to the grace of Jesus.
Freedom is an interesting concept that we often associate with the 4th of July. Freedom is essential to Americans. Freedom is what drove the Pilgrims to leave the relative safety of their homeland to take a treacherous journey across the Atlantic to the New World. Freedom is what drove the ancestors of those same pilgrims to take up arms against their King and Country and declare that they were free of English rule and had a desire to rule themselves, something that had never been done before. Freedom is what is driving Ukrainian civilians and the military to fight to preserve their freedom and way of life. We can walk all through history and find acts that have been driven by freedom, and many of those acts changed the course of history.
But freedom is not free, and by that, I do not mean the trope that we usually hear around the 4th of July about freedom costing lives, although that is true. Freedom is not free because we have to sacrifice a little for each freedom we have. Political freedom requires compromise, and that is not always easy. But freedom also comes with responsibility.
The Pilgrims I mentioned earlier came to these shores to establish a new life that was grounded upon the idea that worship was something that should be left to the dictates of the worshipper. They felt that the government should not force conformity of religious thought and practice, although that is precisely what they did when they got here, but we will leave that for another day.
As that thought matured, it became this idea that although you are free to worship and believe as you see fit, you do not have the right to force me to believe and worship the same way. The Pilgrims came from a place where the Church was wedded to the state, and as such, the state influenced the Church, and the Church influenced the state. A relationship that is not always the best.
Freedom involves choice; although we may not always agree with that choice, that is none of our business.
At some point, Christians decided that they had a responsibility to save others and keep them from sinning. Sure, there is Scripture that says that if your brother or sister is sinning, call them out. Well, we have seen how that goes. But unfortunately, we are so focused on other sins that we become blind to our own.
The only person the Christian is obligated to save is themselves. We do not have to help someone “find Jesus” because Jesus is not lost! Yes, we are to baptize and make disciples, but we do not do it by passing laws and writing legislation that forces people into a particular thought or belief. We make disciples through relationships, and by how we live our lives, not by telling someone they are wrong and especially not by telling someone they are sinners.
Paul writes to those in the Galatian Church that true freedom, as found in Jesus, is founded on, wait for it, love. It’s funny how we always come back to love. Love is why God did what God did. Love is why Jesus did what he did. And love should be why we do what we do. Love, my friends, is a choice. Following Jesus is a choice. Freedom is a choice.
But Paul says we do not use our freedom for our own selfish purposes; we use our freedom for others. Therefore, when we, through the grace of Jesus Christ, become free, we must become slaves to others. We can no longer think about what is good for me, but we must consider what is good for all. True freedom is the exact opposite of individual freedom and individual rights, but it becomes about community and what is best for everyone.
When we take on the title of Christian, we must broaden our focus and not limit it. We have to turn from our selfish ways towards the ways that bring freedom to all and not just some, and we may not always like what that freedom brings, but it is not about us.
I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We need to spend less time thinking about what it’s going to be like on the other side and worry more about making God’s kingdom right here where we are; that is what we are called to do. We are not being called by grace to just sit on the sidelines and pray, not that prayer is not essential, but we are called to be the voice for the voiceless. We are called to ensure justice and mercy. And we are called to love everyone, including those who despise us and want our destruction.
Friends, I would like us to focus on the question that Wesley asks, how is it with your soul? I want our little Church to be a place of refuge and retreat where the weary can come and find that refreshment. I want us to be a field hospital for those on the front lines, where we bandage up the wounds physically, mentally, and spiritually. I want us to be open for prayer on more than just Sundays. I want us to provide more times to gather around the table for communion. I want us to offer healing services with the ancient practice of anointing with oil and the laying on of hands. I want us to form prayer circles and Class meetings and become a spiritual powerhouse in this community that works to build bridges and longer tables and breaks down barriers. I want us to open the doors of our hall for more support groups that help people with addiction and grief and where we minister to the community by providing meals and fellowship at no cost.
In his address to the Annual Conference, our bishop called us to live a deeper and more meaningful spiritual life. He called us to reflect on our spiritual life so that we pay as much attention to spiritual matters as we do those physical and political. Wesley started a method, a method of spirituality that transformed those who practiced it and, by extension, transformed the world around them. Our spiritual journey must take us off the bench and get us in the game. We need more spirituality, not less.
I know it will be a sacrifice. We will have to give up more than just an hour a week to come here and be present. We will have to become vulnerable and share our hearts with others. It will cost us in light and heat, but what is the purpose of having space if we do not use it. We will change the world we live in by our example and not by our legislation. We will support those called to the front lines of protest with prayer and comfort when needed. Think of it this way, Jesus started with 12 and changed the world! Jesus had no money and no building, but he had love and he had compassion. Do we have less?
Will it be hard? Yes, it will. Will it cost us? Yes, it will. But what we seek is, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, costly grace and not cheap grace. So, I want us to commit, as individuals and as a congregation, to be this place of rest of retreat. We can do it; I know we can do it. So, rest up because we have work to do.