Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, O how the cords of sin have entangled us. Our inability to understand Your holy ways has disrupted everything truly good and worthwhile in our lives. And this has led to our slavery to the status quo. Today we thank You for cutting those knots and loosening those bonds by setting our souls free! Today we rejoice over our freedom to live, think, act, and do based on love instead of servitude. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO HAS SET US ETERNALLY FREE!
TEXT: Galatians 5: 1-6
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Clink. Clink. Clink. That’s the sound, the only sound, you will hear as you approach a small village in India. What is it? Everyone in that village has been born into a certain Indian caste of clothes washers. Men, women, children, elderly—all they do day after day for their entire lives is pound dirty clothes with rocks to wash out the dirt. They have no choice in this. They know nothing different. They were born into this caste and this is their lot in life. It’s really slavery, societal slavery, isn’t it? The Rev. Steve Petersen, our synod’s mission’s counselor, told me this story a couple of weeks ago when he was here.
America doesn’t have a caste system. Or, does it? I submit that we have many forms of “slavery” in our society, too. I think of all the people I know who don’t like their jobs, but as one former member once said: “I wear golden handcuffs!” He hated his job but it was too lucrative to leave. How many of you feel as if you’re a slave to your house and the mortgage payments? How many are slaves to their retirement plans? How many are slaves to their children’s schedules?
Such slavery is really attitudinal. It springs from our subconscious mind. We sense our inadequacies and inwardly know we don’t measure up to an inbred high standard, so we strive and work and labor to get ahead, but it never seems to be enough. Inward contentment eludes us. And slavery in one of its many forms grabs us and holds us tight. Being mentally and emotionally free then becomes a seldom experienced dream.
Dr. Martin Luther King once gave a famous speech in which he had a dream about a day in America when: “We would judge a person by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.” His name-sake, Dr. Martin Luther, would agree!
Slavery to sin takes on many forms. But they all derive their hold over us from our tainted understanding of God. Because of sin, people constantly try to justify themselves before the world and in their own eyes based on what they do instead of what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. Most people would say that God is perfect and holy. They’re right. But then they extrapolate that into this: “God makes demands on me to be holy like He is and I must fulfill those demands in every way, shape, and form.” We call this approach to life: “living under the Law.” The problem with this mindset is really two-fold. One, we cannot achieve perfection on our own because sin always taints us. And two: the more zealous we become at trying to justify ourselves the more trapped we become. Slavery takes hold and burdens us even more.
Like you, I really struggle with this mindset of slavery, too. Like many of you, I’m a results-driven kind of guy. I have a huge list in my head of projects and goals around the church, around the property, and in my own life that I want to attain. Every day I dive into that list. But invariably, the project takes longer than expected, an interruption occurs, or my body gets tired. I become frustrated and sometimes a bit grumpy. Suddenly, I become aware of what’s going on.—I’m succumbing to slavery! So, I take a moment, regroup, and shift my mindset. After all, life always goes on no matter how busy I am. I can either fight it or enjoy it. I can either embrace the small elements of satisfaction in doing the job, or torpedo that joy by focusing on a self-imposed check-list. It’s attitudinal. I guess this is why Scripture says that: “Patience is a virtue.”
In our lesson, St. Paul, who was a pure blood Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, while also being a full-fledged Roman citizen, takes on this issue of freedom vs. slavery. The Jewish people of that time had become slaves to their understanding of what a child of God really meant. In Genesis we’re told about the Father of their race. We’re told it began this way: “Abraham believed, and God credited it to him as righteousness.” Then after that, God wanted to give them a visible reminder of this agreement of God’s grace and so He inaugurated circumcision. This was their visual reminder in their very flesh that God had set them apart to be His people. By Paul’s time, most of these Jewish people had forgotten what came first, however. They had forgotten about faith in the coming Christ and had embraced circumcision as their personal talisman of God’s favor. And with that viewpoint came the slavery of living under the law, the slavery of employing their human lineage to make themselves right with God. Paul had lived that way, too, before his conversion. He, too, knew the emotional burden of doing, doing, doing, never achieving perfection, and being frustrated—all that before Christ converted him.
So, to counteract that same attitude among the Galatian church which he founded, he writes this: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law (of God). You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
What counts before God? What frees us from emotional slavery? “Faith expressing itself through love.” Abraham knew that, but the Jews of Paul’s time had basically forgotten it. This same truth is the one that Dr. Martin Luther restored to God’s people. Faith expressing itself in love is what makes us free. So, every person is really not a slave, but a free man or woman and thus has value and worth apart from what they do, how they are born, or their physical attributes. God’s Son died for you and THAT IS WHAT MAKES YOU VALUABLE TO HIM! Your brainpower doesn’t make you free. Your physical strength doesn’t make you free. Your financial wealth doesn’t make you free. Your physical beauty, or lack thereof, doesn’t make you free. The color of your skin or ethnic heritage doesn’t make you free, either. No, emotional strings are attached to everything we are and have and societal pressures insure those emotional strings are pulled tight until enslavement ensues. No, the only thing that truly counts, that sets us eternally free to embrace God’s gift of creation fully, is this: “faith expressing itself through love.” After creation, Adam and Eve broke God’s mold of freedom and enslaved themselves to their own image. It has failed miserably. But in Christ, God remolded His gift of grace and blessing, and through faith in Christ all God’s gifts become yours! Today, you and I are truly free! All that remains is reminding yourself of that truth every minute of every day by focusing on and embracing our Great Emancipator: Jesus Christ! Amen