Living by the Spirit
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
“Freedom: Living by the Spirit”
Now that schools are finally letting out, the summer can really get started. I know of a number of families in our congregation who are taking advantage of the summer break to plan some time away and preparing for that unique experience that is The Family Vacation. My family used to pile everyone into the car with all of our supplies and set out on the road. Dad did most of the driving, Mom usually got to sit in the front seat, and my brother and I stayed occupied in the back. Sometimes, though, we got to help navigate. In my childhood, one of the quintessential elements of The Family Vacation was the AAA Triptik. These long, rectangular books were custom-compiled and spiral bound sets of directions, lovingly crafted just for you by the oracles of navigation at AAA. As you drove, you could follow you progress along the Triptik map pages, flipping from one to the next as you followed the line of yellow highlighter that marked the path that you should follow to get to your intended destination.
These days, most people probably don’t bother with Triptiks. We’ve got GPS navigation now! Thanks to the advancement of technology and rings of satellites orbiting the planet, you can type your destination into a GPS device and watch as it almost instantly provides you with a route to take you from here to there. And most of the time, GPS navigation works great. But sometimes, things go awry. Let’s say you want to go to Grandmother’s house. She’s just recently moved – over the river and through the woods – but you’re pretty sure that you know how to get there. Even so, you decided to type her address into your shiny new GPS device to get a route. When you glance at the route that pops up, though, something seems wrong. It’s taking you around the long way, from the looks of it, and you’re certain that you could save some time just by cutting through town. You start off, and everything’s fine, but then you go straight where the GPS would have had you turn left. “You missed your turn,” chimes the GPS’s pleasant British voice, “Recalculating route.” Continuing on, it’s not all that long before you hear, again: “You missed your turn. Recalculating route.” After the third time, the voice is starting to get annoying, so you hit the “Mute” button on the display and keep driving. But then, the traffic starts to build, and build, until you’re just crawling along. Then you see the reason for the backup: people are trying to head over the river, but the bridge has been closed for construction. It’s not until that point that you remember that your GPS device updates itself with traffic and road work alerts!
The freedom to go it alone, heading off without directions in whatever way you think would work best, can get you into trouble. As we continue our journey as a congregation through Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, we hear that they’ve been doing just that. Paul lays out an inventory of their ”works of the flesh,” all of these actions which selfishly run against the freedom that Jesus has won for the Galatians. It’s quite an inventory, too! But when you read through that list, it’s not like these are things that were unique to the time and place to which Paul was writing: these are all taking place today. And each of us can probably hear Paul speaking to our lives, too – especially considering the “and things like these” with which Paul finishes this list. Unlike a trip to Grandmother’s, we don’t really need directions or prompting to desire or do things like these. We find our way into the things we want to do, just fine on our own. And when each and every one of us is following our own set of directions, we can end of like a pack of wild animals. (Ever see that when you’re stuck in traffic?)
But Paul tells us that we don’t have to live like that. The freedom that we have, the freedom that we’ve been learning about this past several weeks, isn’t meant for selfish purposes. Our freedom as Christians gives us opportunities to serve one another through love. Our freedom as Christians comes as we live by the Spirit.
If you’ve followed the technology news over the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard that Apple just released a new version of the iPhone, iPhone 4. People lined up to place pre-orders to reserve one for themselves. Between in-person and online reservations, Apple and AT&T reported that they sold 600,000 of the devices – and that was just on the first day for pre-orders. On Thursday this past week, people lined up again to pick up their iPhone 4’s, even people who’d been able to place a pre-order. Some of you probably know that I use an iPhone on a regular basis – throughout my day, in fact – for my phone, calendar, web access, and even as a GPS device. So I got an iPhone 4. Most every review has reported that the iPhone 4 is a highly impressive, if not wondrous, piece of technology: a high-resolution screen that looks very much like a printed page, fast processor, beautiful design, etc.; however, many people still complain about the network to which the iPhone is tethered. It can have a hard time keeping a connection, resulting in a loss of signal and dropped calls. So if you have a networked device that doesn’t connect to a network, then what good is it?
As Christians, we are meant to be connected to a network, living by the Spirit, and this is an essential part of our identity. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul doesn’t just list the ways in which Christians fall short and disconnect themselves; rather, he tells us of the fruits of the Spirit that come into the lives of those connected to Christ. The Spirit guides the believer and brings these good things to life as we walk with Him. And this is quite an inventory, too! The most important fruit if the Spirit is love. This is agapé, self-giving love. This is the love that Christ showed for us by going to the cross to reconnect us with God. This love puts care and concern for others above our own selfish desires and passions. From this comes joy. Joy is the experience of happiness that results from following the right path, not living in the extremes, but walking through life connected to Jesus’ agapé love. That leads us into peace. This isn’t merely peace in the sense that we might usually things of it, a quietness or absence of conflict, but something more akin to the concept expressed by the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom conveys wholeness, a perfection in our relationships with those around us, a calm mind. Next comes patience, which is endurance in times of opposition, or even persecution. Patience here is steadfastness, holding back from seeking vengeance on those who might have wronged you. Kindness is active care for those around you, going out and sharing what you’ve been given. Goodness is similar; a generosity of being that is demonstrated through good choices. Faithfulness shows trustworthiness and loyalty. Those who live by the Spirit know that God is faithful, and so we can be faithful to the people that God has placed into our lives. Gentleness shows considerateness and humility when interacting with others, dealing with people in a balanced way: neither too harsh nor too lenient. Paul concludes this inventory with the fruit of the Spirit that can be the most fleeting: self-control. That’s the strength to resist, restraint, the mastery over the passions that once would have controlled you if you did not have the freedom that comes to you through Christ.
Living by the Spirit is keeping in step with the Spirit. Christians aren’t called by the Spirit just to believe some set of facts about who Jesus is and what he has done. You and I are called to be “little Christs.” This is the reality of the Christian faith: an ongoing transformation of life, making the Christian more Christ-like – that’s even part of our mission and vision statement here at St. John’s. Living by the Sprit in the freedom that Christ has won for us is an intentional thing: we make choices everyday to reject those works of the flesh. We choose to take advantage of the gifts that the Spirit gives to keep us connected to Christ: his Word and sacraments, gathering together as his people and building one another up through agapé love, following the direction of the Holy Spirit as He navigates us through life.
For freedom Christ has set you free. This summer, whether you travel for vacation or stay at home, may you know the freedom that is ours in Christ as you live by the Spirit.
other sermons in this series