Galatians 5:1, 13-18; 22-25
1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13For 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. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
In the church's year of grace we've reached a long stretch of Ordinary Time that will continue for the next five months. Ordered, orderly, arranged, structured, this is the green and growing Season of the Spirit, Time of the Church. We count Sundays after the Day of Pentecost; the church lives in the power of the Spirit of Pentecost.
The apostle Paul's letter or epistle to the Galatians is one of his seven undisputed or authentic epistles. All seven carry evidence of his grammar, syntax, sentence structure, vocabulary, and theology, though there's a clear progression from 1 Thessalonians to Romans.
The community at Galatia was the first ethnic church, not in the sense of Jewish–gentile ethnicity, but of geography and culture. But they also were ethnos as gentiles! The words Galatia, Gaulle, Gaelic, Celt, Celtic all come from the same root.
• Galatians is the Epistle of Freedom.
• Galatians is Reformation Central, vitally important to Martin Luther's theology.
• Galatians demonstrates we all live under the same law of God, with the same freedom or liberty in Jesus Christ.
• This passage brings us a typical Reformation contrast and dichotomy between law and gospel we try to articulate in preaching.
Galatians famously brings us:
• Paul's only birth narrative: "In the fullness of time God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law." Galatians 4:4
• Neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, bond nor free, for all are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 – last week! The ground is level at the foot of the cross. But this doesn't obliterate distinctions and wonders of each person's individual gifts and contributions.
• [works of the flesh and] fruits of the Spirit: "By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23a
Freedom, liberty throughout this passage is eleutheria in Greek. Greek doulos is slave/slavery rather than servant/servitude.
5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free ... do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13 ... do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
Paul and Law and Gospel
"Gospel" means Good News. For Paul, the gospeled good news is death and resurrection.
Christ has died – Christ has risen – Christ will come again
Almost every time Paul uses the word "law," he refers to circumcision, sacrificial law, ritual law, keeping kosher, ceremonial law, and not to the ten commandments, but "law" in Galatians 5:14 does refer to the Ten Commandments of the Sinai Covenant. Like Jesus, he summarizes the commandments with "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The commandments are the working papers for our life together, as they set permissions, limits, and boundaries so we can live and serve in freedom.
Ethnic Churches – Outreach
Every mainline church body in this country began as an immigrant church—whether non-English speaking Lutheran and Reformed or very English-speaking Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists; American protestantism now has come full-circle with substantial numbers whose first language wasn't English, members who still may not know much English. We need to welcome and receive the gifts Asian and Hispanic, African and Caribbean Christian traditions bring. Besides all of those protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church in this country originally began with ethnic immigrant local churches. Midwestern and Northeastern cities were filled with people from Poland, Germany, Ireland, and Italy. They worshiped in Latin until Vatican II, but did everything else exactly like in the old country;
Pastor Peg mentioned a Pasadena congregation that contextualized the gospel by cycling through many different languages and cultures over many decades before finally recently closing its doors.
We talked about Christians who originally settled in other parts of the country bringing everything with them to California—not only Hot Dish Casseroles and Nativity observances, but as Steve W observed, they also built church buildings with steeply pitched roofs even though snow isn't a current concern in southern California. He said, "That's what they knew."
Outreach, evangelism in the church building and in our everyday worlds: what demands do we make of newcomers? Do we insist people look like us, talk like us, act like us, etc.? Because that's what we know? Do we insist they claim our cultural (ethnic) styles and habits as their own? No one at LCM does, but we still need to be constantly aware. As the Reformers insisted, wherever you find Word and Sacrament you find the church. No Word and Sacrament? No church. No requirement for everyone to look, act, talk, think, feel the same as everyone else.