Revd Barbara’s sermon this morning.
2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62
The Psalmist wrote “My times are in your hands” Psalm 31:15. In this week of, without being over sensational, momentous change; as Christians we must remember those words. God is constant. As St Peter spoke to the early church, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24-25. The Word is not just what is written in Scripture, but the living Word, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.
Here we are post referendum, perhaps wondering, fearing what happens now. And we also face change within our own church and for many of us change also occurs in our families and work situations; change is unsettling, but we are Christians and the Word of the Lord and the love of God endure for ever.
The timelessness of God’s word is evident, in that despite being centuries apart, there are more contextual similarities than differences between the early church and today. The Middle East was a turbulent place with super- powers striving to take and maintain control, civil unrest, military dictatorships, new political alliances coming and going; some leaders seeking what was best for their communities and others seeking power for themselves. There were places where many different peoples lived alongside each other without difficulty, and places where foreigners were resented.
It was in this context that St Paul spoke to the new church in Galatia, modern day Turkey, about freedom. The church was having a bit of a wobble (probably fair to say, the church has had a few earthquakes since then!), there was squabbling, what sounds like the emergence of differences in doctrine, leading to St Paul writing in chapter 3:1 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” or as Tom Wright translates it, “you witless Galatians”. Paul did not mince his words when he was exasperated. The fundamental point that he was trying to get across was that our salvation has come through faith in Jesus Christ and there is now freedom in Christ from the old law. Previously the law had been in place to help and guide people to remain holy and faithful, but we know it had failed to do that, due to human weakness. In Christ all things are made new and last week in the reading from this letter to the church in Galatia, Paul spoke of there no longer being “… Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus”. Let’s just pause to let those words sink in given our context today, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
In Christ our Lord we are free from the shackles of the law. Now this meant a lot more to the Jewish people and Jewish converts than it perhaps does to us today. Nevertheless, we understand the concept of freedom to make choices, freedom to act however we choose, freedom to choose how we are governed, how we treat people, who we mix with, who we welcome – we can decide. However, we have that freedom through our Lord Jesus Christ and the freedom we choose in him, is freedom to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. The fundamental underpinning law of God’s creation that runs from the beginning of time. And as we heard St Paul tells the Galatians, “for you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters [this is God’s will for us]; only [he goes on to say] do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another”. As we seek the political future of our country we must seek to act in love and service to each other across the world, “not to be served but to serve”.
The run up to this referendum has been divisive and deeply distressing; and hurtful things have been said. The result itself seems to have the potential more to divide than unite. And St Paul really is speaking to us today as he says, “Love your neighbour as yourself. If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another”. Love builds up, but hatred destroys.
How can we move forward? This really is a challenging time. We have freedom in Christ, we live in a world redeemed by love, but a world where the love of Christ is not known; a world where we can choose to use the freedom we are given in God’s service, or in our own service. We can choose other gods – money, possessions, status, power – we can choose enmity, strife, jealousy, we can even choose fornication, impurity and licentiousness – but not within the love of Christ Jesus, to go down that path means turning our back on our Lord. Our Lord will never turn his back on us, His love is constant and he will welcome us back if we choose, but he will not over-rule our choice. The temptations are subtle, inviting, and at times very close to the truth. In our own strength we cannot discern the true path, but God has given us the person of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. How do we discern the Spirit of truth, how do we identify a fruit tree – if you are not a horticultural expert, you can always identify the tree by its fruit and the fruits of the Spirit are, as we heard, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. This is what we must show in our own lives and seek to nurture in our homes, in this church, in this community, our country and the world.
Jesus tells us in the gospel this morning, not to look back, once you have said yes to Christ go forward in his name. How – go forward empowered by the gifts of the Spirit – how do we discern those gifts – by their fruit, through the word of God in scripture, by prayer, and by the support of each other. Above all we must pray for the love of God to be evident in all we think and say and do, Amen.