I’m back to preaching every week for the summer. Here’s the first from the first! 🙂

“Living By The Spirit”
July 1, 2007 – Galatians 5:1,13-26, Luke 9:51-62

I love the summer lectionary readings, don’t you? It’s all the really juicy, hard stuff, challenging us with difficult words we might not want to hear. Fun! Well, at least I think it’s fun.

“For freedom Christ has set us free!” This is good news in the opening of our reading from Galatians, so what does it mean? Galatians is a book written by Paul to encourage the church of Galatia to be focused. There are other church leaders from Jerusalem coming in and telling them that they need to be circumcised in order to be Christians. They are being told this in one aspect of the Law of Moses that they need to keep.Without undergoing the procedure, they could not be a church. Paul spends the entire book telling his friends they do not need to keep this Law, or any of the Laws put forward by Moses in the Old Testament. What is needed is for the people of Galatia to live in the freedom the Holy Spirit has blessed them with. To have faith. He reminds them over and over, Christ has already set them free. He asks them if they can’t see what has been happening in their lives since they became Christians. How would bringing in all these extra laws help them in their relationship to Christ? Christ has done enough for them already! He’s telling them they are already a church!

As we read this morning’s reading from Galatians, Paul tells us what it means to be free. And the problems we may encounter in enjoying our freedom! Yes, we are free to do what we want, but with limits! We need to be free in ways that is beneficial to the community. Paul quotes Jesus in quoting the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” We can’t fight amongst ourselves and build up the body of Christ, can we?

Paul goes on to list the sins of the flesh. He mentions fornication, impurity, jealousy, factions, envy, drunkenness, quarrels, anger, dissensions… just to name a few. As we look at this list, every one of these things can break apart a community. Paul is all about building up the church. He’s seen a lot, and these are the things which cause churches to stop growing, maybe even break apart. How do we build up the church, to bring about a tighter community?

Paul says we need to work on living by the Spirit. To turn away from those things which break apart the body, the sins of the flesh, and turn towards the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. And yes, as Paul says, the flesh and the Spirit are opposed to one another.

It’s not getting any better now than back in Paul’s time either. We are bombarded daily by temptations to surrender ourselves to the world. To buy the latest products, to give into the latest fad. Things that pull us away from the love of God, and the building up of our relationships. We’re supposed to drive a better car than our neighbours. We’re supposed to strive for material wealth, at all costs.

That’s not what Jesus teaches. In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus is pretty blunt about what it means to be a disciple.

Someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you.” How does Jesus welcome this person? With a hug? With a “Hey! Welcome to the team!”? No, he simply states “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus states right up front… “If you want to follow me, you’re giving up a lot!” Jesus has no home. He doesn’t have the simple luxuries little animals have. He relies on the generosity of others for food and shelter.

I think about how much stuff we have to take with us when we travel with our kids. A car load of clothes, toys, portable crib, diapers, snacks, books… Even if I travel alone, I’ve got at least one bag to take along with me. Yet Jesus traveled with nothing but the clothes on this back. He didn’t see a need for material goods, instead he relied on God to provide him with what he needed.

Sure that’s very hard to do in today’s world, but there’s truth in what he says today still. Our belongings can get in our way, blocking us from connecting to God. Look at how many churches out there who struggle with just trying to maintain their buildings. I was part of a discussion this week where someone said, and I’ve heard it somewhere before, “We have an edifice complex!” Our buildings are as much a liability to us as they are an asset. When a church focuses solely on paying the bills and maintaining the building where is God being glorified in that? We need to focus on letting God lead us, yes buildings are important, but do they need to be our primary concern?

Shouldn’t “loving our neighbours” be our focus? Shouldn’t sharing our love of Christ with those around us be foremost? Shouldn’t letting people know how Christ has changed our lives be important? Where does sharing our excitement for serving God come up on our list of priorities?

When you see someone smiling, or excited, isn’t it contagious? Don’t you just want to smile too? To get involved with the excitement? Serving God needs to be fun, something we love to do. If it’s a burden, then people see our burden and don’t want to be part of it.

Speaking of burdens, a second person is asked by Jesus to join him. His response? “Let me go and bury my father first.” How does Jesus respond to this person, with sympathy? By saying “take your time, I’ll be here?” Nope! Jesus says “Let the dead bury their own dead; you follow me and proclaim the kingdom.”

Pretty harsh words aren’t they? One thing many scholars agree on is the status of the man’s father. It is widely accepted that this man’s father isn’t even dead yet. He is choosing to wait to join Jesus.

This sounds familiar to me. How many of us have felt God asking us to do something, but we find excuses. We claim other things are more important than doing God’s work. I can’t count, for instance, the number of clergy and friends I’ve talked to who can relate to this. Cheryl shared last week her struggle with being called to ministry. How she tried to negotiate a deal, she would try and serve God in her own way. Many of us do the same. I did it. I felt called to ministry, and tried to just work a deal so I would work in certain areas of the church and still maintain my existing lifestyle. Many others have as well. But we’re all in ministry full-time now. Just goes to show that excuses and deals are not what God is looking for!

And finally, a third man wants to join Christ, but first has to go and say good bye to his friends. Jesus responds, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Wow, strong, strong words. But true.

A wise minister friend of mine shared this story. He once used it in a sermon, so I think I’m free to share it here. He was on a summer placement in Saskatchewan, a rural farming town. He managed to convince a farmer to allow him to drive the machine that plowed and planted the crop. So he jumped into this huge machine and dug up a row in the field. He was all excited, looking around everywhere, having a good time. When he reached the end of the row, he looked back and saw the crooked, wavy row he had just plowed. The farmer would have to go back and redo it.

What your supposed to do when driving such a machine is to pick a spot on the horizon and focus solely on it. Drive towards it, and you’ll have nice even rows. Instead of focusing on his destination and work, he got lost in the moment. In his own pride for accomplishing this great task, one he could brag to his classmates about, he instead created more work for the someone else as a result.

It’s the same for us as Christians. When we loose focus on what God has in store for us, as people, as a church, as a community, we get lost. We make a mess, and create more work than necessary. People get hurt, people walk away, our community suffers.

We need to live in the Spirit. We need to look to God for the priorities in our lives. We need to pray for guidance. This doesn’t mean that we need God to tell us which side of the street to walk on or which shoes to wear. But it means we need to turn away from the things breaking communities, families, and relationships apart. We need to focus on loving our neighbours and sharing in the goodness God has blessed us with. Celebrating the gifts we all have, encouraging, sharing with one another our dreams and passions. Embracing the Holy Spirit as God leads us all into new and exciting ministries. God works in all of us. Christ set us free. Free to love, free to serve, free to be all God wants us to be.

We can’t let our past dictate our future. Together we can make decisions that build a healthy community. When we keep looking back, we lose our focus on the future. We get caught up in things which keep us from exploring new ministries.

We get off course, we get away from our goals and our faith begins to suffer. As Christians, we need to keep our eyes on Christ, and our hearts open to God’s call. It’s hard to do. The world works pretty hard to keep us unfocused. It keeps bringing up the past, and yes we can’t forget it. But we can’t let it rule our future.

God forgives us, we need to forgive ourselves of our mistakes and love one another. When God is our guide, and we try to live in tune with the Holy Spirit, great things can happen.

That is my prayer for all church and the communities in which they serve.