“Live by the Spirit”
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Well, it’s that time of year again. A time where all of our Northside United churches gather together to share in our summer worship. It’s a time where we can come together and make sure our worship is still well attended and somewhat energetic, even if it is an hour earlier for some of us.
It’s a time when we can come together and share our experiences, we can catch up on what’s happening in the other churches on the Northside. We can encourage one another and let all us know we are not alone in our ministries. It’s good to know we have these other great United Churches around here who want us all to flourish and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to our communities. I’m looking forward to sharing with you all once again this summer.
At Carman we’ve been focusing on the book of Galatians all month long. It’s a letter Paul writes to the Galatian Christians somewhere in the middle of the first century. Approximately 20-30 years after Jesus ascended to Heaven.
This letter is a different style of writing for Paul, it is pretty clear as you read it that he is not very happy with the situation. It seems this group of Christians Paul has been working with have started to stray from what he feels is the right path.
What appears to have happened is some other church leaders have come into the region and begun to teach the Galatians they need to do certain things in order to be “true” Christians. Namely, they want to see the Galatians undergo circumcision and take on other aspects of Jewish law if they want to call themselves a church.
Paul spends much of this letter trying to convince the Galatians this is the wrong path to follow. He continually reminds them that Jesus has already given them all they need, and to take on anything else would distract them from this gift.
Once they begin following one law, it will lead to more laws they feel they will need to follow, and soon they will become obsessed with following laws and forget about following what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do.
In chapter 5 Paul again states to undergo circumcision makes no difference. In the end it amounts to nothing, because the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Paul is genuinely concerned for the welfare of the church in Galatia. He says some strong words to those who are attempting to lead them down a path Paul thinks they don’t need to take.
He brings it back to the call to love and serve one another. He reminds them of the commandment to love your neighbour as yourself. There seems to have been some infighting building upon them as they debate within their own communities as to whether to follow these rules are not. Paul can sense this is a hot topic which is dividing the church. So he asks them to remember to love one another, because otherwise he says they will devour one another.
Churches today would do well to read this letter on a regular basis. Far too often we hear of churches who are living in conflict about rules and laws, who can do what, how such-and-such is done, and we forget about the commandment to love one another as ourselves.
It comes down to practising what we preach. Paul encourages the church to live by the Spirit, don’t live by the earthly desires of our flesh.
The world we live in thrives off the desires of the flesh. Greed, pride, lust, jealousy, anger, these things and many more Paul warned the Galatians about.
Yet here we are today. All over and around us we are tempted to give into the desires of our flesh. Our televisions, newspapers, magazines, computers, they all fill our head with the desire for more. The desire to fill some sort of need in our live.
It’s hard to ignore, in fact it’s impossible to ignore unless you go live in a hut in the woods somewhere. But then again, maybe we would wish we had a bigger, nicer hut.
I think most of you know that I love technology. I love to use it, I love to play with it. But I’m also quite happy with the technology I have. Sure it’s a few years old now and not as pretty or have all the great features the stuff coming out today has. But it works. Would I like to have the new stuff, you betcha! But I can’t justify it. When what I have right now works well enough, I don’t need the latest gadget.
This past week, Apple computers released their new phone. The iPhone4. People camped out overnight to get this new phone. On the morning it was released, there were line-ups all across the United States hundreds of people long waiting to get inside the store. You know what? A lot of these people had last year’s model. Is this new model better than last year’s? Sure it is, but is it that much better to spend 24 hours of your life that you’ll never get back to wait in line for the new one? No.
I would love a shiny new car in my driveway. I would love a new computer. I would love to have one of these fancy new phones. But I don’t need them. I can function just fine without these new toys. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Look where greed has brought our world. 2/3 of the world’s population live in poverty, yet North America alone consumes well over half the world’s resources.
The oil spill in the gulf? It’s the result of greed. The big oil companies, in their desire to find more and more oil to fill the demand have developed technology that allows them to dig farther offshore, but their technology for limiting the risks of accidents remains unchanged.
In 1979 there was a similar spill in the gulf. A well exploded off the coast of Mexico in shallower waters. The emergency shutoff valve was broken and they couldn’t stop the oil from spilling out. They tried to cover it with a large container to siphon off the gas, they tried to plug the well by shooting mud into it, none of these approaches worked. It was some 6 months later before the relief well was successful. Far too late for many fish and birds who made the area their home. At the time it was the worst oil spill in American history. Today they have tried the same techniques and achieved the same results.
These companies in their desire to find more and more oil so they can make more and more money have done so without calculating all the risks. Like BP’s decision to not do some standard procedures that could have avoided the whole situation in the first place. They skipped these steps to save money. They would have cost too much to do.
The world preys on our desire to fulfill our own perceived needs. Do we need a cellphone? Ask a 65 year old, then ask a 20 year old. The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. It’s not all bad, there are pros and cons to each change. But we need to know that every decision we make is one that lines the pockets of someone else at the expense of many others.
So we need to be aware. We need to act as Paul urges us to act. And that’s to live by the Holy Spirit. To turn away from the desires of our flesh and to seek to live more in a spirit of love.
Paul tells us there are no laws, against living by the Spirit. There’s no laws against loving one another, being kind and gentle. There’s no laws against being generous or faithful. There are no laws against following Jesus Christ.
As I watched the news last night, and the terrible acts being done in downtown Toronto by a small group of hooligans in the midst of thousands of peaceful protesters, I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would have done. Would he be in the streets protesting against the injustices of the world, I believe so. But would he condone the senseless violence against innocent bystanders by a few people bent on causing destruction and distracting from the message of those who are there to speak for the marginalized in the world? I like to think he’d also be protesting against these people as well. Speaking out for love and peace, generosity and equality, and speaking out against the sins of the flesh.
We in the church have lost our prophetic voice. We no longer are being seen as the place of living by the Spirit. The fighting and desires of the flesh are what people hear about in the news now. They hear about our scandals and our in-fighting, the very stuff that Paul is warning the Galatians to watch out for.
God has blessed us abundantly. God has given us His Spirit which will lead us if we choose to follow Jesus Christ and build a relationship with him.
Think about what we represent as we worship here this morning. We are four different churches, each with our own way of doing things, yet for the next 10 weeks we will come together to worship our God in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. We look past our differences and simply enjoy our fellowship together as we worship the same God we all have in common, led by the same Spirit in a way of serving in the name of Jesus Christ, no matter where we are from.
That, my friends, is living in a Spirit of our awesome God.