Faithlife Sermons

Freedom in Christ

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Scripture Reading

5 1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The New Revised Standard Version The Nature of Christian Freedom

13 For 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. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

The Works of the Flesh

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The Fruit of the Spirit

(Cp Col 3:12–13)

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.


For the last six weeks Max and I have had a Wednesday night date to watch new episodes of the Disney Plus show Obi-Wan Kenobi which tells the story of Obi-Wan between the events of the Star Wars prequel trilogy and the original trilogy.
Not that this takes much but it’s got me thinking Star Wars and I keep going back to a scene in Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker visits Yoda in the swap planet of Degobah to learn how to become a Jedi. The training isn’t going well and at one point Yoda tells a frustrated Luke “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
You must unlearn what you have learned.
That quote has been kicking around in my head for a couple of weeks because there’s so much truth in it and it’s so hard.
As anyone who has tried to break a habit, change a skill, or start thinking about things in a new way: unlearning what you have learned is slow, frustrating, and hard.
I was a soccer player growing up. I played a ton and I was good enough to be on a competetive traveling team.
Because it was high level, I spent alot of time in training and in practice.
I was a decent enough athlete and my school was small enough that I could also play for the basketball team. Most of the time this worked well enough but other times it didn’t.
In soccer, I played defense. One on one defense in soccer has a different strategy than in basketball.
In soccer you try to funnel the player to the sideline but you don’t want to square up against them or they can play the ball between your legs.
In basketball its just the opposite: you funnel to the sideline and then square up because it cuts off any place to go.
I had been trained in the art of soccer defense. It was literally drilled into my head. It was second nature.
One day in basketball practice we had a drill to work on the basketball method. I could not do it. I could not square up for anything it was against my nature.
My coach made me do it over and over again. Yelling, come on Anderson!
I whispered to my teammate “just let me cut you off.” To his defense, he didn’t do this.
I could not unlearn what I have learned. I reflexively needed to do what I had been trained to do.
In life and in faith this creeps up all around us. We get fixed in habits, mentalities, and ways of thinking that close us off to what the Spirit of God is doing all around us.
In our passage today Paul reminds us God is calling us to an open freedom to see and live in the world as agents of love but this requires the hard work of unlearning what we have learned.

Scripture Exploration

How do you know you belong? When do you know you’re part of a club or part of the team? What is that thing that says “yup. I’m in.”
A couple of weeks ago I did a training for software development workflow called Scrum. As a thank you, they gave me stickers that basically said “I’m a scrum guy”
If you’re married, you and your partner might exchange rings as a symbol of your partnership.
Everyone on both my sides of the family went to Washington State University. They all wear Cougar clothes and hats. It signifies to the world that they’re Cougs.
One of our best friends told Lindsay and I that she knew we were her people when we dressed up for her birthday as cousins from the show The Magical Schoolbus for her Ms. Frizzle themed birthday party.
Sometimes there are initiation rites
In the world of professional sports rookies might have to carry the veterans luggage to and from the hotel.
In grosser examples you have colleges cracking down on fraternities and sorrorities’ initiation rites where pledges are required to do embarrasing and dangerous acts in order to be part of the order.
In Christianity, baptism is such a right. It’s a sign and and seal of our belonging to God.
In the book of Galatians the author Paul is dealing with this same question. How do you belong? What do you need to do?
For Paul and Galatians the question was circumcision.
It’s hard to wrap my head around this but when Paul was writing, Christianity was a sect within Judaism. Christianity wasn’t over on one side and Judaism on the other. At the time they were under the same umbrella of Judaism and this squabble was an inter-religion debate.
On the one side you had Jews who had accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
On the other you had gentile’s who accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah and were converting to the way.
Since the time of Abraham, it was a Jewish practice that every living male went through the ritual act of circumcision 8 days after birth. This was a sign of God’s covenant with Israel and the blessing it brings.
Not only that, all males, male slaves, and residents were required to be circumcised. It was necessary to participate in the Passover. This was a big deal. While they were exiled in Egypt they didn’t practice this. Then there was the Exodus and the wandering in the desert. Then, in the book of Joshua, before they were to enter the Promised Land all males were required to be circumcised before entering the promised land.
Those who weren’t circumcised were to be cut off from the tribe for breaking the covenant with God.
This was a capital “B”, big deal.
It’s what they did. It was part of their identity.
And they wanted these Gentile converts to go through the process. It’s what you did. It’s how you showed you belonged. It was all part of the deal.
Universities today are having to step in because Pledges to fraternities just can’t say “Nope”, not doing the hazing.
You couldn’t just not get circumcised. You had to do it.
Naturally, gentiles didn’t want this. They protested that it was necessary.
Lines were drawn.
And so Paul steps in. Paul, an Israelite, a Jew who would have been circumcised, and he says no. No, converts don’t need to get circumcised.
His rationale is simple, if you’re turning to something or someone other than Jesus Christ you’re finding your justification elsewhere.
If you’re finding your justification in the Law of Moses, the first five books of our Bible you’re obligated to obey all of it, not just the circumcision part.
You’re creating a scenario of “Christ AND”. Christ AND circumcision. Christ AND the law.
To Paul there is no Christ AND. There is only CHRIST alone.
In Jesus Christ there is a freedom because there is no “And”.
Instead there is freedom. There is freedom to proudly stand in Christ alone.
But at the same time there is a direction to this freedom.
In order to illustrate this freedom Paul uses two categories, two directions: flesh and the spirit.
Flesh is the way of circumcision. Living in the way of flesh is to use this freedom for yourself: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
I’m not going to through all of these. I think you get the picture. It’s not great stuff. More so, It’s using Christ as a get out of jail for free card. It’s using Christ to do whatever you want and it manifests itself in a life that uses yourself and others for self-serving pleasure.
Paul then contrasts this life of the flesh with life of the Spirit. It’s a different type of freedom. It’s the freedom that is present for the other. It’s the freedom that says yes to a life lived in love:
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
Earlier in the chapter he describes it this way: “the only thing that counts is faith working through love. “
This was a huge shift for people. For thousands of years there was a certain way of doing things. You got circumcised. This is THE sign of the covenant.
Then you have Paul coming along and saying “nope”. You want to show you belong. Live your freedom in love. Be there for other people. There is no “And”.

Fuller and Pride Month

Almost 20 years ago, I started seminary.
I’d been very serious about my faith for about 7 years by that point. I was three years into a ministry career. I was a voracious reader.
I wanted to know everything I could about the Bible and theology. I wanted to know all the things.
I think I was expecting seminary to give me all the answers. It would teach me the way.
I don’t know if it was purposeful or not. I think it was because this was fairly common for students of my era but my first three classes in Seminary were Church history.
In my first quarter I took early church history and medival/reformation era church history.
In my second quarter I took American church history.
My big take away from those courses were this: things change. Alot.
The Christian faith and expression is always evolving. It’s a living and breathing organism that learns how to adapt and live in different climates, cultures, and times.
There is no monolithic Christian Faith. There is no point where you can say “there it is. That’s the authentic expression of Christian faith.” It’s changing and adapting.
In American Church History I was able to read source documents where one side argued for slavery by pointing to proof texts in the Bible and assumed the legitimacy of slavery while opponents took a general approach that the Bible spoke of liberation and freedom.
I learned that the Calvinism of the 19th century grew so stale and rigid it lead to upstarts like Christian science, seventh day adventists, mormonism who attempted to make God a little closer.
Penetecostalism did the same thing.
Even in our own tradition our book of confessions involves confessions spanning 2000 years and multiple continents. The racial reconcilliation and civil rights emphasis found the Confession of 1967 is very different than the goals of the Nicene Creed or the Westminster Catechisms.
Our faith is changing and evolving. And like those Israelites in Galatia, it can be hard. Just when you think you have it figured out, things change.
This month is Pride Month. Openness to LGBTQ community is a core value of St. James Presbyterian Church. There’s a reason why we have the banner in the front of the church. There’s a reason why its prominent on our website. There’s a reason why earlier in the month members of the congregation went down to Cornwall avenue to cheer on and support the youth pride parade. There’s a reason why next month we’ll march in the pride parade. It’s important to us. Our LGBTQ family is family. Full stop.
But for the church sadly this is an open question. Historically we’ve been awful to the LGBTQ family. We’ve shamed them. We’ve closeted them. We’ve rejected them. And still are. And to this I can only say I’m sorry.
I was a part of this. It was part of my cultural inheritance. But this passage in Galatians was a key changing point for me personally.
I slowly recognized that our expressions of Christianity are always changing and evolving.
I slowly recognized that we were putting shackles on the LGBTQ community. We were living a “Christ AND” mentality. It was Christ AND cis-genered heterosexuality.
If Paul rejected that, I must too. The LGBTQ community must enjoy the same freedom I was to live and frankly I saw those fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
I could not, in good conscience, stand against such things.
When I looked at my LGBTQ friends I saw in their lives the freedom the Paul spoke of. I saw in their lives the fruits of the Spirit. I also saw the heartbreak and pain of having to live in a church that demanded them to live a “Christ AND” existence.
But I had to unlearn what I had learned. It was a process. I wish I could say it was an easy process. I wish I could say I woke up one day and was an advocate.
In reality, it was a process. It took five or six years to get over my own fear and learning to embrace what seems obvious to me now. I experienced my own fear of stepping into something new.
I’m ashamed and embarassed by this now but it’s still my journey and I must own it.
The hardest part of a “Christ AND” mentatlity is that we’re often blind to it. The things we have learned and accept without a second thought are deeply engrained in us. They seem so common sense that we don’t see the barriers we’ve errected.
We become gate keepers in the name of Jesus.
Yesterday Lindsay shared a quote by the Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor:
“Jesus was not killed by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God's will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff's office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.”
Friends. This is our temptation. It’s a temptation that the American church has given into time and time again.
Let us encourage each other to unlearn what we have learned.
Let us encourage each other to stand boldly in Christ alone.
Let us encourage one another live the Freedom that Christ has set us free.
Let us encourage one another to live a life in the Spirit that is full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

PCUSA on Roe v. Wade

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. In a 6 to 3 vote, the Supreme Court overturned the historic Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision which confirmed a pregnant person’s constitutional right to choose whether or not to terminate during the early months of their pregnancy. We are deeply outraged, saddened, and mortified by this decision!
This is one of the few times that the Supreme Court has invalidated a precedent decision previously considered a constitutional right. While this decision does not make abortion illegal, it removes constitutional protection giving states the ability to issue bans. Over the past few years, states have passed laws that place extreme restrictions on a pregnant person’s legal ability to obtain an abortion, some issuing a complete ban. States like Kentucky where our denomination is headquartered, have enacted “trigger” laws that will go into effect immediately limiting or banning access to care.  The overturning of Roe v. Wade will have drastic negative impacts on individuals around the nation, with the greatest burden falling on low-income communities of color.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) believes that states should not be involved in creating hurdles to accessing abortion. At the 220th General Assembly in 2012 we affirmed, “no law should impose criminal penalties against any [person] who chooses or physician who performs a medically safe abortion…, and no law should sanction any action intended to harm or harass those persons contemplating or deciding to have an abortion.
We have long held that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” and has endowed all humans with the moral agency to make choices. This is no less true for those making decisions about whether and when to have children. We believe “the artificial or induced termination of a pregnancy is a matter of careful ethical decision of the patient … and therefore should not be restricted by law.
We urge Presbyterians everywhere to affirm that which our church believes and tell the Biden administration to prioritize a proactive abortion agenda ASAP. The Biden Administration must use its executive authorities to guarantee reproductive freedom. A proactive agenda would ensure that everyone, regardless of race, gender identity, age, income, ZIP code, insurance status, disability status, sexuality, and more would have equitable access to abortion care.
The Presbyterian Church celebrates the diversity of all genders and recognizes that access to full reproductive healthcare is a right deserved by anyone who bears children. Bodily autonomy is a basic human right that cannot be silenced nor legislated away. We stand with the words of our General Assembly and our fundamental belief in God’s sovereignty. We must never forget that as people of God we are called to speak for justice and stand with the oppressed. This is an opportunity to do so for all who are once again most marginalized in our community and our country. We remain a Matthew 25 church led by a savior who said, “As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.
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