Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-15
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 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. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 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.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
At my last congregation, we had a new family attending worship. This family was a split home, so their attendance was inconsistent. This family also had multiple children, so they needed a lot of space. As a result, they didn’t have a set pew like some people. They sat where there was space.
They sat where the kids picked. And each time they visited, a different kid got to choose where to sit. You never knew if they’d be in the front, in the middle, in the back, or in the balcony. But it was always a joy when they were there.
One Sunday, they sat in a pew that was someone else’s regular spot. And though I’m so much of a social butterfly and I’ve moved around so much in my life, I’ve never understood why a certain seat is so important. I know from my experiences of pastoral care that for many people there is great meaning and comfort and, honestly, superstition, attached to a certain spot. Ask any sports fan why they must do all the things they do for their team to win. Anyway…
When the person who regularly sits there came in, they got upset. “You’re sitting in my spot.” The parent sitting there replied with something like, “I just got my family sat down. We’re not moving.” The person who regularly sits there did not like this answer and decided that was their spot whether or not the family was moved, so they entered the pew and attempted to sit on top of the parent.
It was a month or so later before I heard this story. I called the parent up to say, “I haven’t seen your family in worship recently. Is everything OK?” That’s when they told me what happened and let me know they would no longer be worshipping at my congregation.
Not in my backyard!
I know that story almost sounds ridiculous, but it’s not much different from stories like:
- Pushing your way in front of another vehicle on the road
- Running to get ahead of someone else in the checkout line
- Barging in line so that you’re not last
- Sending in over 400 complaints to the city of Wauwatosa because the panhandlers make you feel uncomfortable.
- Taking the seat in the emergency exit row so that you can be comfortable while the tall person with the long legs must try to cram into those narrow seats. (Not that I’m talking from experience.)
- Every not-in-my-backyard argument.
- Every moment where we say, “I’m more important than you.”
Desires of the flesh
As I look at these lists Paul writes, I struggle with how to make sense of his vices. Take drink. Jesus made wine! Everyone at the party was clearly drunk by the time he made the wine, and he made a lot of wine. How are we to make sense of what Paul’s saying?
Or the next one, carousing. Our celebrated movies show sailors carousing before going off to war. Obviously, Paul’s list is neither exhaustive nor meant to be taken so seriously as to reenact prohibition.
Definition of sin
As I looked at this list, I got to thinking of Luther’s definition of sin: Self-curved-in-on-self. Naval gazing, he called it. Doing everything with only me in mind. Luther wrote all of this while he was a father, a novel experience for a monk. He loved his kids, but one of the first words out of these babes was “mine.”
You know this word, right? Whose doll is this? Mine. Whose TV is this? Mine. Whose $30,000 car is this? Mine. And then there’s one of the first phrases children learn: “My turn!” I come across this so much. Do something fun with one child, and if another child sees, you are guaranteed that the other child doesn’t even consider the first child other than as someone in the way as they scream out “My turn! My turn! My turn!” until they get their way.
And what are the fruits of only worrying about me, what I want, what my family needs, what’s good for my neighborhood? You know this from kids too. If you tell them, “Not yours,” they cry. If you tell them, “Wait,” or “No more,” they scream. The fruits of only worrying about me, how my child is treated in school, the rush that I am in, and that I, for the first time ever, can’t find all the food that I want at the grocery store – is the things that Paul lists.
Results of thinking about yourself
I’m not saying it’s inappropriate to think about yourself. When the neighbor puts up a 10-foot fence on your property line, you’ll have feelings and opinions and you’re right to respond. I mean, your neighbor did exactly what we just described: They thought only of themselves.
What happens when you repeat the same thing they just did to you? How fast will your neighbor and you bear some of those fruits of the flesh Paul listed? How does Paul put it? “If you bite and devour one another, be careful! Go down that path, and you just might be consumed by one another.” But how are we do to any different?
- When half of our neighbors are cheering for the recent Supreme Court decision and half of our neighbors are mourning it, how are we to do any different?
- When half our neighbors are afraid their guns will be taken away and half our neighbors are afraid they’ll be shot, how are we to do any different?
- When my neighbor did something, anything I don’t like, how am I to do any different?
Jesus did the opposite
If Jesus had been like us, he would have stormed Jerusalem, raised an army, and sacked Rome or died trying. But instead of throwing our sin back in our faces, like one might do when a neighbor builds a 10-foot fence, Jesus took our sins onto himself. Think about that.
I know sometimes this language of bearing our sins seems odd today, but what is the opposite of throwing one’s sins back in their faces? What is the opposite of quarrels and factions, strife and anger, fighting and violence? What is the opposite of only caring about me and mine? Instead of waging war, Jesus laid down his life. Instead of conquering the world, Jesus loved the world. Even those who hated him.
That doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t passionate about the truth, but that he was also passionate about his neighbors, about us. And one of the truths throughout history that I have learned is that it’s only by being loved that we are able to love. I have seen this play out time and again.
In the desperately needy. In bullies. In the stuck up. In the lonely. In babies.
It’s through Jesus’ unequivocal love that we now have love – Paul calls it the Spirit of God’s Son – in us.
What does that love look like? Luther said sin is self-curved-in-on-self. Jesus’ love is self-curved-out-toward-neighbors.
- Peace is the fruit of engaging in a relationship of love with you.
- Patience comes from working together in hope.
- Kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and especially self-control – these are the fruits of seeking a relationship of love with our neighbor.
- And joy. Joy is the fruit of having a relationship of love with our neighbor.
How do you joyfully grow disciples in Christ?
You show them God’s love, sharing the Spirit of God’s Son who lives in your hearts with them until the doors of their hearts open up and they find the Spirit living in them as well. For this is exactly how God loves us.
God is faithful, giving us promises we can trust.
God is generous, pouring down grace on the good and the bad alike, Jesus says.
God expresses self-control, or as the Old Testament stated it, God is slow to anger.
God is patient, withholding judgment on all our failures.
God is kind, giving grace where judgment is deserved.
God gives peace like the world cannot give, the peace of Christ.
God is love. God is love and God loves the whole world.
And most of all, God’s joy is being in relationship with us.
These are the fruits of the Spirit not because they are what we’re supposed to do, but because this is who God is to us. This Spirit of Christ is a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Live by the Spirit, for this our promise: This Spirit of Christ is with you all.