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Proper 6 (1st Sunday after Trinity), Year C, Tr. 1, 16/6/04, St
1 Kings 21.1b-10, (11-14), 14-21a: Naboth's vineyard, Jezebel, Ahab, Elijah
Psalm 5.1-8: Lead me Lord in your righteousness
Galatians 2.15-21: 2.20 no longer ego, but Christ in me; by the faith of him
Luke 7.36-8.3: sinner woman anoints Jesus; women with him; hospitality
Collect: grant us your grace that in keeping your commandments we may please you
Post Communion: strengthen us in faith, build us up in hope, make us grow in love (1318-84=1234)
Summary: We are (1) freed within, (2) freed to be walking-wounded, (3) freed to show forth the very nature of God.
When we read almost any book of the Bible, we are, in effect,
reading a writer's witness to his encounter with God.
This morning I would like to share with you the essence of St Paul's witness, for our reading from Galatians is one of the key passages of Paul's witness to God's activity in and through Jesus of Nazareth.
The very heart of Paul's experience of God is to be found in the end of Romans 8, when Paul says that no matter what has happened, what is happening or what will happen, no matter what fears we may have, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
How Paul experiences this love in his life and that of the Christian community is summed up in the end of 1 Cor 13 when he says, "But now abide these three, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love". Paul sees all three as the gifts of God's love, that love which is his wisdom, Christ crucified. God's love for us frees us to trust him for a new beginning, a new well-being, a fresh start. It frees us from the shackles of our past, our errors, and everything that we feel prevents us from starting out afresh. This is his gift of faith.
At the same time, God's love frees us and empowers us to enter into the future in hope. And God's love for us right now frees and empowers us to love our neighbour here and now.
Thus God's love frees us to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk with him in trust.
Paul often speaks of our being in Christ, but twice he speaks of Christ being in us, and one of those passages is in today's reading from Galatians. Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2.19b-20) That is, Paul has a tremendous sense that what the problem had been was within himself, so that his old ego needed to be crucified with Christ. And now he has a deep sense of Christ dwelling within him and being the very source of the trust that he has in God, so that Paul lives by the very faith of Christ. Paul not only trusts Christ but he also lives by Christ's trust in God.
It is because of the utter freedom that comes in and through Paul's being in Christ and Christ being in Paul that he can boast of his weakness, as he does in 2 Cor chapter 11. There he lists all the things he could boast of, humanly speaking. He then sets them aside and, with a sworn oath, states that if he must boast, he will boast of the ignominy of having been let down in a basket outside Damascus in order to escape form the clutches of King Aretas. He goes on to say that Christ's power is made perfect in weakness.
If Paul as an apostle has set himself and the other apostles forth as examples of what it means to be in Christ, it is as the very opposite of being a case of "me and my God", from the alone to the alone. Paul has a tremendous sense of our being literally incorporated in Christ, for we are the very Body of Christ, one Body with many members, members of one another, and all members being valued, and called to be the children of God.
We can sum up what has Paul shown us in three parts. (1) The freedom we are given is a freedom within ourselves. (2) This freedom enables us to be the walking wounded. (3) We are to use this freedom to show forth the very character of the God whom we truly worship, for that is what it means to be "the sons and daughters of God".
Let's look more closely at the first point: The freedom that we have been given is a freedom within ourselves. To put it succinctly, God does not change the situation we face: rather he changes our capacity for facing it. God gives us the capacity for facing life's problems, not the solutions to the problems. Let me repeat again: the freedom we are given changes us by changing our capacity for facing life as it is.
The second point is that we have been given the freedom to be the walking wounded. We all of us have areas where we are weak or disabled or feel ourselves to be inadequate.
It is this freedom in Christ to admit that we are the wounded who walk by the grace of God's love and not by our own strength that is an integral part of the freedom of the children of God. We don't have to spend time and energy trying to hide our deficiencies, our inadequacies, or our failures. We are free to admit and to go on from there, using the time and energy saved to do something much more productive. For you and I are freed to be "the walking wounded".
So, our freedom is an inner freedom; our freedom is to be the walking wounded, and our freedom as the sons and daughters of God is given that we may show forth the God whom we worship, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St Paul says in Galatians: "Love is the fulfilling of the Law" and he goes on to say, "He who loves his neighbour as himself has fulfilled the whole of the Law." But this poses the problem of how do we attain true love of ourselves. We hate some things in ourselves, and therefore we readily detect and reject the self-same things in others.
It is only as we know that we are deeply loved right where we are that we can truly love the whole of ourselves for what we might become, and thereby be readied truly to love our neighbour. Thus true love of ourselves is not something we attain, but it is rather what God gives us by his love for us, and thereby readies us to love our neighbour.
Jesus' answer to the lawyer who asked him, "Who is my neighbour?" - that is, where does my obligation stop, was to tell the story of the good Samaritan, a person whom the Jews hated, and then forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan had been the neighbourly one. In today's global village everyone is our neighbour. So it is as we, with no limits, show forth in attitude, word and deed, God's love in Christ that we fulfil our calling as the sons and daughters of God.
We are those who have died to our old selves in Christ and now have the capacity truly to live and to love. We are those who, with St Paul, can say, "If I must boast, I will boast of my weaknesses, for Christ's power is made perfect in weakness". We are the beloved sons and daughters of God in Christ who have been commissioned and empowered to show forth to others our heavenly Father and the wonders of his love.