Return to Index or Sermons

Proper 8, Yr C, Tr 1, (Trinity 4). 27.06.2010

1 Kings 19.15-16, 19-21:  Elijah picks Elisha, Elisha says’ Let me kiss my fr & mr;  Elijah: ‘ Go back again ...’Ps 16: you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit
Gal 5.1, 13-25: for freedom Christ has set us free; works of flesh versus fruit of the spirit is love [first & foremost; the whole law is summed up in love of neighbour.
Luke 9.51-62: when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem ; cost of following Jesus: let dead bury the dead  (1532)

Gracious Father, by the obedience of Jesus you brought salvation to our wayward world:  draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
         

(We have been freed by love and empowered to love.)

          Week by week we gather here to celebrate the Holy Communion, the Eucharist.  What are we doing and why?  Let’s put that question aside for a bit while we consider a couple of other questions.
         
How do we view
our life in Christ?  Do we basically see ourselves as having been freed in Christ from something or having been freed for something?
         
If we have been freed from something, what is it?  What we might call sin?  And what is sin?  It is basically our tendency to look after number one, that is ourselves.  That is, we have been forgiven and started over.  Let’s look at this more closely.  If God in his love has forgiven us, then God has always been ready to forgive.  It is in Jesus that we know God’s love, which is nothing new but has always been there.  So where do we go from here?  Having been freed from ourselves, put back on square one, so to speak, the question is what do we do next?  What have we been freed for, and do we see our life in Christ as one of obligations or as one of opportunities?

         
If we see
the life in Christ as one of obligations, then obviously what we want to know is what we must do, that is, we need to know what are the commandments that we must fulfil.  How many of these are there?
         
We might say there are ten, namely, the decalogue. The ten commandments that appeared in many churches in a plaque on the wall of the sanctuary flanked by another plaque bearing  the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed.
         
Or we might say that we need only two, the so-called summary of the law; Love God and love the neighbour.
         
Or perhaps we need only the one commandment from St John’s Gospel that we hear on Maundy Thursday: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you.’
         
If we follow this pattern of intending to be obedient, then I would suggest to you that no matter how many or how few commandments we must obey we are in danger of missing the deep joy of the gospel as Saint Paul understands it.
         Let me try to explain.
         
If you are trying to be obedient  then you work at it and this takes energy out of you.  As many of you know, Dorothy has been a teacher of the Alexander Technique and I myself have had Alexander lessons for over twenty years.  It is one of the aims of the AT to teach us how to use our bodies in ways that are optimal.  That is, these ways use the least energy and they put no stress of the body.  For example, when we walk, very often we place one foot in front of the other, and if we think that way we are not using our body well, for we are using more muscles and more energy than we need to.  It is far better to send our knee forward, for the foot will automatically follow, and this use does not distort our body, it uses fewer muscles and it uses less energy to boot.
         
One of the things that is pointed out in the Technique is that we often engage in what is known as end-gaming: we see an aim and we go straight for it without giving pause as to how best to achieve the aim, that is, we react with our habitual ways of doing things, and these very often are not ultimately the best way.
         
To take another simple example from the Alexander Technique, if the doorbell rings and we leap up from our chair to go answer it, it is very likely that most of us will do so in a way that in effect pulls our body out of shape.  We have been end-gaming.  The AT teaches one to stop that habitual leap out of the chair, that is, to inhibit our habit, and then to learn a better way to use our body to get up from the chair.
         
So if we seek to obey a commandment, then, in AT terms, we are end-gaming.

         
We have heard part of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia.  They have some people there who believe in obeying rules, and a rule they think everyone should obey, including the Gentile converts, is the need to be circumcised.  Paul is very much against this type of mentality, and he starts our reading from Galatians this morning with the words, ‘For freedom Christ has set us free.’  The opening words of the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter.  In verse 5, which we haven’t read, Paul goes on to say, ‘the only thing that counts is faith working through love’, or ‘faith made effective through love.’
         
For Paul we are called to freedom, not to rules.  We are called by God’s love made known in Christ Jesus.  We are not ordered to love; we are filled with love and thereby we are enabled to love.
         
In Paul’s words in his first letter to the Corinithians, ‘I will show you a yet more excellent way.’  And what follows is the chapter on love.
         
It is striking that Paul often talks about God loving us but only twice does he ever speak of our loving God, for it is only because God loves us first that we are enabled to love.
         
Whenever he can, Paul encourages rather than commands.  This is clear in 1 Corinthians which was written in two stages.  When Paul began the letter he was answering a number of questions that that he had been asked by the Corinthians.  In all this material he writes very calmly, gently and persuasively, with all his guidance being aimed at their future conduct. 
         
Now, Paul always puts his main point at the centre of his letters, and in this first draft the centre of the letter would have been what we now call chapter 13, the chapter on love.  Here is the guidance for the loving life in Christ. 
         
But then he receives news from a member of Chloe’s household that serious problems have arisen in Corinth , with probably the most serious one being that some Christians are lording it over others by claiming to have superior knowledge that sets them in a class above the others.  We might call them the ‘wise guys’.  Now the additional parts of the letter are couched in a very different tone that in no uncertain terms amounts to saying: stop this behaviour right now, and he re-casts the letter so that the centre now is in what we call chapter 8 when he says in rebuttal of the ‘wise guys’, ‘For us there is one God, the Father from whom are all things and we unto him, and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom are all things, and we through him, but not in all is this knowledge.’  That is, God our Father is our source and our goal, and Jesus is the one through whom we go to the Father.  This is the real knowledge, and it is available to everyone at Corinth , big and small.  But the invitation remains: we are freed by love for love.
         
Further on in our reading Paul lists the works of the flesh’ (5.19-21): fornication, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.  When you examine this list they are all things that make for the breakdown of relations between people.  Paul then goes on to list ‘the fruits of the Spirit’ (5.22-23): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And these are all things that make for the establishing, maintaining, deepening and extending of relationships that help to build up others.

         
The list of vices are works, things we do ourselves, and we do them apart from God,  but the list of the fruits are all made possible by God’s spirit of love. 
         
We might sum this all up with two brief sentences from the first letter of John, writing about forty years after Paul.  The first is the conviction that ‘God is love’ and the second is ‘we love because he first loved us.’ 
         
Now back to our first question.  What are we doing here and why?
         
Week by week we gather to celebrate and share together in the Eucharist, which means the Thanksgiving.  And at its centre is the great prayer of thanksgiving in which we remember Jesus and thank God for all our Father has done through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. 
         
In effect, what we are remembering is that God has always loved us.  He has made his love known supremely in Jesus Christ, and now, quite simply, we are freed by his Spirit of love so that we may love.  It is no accident that Paul repeatedly addresses his hearers as ‘beloved’.  Each week we are reminded and empowered as the ‘beloved’, and our gathering is ended with our being sent out, sent out in Christ as those who have been freed and empowered to love.