Set Free

Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Lauren J. McFeaters
September 4, 2016

Freedom comes in many shapes and sizes. Madeleine L’Engle tells an old legend about Judas, that after his death, Judas found himself at the bottom of a deep and slimy pit.

For thousands of years he wept his repentance, and when the tears were finally spent, he looked up, and saw, far into the distance, a tiny glimmer of light.

After a time, he began to climb up toward the light. The walls of the pit were dark and wet, and time and time again he kept slipping back down.

But finally, after great effort, he reached the top and as he dragged himself into a room; he saw it was an upper room; and he saw people, people he knew, people seated around a table.

And Jesus said to Judas,

“We’ve been waiting for you, Judas.”

“We couldn’t begin until you arrived.” (1)

Freedom in Christ sets us free.

For Judas, freedom came in the form of Love, a Love that liberated with forgiveness, lifted restraints, set at liberty a life, and gave him joy.

Today we travel to the Galatians: New Christians for whom Christ’s love has liberated with forgiveness, lifted restraints, set at liberty life, but who find no joy in their freedom.

Instead the Galatians are held captive by unending arguments about the law and food and circumcision – all outward skirmishes taking a lead over inward peace with Christ – all biting and devouring one another rather than living in the commandment they have yet to accept: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

For Paul, whose Gospel message is the unbound and unrestrained life lived in our Lord, the Galatians’ fighting is the outward and visible sign of their ongoing captivity.(2)

Freedom comes in many shapes and sizes. Paul knows freedom in Christ. Perhaps more than most. He’s lost physical freedom many times. He says:

  • I’ve been imprisoned in toil and hardship, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure.
  • Five times I have received forty lashes less one.
  • Once I was trampled with stones.
  • Three times I have been shipwrecked.
  • I’ve been in danger from rivers … robbers … my own people.(3)
  • I’ve known the incarceration of illness, ill-health, and disease.(4)

The wonder of Paul is his ability to find liberty in Christ in the midst of captivity.

Frederick Buechner puts it like this: There was hardly a whistle-stop in the Mediterranean world that Paul didn’t make it to eventually. He planted churches the way Johnny Appleseed planted trees. And whenever he had ten minutes to spare, he wrote letters.

He browbeat, coaxed, comforted, and cursed. He bared his soul. He ruminated and complained. He theologized and arbitrated. He inspired and gloried. And everything he said, wrote, did (from the Damascus Road on) was an attempt to bowl over the human race as he’d been bowled over.(5) The day Paul found freedom in Christ was the day nothing became impossible.

And this is why he is so distraught over his beloved Galatian Church. They’ve taken the gift of salvation and turned it into a reason for self-indulgence and immaturity. For freedom Christ has set us free, yet we, insist on our own way.

It’s obvious what happens to our lives when we try to get our own way all the time; when our wills run riot, and our pleasure-seeking knows no bounds. Without living in Christ and through Christ, our days turn into one big roulette wheel of “Choose Your Fortune!” Paul lays it out for us – what we become without freedom leading the way:

  • A stinking accumulator of mental and emotional garbage
  • A cheater for grades and advancement
  • A selfish grabber of attention and limelight
  • An instigator of crisis and drama

How about our:

  • Trusting in cutthroat competition and magic-show religion
  • Or our vicious tempers and frozen hearts
  • Our withholding of encouragement and praise
  • Unrestrained need for judgment, gossip, and slander.(6)

But freedom comes in many shapes and sizes. What happens when we set aside our burdens and live as those set free? Why God grants such calm and simplicity, such serenity, much the same way fruit appears on a tree. Amazing things happen, in the blink of an eye we grow up and mature. We gain:

  • An affection for others and a willingness to stick with things
  • Acts of compassion trip from our hearts
  • We cultivate a conviction that holiness permeates all people and conflicts have resolutions
  • We find ourselves with loyal friends and we become healthier companions
  • Our manipulation and over-control fades away and we’re trustworthy, honorable, and dependable
  • We have no need to force our way into other’s lives
  • And our ability to forgive ripens to overflowing (7)

You see, for those who belong to Christ, there’s not one detail of life that he will not set free so that we might belong to God body and soul. Living our days in that kind of freedom is like:

  • Looking up and seeing (far in the distance) a glimmer of light
  • And climbing up to light,
  • And when we reach the top,
  • We find ourselves at the Table,
  • With people we know,
  • And Jesus turns and looks at us and says:

“I’ve been waiting for you.”

“And we couldn’t begin until you arrived.”(8)

1. Madeleine L’Engle as cited by James T. Moor. A Place of Welcome. Luke 7:36-50. Day1, A division of the Alliance for Christian Media, Atlanta, Georgia, June 17, 2007.
2. J. William Harkins. Feasting on the Word:  Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 3. Eds. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, 186.
3. 2 Corinthians 11:24-27.
4. 2 Corinthians 12:7.
5. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.
6. Galatians 5: 19-21 adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1993.
7. Galatians 5: 22-25 adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1993.
8. Madeleine L’Engle as cited by James T. Moor. A Place of Welcome. Luke 7:36-50. Day1, A division of the Alliance for Christian Media, Atlanta, Georgia, June 17, 2007.

© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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