Weekly Seeds: Freedom and Fruit

Sunday, June 26, 2022
Third Sunday After Pentecost | Year C
Proper 8

Focus Theme:
Freedom and Fruit

Focus Prayer:
God of freedom, you call us to the work of liberation and restoration. Nurture the seeds of freedom within us to bloom and flourish in love, you, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Galatians 5:1, 13–25
5 1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
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.

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.

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. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

All readings for this Sunday:
2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14
Psalm 77:1–2, 11–20
1 Kings 19:15–16, 19–21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13–25
Luke 9:51–62

Focus Questions:
1. What is freedom?
2. What freedom does Christ offer?
3. How is your faith community called to freedom?
4. What are limits to freedom as people created in community?
5. How does the fruits of the freedom of Christ and of the Spirit manifest in your faith community?

By Cheryl Lindsay

Sometimes, we realize the transforming power of the good news in a stunning way. A seminary professor told the story of his own experience as a member of a cult. That group and its leader never became a widely known news story like Heaven’s Gate or Branch Davidians. In fact, far more people join what they consider to be a faith community and find themselves in a religious movement that deviates from the tenets of that faith and embraces the alternative and dangerous views of a dominant leader who claims extraordinary revelation and/or divinity themselves.

The professor taught the history, principles,and signs of these alternative religious movements. He did so as a former member and not a distant intellectual exercise. One day, he shared the first line of the focus text in a devotion. Hearing these words opened up something in him. “For freedom” jarred him from his participation in that community. The idea that freedom was the goal of Christ’s movement and presence in the world made him question what he had come to believe and behave. After all, if Christ wanted him to be free, why was he so bound? He left the cult, found himself, and committed himself to liberty and truth.

Glory to God.

Far too many of God’s children need to be freed. The bonds are numerous. In Paul’s writing, he emphasizes freedom from the restrictions of the law. This is natural given his background. He had his moment of clarity and transformation through his own encounter of revelation. His action prior to that moment were driven by a slavish adherence to the law seemingly without regard to outcome of his behavior or consequence of his exertions of power. Paul was freed, and having been freed, he sought to help let his people go too.

Prior to this point in his letter (see 5:1-12), Paul has summarized his arguments and has presented the Galatians with the choice before them. He gives them sufficient reasons why they should not accept his opponents’ arguments by submitting to the slavery of the law, since in Christ they have been freed from the law (5:1). But “freedom from the law” is not adequate as a defining characteristic of identity. Not only does it lack content, but it is also subject to diverse interpretations and misinterpretations.13 If the Galatians choose to take Paul’s position (as he expects them to do), how might their identity be further developed in ways that would suggest normative behavior of a sort appropriate to the new dispensation? Galatians 5:13-6:10 is Paul’s attempt to answer these questions.

Bernard O. Ukwuegbu

It’s important to note, that like Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul does not discount the original intent of the law. Freedom, for Paul, does not translate into a lawlessness where anything goes. He still has boundaries, as identified in his laundry list of unacceptable behavior. Freedom does not grant license to do anything we want without concern for the impact of those actions on God, neighbor, or even self. Freedom has limits and constraints; otherwise, freedom becomes a destructive force rather than a liberating one.

We see this in the debate over gun safety. While the vast majority of American citizens support some restrictive measures to reduce the astounding rate of gun violence, a powerful lobby exercises its influence to counter those measures even as the majority of its own members support gun safety legislation. Is this freedom?

During the pandemic, health precautions were codified. Restrictions on gathering, mask wearing, and eventually vaccination requirements for certain activities met sometimes violent resistance. Even though those measures were enacted out of concern for public safety, many felt that the government went too far in imposing them upon the people even as hundreds of thousands of citizens were dying and even more hospitalized. Was that freedom?

On the other hand, there are now a series of laws and challenges to existing, established law determined to reduce the rights and freedom of millions of Americans under the guise of freedom for a few. Legislation restricting the books teachers can assign and the subjects educators can address claim to protect parents who don’t want their children exposed to those topics while ignoring the will of the majority of parents, the educational and developmental needs of students, and the expertise of educators all the while demonizing the lived experience of people already oppressed. Is this freedom?

Freedom isn’t a weapon; it’s a gift.

We worship a God who has accorded us freedom. It’s a freedom that we read about in the Garden of Eden narrative, in which Adam and Eve are instructed not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet when Adam and Eve choose to eat that fruit, God does not step in to stop them. They are free to disobey him. I’m not a parent, but I guess that much of the skill of it is learning to judge what degree of freedom is appropriate for your children at each stage of life, and then leaving them to make their own mistakes. We have to curb our own freedom in order “The chapter begins with a real humdinger of a statement: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Freedom to allow others theirs. And it can be the hardest thing in the world to do. In Jesus, though, we have the classic example of one who curbs his own freedom in order to promote ours. In another Garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays that heart-wrenching prayer – ‘Father, if you will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not my will, but yours be done.” What did it take to pray that prayer? Shortly afterward, Jesus is with Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, being incited beyond what most human beings would be able to bear. Yet he holds his tongue, puts aside the power that he has earlier displayed in healing the masses, calming storms, and teaching, and endures the indignity. Freedom, Paul argues in Galatians, is the consequence of placing your faith in Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are no longer slaves to the law, nor are we slaves to the sinful nature, but free.

Mark Edgecombe

Freedom is a gift, a choice, and a responsibility. Creator did not shape humanity into puppets but into God’s image bearers. We have the further gifts of reason, creativity, and vision. We were given the responsibility of care and concern for the rest of creation. For far too long, we have taken that role as license to use and misuse the resources of the earth, but we were called to live in harmony not superiority with nature. Even in the garden, the Holy One does not erect a fence or wall around the tree God wants to restrict from consumption. It serves a purpose of letting us know that rights and freedom come with a choice; it’s not freedom without choice.

In his own ministry, Jesus invites disciples to follow, he does not trap or coerce them into service or community. Jesus encounters the woman caught (miraculously by herself) in adultery and does not condemn but sets her free from the verdict imposed by an unjust law.

Some laws are unjust from the beginning. They target particular communities disproportionately or they criminalize behavior best addressed through other means. Some laws are simply rooted in hate such as a plethora of laws targeting transgender student athletes. Other laws begin in pursuit of justice then get manipulated to achieve unjust ends.

God’s law comes into being during an exodus in the desert. People who were accustomed to bondage were suddenly set free and in some ways missed the restricted life. They longed for the certainty of the predictability of their lives. They feared the future so they sought the past. God comes down, Moses ascends the mountain, and a guide to right living is codified. But even that Law had grace written in stone. Yes, there were prohibitions, but there were also means of making things right when they failed to live up to those standards.

Moses was established as the first human arbiter of the law. He would be followed by Joshua and Judges. Eventually the prophets would render God’s judgment. Interestingly, that judgment would be contextualized by God’s vision.

Because the law is subject to God’s vision, purposes, and will. That’s what Paul learned. He had made the law the main thing when it was a tool to facilitate living with and loving God, neighbor, and love. Paul broke free from his idolatry of the law that kept him from recognizing the Holy One in his midst and the fulfillment of the prophetic promise being realized in his time:

“The fruit of the Spirit” in Gal 5:22 and its manifestations appear to be a general allusion to Isaiah’s promise that the Spirit would bring about abundant fertility in the coming new age. Uppermost in mind are Isaiah’s repeated prophecies (especially chap. 32 and, above all, 57) that in the new creation the Spirit would be the bearer of plentiful fruitfulness, which Isaiah often interprets to be godly attributes such as righteousness, patience, peace, joy, holiness, and trust in the Lord, traits either identical or quite similar to those in Gal 5:22-23. Paul’s rhetorical effect and thematic emphasis are increased by the readers’ being able to situate themselves as those who are part of the dawning eschatological promises made to Israel.

G. K. Beale

Moving toward the end (eschatology) often takes us back to the beginning. The freedom of the new age restores the freedom of creation. Beloved community has always been the goal–of creation, the law, the prophets, the incarnation. It’s no wonder that Paul evokes imagery of a tree bearing fruit. This one is far from forbidden; this tree is us, firmly rooted in the Spirit and fully flourishing from the harvest of the Spirit’s fruit.

Isn’t that freedom?

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning. I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
— Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

For further reflection:
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ― Jim Morrison

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.