What if…?

Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62 (and Psalm 16)

You will show me the path of life.  In Your presence there is fullness of joy!  In Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

How do we discover and experience joy on our journey?  How do we rise above the walls, divisions, hostilities, hardships and “stuff of life” that rob us of joy?  Our goal for this message is to unpack a little of what Jesus and Paul have to say about rising above all that and living in Spirit.  What if we could walk in the Spirit?  What if…?

There is a custom for newly ordained and newly installed pastors of a congregation  to do their first official pastoral act by giving the benediction at the end of the service.  Once a newly ordained candidate stood, approached the steps, and ascended the steps. But on the first step, he got tangled up inside the hem of his robe. Now, it would seem that the obvious thing to do would be to step back out of the robe . . . but he didn’t. The poor candidate kept climbing the steps . . . all the time walking up the inside of his robe. Each step made him smaller as he was forced to “duck walk” up the inside of his own robe.

Finally, at the top of the steps, looking like nothing more than a dwarf in a white tent, he turned around. His robe couldn’t turn with him, since he was standing inside it. Turning his body placed the left arm of his robe right in the center of his chest and the right arm between his shoulders. All he could move was his wrist, which he waved as he gave the benediction. When he was done, two ushers came forward, picked him up by the arms, and carried him off like a piece of furniture!

That poor young candidate trying to maintain his dignity while being hobbled by his robe can remind us of people who go through life hobbled by the past.  What hobbles you?  What blocks you in and ties you up?  What torments you?  All of us, it seems, have our own demons and dragons.  We have our own dungeons and prisons that we live or visit.  

What if?  What if we were able to really hear, understand and take to heart what Jesus teaches and what His followers teach in this Bible we read?  What if, instead of living in fear and using that fear as the basic motivation for what we do in life and how we live on this side of heaven—what if we were captivated and motivated by grace?   What if we finally surrender and experience the freedom surrender God’s love in Christ Jesus?

A key verse from our readings can be Psalm 16:11: You will show me the path of life.  In Your presence there is fullness of joy!  In Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Our first verse from Galatians 5 could also serve as our key verse:  For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

We do not recognize our bondage.  We are so conditioned to living in fear and allowing fear to be our chief motivation that we consider it normal.  

We live in fear of those different from us.  We live in fear of losing what we think is ours.  We defend ourselves to the point of hurting and harming others and they do the same to us.  

We see that played out in our Gospel lesson.  Jesus has “set His face toward Jerusalem and is getting ready to pass through a Samaritan village.  He is bound for the cross, motivated and driven by love.  He knows intense suffering and the cross lay ahead for Him.  Yet He sets His face resolutely for Jerusalem.  

The Samaritans are considered second class citizens by the Jews.  Low lifes.  Undesierables.  Scum.  They know that.  So when Jesus comes through town with His destination as the Jewish capital city Jerusalem they feel rejected and hurt.  How do they respond.  Reject Jesus.  They do not want to host Jesus and His disciples.  James and John in turn take that personally. They want revenge.  “Can we call down fire from heaven and consume them?”  

When someone blocks our goals or seems to scorn us we get hurt.  Our wounded pride demands payment.  Get even!  Get revenge!  Pay back! Make them suffer for hurting and rejecting us!

But Jesus will have none of that.  Discipleship is defined by the next paragraph where people will follow Jesus after they take care of personal and private business. How does Jesus respond? 

I have no place to call home.  Are you willing to be homeless like/with Me?  Let the dead bury their own dead.  Leave your old relationships behind.  Once you take up the plow to follow Me you cannot turn back.

Jesus does not expect you and me to give up our homes, never have a funeral for a loved one who has died, or cut all ties with family and friends at home.  What is He 

saying?  

What if?  What if instead of being governed and ruled by the priorities of our broken and fallen world—think fruits of the flesh as noted by Galatians 5—what if instead we were governed by the Holy Spirit?  

Sometimes we think and feel it is impossible to “walk in the Spirit” because the pull of our old sin nature is too strong.  We always succumb.  We give in.  The struggle against our old sin nature is hard indeed!  But it is not about perfect or finally having an iron clad will that always does right and chooses the good—no matter what!  

It is about learning to make peace with our humanness.  It is accepting our frailty and weakness, but not giving in to it.  What do I mean by that?  Every time you fall, pick yourself up again.  Dust yourself off.  Be reminded of God’s unconditionally love and acceptance of you in Christ Jesus because of the cross and empty tomb.  And then continue your journey.  Keep the faith.  Don’t give up.  Don’t quit.  Celebrate the reality of God’s unconditional, unchanging love for you in Jesus.  God will never love you more than He does now.  He can never love you less.  No matter what you do.  No matter how miserably you fail.  God’s love in Christ is the one constant that NEVER CHANGES!  

Remember Star Wars?  “May the force be with you.”  Makes us smile and think of our common greeting from the Old Testament, “The Lord is with you; and also with you!”  Darth Vader’s former self was Anakin Sky Walker.  Luke Sky Walker’s father.  The force was strong in young Anakin, but Anakin did not know how to bridle his passions.  They controlled him.  He could not control them.  He gave into the “dark side.” Instead of the fruits of the Spirit he reaped the “works of the flesh” described in our Galatians reading.  He did not know how to live in the Spirit!

Paul’s charge to us to walk in the Spirit.  To yield to God’s work in us.  He says, Stand firm in your freedom in Jesus; to use your freedom for the good of others, not selfish gain or greed, or defending ourselves from fear. Serve each other in love.  “Live by the Spirit…crucify the flesh with its passions and desires…be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 24-25). 

What if we let the past go?  What if we learned how to live forward?  What if we could live in the freedom of Jesus’ love?  What if we could be so sure of God’s love for us in Christ that we let His Spirit direct and control us through all the ups and downs of every day?  What if?

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