Some fragments from a sermon:
As followers of Jesus, what are we free from and what are we free to? We’re free, first of all, from fear. We’re free from the story our culture tells that we should strive toward power and meaning. We’re free from a story that tells us that in the beginning and the end we are individuals, that we depend on nothing but ourselves, that we write our own stories, and that we ought to make sure we have enough power over others and our lives to determine the final meaning not only of our stories but the stories of those who surround us.
All of this is revealed by Christ to be an illusion. Jesus, in faith, submits himself to relationship. He passionately opens himself to the divine, to his neighbor, to the world, even to his enemy, and shows us how really to be human. And Paul argues in the passage for today that we are free to do the same: “serve each other through love.”
For Paul, to live for the flesh, rather than for the Spirit, is to seek to establish one’s own life and worth externally, rather than recognizing one’s inherent worth as a created being in relationship with the divine. So he throws out a list of all of the external ways people try to use to justify their existence. This doesn’t mean that things outside yourself aren’t important. They may be very important. But, whatever it may be, it should serve something greater and not be raised to be the greatest.
These means by which we try to find meaning for our lives may not always come to the point of idolatry. But often they do. I’m referring to anything that dominates people and compromises their freedom, their ability to live with faith in true relationship with themselves, their neighbor, and the divine.
Both faith and idolatry begin with the recognition that to be human is to be a contingent being – that is, a creature that depends on something other than itself, alone, for its survival. But faith differs from idolatry in that it lives every moment as if this were true. Faith submits itself to God and other human beings, even to creation. And thus, “to faith” is to live freely within the contingent reality of existence. Idolatry, however, refuses to accept the truth of our need to depend on God, neighbors, and creation. And so – though it may feel and look like freedom – idolatry finds itself grasping at anything and everything that passes by – it grasps at the flesh, and thereby it loses its freedom to all of the external things of life.
Fear drives what I reckon to be the greatest idolatry active today: violence. The resort to violence places trust not in God, but rather puts its hope in our effort alone. Violence denies that, like Christ, we ought to submit ourselves to God, to each other, even to our enemies. It denies the power of resurrection as well, that God’s victory does not look like what we expect. To those who have faith in violence, the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion is a way to participate in freedom and to really live is foolishness pure and simple.
We, perhaps foolishly, are called to practice Christ’s faith, by ceasing to constantly try to take ownership of “the flesh,” the stuff of life. Instead we stand in the Spirit with empty hands, and submit ourselves to each other, to creation, and to God. Because of what Christ taught, how he lived, how he died, and that he rose again, we are free from fear and we are free to live foolishly.
And what happens when you live foolishly, unburdened by idolatry, free in the spirit of Christ? Paul says that you will live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You might come to a little church in the center of the city to see friends, hear jazz, sing songs, eat donuts, and talk. You might serve breakfast way too early in the morning to a bunch of homeless folks, or make lunches and serve them at the park. You might end up raising funds for windows, weeding a garden, or helping design a bridal room. You might contribute bras to be strewn across the altar and donated to women in Africa. Or you might donate spa treatments, of all things, for boys and girls locked in cycles of gang violence.
Whatever you do, if you live and die with Christ, these things, and not fear, will be how you live. You may not be lead to live just as the world expects. It sounds ridiculous. And maybe it is.
May you be so blessed to be seen by the world as a fool.