First Congregational Church
June 30, 2013
6th Sunday after Pentecost, Sunday before Independence Day
Galatians 5:1, 13-18, 22-26
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
The nursery school teacher was aware that the Fourth of July was just around the corner, so she decided to take the opportunity to teach the class about patriotism. "We live in a great country," she said. "One of the things we should be happy is that, in this country, we are all free." Little Lena came up to the teacher after class, hands on hips and said, "I'm not free. I'm four."
A young couple came into the church office to fill out a pre-marriage questionnaire form. The young man, who had never talked to a pastor before, was quite nervous (if only he knew) and the pastor tried to put him at ease. When they came to the question, "Are you entering this marriage of your own free will?" there was a long pause. Finally, the girl looked over at the apprehensive young man and said, "Put down yes".
I try really hard to remember certain things as perfectly as when I once sat so tall on my high horse. Being so far removed from 1642, 1776, 1861, 1914, 1939, 1950, and all those since 2001, I wonder if we - as a nation - forget what those dates are really about - clumping them altogether under the patriotism banner. So while I was reminding myself of the fact that the Boston Tea party was about two-and-a-half years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, and that the Constitution came two years after the Declaration, I also found a couple of other interesting tidbits.
In the same year that the Constitution was signed, General George Washington marked July 4th with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute. That got me to thinking "what was a ration from that time?" Our friends, Inter and Net over there at the US Army Quartermaster Foundation said that a daily ration as 1 pound of beef, 6.8 oz. of peas (the official weight of a softball), a little over a pound of flour, 1.4 oz. of rice (the weight of glue in those mini bottles), 2 cups of milk, .1830 oz. of soap, (that's about the weight of three pennies), .0686 oz. of a candle (that's a shade less than the weight of a penny) and 1 quart of spruce beer. (Spruce beer is fermenting molasses and other sugars with the sap of spruce trees. Yum!)
The website also said "Compared with our present dietary requirements, this ration provided more calories, twice as much protein, (and) an adequate supply of all minerals and vitamins with the exception of vitamins A and C." I'm not sure how all those supplies got to the soldiers, but I'm going to bet that some of the veterans here today could fill us in on some of their "interesting" ration memories.
Part of the reason of sharing such valuable statistics with all of you is to remind us that the freedom we have to determine our own course as a nation is not as glamorous as the parade and fireworks of this coming Thursday. And even if we "get" the message of Independence Day being a big thing to our nation - not so much to Great Britain - we may be tempted to stop there. But this idea of celebrating freedom is much, much older.
Our Bible passage for this morning speaks well to the topic of freedom, most likely written sometime before 48 A.D. The apostle Paul was writing to various people in the church who were making trouble: causing confusion, agitating others, demanding that Gentile converts strictly observe Jewish Laws and practices. In fact, Paul was writing to people just like himself, before his conversion on the road to Damascus - a mere 10 years or so prior to this letter - as it will be read from Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message.
Galatians 5:1, 13-18, 22-26 The Message
Judy: 1 Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.
13-15 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness.
Michael: 22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Julie: 23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
David: 25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.
Thank you, Grant family readers. One of the things I love about this church family - and by the way - if you are here today - then you are family today. Anyway, one thing I truly love about this family is how sharp and quick people's minds are. I so wish we had time to see how you all might fit this into today's message.
Since 1916, Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York City supposedly started as a way to settle a dispute among four immigrants as to who was the most patriotic. Now just think about that while you're waiting in the grocery line next time!
But back to the point at hand. The whole of Galatians became the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation - another "war" so-to-speak - that ended in the creation of a new "nation" of faith that was different from the Roman Catholic way of faith. This letter has been called the "Magna Carta of Christian liberty." For those who haven't had that history class, the Magna Carta was a document that King John of England was forced to sign in the year 1215, that limited his powers as a king, allowing for a parliament to govern the people.
Paul wrote this letter to remind the people that it wasn't certain individuals that had the power to decide how a person who decided to follow Christ's way was to act. Being so long ago, we don't always appreciate the idea that when Paul wrote this letter, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John had not yet been formally written. All that people were going on in those days - for the most part - was what had been passed on from person to person. And if you've ever played "Post Office," you can understand how sometimes a message can be changed in the transferring.
In our recent book study on "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," we spent three weeks on "reframing" the oft asked question, "why has this (thing) happened to me?" In the end of the study, after allowing some of the emotionality of that question to settle down, the better question is, "Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?"
We might do a "reframe" of our scripture passage this morning. We tend to think that freedom - living a free life - allows us to do whatever we want, to do this or that, to live without rules or reigns on our actions or words - even our thoughts. Taken to the extreme, one could make an argument that these words from Paul exempt us from traffic laws and taxes or even our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. But that's not what Paul says in this part of his letter.
Paul's address is not in terms of "freedom to," but "freedom for" - serving others, loving, growing our abilities like the cherries and peaches and apples growing in the orchards around us this very moment. Instead of hoarding our realm of living free, look at the abundance that one tree produces, and in the gathering of the fruit for others, there is no diminishment to the tree. In loving other people, in serving them, we don't lose our supply of love. We are only able to give more love and service and growth as we give ours away.
Notice that Paul didn't say we had to like everyone. There's a world of difference in liking and loving, and we do well to remember that. So do we do well in remembering that our freedom for serving and loving and growing comes because Christ first loved us - before the foundations of the world - much less the foundations of our nation - came into being. As we are reminded of the sacrifice that Christ suffered on our behalf - long before we were born - so are we reminded today that his suffering was for our freedom.
So this week we will celebrate the freedom we have to determine our own path as a nation of imperfect people who have individual free wills. We can celebrate the freedom we have for serving others, even in the simplest of smiles, the freedom for loving others - who may feel not so much like a unique individual as a lone, lost soul, and the freedom for growing and admiring those who are good and interesting - having a unique, one-of-a-kind value. So let us pray to the very God who is all of that and so much more.
Gracious God, we thank you this day for the freedom we have as a nation. Thank you that even in all its imperfections, we have freedoms to do things like voting and paying taxes and working and all those things that are not so glamorous in day-to-day living. But more than that, God, thank you for creating us with the freedom for serving and loving and growing - even when life can overwhelm us, causing us to forget our high calling. We are grateful for all those who have given of themselves to help us be the people we have become. For all the blessings you so freely bestow on and to and for us - all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.