Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

The Whole Fullness

I went to Peebles yesterday. I've started going to these exercise classes at the Y to maintain my heart health, and the shorts I have been wearing were a little too constricting, so I needed (I guess you could say I "needed") special shorts for exercising. And of course, right there in the middle of the store, there was a whole section of exercise clothing. I mean, think about that for a minute. What does that tell you?

Our culture tries to reduce us to consumers. As consumers, we embrace a lifestyle, and with each lifestyle comes its package of consumables. A lifestyle in our culture, which I don't think is only American, but increasingly global, or at least Western, consists of what we do, how we do it, where we do it, what and who we do it with, and so on. All of these things have become consumer items which are marketed and delivered to us, who consume them. I think eventually, someone will figure out how to market the air we breathe. They may already have done that.

There is an endless multiplicity of lifestyles. There's the waterfront retirement lifestyle, for example. The boater lifestyle. The tree-hugger lifestyle, complete with the Prius and the "save the whales" sticker. There's the fitness lifestyle, and you can even have your entire diet mailed to you every week. Each lifestyle has it's clothing, its range of automobiles, its package of toys. And increasingly, in our culture, even its spirituality.

A Christian economist wrote that a consumer society is not about having things, but about shopping for things. It's not about materialism, but about the quest for fullness. If we were all happy once we had the things we wanted, our economy would shut down. In order for the economy to keep growing, we all have to keep spending. Our economy is based on never really being happy, always needing something, or someone or someplace, more.

At the end of the consumer rainbow, I suppose, is the miracle of fullness, that magnificent moment when everything is just the way we want it, when we are surrounded by people we like, in a place we find comfortable, with all the toys we need to feel happy, and wearing the perfect clothing. No more shopping required.

Fullness. This seems to be what we are seeking. I guess some people might call it "fulfillment." Our culture has taught us that it's impossible, that we just have to accept that not everything will ever be all right. We're just going to have to shop, well, until we drop.

And in our religion, many say that's the point at which you get your fullness, your fulfillment, and they picture heaven as that pot of gold at the end of the consumer rainbow, everything finally just the way we want it. Others find other spiritualities that in one way or another make us feel better, feel fuller.

Believe it or not, things weren't that different in Paul's day. Particularly in the religious department. Other gurus were going around in the newborn churches saying, you won't be full until you add my special ingredient. Paul is saying that we don't need any added ingredients beyond the fullness of God.

Did you hear all those organic, physical words? Root, body, ligament, sinews, growth, substance. Paul doesn't deny there is a spiritual and unseen dimension to our existence, but finally in our faith, fullness is not in some other dimension or at the end of our lives. Fullness is available here and now in our physical and real lives. Not only fullness, but abundance, an overflowing cup.

The whole fullness of God is pleased to dwell in Christ, and this fullness can be our fullness as well. Christ is really here, then, now and always. He was here then in Jesus, he is here now in communion of saints, and he will always be here. Here on earth. Here in the body.

We know Paul isn't denying our physical bodies because he talks about our resurrection as already completed in Christ. He doesn't say you will be raised. He says you have been raised. Instead of the old covenant self-mutilation, we have a new covenant Holy Spirit resurrection. If we have been raised with Christ, we need no carrots or sticks anymore. We serve God because we are his children and we love him.

As for the other world, the hidden world of heaven, the realm of the elemental spirits, we are concerned with them only insofar as they affect our lives in this world, as Paul asserts that all of these powers are ultimately under the authority of Christ, in whom God is pleased to dwell bodily, that is, in our world, in this creation. We spoke about this last week in our whimsical flight to heaven.

God is in our world in the vessel of the human body, wherever human beings open themselves to Christ. Even old Hosea was invited to physically experience God's anguish at Israel's unfaithfulness by being married to a prostitute. Some might say this foreshadows our physical experience of the crucifixion in the work of forgiving our enemies, of which Paul spoke at the beginning of this letter, and of which Jesus speaks so often, and indeed includes in his teaching on prayer. And we learn in today's lesson from Luke that he is actually teaching us to pray for God's Holy Spirit, which is the power that raised him from the dead, and raises us as well.

I wonder if all our shopping, all our sweat to build up the means to buy our lifestyles, I wonder if it all isn't a search for this fullness, the whole fullness. We are still seeking by our self-punishment and self-reward a fullness we can never accomplish. We are still seeking something that we can never find in this world, not because it is in some other world, as some of us might hope, but because it doesn't exist at all.

And I wonder too if our Christian path is not toward a fullness that is very much in this world, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whom our loving and forgiving Father offers us for the asking, pleased as he is to dwell in all his fullness in our messy bodies and in our even messier church.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Eighth Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

When Good Angels Go Bad
(The Mystery)

July 18, 2010

Let's take a little trip, shall we? Let's fly on up to heaven. Got your wings on? Let's go!

Have you ever seen pictures of the Imperial City in China? It's huge, let me tell you. In the old days before Communism, the emperor of China lived in this gi-normous palace in the middle of this magnificent walled city, surrounded by somewhat less huge mansions occupied by all the thousands of ministers and generals they needed to run the empire. Well, in most of the bible, heaven is pictured like that, only the ministers and generals are mostly angels.

Now, just like people, all these angels were created by God, and so like people, they are basically good. But sometimes, just like people, angels go bad.

Yes, it's scandalous I know. Angels, of all creatures in the universe! I mean, they're angels, for heaven's sake!

Let's swoop down into this little neighborhood of God's imperial city. Check out the mansion, third from the left. Here's an angel who presides over the gift of wealth. Now this angel is a good angel, created by God, and we hear of many good and faithful people, people who really loved God and who also enjoyed wealth as a gift from this angel.

But then someone comes along who worships the Angel of Wealth. Well now, the angel, being only a creation of God and not God, gets tempted. "Why should God get all the glory? It's nice to have some worshippers of my own."

And just like that, the angel goes bad.

What's really, really awful about this is not just that its mistaken. It's that when people worship the Angel of Wealth in the way they should worship God, they begin to think that it's okay to steal and exploit and cheat and lie in order to get the wealth they are seeking. Without the word of God, all the goodness that might be associated with receiving a little well-earned abundance is sucked out of it, and it becomes dark and evil.

Well, now, you know the angel of wealth really doesn't have anything to offer if it doesn't keep its position in heaven. So it not only gets too big for its britches, it gets sneaky. Whenever it goes before God it sings, "Holy, holy, holy, yeah, yeah yeah." But then it sneaks back to its mansion and its little secret band of worshippers, and they all sing "Holy holy holy" to it. (Maybe quietly, thinking God can't hear them.)

Now let's take a look at what happens on earth when the Angel of Wealth goes bad. This is heaven so time doesn't matter here. Let me see. Ah, there's ancient Israel in the time of the prophet Amos. Let's see what's going on there. Got your wings on? Let's go!

It's the reign of Jeroboam the Second and boy, do things look great. Listen to the royal messenger at the city gates... wow, seems like things have never been better. Israel is powerful, it's gaining territory. Its army is one of the most feared in the region. Look at the impressive building going on. Look at all the fancy clothes people are wearing.

Ah, but if you go out into the rural areas, what do you see? You see starving, enslaved families, misery, ignorance, violence. What's going on here?

Apparently there's a huge gap between the many who are desperately poor and the few who are wildly rich. As the elite rich class gathered wealth, they used various deceitful means to build up the debt of the agricultural poor to the point that they could steal their ancestral lands and more-or-less enslave them.

Now check this out: the wealthy elite give all kinds of lip service and indeed pretty big piles of gold to their religious observance. The temples have never looked better, and the priests are driving the latest model chariots. Not only was the northern kingdom one of the strongest nations in the world, it also appears to be one of the most religious.

But you know the truth is that the Angel of Wealth isn't God, so no matter how many big beautiful buildings you have and how many gorgeous silver and gold sets of altar-ware, no matter how entertaining or inspiring the sermons, if it's the Angel of Wealth you're worshipping, you'll not hear anything at all from God.

That's what happens on earth when the Angel of Wealth goes bad in heaven.

OK, that's enough about that angel. Let's fly back up to heaven and check out this other angel I know about.

Let's call this one the Angel of Traditional Womanhood. Now the Angel of Traditional Womanhood is a good angel. A traditional woman takes care of everyone around her, her parents and her children and her husband and all the guests of her house and everyone she works with and everyone she goes to church with too. That's how people benefit from the gifts of this wonderful angel. And women who serve in this way also receive a nice sense of self-esteem and peace as a gift from this angel.

But let's say some people decide to put the Angel of Traditional Womanhood on the pedestal that rightly belongs to God. Remember, angels aren't God, so they get tempted too. The Angel of Traditional Womanhood says, yes, you know, it's true, I do deserve some worshippers.

And another angel goes bad.

The problem is not just the mistake. The problem is that when the Angel of Traditional Womanhood becomes more important than God's word, its worshippers will think its okay for women to be enslaved and abused and exploited.

Well, now, lets swoop back down and see what happens on earth when the Angel of Traditional Womanhood goes bad. I see a good spot: Mary and Martha's house during Jesus' earthly ministry. Let's go!

Now, here's Martha preoccupied with keeping all the hospitality customs of her people, which were extensive. Nothing wrong with that. It's a beautiful thing, you know, a woman who keeps a warm and welcoming home.

But Mary, Martha's sister, makes a different choice. She chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus and enter into discipleship. Now to sit at the teacher's feet while women waited on you was the norm only for men in Jewish society. Yet this is no problem apparently for Jesus.

So Martha is running around practicing hospitality, the Angel of Traditional Womanhood is doing its thing, and Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to the word of God. Everything is still fine.

But then Martha says it. "Lord," she says, "tell that Mary she can't do what she's doing. Tell her that the Angel of Traditional Womanhood is more important than God's word!"

Bad, bad angel.

Paul writes in today's lesson from Colossians that Jesus Christ not only fixes us, but he fixes the bad angels as well. Indeed, from heaven's point of view, fixing the angels is what Christ is all about. Paul says that Christ is the firstborn of the new creation, and that in him and for him all things in heaven and on earth were created, "whether thrones or dominions or powers." And through him all things in heaven and on earth are reconciled. In other words, if we keep Christ first in our minds and hearts, the angels are themselves saved from the temptation to take God's place, and return to their rightful places.

I've chosen this whimsical way of imagining heaven to make a very serious point. It's not bad things that most powerfully tempt us into unfaithfulness, that lead us into sin. It's good things. Good things we love very often creep up in our esteem beyond the word of God, and the next thing we know, we have forgotten love, decency, generosity, and respect, all for the sake of the good thing we are worshipping in the place of God.

Good angels don't want to go bad anymore than we do. Let's help them out, shall we? Let's keep our eyes on Christ.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

The Saints in the Light

"May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light."

We're going to be considering Paul's letter to the Colossian church over the next several weeks, and we notice right away that Paul is delighted with this congregation. Big difference from Galatians, isn't it? Paul begins this letter as he begins all of them, except for Galatians, with this outpouring of love and joy. Of course, there is an issue Paul needs to discuss with them, but they themselves are not the problem.

You might open your bibles if you have them and scan these first lines again, because hidden in them is a whole wealth of good information about the church in Paul's day.

One of the things you'll notice is that Paul had a global orientation. He didn't start the congregation at Colossae, His co-worker Epaphras did, but Paul as an apostle nevertheless had oversight of this congregation. Paul makes note that the Colossians have love for all the saints, that is, all the other congregations of the church. He also makes note that the gospel is "bearing fruit in the whole world," and that the fruit-bearing at Colossae is within that larger context.

The church for Paul, and I think for the New Testament as a whole, is not instituted by human beings. It's something God is doing for the whole world. And so, while each congregation has its own local authority to shape its ministry in its peculiar context, to forget its covenant with all other congregations is to cease to be the church.

Suspicion and distrust is very much the order of the day, isn't it? It seems the world is filled with a sense of betrayal. I think many of us, myself included, find themselves asking, "whom can I trust?" And for many of us, I think the answer is only those who are close by. Only those who think as we do. Only those who live as we do. Only those who look like we do. Only those who speak our language. It seems that for our safety and well-being, we must simply reject and ignore or even destroy everyone else.

So it was for Israel in the days of the prophet Amos. Israel was split into two kingdoms. Kings were assassinated and replaced by even less faithful kings. The priests of the Northern Kingdom abandoned faith in God in order to suck up to the latest assassin in the throne. Most importantly though, the Northern kingdom had abandoned the unity of the people of God by refusing to worship at the one temple God had established in Jerusalem in the Southern kingdom.

Because they broke the covenant of unity, God sent Amos to the Northern kingdom to pronounce God's judgment. If the Northern kingdom rejected God's word and command, Amos said, God would reject and condemn the Northern kingdom and it would come to ruin.

Centuries later, the fallout of that judgment was that in the northern part of Israel there lived an outcast community of Jews called the Samaritans, named after what had been the capital city of the northern kingdom in Amos' day. The Samaritans rejected the prophets and had as their bible only the first five books of Moses. They continued to refuse to worship in Jerusalem at the temple, as all the rest of the world's Jews did, and worshipped only in the so-called high places, the mountain-top altars scattered around the northern territories. Jews regarded the Samaritans as beyond help, unclean, rejected by God forever. KInd of the way we think of the Middle East today.

So when the Jewish lawyer asked Jesus who his neighbor was, Jesus' answer was a shocker. A Samaritan is your neighbor, friend. The person you have rejected, the person you have dismissed from your mind and heart, the person you least trust, the person for whom you have the most contempt. That's the neighbor you are to love as you love yourself.

Who are the saints in the light? They are those who have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son of God, in whom, Paul says, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Forgiveness is the foundation of Christian unity. Not love, not friendship, not like-mindedness, not homogeneity, not place or race or ideology or obeying the same laws. Forgiveness. Without forgiveness, redemption is not possible. Without forgiveness, Christian community is not possible. Without forgiveness, there is only destruction and death. Without forgiveness, the gates of hell slam closed and the world is plunged into despair.

The saints in the light are not the perfect people who never do anything wrong, who never hurt anyone. They are the forgiven people, who practice forgiveness for each other and for all the rest of the broken and troubled world.

God alone is judge, and God's judgment, his plumb line, is a gift. It's only the judgment of human beings that is toxic and ugly and disastrous. Whatever war is going on today is not some new war, but the same war that's been fought ever since Cain slew Abel, because every act of judgment and violence eventually begets more judgment and violence. No war has succeeded in accomplishing anything except more war. So it is with all judgment and vengeance. It's a never-ending demonic cycle leading only to sin and death.

Still, we are broken people who continue to put ourselves in the throne of God and judge other people. This is our chief sin. In fact, I find it almost axiomatic that whatever it is that makes me most angry about others is precisely what is wrongest with me. By the same token, what I admire most in others is often what is best in me.

God's plumb line, his measure of our uprightness as it were, is a gift. It's not our job to wallow in self-hatred and self-denial, but it's also not our job to justify and rationalize everything we do, while at the same time pointing out the faults of everyone else. To receive God's judgment helps us to see the riches of his grace. Twas grace, after all, that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.

To love my neighbor as myself means to continue to bless my neighbor even as he or she disappoints me or even hurts me, just as God continues to bless me even as I disappoint and even hurt God. its to help those who are far away and unknown to me even though they don't know me or show any gratitude to me or give me anything in return, just as God helps me though I am far away from him and don't know him and show him no gratitude or do anything in return.

The saints in the light are those who are not holy in themselves, but have been made holy by the forgiveness of God. And the unholy world is blessed with holiness by the forgiveness of the saints.

And so it is that the garden of paradise, in some places and times, yet blooms in the world.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sixth Sunday After Pentecost Year C

A New Creation

06 Pentecost Year C 2010

July 4, 2010

2 Kings 5:1-14

Psalm 30

Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The Continental Congress, on July 4, 1776, formally declared the United States of America independent of Great Britain. And so it is that we celebrate every year by shooting off fireworks and having parades and cooking outdoors. Of course, one of the great themes of American history and culture is freedom.

The letter of Paul to the Galatians is also about freedom. The passage we have heard this morning is the end of the letter. After giving the Galatians all kinds of what-for, Paul encourages each one of them to be easy on the others but hard on him or herself. And he goes on to speak about, well, humility. A letter all about freedom, that ends up speaking about humility. Hmmm.

I might associate all kinds of things with freedom, but humility wouldn't be one of the first things that pops to mind. Parades are not exactly humble. Fireworks are not humble. What's the connection?

I think it may be that the whole point of Galatians is that there is no greater danger to freedom than the struggle for status or importance.

Status and importance in religious communities seems to be gained by exceptional spiritual gestures or acts of piety. For the Jews these were circumcision, dietary laws and the practice of hundreds of very particular legal restrictions. You could measure the status and importance of a Jew as a Jew by how rigorously he understood and obeyed all the restrictions God had put on the Jewish people.

Status and importance have to do with power over other people, and this is what we are really after: the capacity to make other people do what we want them to do, or not to do what we don't want them to do. Because Paul was such a perfectly observant Pharisee, when he became incensed about the Christians invading the synagogues, he was able to marshall all kinds of official power to support his mission. Status is about power over others.

It's easy to confuse status and importance with love. All of us need love, none of us need status or importance, but the latter sometimes comes to fill in for the former. Naaman was almost certainly hated by most people who knew him. Disfigured, ugly, violent and cruel; the only positive vibes he got were around his power over others. But then, from completely unexpected sources, he received the greatest gifts of all, health and acceptance, the simple gifts of God's love.

For all the great drama God has been a part of in the great story of the bible, I am learning that there is in God's very heart a kind of humility. His voice is not in the earthquake and the tornado, but in the deepest silence. He doesn't speak through Naaman or even Elijah, but through a couple of nameless slaves. He doesn't choose the most beautiful river to wash away disease, but a muddy and unremarkable stream. His power is the quiet power, the humble power, what one scholar called "lamb power."

Paul would call it the power of Christ crucified.

Christ Jesus received the Holy Spirit in such a way as to fundamentally change him into something quite different from an ordinary human being. The Holy Spirit married the flesh and blood of Jesus in such a way that he because the perfect child of God. He was liberated entirely from the powers of the world, freed to be what every human being truly wants to be, in love with God and all of God's creation. Jesus was given the mission of proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and the coming of this new creation, the kingdom of God. Those who respond to his proclamation, which we call the good news, or the gospel, by accepting the forgiveness and opening themselves up to God's Spirit, become as Jesus is, a new creation, a perfect child of God.

The cross is the center of Paul's teaching. He makes this clear in Galatians as well. God comes near to those who are the farthest from him. God's presence is most deeply felt among those who least deserve it. His power is with those who are the least powerful.

The power of God is not the power to make other people do what we want them to do. It is a much much greater power. It's the power to be free, the power to tell the truth in love and have no fear of the consequences, the power to be who you really are whether the world finds it valuable or not, the power to love God the way you really want to love God, with your whole heart and soul and mind, and to love everyone else in the world the way you really want to love them, even as you love yourself.

Pride, the bottomless longing and endless competition for status and importance and power, is the only true prison there is. No matter what government anyone lives under, no matter what oppression anyone suffers, they can be free in Christ. And no matter how free their government, no matter how liberating their society, no person is free who is filled with pride.

I read the Declaration of Independence the other day, and the thing that struck me about it was how humble it was. It is the declaration of good people who had been backed into a corner, the declaration of people trying desperately to maintain the best of their humanity in an inhuman situation.

And I remembered that moment when the first George Bush addressed the nation after the Gulf War and described an American marine's kindness to a native Iraqi. A tear rolled down his face. It took me a long time to realize what it was that Bush was so moved by. He had a vision of the American character: yes, powerful, yes, great, but also yes, generous, kind, and ready to forgive.

Barbara Brown Taylor once preached a sermon on old Naaman that happened to fall near the Fourth of July. It was called "The Cheap Cure."

“You may never hear it again on a Fourth of July weekend, but maybe the next time you are saying your prayers for this great, shaky nation of ours, you will remember that great, leprous man Naaman, whose wealth and power turned out to be useless to him in his search for health, and who was ready to trade it all in when God surprised him with a cheap cure that made him truly free.”

It's Jesus the Christ who enables us to receive the Holy Spirit, to be born anew, to awaken to God's presence. It's this gift we're after, the gift that makes all other things in our lives well and whole. With it, our names are written in heaven, and all that we pray for, since our wills are aligned with God's, is given to us. Greater miracles that Jesus himself did will be done by us, not because we are good, not because we obey God's law, not because we are nice, or well-mannered or rich, but because God has graciously given us a power not our own.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fifth Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2010

Led by the Spirit

05 Pentecost C 10

June 27, 2010

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Luke 9:51-62

Let's practice.

First came Elijah, then came who? Elisha. The two names sound very much alike and we can get them confused easily. First came Elijah, then came Elisha. Let me hear you say it, church. Hebrew names are usually contractions of sentences. Elijah means "God is Yahweh," and Elisha means "God is salvation." First came Elijah. Then came Elisha.

Elisha was Elijah's single-minded and determined follower. He kept his eyes on the prize, as it were, and you heard it in the passage this morning: the prize was the Holy Spirit.

Keeping one's eyes on the prize is what all these passages are about, my friends.

The psalmist is distracted by the trouble he's in. It's all he can think about. His mind is occupied with it. You ever get that way? Happens to me all the time. I got up yesterday morning and I prayed for a quiet mind, and you know a half an hour later, my mind was like the New York Stock Exchange again. Just seems to happen.

So I had to get my mind on the kingdom again, you know. I had to meditate on the power of God again you know. If you have this problem, well, this psalm is your solution. Write this baby down. Psalm 77. The psalmist stops thinking about his trouble and what he's going to do about it, and he gets his eyes back on the prize. He talks about the unseen hand moving in the cosmic waters of chaos. He's thinking about that breath or wind or spirit that came from God and pushed back the cosmic waters to liberate the creation hidden underneath it.

There are all kinds of meaningful and important things, good, good things that can pull me right off track, make me forget all about the prize, the prize of the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Family, business, health and happiness. I can get preoccupied with these perfectly good and worthy things and the prize slips out of sight while I'm not looking and all of a sudden, I'm rushing here and I'm rushing there, but nothing really quite seems to work.

We live in a world of specialists, all of whom have expertise in this or that very difficult field. It's good that we have all these things. And there might be some in the church who think that being Christian is about becoming an expert in a whole bunch of special techniques. You know, how to have a Christian marriage for example. Or how to raise Christian children. Or what the right thing is to say in difficult situations.

Well, I understand that technical knowledge, being able to deal with some complex problem with good tools, is a great thing. But I've never been able to understand how faith has anything to do with techniques.

Jesus said, and I think it might be one of my favorite quotes: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these other things will be yours as well." We heard it yesterday at Elaine's funeral, and it appears it was one of her favorite passages as well. For me it means seeking the Holy Spirit, and I think that's what it meant to Jesus as well.

The prize of Christian life is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the salvation of God that has been given to us in Jesus Christ.

I've been reading Philip Gulley, and I'm hearing a lot of people are reading him. The Men of our Region brought him for one of their retreats. Gulley seems to want to let go of the claim that Jesus was divine, and for this he has gotten a lot of grief, even in the relatively liberal context of the Quaker community. Well, I think I know where he's going with his ideas, and I think maybe someone should suggest he come on over with the Disciples. As long as Jesus is the Christ, son of the living God, savior of the world, it doesn't matter to us if you have trouble believing he's divine.

I agree with Gulley that for many of us, making Jesus divine puts Jesus out of our reach, just like making a person a saint, in the more conventional sense of the word, makes them into something none of could attain or might even want to attain. But a saint is nothing more or less than one who has been sanctified, or made holy. A person who has been made holy is a person who has come to share in divinity.

I think the problem Gulley has is that when we worship Jesus we often stop following him. When we put Jesus on the unattainable pedestal, we cease to believe we might become as he is.

To follow Jesus is to open oneself to be filled with God's Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was himself. It is to be uncovered, revealed, released, liberated. It isn't to put on a first century robe and sandals and grow a beard. It isn't to know every law that is written in the bible (though I'm not sure there are many rank-and-file Christians who are in any danger of knowing all the laws of the Old Testament... anyone want to stand up right now and recite the ten commandments?). It isn't to have all the right techniques for living a happy life. It isn't to be able to cope with the one or two things we find difficult to explain.

To follow Jesus is to open oneself to the freedom of the Holy Spirit. We want to be God's children, we want to live in the light, we want to be fountains of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and faithfulness and generosity. But we aren't. That's our problem. And Jesus is telling us this morning that the problem is our focus. We are distracted by perfectly good and valuable and important things. But, like the psalmist, like Elisha, we need to get our eyes back on the prize. We need to get back to chasing that Holy Spirit.

You know I've read a number of sermons on this passage of Galatians that take that list of the seven fruits and talk about what each one means. It amazes me how quickly we fall into making Christian life into adherence to rules and laws. It's particularly amazing because Paul's whole point in Galatians is that rules and laws are of no use now that Christ has come.

The seven fruits of the Spirit are not a new list of commandments. It would be strange if they were, since in this same letter, Paul is certainly being neither patient or kind with the Galatians. The seven fruits are, well, fruits. They grow naturally out of a person that has received the Spirit. There's no list of commandments involved, no technique, no moral discernment.

What there is, is focus, commitment, determination. Making the reception of God's Spirit the absolute top priority. There are a whole list of spiritual practices that help us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit and to recognize the Spirit when we see her. The rest is up to God, who is our liberator.

I believe that freedom is salvation, and salvation is freedom. The freedom to be the spectacularly beautiful divine creation God intends you to be. Just as this glorious world was hidden in the dark cosmic waters, so glorious people are hidden inside each one of us. As that glorious person you have within you pops into view, Jesus himself crosses back from death into life. And when a bunch of these glorious people are drawn together around this table, the kingdom of God is here, and it is the day of salvation.