Message Manuscript for “Free to Produce”
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, June 30, 2019
We had a great vacation but it’s always good to come home, especially when the weather is better here than in some of the places we visited. The day we came home, temperatures rose to 114 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris. Things looked crisp and brown over there like they do here in August. I was worried that my garden would burn up while we were gone but was delighted to discover that it was quite the opposite—fully green and growing everywhere. In fact, there’s too much growth, especially of the things I don’t want to grow. My squash, cucumbers, and watermelons are now being crowded out by well-meaning gladiolas, overgrown limbs up above from a nearby oak tree, and Jinny’s spastic elephant ears that are taking over the yard. So there’s no produce where it was intended. I anticipate spending the next week in the garden giving freedom to my veggies.
While inspecting my garden, I couldn’t help but think about today’s reading from the Epistles, Galatians 5:1,13-25. These are the words Paul wrote to the Christians living in Galatia, a church whose fruit and life was being choked out by the clutter of religious legalism. These were new followers of Jesus struggling with religious legalism that was introduced by what Paul viewed as false teachers. Throughout his letter to them, you can feel his anger boiling at what these teachers have done to the gospel of grace Paul had so lovingly labored to share with them. It was all being undone by people telling them that they weren’t truly in God’s family unless they were circumcised and joined a religion. The portion of the letter you’ve heard this morning is a good summary of what he wanted them to hear, especially in 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do no submit again to a yoke of slavery, . . .” and in verse 13, “For you were called to freedom . . . “ And so Paul strongly urges them to embrace the freedom God provided for them in Christ and to let the fruit of the Spirit be borne in and produced from them. In case they weren’t sure what it would look like, he gives them descriptions: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When they were truly free, such things would be evident in them.
While in England, we toured castles where kings and queens lived and beautiful churches were they were buried. We saw lots of portraits and statues of them. One that I saw more than others was King George III. I’m not sure if there were more of him than the others or if I was just more familiar with him but his pasty face seemed to be everywhere. I used him as a benchmark for helping me understand the context of history I was seeing all around me. He is, after all, the one we Americans despise, ridicule, and stereotype the most when we reflect on our Declaration of Independence. And with good reason, as it was his tyrannical reign that was responsible for excessive taxation, religious persecution, and brutality. Our founding fathers understood that the only way to prosper and grow in America was to be freed from the tyranny of oppression.
That’s the reality that Paul wanted the Galatians to hear and one we are to hear as Christians today—that freedom is central to our ability to truly live and be productive for God in our world. We are to know that we are free and to understand just how significant it is for us. But do we? Or do we have a tendency to allow ourselves to listen to a false message, one from others or from within us that says we aren’t free? I think sometimes we know we are free but are scared of our freedom; frightened to live without rules like a prisoner who has grown so comfortable with the walls of his cell and the fences of the prison yard that he no longer knows how to live in freedom. But we are no longer prisoners. We are no longer enslaved to sin, religious legalism, or anything or anyone else. We are free.
And we are to know how we got that way. What Paul made clear to the Galatians is what must be clear to us today: “Christ has set us free.” We find our freedom in him, not in false teachers or religious rules like those cluttering up the hearts and minds of the Galatians. We learn of our liberty from the mouth of our Liberator, Jesus himself. We listen to his words of forgiveness, mercy, justice, salvation, and grace and find that they are words for people in bondage to one thing or another, to people like you and me. When we hear them, we find freedom for the first time, we see that there isn’t anything that can truly constrain us now.
Realizing how we’ve been freed by Christ enables us to move forward with the realization of what freedom enables us to be and do with the rest of our lives. Freedom doesn’t let us sit and soak; it compels us to live in its fullness. There is nothing more disgraceful than when free people forget why they are free and squander their freedom. We are to be a people who understand that we are free for a purpose. God has set us free to do God’s work in our world. It’s not about us; it’s about God’s plan for the world. William Faulkner captures the essence of this when he wrote, “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” What we are to do is to practice our freedom. What the world needs right now is the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s what God will bring from us into our world that is held captive by the smothering shade of the junk that we’ve allowed to crowd into God’s garden.
What prompts me to get off the couch of comfort in my house and clear out the clutter of my garden is the desire to produce something good. To be honest, I’d rather just sit on the couch, watch Netflix, and tweet. The work of freedom isn’t always fun or easy but we’ve been prompted today by the words of Paul to be free and bear fruit. So let’s get up now and get going.