Saturday, June 29, 2013

Galatians 5 Sermon: Liberating Love vs. Hate and Intolerance

Hey friends! What follows is a sermon draft I just came up with for tomorrow at Saint Peter's Church where I serve as Vicar. It's primarily on an appointed reading for the day, Galatians 5: 1, 13 -25, and the recent federal recognition of marriage equality. Definitely needs some changes before tomorrow so I'd love to hear what you think.
If you’re a rabble-rousing sinner like me, if you’re someone known to get a bit rowdy, or someone that well… has a bit of flavor in any number of ways, and thanks be to God we have a bunch of those folks here at Saint Peter’s, part of today’s first reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians probably didn’t sound like very good news at all… part of it might have bummed you out, angered you or even scared the heck out of ya. I’m specifically speaking about the part where Saint Paul condemns that nice long list of “desires of the flesh.” Desires of the flesh… for many folks such talk conjures up images of hate, images of judgment… images of times when our friends, our families and our own selves have gotten the message to feel inadequate or unwelcome because of who we are. And all too often, such messages of hate, such messages of judgment have come from the mouths of our fellow Christians.

Desires of the flesh… Perhaps you’ve had to sit and comfort a daughter or friend who’s made the difficult decision to exercise her God-given right to choose and then had to confront voices calling her a whore and fornicator on the way to a family planning center. Perhaps you or a loved one have had to deal with accusations of impurity or carousing because for any number of very legitimate reasons you live with a long-term committed partner before marriage. I know many of us were angered this past week when in the midst of celebrating the news of the federal recognition of marriage equality, as the tolling bells of advancing justice were ringing out loud across our country, our joy was interrupted by all sorts of people… politicians, pundits, and pastors especially, accusing the Supreme Court of going against the word of God.

At times, we can we respond to such messages of hate and judgment by shrugging it off or perhaps like Nancy Pelosi did this past week, we can easily reply, “Who cares.” But sometimes, we can’t, sometimes it’s not so easy… sometimes these messages, whether coming from our fellow Christians or from other polished and seemingly perfect individuals simply cut too deep. As Christians, they strike us at the core of who we know ourselves to be through faith as broken yet beautiful children of God. And that’s just for us Christians… for the increasing number of our sisters and brothers either born outside an organized faith community or painfully separated from one, such messages can hurt even more and certainly dissuade them from ever stepping foot inside a church, hearing the good news and knowing the joy of community in Christ.

So, what shall we do, what shall we say in this time and place, in a specific historical and cultural situation calling us to respond to hate and intolerance that is so frequently propagated in the name of God? First, I believe, we have to take stock of where we are as a society. Not even an hour after the Supreme Court released it’s ruling on the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, CNN brought Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on air to give a “Christian perspective on the news.” Now, when you have the president of an anti-gay hate group representing the views of a diverse faith like Christianity to millions, it must be recognized that we have a long way to go. At the same time, we must also take stock of ourselves, our own biases and weaknesses, and create space to ask the difficult questions about how to name hate for what it is while still fully affirming those who propagate hate are just as much children of God as we are.

Next, we should celebrate our successes… in the past couple years we’ve seen a diverse group of folks from famous athletes to Jay-Z to even the President of the United States specifically cite their faith as a reason to affirm the rights of everyone across the rich diversity that is the gender spectrum in our world. And this past week, as marriage equality became federally recognized across our land, to cite the poetic summation of Martin Luther King, the long arc of the moral universe took a most powerful bend towards justice. That is absolutely amazing news, its absolutely amazing news folks… and as many of us gather to celebrate our freedom as Americans later this week, let us hold in our hearts that many of our sisters and brothers are more free now than ever before, and our whole society is the better for it.

But finally, the most important thing to keep in mind is that its not really about what you, or me or any other person for that matter is really doing to confront the forces of hate and intolerance at all… its about what Christ is doing… its about what Christ is doing in this time, in this place, in this city, and in this world… and that my sisters and brothers, is amazingly good news. For we know the compassionate work of God in Christ is not an act of intolerance, its not an act of judgment, but rather is an act of liberation, of freedom from all the powers of sin, of death and hate that may oppress us, and thus, an act of love. If one looks at Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as a whole rather than just cherry picking that list of desires of the flesh, one realizes that in six short chapters it proclaims a message of Christ’s liberating love in the most profound of ways. You see, Paul wrote his letter in a cultural context much like our own…

Despite Paul’s earlier attempt to proclaim the liberating good news of God’s work in Christ, the Galatians had turned to a different “gospel,” to those who preached that following a strict interpretation of Mosaic Law was a necessary part of being a Christian, rather than living into the Spirit of God’s covenant with Israel as a gift. Paul boldly proclaims to the Galatians, “No folks… trying to get on God’s good side by following such a legalistic sense of piety doesn’t bring life… it kills you and it kills community! If you think you can score some brownie points with God by acting all polished and perfect… then what’s the point of God’s liberating work in Jesus at all? That path just leads to an inflated ego and a subsequent trampling on the hearts of others who we deem less pious.” Then, my sisters and brothers, Paul exclaims to the Galatians and to us as in this time, in this place, in this city, “By rising over the best attempt of those in power to stop His message of liberating love, by rising over the powers of sin and hate and death, Christ frees you from a need to be perfect, Christ frees you from yourself, Christ frees you and all people, into the hope of restored community with God and with one another.” Sure, sin is a very real thing, and Saint Paul lists those “sins of the flesh,” although perhaps we could update them… I don’t see sorcery being one of our major issues as of late, because neither he nor God wants us to hurt others or ourselves. Absolutely. But in the end, Saint Paul’s message, a saving message of God’s liberating love in Christ is that you don’t need to fit your own or anyone else’s definition of perfection. Rather folks, be your wonderful, broken yet beautiful selves. Do good things, make the world a better place, celebrate and share the good news of Christ’s liberating love throughout the world, but don’t do it out of a need to be perfect... Do it out of love for God and love for each other. Amen.

Dustin currently serves as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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