“The Captivity of Control”
Monday, July 01, 2013
Sermon as preached at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Text: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Gal. 5.1, 13-25; NRSV).
As we approach our nation’s Independence Day, it is all too fitting that our lectionary text has to do with freedom. In theory, freedom sounds like something everyone would want, but that does not appear to be the case – particularly with the Gospel. Martin Luther said, “The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world.” Luther said this about Paul’s letter to the Galatians because the people forgot that we are justified by Christ’s free gift of grace through the cross.
The Apostle Paul talks a lot in his letters about the flesh and the Spirit, one is our condemnation by sin and the law, and the other is our freedom through Christ. Paul warns the Galatians not to return to slavery. The very fact that Paul warns the Galatians not to return to the slavery of religious law, illuminates the fear of freedom, and the captivity of control.
I’ve said before in other discussions on my transition into the Lutheran tradition that, “I’m a control freak,” and this whole grace thing messes with my illusion of control. The grace of the Gospel, the grace of Christ, the grace of the cross, and the grace Paul talks about is defiant to “the way of the world.” God’s grace is a constant reminder that I’m not in control, in fact, none of us are.
Maybe what I’m saying is not a revelation to you, but it was, and continues to be a revelation to me. Freedom in Christ is independence from the condemnation of sin and the law and complete and utter dependence on the work of Jesus Christ. This means I’m not in control; it means, we are not in control.
Years ago, I used to look at this passage as a list of does and don’ts, which is easy enough to do at first glance. But, it’s not a matter of choosing the Spirit over the flesh; it’s a matter of being given the Spirit which overcomes the flesh. We’ve been given freedom and we shouldn’t return to the captivity of control. The Gospel message is in contrast to our human logic; cause and effect, if I do this, I get that. And the Gospel defies that human understanding.
The Gospel is frustrating because we’re not in control; the Gospel is liberating because we are free in our dependence upon the grace of God.
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, “you are not subject to the law” (v. 18). Freedom is a scary thing, especially if we don’t know what it is to be free. The law is a system of control and grace fulfills what that system fails to do.
When I was a child, the world around me made it clear that I was different and I didn’t fit the mold of the way things are “supposed to be.” I was born with the muscle disorder Cerebral Palsy, my brain tells my muscles to work overtime, all the time. I was also born without depth perception and I only see in 2-D. I’ve, actually, never seen the world the way most, if not all, of you have.
I’ve always sought to be in control, but my life keeps reminding me that I am, and will always be dependent. Because the world around us generally perceives dependence as a weakness or somehow a problem, I fought as a child, and I fight as an adult to overcome that perception. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “perception is reality,” well; the Gospel is defiant to perception and presents a different reality to our world. It presents a different reality to our communities, to our families, and to each of our individual contexts.
Dependence upon the work of Christ has set us free, it sets me free, it sets you free, and this changes reality.
One might ask, if I’ve always been dependent upon help outside of my own abilities, whether from CP or 2-D vision, how am I a control freak? I’ve never wanted to be told what I physically could or could not do, so I’ve lived a lot of my life with a “no limits” attitude. When I was little, I would ski at Colorado’s Winter Park Resort without snow gear because I didn’t need the help of a snowsuit – I wasn’t going to fall. When I skied the whole mountain without falling, I knew I could do things my way.
At the age of twenty, I severed most of the muscle tendons for my right hand, when I shattered a window pane that was lucky enough to break my fall, as I tripped going into my house. I was told I may never use my hand again. At the time I was a drummer in a band and at my church, I was also developing a love for the guitar. The last thing I wanted to hear was, “You can’t do that.” Never mind, that the damage was so bad, I couldn’t use my hand to write or feel a pen between my fingertips. I first learned how to text message left handed because of this injury. The professional, the surgeon, told me, “I couldn’t do it.” I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything dictate reality for me. I was in control of my fate.
The illusion that I was in control of my balance on the ski slope or my recovery from the tendon repair, was my perception of reality. Truth be told, to be in control was more self-defining than my dependence upon God or others. However, I couldn’t have skied down a mountain without falling, had I not been given the tools to do so. I couldn’t have surprised the doctors, surgeons, and physical therapists who worked with me to recover; had they not surgically repaired my tendons, or spent countless hours giving my recovery the assistance in needed. Reality, I was dependent upon the work of others to give me the ability to ski or use my hand again. My story is no exception to the independence of dependence.
The reality of our world claims, that true freedom is our independence to control our own destiny. So we develop systems, laws, methods, and plans to dictate our fate. In one of my favorite films, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one of the main characters says, “There is no fate, but what we make for ourselves.” By that reasoning, the weight of the world is on our shoulders.
In contrast, our reality, in Christ, is dependent upon grace: something we do not control, something we do not do, something we cannot earn, something we do not accomplish. But, grace is something that has been given to us. The weight of the world has been taken upon God’s shoulders, in Jesus, because Christ died, even, for us.
When the Apostle Paul told the Galatians to, “Live by the Spirit,” it was because they were relying on their own fulfillment of the law and a system that told them,”do this and you will be free.” Like the Galatians, we have things we depend on that give us the perception of freedom and independence: money, power, possessions, morals, answers, plans, and structures. We are slaves to the fulfillment of these things.
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (v.1).
For me, fighting, or more likely ignoring, the fact that I need the help of God’s grace to have faith or that it is okay to allow others to help me do things (like drive or do high-energy activities) is where I am in captivity to control. I can’t do everything by myself, none of us can.
Now, I’m not saying that dependence on anything or anyone leaves me regularly content or joyful about the reality that it’s not about what I do, but about what’s been done for me. There’s a reason that the context in which Paul talks to the Galatians still matters today.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ defies our understanding of reality.
The Gospel didn’t make sense to the people of the church of Galatia, that’s why Paul was writing to them. The Gospel flipped their system upside down; it defied their understanding of reality. The Gospel reminds me that I am dependent upon God’s grace and the help of others. The Gospel turns my illusion of control on its head; it defies my understanding of reality. The Gospel doesn’t fit our action equals results driven culture. The Gospel redefines our independence and freedom; it defies our understanding of reality.
If, in the Gospel, perception is not reality; what is reality?
In the Gospel, reality is this, we are free in our dependence upon the grace of God because Christ died, even, for us.