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Monday, July 1, 2013

Claiming God's Love

Pr. 8, Yr. C
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
At our Tuesday staff meetings, we sometimes find ourselves discussing the readings for the coming Sunday, often in terms of "Well, I bet I won't be preaching on..." That's what happened last week when I noticed the lengthy if not exhaustive list of sins in the epistle. Really, who wants to hear about all that? We joked that we could put up signs around the church and invite people to gather around and discuss the one that gives them trouble. We agreed that would be an epic fail in preaching, and then went on with our business.

A day or two later, I was reading a Homeboy Facebook post. Each morning at Homeboy, someone gives a Thought of the Day, and a summary of these short talks often makes its way onto Facebook. It was on one such post that I came across this quote by author and speaker Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?'"

Suddenly I thought again about the reading from Galatians. Because here's the thing: take out your bulletin insert and look again at that list of what Paul calls works of the flesh. As long as I don't ask you to do it out loud, I'm willing to bet that most of us can look at those and without much hesitation pick out a couple that apply to us...and if not, there's always the broad "things like these" at the end to cover all other possibilities.

Now, move down a couple of lines to the fruit of the Spirit. Which of those will you claim for yourself? I'm not going to ask you to speak up about it, but in theory there should be no embarrassment if I did; after all, these are all great traits. And yet I'm also guessing that it's much more difficult for any of us to say that one or more of them apply to us.

In other words, as Marianne Williamson suggested, it's not our inadequacies, the places where we sin and fall short, that we fear the most; we have a much harder time acknowledging our light, those wondrous qualities of a relationship with God that manifest themselves in unique ways in each of us. I think it goes much deeper than not wanting to appear too proud or boastful, because it's really challenging to do even on our own or with a trusted friend. Why should it be so difficult for us to name the ways that the power of God is at work within us?

Here's my idea about this: Take the standard evangelical Christian line "Jesus died for my sins." There are some aspects of emphasis in that which I might want to qualify or explain, but I don't balk at the general idea because I know I do sin and that sin gets in the way of my relationship with God. Much harder for me—and, I think for many of us—is the proposition behind it: that God—the God of whom we said in the psalm, "Who is so great a god as our God?"—that God finds me, finds you, so precious, so beloved, as to be worth doing anything at all for.

Perhaps a good bit of freedom in Christ comes from accepting this premise: that God so loves the world--that's you and me--that God sent God’s only son, Jesus Christ, to give us everlasting life. We are so completely loved by God…and your world and your life are bigger when you know you're loved. The fruits of the Spirit are not why God loves me; they're the sign of that bigger life, they're the result of my being open to the love God has for me simply because I am, because I exist as a child of God. When I'm open to God's love, I'm free to share it with others, to manifest the fruits of the Spirit in ways that serve others just as Jesus did. I can love my neighbor as myself because I know I am beloved.

Marianne Williamson continues, "We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world...We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. ”

There's the caveat in the epistle, of course. We have to understand that the freedom to be fully ourselves, the freedom that comes to us through God's love shown to us in Christ, is for everyone. Not just about me letting my light shine, but about my rejoicing in that light within every person, even—perhaps especially—when it's hidden under a bushel. Those fruits of the Spirit aren't about my reveling in my own belovedness, because if that's all I ever do, I really haven't stepped beyond that list of sinful stuff in which I put myself first.

The fruits of the Spirit are about our shaping a community that reflects God's love, one which is inclusive of every single child of God, in which we all serve one another, respect and defend the dignity of one another, celebrate with and console one another. Will we get it right every time? Of course not! But when we allow ourselves to claim and rejoice in God's love in our life, we'll move closer, and we'll live into the freedom for which God has created us and Christ has redeemed us and toward which the Spirit guides us.

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