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#010: How to Sell Your Freedom for Snacks
The Third Sunday after Pentecost, or the Second Sunday after Trinity (Proper 8)
Over the weekend, I was away in Kabale for the wedding of my cousin Abraham and his bride Naome. As you can see, writing sermons and attending weddings 420 KM away is next to impossible 😃
Readings: 1 Kings 19:15-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5:1, 13-25
A few weeks back, I was sitting in a quiet student hall at Makerere University. I had gone to write at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) Library like I do a few times a week but this time, the library was inaccessible.
I could not work from home either because of a power shutdown in our town due to general rehabilitation works on our line. So, I decided to walk up the hill to find a quiet place to sit and gather my thoughts. That’s how I found myself in this student hall.
But the story is not about how I got to this hall, it's about what happened while I was there.
As I sat, scrolling through my library on my Kindle Reader, a lady—about 20 or 21 years old—approached me. With a paper in hand, she wore the distraught face of one who did not know where she was going. Her short steps were so slow that in a race, a tortoise would outsprint her to the finish line.
After a while, she approached me. “Good afternoon, sir”, she inquired with a shiver in her voice.
“I am well, you?” I responded.
“Fair”, she answered.
She proceeded by telling me her full name, home district, and the program of study she was pursuing. She was a student—a Gallant Makererean—as students on the hill are called.
She then said, “I am graduating in a few weeks, but I cannot raise the graduation fees to clear and allow me graduate.” She told me the amount (which I can’t remember). “I was wondering, sir, if you have something small that can help me raise the fees.” The piece of paper in her hand was a printed copy of her clearance form, with her name, registration number, program of study, and passport-size photograph printed on it.
Without giving any thought to what she had told me, I gave her that serious Mategyero look and remarked, “I am sorry, madam. I don’t have money right now. Sorry I can’t help you.”
As she walked away, I felt the Holy Spirit’s conviction. It went like this, “Dude, really?”
Paul in Galatians 5:1, 13-25 talks about what Christian freedom looks like. He says that freedom is marked by love. Love, according to Paul, is to “serve one another in a humble manner.” This love, the giving of oneself for the good and sustenance of the other is a sign of freedom. This, Paul calls ‘living by the Spirit’.
This is the opposite of “continually biting and devouring one another” (v 15). It is, unlike freedom, enabled by the flesh. Paul notes that the flesh leads people to destroy one another. Works of the flesh are “sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things.” (v. 19-21). People who do these things cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.
These works of the flesh are marks of any violent and immoral society. It’s the definition of a ‘man eat man’ world where the mantra is “every man for himself and god for us all.” Maybe that is extreme.
Still, we have traces of these works of the flesh even in Christian communities. Factionalism, envy, and drunkenness are things we struggle with. Their fruits are well documented.
The flesh, N. T. Wright says means more than sensual sin. In this context as in all of Paul’s writing means the opposite of love. They are self-satisfying, self-enriching acts done at the expense of the community of God’s people.
Then Paul turns to what he calls the fruits of the Spirit. These are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (v. 22-23). These are enabled by the Holy Spirit.
They are not things done to become Christian (to be saved), rather, they are a result of being saved. We are saved by grace alone; we do nothing to achieve salvation and neither do our works merit salvation. It has been said that believing the gospel is the real doing of the law, in the sense to say that when we become Christians by the solo work of God the Son—Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit makes his home in us (aka indwelling) so that he produces in us (aka regeneration) hearts, minds and wills to live “according to the Spirit” (v 25) hence the fruits of the Spirit.
These fruits of the Spirit are from salvation not for salvation.
Another important thing to point out is the nature of this virtuous Christian life, which Paul says is the evidence of Christian Freedom. What does love look like among God’s people? Cornel West, the foremost philosopher of our time says that “Justice is what love looks like in public; tenderness is what love looks like in private.” Prof West’s vision of love within a community looks outward, to see and meet the needs of those around us.
Yet it is also important to distinguish Christian virtue from pagan virtue.
‘Pagan virtue’ inspired by the legacy of the great Greek philosopher Aristotle is “a solo performance of a great individual”. Christian virtue on the other hand is a team effort. It happens in community of/with other people. As a Christian, you don’t love or have patience with yourself, you give these to other people. Our love is for other people. In other words, Christian virtue looks outside of ourselves not inside. That is the mark of Christian freedom.
Christian freedom, therefore, is not the license to do or be whatever we want. Rather, it is that springy ability to operate within the expansive limits of the One who has bought our freedom.
The lady walked on to the man, clad in a black suit, who was sitting a few metres to my left. This man gave ear to her words and even offered her a seat. They talked for a while until the man picked up his phone to make a call. I saw the woman I had pushed away read a phone number to him.
At this point, my every gaze carried the full force of conviction: “Dude, really?”
The man made a few phone calls as the lady looked on. They also talked a little bit and she thanked him as she went on her way. In the words of the Old Testament Prophet Malachi, she was leaping like a calf let out of its stall.
While I had sold my freedom for snacks, the man on my left had interacted with the woman in love. He had also listened patiently. Christian freedom demands that we give people a chance; that we don’t form opinions of people without hearing them out. It is long-suffering.
Imagine a world where we saw people first as opportunities to be for them what God in Christ has been for us (loving, kind, gentle, patient, faithful, good) instead of burdens we need to steer clear of.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters…” (v. 13)
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
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