Sunday, June 26, 2016

Setting Our Face

1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. 4 You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

13 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. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 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.

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:1-6, 13-25 NRSV)

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He gave himself for our sins, so he could deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. To God be the glory forever and always! Amen.

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up," we read in our Gospel today, “[Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem.” 

Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. There is a single-mindedness of purpose here in the ninth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, a chapter that begins what is often called the “traveling texts.” Ten full chapters. Nearly half of Luke’s Gospel.  Why so much space to get to Jerusalem?

If one reads through these chapters as we will in the coming weeks, it is immediately apparent that these are teachings texts.  Texts for intensive disciple-training. Jesus knows his time with the disciples is limited. He knows that soon they will arrive in Jerusalem and he will be arrested, crucified and die at the hands of the people. And so, he has turned not only his body, but his entire being towards Jerusalem, focused both on what is to come and on what he must do in preparing the disciples for once they arrive. There is a single-mindedness of purpose shown here by Jesus. Forward-looking to Jerusalem and even beyond Jerusalem, to the very ends of the earth. 

Jesus set his face forward.

Have you set your face forward, too, with the same single-mindedness of purpose as Christ?

Over these past five weeks, we’ve been immersed in our Galatians readings, texts that tell us how we have been freed from the law. That we have been freed from the law for freedom. In verse 1 of chapter 5: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” The law no longer matters. The law no longer counts. 

And what does count? Well, we read in verse 6: “...the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

This is, in a way, the irony of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is the irony of their freedom--the irony of ours, as well.  We have been freed from the law to do the work of faith which is, in fact, the work of the law. No, it’s not works such as circumcision, food laws, or the like. But, it is the work of living out the ethical core and central command of the law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In freeing us, Christ has released us from our own bondage to sin, not so that we might be self-indulgent, but that through love we might become slaves to our neighbors, slaves to one another. 

The Tree is Life is an epic film by producer Terence Malik that centers around a Texas family in the 1950s. It follows the life journey of the oldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile an internal emotional conflict caused by the two completely different ways of living taught by his parents--the way of nature or the way of grace. Let’s watch the opening scene

This struggle of the oldest son is our struggle. It is a struggle laid out in this beginning scene--between the way of nature, or as Paul names it, the way of the flesh, versus the way of grace, or the way of the Spirit.

The way of nature, or the way of the flesh, is the way of self-indulgence. It is a way of living produced by selfish motives, where “I” comes before “we.” It is exemplified by behaviors that Paul lists in verses 19-21 of our text: things like, doing whatever feels good, hate, fighting, losing your temper, group rivalry, jealousy, and the like.

Living in the way of the flesh cheapens the gift of grace given to us by God in Christ.

The other way, the way of grace, or of the Spirit, stands in complete opposition to the way of the flesh. It is a way of living that is exemplified by selflessness, where “we” comes before “I.” It is a way of love that is characterized by service to others, where one’s selfishness has been crucified and replaced with the fruits of the Spirit in verses 22:23: love, joy, peace, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control--the fruits of living in the way of the Spirit. 

The way of the Spirit is the way of discipleship.

Have you set your face forward? Or, better yet, how have you set your face forward? 

Is your face set forward with the single-mindedness of purpose that comes out of living in the Spirit? Or is it set forward with a focus on living out the selfish desires of your flesh? 

In verse 16 of the NRSV translation of our text, we read that we should live by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. It’s a both/and proposition. Do one and don’t do the other.

A better translation of this verse, though, is this: “I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires.” Here’s it’s a cause-and-effect proposition. If we are guided by the Spirit, if we live in the way of the Spirit, then we won’t carry out our selfish desires. We will become less and less guided by the flesh and more and more guided by the Spirit.  

Is this easy? To follow in the way of Jesus? No, it isn’t. It isn’t easy to love when the world says hate. It isn’t easy to show self-control when the world says do whatever feels good. To speak peace when the world screams fight. To be faithful when the world throws idol after idol our way.

But, this way--the way of grace, the way of the Spirit--is the way of the kingdom of God. It is the way of Christ and the way to which Christ calls us: to deny ourselves, to take up his cross daily, and to follow him. 

It is the way of freedom. A way where we are, as Luther wrote, a servant to none and a servant to all. It is the way to life.

So, set your face forward. Set your face in freedom toward Jerusalem and to the ends of the earth, walking in the way of the Spirit--the way of life, the way of the kingdom of God.


Preached at Chatfield Lutheran Church - 6th Sunday after Pentecost (June 26, 2016)
Texts: Galatians 5:1-6, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62.

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