Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thinking on Galatians 5:16-24

I was a bad and lazy 1 year lectionary guy - I didn't observe Saint Bartholomew. . . or is it Saint Nataniel's day on Sunday (mainly because I didn't want to go into a long explanation of why it's St. Bart's day but the guy in the text is named Nate - this is not the way to introduce the various Saint's days.) Thus, instead I used the text for the 14th Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel is the Healing of the 10 lepers - that's what I preached, but this morning I'm pondering the Epistle.

Verses 16 and 17 read, "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the Flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."

We don't get this in America - and there are two ways in which we don't get it.

The first, and perhaps the more common, is the antinomian error here - where we forget that the Spirit is opposed to the will of the flesh. We are in a consumerist society where what one wants is what one ought to get. Restaurants can even advertise "Get it your way, right away." Now - while there is nothing wrong with a business trying to satisfy its customer, it plays off of an aspect of American society that is dangerous. We set our lives on the basis of our desires and appetites.

This leads us to places we ought not go. If you look at the Commandments, the whole second table is about curbing your desires - lest you follow them into sin. (Or if you are too lazy to think about the Catechism - think about Return of the Jedi where they get trapped by the Ewoks on Endor - and why? As Han says, "Great work, Chewie, always thinking with your stomach." Desire leads to terrible traps!) But all too often, Americans, and even American Christians don't pause to evaluate their desires - but rather simply assume that what we want, what we would like, what we desire is something that is good. This leads to all sorts of problems.

Then there is the legalistic error - when the Law does hit home, and the Christian realizes that his desires have been off. . . and this is viewed as a surprise. Sometimes we Christians can be shocked that we want something that is wrong, when we desire to sin. This is because we can tend towards legalism, towards thinking that we are of course just good little Christian boys and girls.

We aren't. I'm a Christian - I want things that are stupid, wrong, and sinful. My Old Adam rears its head again - that's just what happens. Too often we view our Christian faith falsely in terms of what we do - and thus when we see our lack we receive a giant shock to our system. Foolish sinner - of course you have desires you need to struggle against. . . duh. But there can be much angst over this. It's hard sometimes to realize you aren't as perfect as you thought you were.

If only we would remember what Paul writes here - that while we draw breath, every moment, every day, we are going to struggle against sin. Period. Temptation and sin will be there. Period. And if only we would remember that this is precisely why Christ is our Savior, why the Christian faith isn't about our works but His - He is the One who can save us, not we ourselves.

Yes, my sin is daunting. Yes, by the power of God I strive to walk in the Spirit. But the Cross of Christ and His resurrection overshadows all of this, overwhelms it all - so we can walk boldly with the Spirit, trusting in Christ's salvation even when we realize we have forgotten to check our desires, even when the sinfulness of those desires comes crashing down upon us.

It really is all about Christ.


Mike Baker said...

Spot on, Pr Brown!

Would you also say that our society has swapped out meeting people's needs with meeting people's wants? What is really good for people is X, but they will pay you to deliver Y.

Isn't it interesting how modern Christians are exactly like the world? What we need is the preaching of repentance, but what we want our church to give us tends to be anything but that. We as American Christians can easily look at how the tyrrany of the middle ages infiltrated the church and made it legalistic and tyrranical, but we do not even stop to think that maybe we are as foolish if not more.

We know exactly what we want, and there is no short supply of churches that will give it to us. When we find churches that give us what we need instead of what we want, we are shocked, uncomfortable, and bored.

It's not about a life of purpose. It's about death and repentence. It is all about Christ. His ways of self-denial and sacrifice are very unpopular with the world and with their friends in the wordly church.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

To a certain extent people selling things have always focused on what people want rather than what they need - because people always tend towards what they want. (Think of the old Roman custom of having a person constantly remind the Emperor, "Remember, thou art mortal" - so that they would remember their needs. It didn't always work. . . but still).

We have become over consumerist in all aspects.