Scripture Reading: Galatians 5:1,13-16, 22-26 (The Inclusive Bible)
When Christ freed us, we were meant to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and don’t submit to the yoke of slavery a second time!
My sisters and brothers, you were called to freedom; but be careful, or this freedom will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Rather, serve one another in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you go on snapping at one another and tearing each other to pieces, be careful, or you may end up destroying the whole community. Let me put it this way: if you are guided by the Spirit, you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against these sorts of things there is no law! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their ego, with its passions and desires. So since we live by the Spirit, let us follow her lead. We must stop being conceited, contentious and envious.
Learning Time: “Freedom and Limits”
I want to speak briefly today about freedom. There have been enough words about freedom spoken and printed lately to fill whole convoys.
The word came up pretty often during the recent provincial election, and we may hear it again, when the municipal vote happens in the fall.
You might wonder if there is anything left to say.
A lot of what gets said about freedom in popular rhetoric also involves another word we hear a lot, which is rights. Our rights and freedoms.
What worries me is the emphasis on individual rights and freedoms without a corresponding awareness of at least two things.
The first is there are limits, and conditions on our rights, and our freedoms.
My rights, my freedom to do, or not do what I please, ends somewhere before I cause harm to someone else, or deprive them of a necessary good.
The classic example is I may have the right to make a fist, and swing it in your direction. But if you are in range of that fist, or have reason to fear it may hurt you, your right to be safe trumps my right to swing my fist.
We don’t actually have the right to do things that cause harm or represent the threat of harm to others.
The second thing I feel we need to remember is that “rights language” is not all that helpful in communicating our basic human responsibility to be decent with each other.
The rights and freedoms we have here in Canada are considerable. When you also consider the access we have to education, and information, and travel, and the capacity to buy or rent or borrow practically anything, and compared to most people in the world, we are incredibly powerful.
Do you know this phrase? “With great power, come great responsibility.” Do you know what Gospel it’s from?
It’s pretty close to a line from the parable of the faithful servant in Luke: From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
It’s also known as the Parker, or Peter Parker principle, because it’s the moral guide of the Marvel Comics hero Spiderman. He learned the hard way, when someone close to him died when he failed to do the right thing, that our actions, and our inactions, have consequences. We have responsibility.
Our lives are inextricably, and beautifully wound up with each other. God has set things up so that none of us can actually live our lives without each other. That’s a good thing. We need each other, and our human-ness is defined, determined to some degree, by our connectedness.
In the children’s time I used the example of a soccer field with no boundary lines. Without agreed upon limits to where and how you can move on the field, the game becomes un-playable. The lines on the edges of the field are like the outer edge of the arc my fist can travel. It can only go so far, before we have a problem.
I may want to play the game my way, and kick the ball across the line, run with it, and then bop back on the playing field close to the goal, but that’s not playing the game. That’s self-indulgent behaviour.
So we need the rules. Otherwise we’d be just a bunch of aimless individuals on a grassy field, unable to work together, even to play a game.
The rules of soccer developed over many years. They are arbitrary, and also subject to local variation, and change.
I think one of the functions of sport is to teach us how to work within a set of rules that govern behaviour.
It’s also good to know that games are just games, and rules are just rules. They can change over time. The laws that govern a society change over time, and that’s a good thing- because the humans that create them are subject to human frailty, imperfection, and self-interest.
I have thought a lot about the tension between rights and responsibilities as it applies to the gun problem in the United States. It seems like our American neighbours have painted themselves into a corner. The emphasis on the right to bear arms has made it so difficult for them to even talk about scaling back, voluntarily limiting their rights, reining in the arc of their swinging fists, in order to protect the lives of their most vulnerable people.
It’s good we have higher standards, by which to examine and judge our own behaviour, and the agreed upon rules, and laws.
We heard some excellent higher standards in the Galatians passage, where they were called fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
I am especially grateful for the mention of that last one, self-control, as a reminder that for the sake of other people, and for the sake of love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, we place limits on ourselves.
We restrict ourselves, as best we can, to do things that help others. We stop ourselves from doing things that would cause harm to others, and we open our hearts, and eyes, and look for ways to exercise our freedom to do good. Amen