A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on June 26, 2016.
Principal reading Galatians 5:1,13-26
Paul’s letters are full of instructions for the early churches who were attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus. This was new territory especially for the gentiles – those who did not have the background of the Jewish faith. Paul spread the good news of Jesus and God’s love throughout the gentile world. He stayed for a while but then he moved on so these letters were a reminder of what he taught them about Jesus. It was easy after Jesus was gone to forget what he taught about how to live. Life goes on as they say and it was no different in Galatia than anywhere else then or now. It is easy to get caught up in the moment – to be zealous when all around are just as enthusiastic and driven. It’s like being at a convention or seminar where you learn of new ideas and hear of others who share your dreams. And then you go home and the like-minded people are no longer with you and you need to reintegrate into life and a world that is the same as when you left for the convention. They have not heard the impassioned speeches. They still have to deal with the workload that doesn’t just miraculously disappear because you’ve been inspired by some charismatic speaker. Bills still have to be paid, food still has to be put on the table and the world with all its background noise hasn’t changed.
Paul reminds the Galatians that they do not have to conform to the world that in Christ, they have been freed from all that is heavy and burdensome and that the main thing is to love your neighbor as yourself. Easier said than done. The Galatians live in a world where the flesh and the desires of the flesh are what people focus on. Paul’s list of things is long but not at all exhaustive. These are the things that will keep you enslaved. True freedom comes with letting go of these ‘fleshly’ things and focusing on spiritual matters.
We can all think of things that we are ‘enslaved’ to can’t we? Too much coffee, donuts at the office, a beer after work, TV every nite with snacks, always wearing the latest fashion, driving the newest car, having the latest technological gadget, never deviating from some long standing tradition, not being able to throw anything away, an obsessiveness about neatness… None of these things are inherently awful – it is not the things themselves that enslave us but rather how obsessed we are about them. Paul’s list touches on things that were occurring in Galatia at the time – things that come from self-centered–ness according to Paul: “repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” This list is not exhaustive.
Our world today is different from the world in which Paul lived and preached and yet it is not. We hear of hatred and bigotry and white privilege and blaming the victims and violence seemingly out of control. Our world is scary and it seems that every day there is some new thing happening that makes it scarier and more out of control. The Orlando shooting is still in the news with new allegations about the shooter and how it was a revenge shooting for contracting HIV. We may never know exactly what went on in the mid of the shooter. Most of the world and certainly here in America quickly jumped on the ‘it’s a terrorist act’ bandwagon. It fed our fear of ISIS. There is much hatred here and many quickly let this horrific act feed the flames of that fear and hatred.
This week I read a blog by Rev Stephen Carnahan, pastor of the High Street Congregational Church in Auburn. It was entitled ‘People I am not interested in hating’.
His list includes:
1. Gay, lesbian, or any other persons because of their sexuality or lack thereof.
3. Members of the NRA and other gun advocates.
4. Black Americans.
6. Narcissistic, bombastic, presidential candidates.
7. Corporate polluters.
8. People that unfairly made life hard for me.
9. The guys that assaulted me on the street.
10. The New York Yankees
11. Fox News hosts. Not even Hannity.
And then he admits, ‘Wow. This list could go on forever.’ He says that maybe some on the list were jokes but as he reflected on it they really aren’t that funny. He says, ‘I find it very easy to get caught up in the hate that is around us. Just like we can walk through a city and breathe in the bus exhaust and not think about it, we can breathe in the hate. We can start just taking sips of the haters cup, but it’s pretty addictive stuff.’
Steve goes on to say:
The thing we have to do to avoid breathing in the sort of hate we see around us is to keep it in mind and work against it. Change our ways. Let’s stop using words that fuel it. I actually have given up saying I hate the Yankees. I like to see them lose, but I don’t even want to give hating that much of an opening into my life.
I will try to be respectful of others. I will call them by the names or titles they choose, and try not to divide the world into them and us. There is no them. There’s only us.
Isn’t that what Paul said last week – there is no ‘other’ in Christ. This is what Paul is telling us. We need to prohibit hate from being part of our lives. Even though all around us are caught up in hatred, we as Christians have to avoid it. And we need to be intentional about it. We need to be aware of where we let hatred rather than love rule our lives. Hatred is powerful. It feeds on our fears and we feel like we are not alone because it is all around us. Someone commented to me last week that they would jhave to work on the part about God’s love being even for those who hate. And it will be work – hard work. But we need not do this alone.
We need to work at having love in our hearts every day – in our thoughts, in our speech, in our actions. We need to choose Christ in our lives. It doesn’t just happen – we need to say, ‘ I will choose Christ’ and in doing that ‘I will choose love’ and I will reject hatred and violence.
And one of the hardest yet simplest ways for us is to hold up in prayer people we struggle to love. I’m going to be gone for 2 weeks. I am leaving a sheet of paper for you to anonymously identify, without naming names of individuals, those you struggle to love. When I return, we will lift these in prayer together on Sunday mornings.
We are together in Christ. WE are together in love. Let us act as a community of Christ and love all and reject hate. As Christians we are to emulate the love of Christ – Love is stronger than hate. Let us overwhelm the world with love! Amen.