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10.25.15 The Love of Freedom Galatians 5:1-15 Sermon Summary

by on October 26, 2015

In our country which prides itself on “freedom,” the good news of Jesus might sound like bad news. That’s because one of the things Jesus assumes about all of us is that we are not free.

Summary Points

  • Two different kinds of captives: Obvious and Obscured
  • Two different kinds of obscure captives: Disadvantaged and Privileged
  • How Jesus sets all the captives free with one question and one commandment
  • What Paul learned about freedom and teaches us today
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

There are two different kinds of captives in the world, those whose captivity is obvious and those whose captivity is obscured. For the woman in John 8, her captivity is obvious. She has been “arrested” for a “sin” and brought to a “court.” Since she is not there by her choice, her captivity is obvious.

Obvious captives exist today. Like those in John’s day, we would call them “sinners” and “lawless,” and they would include thieves, murderers, and violent offenders. Illegal immigrants, as those who have broken a law, are obvious captives. But what is “obvious” changes. For example, not long ago in the church, those who were divorced were considered obvious captives and were not allowed to hold ministry leadership positions. We need to be careful about what we deem “obvious.”

There are others whose captivity is no less real, but it is obscured. Some captivity is obscured by disadvantage. The woman provides an example of this kind of captivity also. Her captivity is obscured by her many disadvantages. She lives in a patriarchal culture which undervalued women. As proof, just recognize that the crime of which she is accused is a partnered one: Where is the man? Within her culture as a woman, she is also captive to the disadvantage of having severely limited economic opportunities. It has been suggested that she may be a prostitute, which would be one of the only ways she could survive given her culture and economic limitations.

But the woman is not the only captive in the story. The Scribes and Pharisees are captives also, only their captivity is obscured by their privilege. First of all, they were men in the patriarchal culture. And they were religious. They had the powers-that-be on their side. Nonetheless, as Jesus will show, they too are captives.

Just as there are obvious captives today, there are also those whose captivity is obscured by disadvantage and privilege. Disadvantaged captives today include people growing up in poor neighborhoods. Their children are captive to the disadvantages of being undernourished and attending underperforming schools. Their brains and social development never reach optimal capacity. Children with abusive parents are captives to a disadvantage. And in society, people are captive to disadvantages based on racism, sexism, heterosexism, and religious marginalization, just to name a few.

And like the Scribes and Pharisees of John’s day, we have today those whose captivity is obscured by privilege. These include those in the religious and political majority. Just listen to some of the ignorant things said on news and talk shows by such privileged people. There are those with an economic advantage who are captives. For example, the person with extraordinary earning potential who works a little harder to afford what they want but can’t find any way to raise their giving to the church another percentage point. He is a captive to his money. And the “traditionalists” are obscured captives also. They have the momentum of “it’s always been this way” working for them. It’s helpful on this Reformation Sunday to remember that the Reformers were working against those captive to tradition.

When Jesus started his ministry, he proclaimed in a sermon that, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me to proclaim release to the captives.” So with all these captives standing before Jesus, those who are obvious and those whose captivity is obscured, Jesus is compelled to set them free—the woman, the Scribes, the Pharisees—everyone. How does he do this? How did he do it in John 8?

Since Jesus wrote on the ground in the presence of the woman’s accusers, scholars have wondered what he wrote. Based on the reaction of the accusers, several suggestions have been made. Some say he listed the Ten Commandments—just as a reminder. Others have suggested he was more specific, writing the names of her accusers and some of the ways they have sinned. My Young Life leader wondered if Jesus wasn’t just doodling.

I’d like to suggest that Jesus wrote down the “summary of the Law,” which Paul reminds us is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” John tells us Jesus wrote something down, then the accusers questioned him, then he wrote some more. I imagine it went something like this.

They want Jesus to rule on whether to stone the woman. He bends down and writes, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he writes, “You shall love your neighbor.” Now they begin questioning him. “Who is our neighbor?” “What do you mean by ‘love’?” We hear these protests today. “Illegal immigrants aren’t our neighbors.” “I love the sin and hate the sinner.”

Jesus answers them. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stoops down and writes, “You shall love.” And finally he just writes, “You.”

John tells us the crowd disperses, beginning with the oldest members, until only the woman is left standing before him. After releasing all those whose captivity was obscured by privilege, Jesus releases her.

This one commandment, if we followed it and nothing else, can you imagine how many captives it would set free today? How it would release the obvious captives by preventing them from breaking the law? How it would release the obscured captives by guiding them to selflessness?

Paul understood the power of this one commandment to release captives. He was a captive obscured by privilege. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, he was a religious man with power. Once he was on his way to exercise his privilege, to release what he considered “obvious captives”—weak people who were breaking the Jewish law by following the false messiah Jesus. Because what mattered most to Paul at this time was the Law.

But on the way he met Jesus, and what he discovered is that what matters most is not the Law but faith working through love. He learned that love doesn’t just see obvious captives. Love sees everyone a captive, and love works to release them all. He learned this from Jesus.

That’s why Paul calls the Cross an “offense.” The Cross reminds us that Jesus loved women as well as men, the disadvantaged as well as the privileged, sinners as well as religious, Romans as well as Jews, children as well as adults. Paul learned that through love, Jesus sets all captives free. Jesus set free the woman, the Scribes and Pharisees, Paul, and the Galatians. He set them free from slavery to the Law, and set them free to slavery to Love.

Paul wrote Galatians because we can become slaves to the Law again. It is possible that Christ would “no longer be a benefit to us” and that we can “fall away from grace.” Since Paul included non-Jews, the “uncircumcised,” into the community of faith, some Jewish Christians accused him of being a lawbreaker. And now these same Law-loving Jewish Christians were trying to draw the Galatians back to love of the Law. Paul wrote Galatians to prevent this from happening to them.

And how does one continue to benefit from Christ, to remain in grace? The answer is to be a slave to love. And the easiest way to be a slave to love is to find a need and serve it. It’s something everyone can do every day. So let us cease to see the world through Law, and begin to see the world through Love. Because that is true freedom—it is the love of freedom—and it sets all the captives free, beginning with us.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what ways have you been an obvious captive? How could the summary of the law have prevented you from becoming such a captive? How might it release you today?
  • Since by definition obscure captivity is hidden, pray that God would show you the ways you are captive by disadvantages or privilege. You might be a captive to a hurtful past. You might be captive to some privilege—racial, religious, political, monetary. Discuss how the summary of the law can release you from these captivities.
  • To ensure Christ remains beneficial to you and that you don’t fall away from grace, identify a need you can satisfy, and in doing so show love to someone. Share this with others and then do it.

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