Sermon by Pastor Ben Cieslik

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ, Amen.

It’s been seven days since many of awoke to the news that 49 people were gunned down in a night club in Orlando. The size and the scope of the violence suffered in Orlando is not unprecedented. In fact atrocities of this ilk are seemingly happening with much greater frequency and it’s disturbing and frightening.

Pundits and people on social media alike have their own solutions to our national problems. Some say we should have fewer guns on the street. Others say we should have more people in church. Others are ready to pack up and move to Australia or Canada or anywhere but here.

It’s becoming an all too familiar pattern. Tragedy strikes. Facebook profile pictures change. There’s a lot of collective hand wringing. CNN goes wall to wall, all Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, Orlando all the time. Politicians send their thoughts and prayers.

The storm quiets and things goes back to normal, business as usual. Until it happens again. The pattern repeats itself. And nothing is different. Except there are of course more people dead, more families ripped apart, more pain and fear and anxiety. And it feels like all we can do is hope that it won’t happen to us, where we live, in Minnetonka, or Minneapolis.

How quickly we forget, though we promise not to, the names of those who are killed.

How quickly we forget that this is not “normal.”

How quickly we forget that this is not what freedom looks like.

Nearly 2000 years ago the Apostle Paul wrote to a group of people, who were gathering together in homes in the region of the Roman Empire known as Galatia, modern day Turkey. He said to them,

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.

 Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.

For the record here, Paul’s not warning against having an extra piece of cake. In Galatia 2000 years ago, as is true today, people were predisposed to think first and foremost of themselves. Call it a survival mechanism, an evolutionary impulse, original sin, whatever label you want to throw on it you and I, when push comes to shove, look out for ourselves. Many in the human family, extend our protective custody to include family – friends – others that belong to our tribe or clan, but when times get tough we draw the boundary around me and mine pretty narrowly.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.

 Isn’t self-preservation the ultimate act of self-indulgence or as the New English Translation puts it seizing every opportunity to indulge the flesh?

Typically we hear these passages from Paul’s writings to the early church and our ears cherry pick the personal morality nuggets that have been dominant features of western christianity for quite a while, particularly the American version. Fornication! Drunkenness! Carousing! Licentiousness! But it’s bigger than sex and drinking. It’s more than just want we put into our bodies that’s at issue here.

What’s a stake is that how we live our lives, the choices we make, impact others in profound ways. And when we live self-indulgently, when we think only of ourselves, we fail to see or appreciate or care about the damage our indifference causes others.

Louis CK, a well known stand-up comedian, concludes his hilarious but profane stand up show called Oh My God with a bit he calls, “Of course but maybe.”

He says,

Everybody has a competition in their brain of good thoughts and bad thoughts. Hopefully, the good thoughts win. For me, I always have both. I have like, the thing, I believe the good thing, that’s the thing I believe and than there is this thing. And I don’t believe it, but it is there. It’s always this thing and then this thing. It’s become a category in my brain that I call of course but maybe”.

He goes to talk about peanut allergies, war and then finishes with this.

Of course, of course slavery is the worst thing that ever happened. Of course it is, every time it’s happened. Black people in America, Jews in Egypt, every time a whole race of people has been enslaved, it’s a terrible, horrible thing, of course, but maybe. Maybe every incredible human achievement in history was done with slaves. Every single thing where you go, how did they build those pyramids?” They just threw human death and suffering at them until they were finished.

Even today, how do we have this amazing microtechnology? Because the factory where they’re making these, they jump off the roof, because it’s a nightmare in there. You really have a choice. You can have candles and horses and be a little kinder to each other or let someone suffer immeasurably far away, just so you can leave a mean comment on YouTube while you’re in the bathroom.

 And it’s true.

But it doesn’t have to be.

You’ve been given a gift. An incredible gift.

You’ve been given freedom. In Jesus Christ, God has set you from from all of those things that hold us captive. No longer do we have to live chained to our fear, our anxiety, our proclivity toward self-indulgence. In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection all of that has been put to death and you are a new person set free to love.

Freedom, true freedom, Christian freedom, is love. It’s unrestricted, often unrequited love. We give ourselves away to the world, that might not welcome or understand what we offer, but we do so anyway confident that God is working in and through our actions. We trust that God’s spirit is alive and at work within us planting seeds and bearing fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Of course the Spirit often manifests itself in some surprising way.

Last Sunday in Orlando, Chick-Fil-a the well loved fast food restaurant with a historically antagonistic relationship with the gay community opened a few of their restaurants in the area. The restaurant is traditionally closed on Sundays. Nonetheless, the employees showed up to offer free meals to area blood donors and first responders in the wake of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub.

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.

 We can debate whether we need different gun legislation in this country. We can debate whether or not political policies or election prospects merit a move out of the country. But what is clear, is that now more than ever we need remember and treasure the gift we’ve been given. We need to use the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus to love and serve our neighbor, no matter what they look like, no matter the choices they make, no matter if they love us back. We have been given the freedom to love, may the Spirit give you the courage to choose love this day and forever more.

Amen.