Wrapped in Love
So I’m in the middle of what I call a cosmic convergence right now – when a number of things all seem to cluster around a particular point in time – in other words – too much is happening all at once! –
This week I was not only preparing to preach this morning, I was also getting ready to lead the Emergency Response Security Training happening right after church today – AND
I was preparing a talk for a Walk to Emmaus Retreat that I had to present at a meeting yesterday in preparation for the March Retreat yet to come.
O – did I mention we had a friend’s party to attend last night?
All of these are good things – but my focus was on all of these things – and not necessarily on attending to what should be my highest priority human relationship in this world.
Craig also had a meeting yesterday and was also preparing to play with the Mosaic band this morning – we were both busy – and we used our time driving to and from the party to check in with each other and share news – as we drove home we called his parents to check in – his dad is not doing well –
while Craig drove, I was talking on the phone and Craig was prompting me about which questions to ask and then to tell his mom news about a health situation he is experiencing and I was rather ashamed that I didn’t
have that information about my own husband already at the front of my mind. I had allowed all of my commitments to distract me from the priority of my husband’s well-being…
To make matters worse – even though I thought we had established what would happen when we got home – I had asked him to read over the sermon while I got ready for bed so that I could make any changes before going to sleep –
but I failed to take into account his need to prepare for Band stuff – so when I asked him to read it, to stop what he was doing and take care of me
– I was allowing my distractions to actually become destructive by placing my wants over Craig’s needs…not my best moment in spouse care…
We are in the third week of our series on “A Simplified Life,” by Emily Ley. We’ve already been challenged by Chris and Abbey to think about our time and our finances so that we can shift our approach in ways that renew and refocus us on what is important. Emily writes to encourage and empower us to see and seek the priorities in our lives,
helping us overcome the tendency to lose sight of what is truly important in the midst of trying to do everyday life. Believe me – this is hitting home for me in ALL kinds of ways!
Paul’s letter to the Galatians was also written in response to misplaced priorities. The Gentile converts in the churches Paul had established had received new life through faith in Christ and had experienced the amazing work and blessing of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, there were some Jewish Christians who decided to impose the standards of the Jewish law onto their way of life – these false Christians insisted that to be a Christian, one also needed to follow the Law of Moses, including circumcision.
Paul calls this perverting the gospel of Christ – preaching a false gospel, and of course, is very distressed that the Galatians would shift their allegiance from life in the Spirit through Christ and having freedom from sin –
back to life under the law and being in bondage to keeping it. Their church life became hindered by the burden of this additional expectation, and their interactions were cluttered
by measuring behaviors based on the law in their desire to please these false teachers. They began to drift from unity, harmony, and compassion, into division, discord, and judgment.
Paul is calling them to be: restored in –
and return to – the true principles of the Gospel of Christ –
To remember that faith in Christ is the only way to be made righteous, that the Spirit is the resulting gift of God through belief in Christ and not by following the law,
and that in Christ we are made one people – children of God with no separation or distinction.
After Paul makes this argument for being restored to Christ and to each other, he offers some tools for living together, some routines to follow in order to keep their faith and priorities in focus. This is where our Scripture passage today begins – it’s found in the New Testament on page 179 in the pew Bible:
READ Galatians 5:13-16
The routine that Paul recommends they follow is to serve one another in love – rather than be slaves to the law, they are to be slaves to love – which actually becomes the perfect fulfillment of the whole law – to love your neighbor as yourself.
When they are distracted by the wrong priorities, they destroy each other, but when they are guided by the Spirit, they won’t be distracted or destructive.
So question for us – what is it that claims our attention so much that we allow it to become a destructive force in our relationships? Be pondering that for a minute and we’ll come back to it.
This week we are looking at Emily Ley’s perspective on Hospitality and how we can apply those concepts to our relationships.
Now, Emily employs three strategies throughout her book that she applies to each of the ten areas that she addresses:
Strategy #1 – Declutter – get rid of things that are unnecessary – throw away, give away, say no – she says “Physical clutter is mental clutter” – whether the clutter is in our schedules, our checkbooks, our homes – we need to let it go in order to embrace what is meaningful and important to our hearts. She calls this “creating margin – making space for what matters.”
Strategy #2 – Use tools – what will be most helpful for you to create margin in your daily life? Is it a planner? An accounting system? A bookcase? Explore what tools would help you bring order and margin to the area that you are wanting to simplify.
And Strategy #3 – Create routines – Emily says, “Preparation is everything, so set yourself up for success.” What can you do that will allow you to maintain margin in your life? She invites us to take note of and practice those things which can be done in advance in order to make room for that which you value and want to pursue the most.
Emily began this process of simplifying when she felt torn apart by the demands of her work mashing up against the needs of her household and family and she was caught in between. She realized that she didn’t have enough of herself left to be fully present and available to what she valued most – her people – especially her family. Everything that she has done –
all the decluttering, all the tools and routines – are in place to allow her to focus on what is most important to her – to live her life in love through Christ, celebrating and serving her family, friends, and community in joyful, healthy ways, while staying whole and well and able to meet her commitments.
So what is it that claims our attention so much that we allow it to become a destructive force in our relationships? Much of this depends on our season of life, how we spend our days, and what we have determined to be our priorities. It depends on what is most distracting or appealing to our individual nature. And it depends on what level of destruction we have allowed in our lives. It could be as harmless as watching to much TV, or as damaging as addiction to substances or behaviors.
For the Galatians, they had allowed the desire to be counted as God’s children according to the standards of people – the Law – to interrupt the flow of life together in the church. Rather than focus on sharing life in the Spirit through their common relationship with Christ, they sought to measure and judge each other based on the standards of the law.
The language Paul uses in our passage today is all a play on words in contrasting life in the Spirit with life in the flesh. The Spirit is in us and with us as God’s gift – God making a home in us through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The flesh is our human nature with its tendencies toward pleasing ourselves and looking to our own interests – our capacity
to sin. The Law was given in order to moderate and discipline the desires of the flesh, giving an awareness and understanding that sin exists. But the flesh and the Law are a source of bondage – no law can fulfill the standard of righteousness given freely to us through Jesus Christ. We are only, ever justified before God through faith in Christ.
Life in the Spirit is freedom – the fulfillment of God’s gift of grace as children of God through Christ. Life in the flesh, in this letter to the Galatians, is life under the law – a life in bondage to the structure of the law that had been given in order to address and control the flesh until Christ came.
Now earlier in the letter, Paul introduces an analogy – an allegory using Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and her servant, Hagar, as a parallel for Spirit and flesh. Both women had children by Abraham, but Sarah is a free woman and Hagar is a slave. Sarah’s child, Isaac, was born into freedom as a promise fulfilled by God. Hagar’s child, Ishmael, was born into slavery according to the flesh – the choice and will of Abraham.
Paul explains that we who are in Christ are children of the promise born into freedom. Those who place themselves under the law, however, are choosing to remain in the bondage of the flesh – slaves under the law with no recourse to be set free from sin. In their efforts to please the false Christians preaching the law, the Galatians fell back into slavery under the law.
Hear Paul’s words again from verses thirteen through sixteen, but unpacked with a little more flavor from the Greek.
You were called to freedom from the law, brothers and sisters – you who shared the same womb of God through Christ – so do not use your freedom apart from the law to take part in the flesh again, thus becoming a slave under the law once more – instead – through love – become slaves to one another – serve one another in love. For the entire set of laws that holds you in bondage apart from Christ – is really summarized in this one statement – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But if you continue in the flesh, you will literally tear each other to pieces, so beware – to continue as you are is to consume each other – annihilating the life you share.
Instead, live by the Spirit – be moved and guided by the Spirit, and by no means will you fulfill the yearning for the flesh that you crave. You will not carry out the desire of the flesh under the leading of the Spirit.
So have you been able to identify what it might be that you are allowing in your life that is distracting you from your priorities? What might be crowding your life in the Spirit and putting you back in the bondage of the flesh?
I don’t think we intentionally set out to do this – I think it creeps in in subtle ways.
For the Galatians it was seeking approval from people they considered, albeit wrongly – to be part of their relationship with Christ.
I can relate to that – I can allow myself to be distracted by the yearning to feel appreciated and valued by others for the work I do – which leads me to commit to doing more than I can possibly do – which leads me to having less and less time for myself or for Craig, which leads to my feeling disconnected from him and from God – which leads to me being irritable and grumpy – which leads me to being more critical of Craig and of others – which leads me to feeling guilty and I become hard on myself – and all of that swirls and grows and leads me into allowing my heart to begin to be devoured and consumed by all of those things.
You might be able to relate to that – you might not – but if you need help considering what might be distracting you to destruction, Paul gives a really good detailed list of options in the next few verses following our text for this morning.
But thanks be to God – we do not have to remain in bondage to our yearnings that destroy us
and the fabric of our relationships! We are children of God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is always available to lead and guide us back to the freedom we are created to have.
What does life in the Spirit look like? Paul spells it out well in his famous list…
The fruit of the Spirit is love – joy – peace – patience – kindness – generosity – faithfulness – gentleness – and self-control – this is life in the Spirit and the nature of loving your neighbor as yourself –
which brings us back to Emily Ley’s ideas about Hospitality. This is what she writes:
“Hospitality is really just the way we wrap our people in love and care in the most basic, non-elaborate, meaningful ways.”
Did you hear that? Hospitality is loving our neighbor – our people – in ways that are meaningful – that let them feel wrapped up in love… When I hear the word “Hospitality,” I can get distracted by ideas of a perfectly clean house or a perfectly set table or a perfectly hosted event.
My efforts to get hospitality right can end up being an opening for distraction that leads to destruction. In another book Emily writes, “Don’t sacrifice the good to chase the perfect.”
Instead of setting ourselves up to meet someone else’s standard of hospitality or your own desire for perfection – or the world’s idea of what it means to be a “good Christian” – let’s just walk in the Spirit. Let’s lean into the freedom of living a life of love that is meaningful to us and to our people.
So what might that be? How can you love the people you’re with in simple but meaningful ways?
I want to challenge you, when you get home today, to look at the people you love – to really see them – whether you live with them or whether you have to travel in body or spirit to be with them. See the faces of love that God has put into your life – and decide to love them – decide to find ways to bring them joy – decide to learn what feeds their soul and brings them peace – decide to be patient with them when they show off being human – decide to show them kindness in little moments and small ways – decide to be generous and forgive them when they hurt you or to be good to them and apologize quickly when you mess up – decide to be faithful in loving them, every day – decide to speak gently to them, even and especially when your own heart needs tenderness – decide to exert self-control over each of your responses, considering your words and actions before they become distracting and destructive to your people. There is no law against such things – there is no bondage in living by the Spirit.
Friends, we are indeed called to freedom – to serve one another through love under the guidance of the Spirit. May it be so with our people and in every part of our lives. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.