Freedom in Christ
coupled with Galatians 5:1, 13, Pentecost 6C; Galatians Series)
freedom. Jesus means
freedom, not only from sin and guilt, but from rules, regulations
and rituals. These rules, regulations and rituals seem to originate
in the Bible but are merely cultural impositions us. Jesus means
freedom from this particular rules, regulations and rituals. Let me
tell you a story.
This morning I
would like to begin by telling you a fable. This is a very famous
fable from childhood, and I would like to take this fable and
slightly alter it to meet the needs of our day.
This fable happened
long ago, some one hundred and fifty years ago, when there was a
ship sailing from England to the United States. When you sailed from
England to the United States some one hundred and fifty years ago,
it was a relatively safe journey but could be a frightening trip on
one of those old large windjammers. It could be unnerving
crisscrossing the ocean on a windjammer.
As this old man
sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, his vessel was hit by a violent
storm that started to shatter all the sails. The masts toppled over
and slowly the ship was disintegrating. The old man threw his body
into a life raft and before anyone could get into that life raft
with him, that raft burst away from the main vessel. The raft set
out to sea with only this little old man. He was alone in the life
For two nights and
days, the storm beat against this small raft and finally one day,
the raft washed up onto an island shore. The man was alone on that
deserted island. As he
washed up onto that island, the man did not know what to expect. He
didn’t know whether or not there were renegade pirates on that
island. He didn’t know if there were going to be savages there. He
didn’t know if this was an English penal colony where they had
gotten rid of the undesirables from old England. There were none of
Instead, there were
millions upon millions of Lilliputans, little people, about that
tall, about one inch tall. There were millions upon millions of
these Lilliputans, and Gulliver was dumbfounded. The Lilliputans
thought that Gulliver was a giant, a huge giant, cruel and mean. So
the Lilliputans began to wage war against Gulliver and they pulled
out their canons and they began to shoot at him. Their little wads
of mud bounced off of Gulliver’s body, as did the arrows from
their bows. The arrows were merely toothpicks and they too bounced
off of Gulliver’s gigantic body.
So, one moon lit
night, when Gulliver was asleep on a hill, the legions of
Lilluputans crept up silently with string and thread, and very
quietly tied strings around each of his fingers. They silently tied
hundreds of strings around each of his fingers. Hundreds of strings
to each of his fingers and also to his wrists, elbows and arms. They
put strings and threads around his chest, around his knees, around
his toes. Every hair on his head had a string. The Lilluputans tied
Gulliver firmly down, and when Gulliver awoke the next morning, he
couldn’t move. He had been tied down by thousands upon thousands
upon thousands of silver thin threads.
Gulliver was sure
to die because he couldn’t feed himself. Gulliver was sure to die
because he couldn’t give himself water. Thus ends of version of
Gulliver’s Travels. Did Gulliver live? Did Gulliver die? You
complete the last epoch of the story.
One thing was sure:
Gulliver needed to be set free from the thousands upon thousands of
little ties and knots, strings and threads, that were holding him
down and killing him and his freedom.
The meaning of this
fable is obvious. It is the nature of human institutions, whether
they be government, schools, churches, social conventions; it is the
nature of all human institutions to put thousands upon thousands
upon thousands of little regulations on people in order to hold them
down, tie them down.
For example, I
think you know what it means to work with the Federal Government. If
you apply for welfare or food stamps, or whatever you apply for to
the government, you know that there are miles of red tape, a myriad
of rules and regulations. A visit to the Federal office to apply for
food stamps is dreaded. … I could give you hundreds of samples of
this tendency. Merely talk with Dr. Charles Salzer of our parish,
who is Chief of Staff at a local hospital, and he despairs at all
the paper work required by the government for Medicare or any other
program. Dr. Salzer throws up his hands, not knowing where to begin
with all the paperwork that is now required by the government for
each hospital. So many rules and regulations. Thousands of them. Let
me give you a second example of this tendency. Let’s say you are
going to sell your house and an FHA loan is being considered. The
FHA comes out to inspect your house, and they have the thickest
rulebook you have ever seen. Or, have you applied for a building
permit at the city recently? … It is the nature of all human
institutions, whether they are churches, schools or governments, to
start to make a shift. A subtle shift is made, where the original
purpose of the institution was to serve people, and instead, the
people start to serve the institution. It happens again and again
and again. The legal needs of the institution become greater than
the real needs of the people. A shift occurs and the needs and
regulations of the institution become greater than the needs of the
It is precisely
that attitude of Gulliver being strapped down with thousands upon
thousands of little regulations that the Gospel lesson speaks about
today. In the Judaism of that time in history, their religion had
become a religion of a thousand rules and regulations. The original
purpose of the Old Testament religion was to help people meet their
spiritual and emotional needs. That is the purpose of the Old
Testament religion: to help people praise God and serve one another.
But instead, there were thousands of little traditions that people
had to do, and those regulations became the preoccupation of the Old
The gospel story
for today is about plucking and eating of grain.
The gospel story is a trilogy of three stories, and in all
three stories, Jesus is the liberator. Jesus is the liberator who
sets people free. Jesus sets people free, not from sin, and not from
guilt. Jesus sets people free from the thousands of rules and
regulations that started to tie people down.
Let me tell you the
three stories. They are beautiful stories. They are intended to be
told together as a trilogy. They are not intended to be told
The first story is
this: It was the day
before the Sabbath, and Jesus and his friends were having a party.
They were having a good time and laughing, smiling, eating,
drinking and having a good time. They were having a real nice party.
The followers of John the Baptist crashed that party and said,
“Jesus, you can’t do that. That violates our religious
tradition. Don’t you know that it is the day before the
Sabbath, and on the day before the Sabbath, you are supposed
to be pious and holy? You are to fast in preparation for the
Sabbath. You are not supposed to drink. You are not supposed to eat.
You are supposed to wear old clothes and look pious. Here, you are
having a party. You can’t do that.” … To which Jesus said,
“My religion is a religion of new wine. You can’t take new wine
and put it into old wineskins. When the new wine expands, the old
wineskins just burst. Mine is a religion of new wine.” To which
John the Baptist’s followers replied, “You can’t have a party
on the day before the Sabbath.
You are supposed to fast, be serious, and pious, like we do.
Our teacher, John the Baptist, calls you winebibber and a party boy.
It looks like his descriptions are true.”
Their rule was this: a religious day of fasting before the
Story two. Jesus
and his disciples were walking along through the grain fields on the
Sabbath, and the Jews, like the government, had hundreds of little
rules and regulations, including laws for the Sabbath. They had
regulations such as: you couldn’t cook. You couldn’t bake. You
couldn’t’ pick up water. If your donkey fell in a hole, you
couldn’t pull it out. They had rules and regulations that defined
the word, “work.” You couldn’t work on the Sabbath, and any
action such as baking, cooking, picking up water, or pulling your
donkey from a hole was defined by Jewish law as being work. …
Jesus and his disciples were talking through a grain field. I
can’t imagine walking through grain fields and picking grain to
eat, so in my imagination, I have them walking through a pea patch
and picking peas. The disciples were walking through a field of peas
and they were hungry, so the disciples and Jesus picked some peas as
they walked along. They picked the peas, opened the pods, and popped
peas into their mouths. The Pharisees saw this and shouted at him,
“Jesus, you can’t do that. That violates our tradition. For one
thing, it is work to pick peas and secondly, it is work to open the
shell. You can neither pick food or open the shell. It is against
our laws. You can’t do work on the Sabbath. You’re not being
religious enough.” … Jesus said to them, “You misunderstand.
Human beings weren’t made to obey the Sabbath rules and
regulations. The Sabbath day of rest was made for human beings. The
Sabbath Day was given to us to worship God, relax, rest, and
recuperate. The Sabbath is to free us from all the work we have been
doing this past week. The Sabbath wasn’t made in order so human
beings had a bunch of rules and regulations to follow. The Sabbath
was made for us people, so we could rest and rehabilitate.” To
which the Pharisees said, “You can’t do that on the Sabbath. It
violates our rules and regulations.”
The third story. It
was on the Sabbath day again. These stories are part of a trilogy.
Jesus and his disciples had come to the synagogue to worship.
There was an old man right outside of the synagogue who had a
withered hand. According
to the Gospel of Hebrews, one of the apocryphal gospels of that
time, the old man was a stonemason. The stonemason couldn’t work
because he had withered hands. Jesus came to heal him and the
Pharisees said, “You can’t do that. You can’t heal a man on
the Sabbath. That violates our rules and regulations. According to
our law, you can help people if they are getting worse, but you
can’t help a person get better when they are sick on the Sabbath.
That violates our law because our law dictates that you can’t do
any religious work such as making a man better.” Jesus shook his
head and said, “That is absolute nonsense.” Jesus healed the
In all three of
these stories, Jesus means freedom. From other sermons and Bible
lessons, we know that Jesus means freedom and he frees us from the
sinfulness of our lives. Jesus also frees us from the guilt that
binds us. But in today’s stories, Jesus means freedom and he frees
us from the rules, regulations and rituals, from those customs, that
we have become convinced are the will and purpose of God. In order
to be Christian or religious, we have to do these customs, these
rules, regulations and rituals. Jesus frees us from all customs that
interfere with helping people praise God and serve one another. What
are the rules, regulations and rituals? Any customs that we think we
have to do in order to be religious.
As we all know, we
have been a part of many churches in the past who believe that the
purpose of their church is to retain its religious customs, its
rules and regulations. The purpose for many Lutheran churches is to
retain our Lutheran heritage. If you change the worship service, you
are violating the traditions of God. We have our rules and
regulations here at Grace Lutheran Church and we quietly impose them
I would like to
give you a series of illustrations today where Jesus means freedom.
Jesus means freedom from our religious customs that we think are
somehow God-given but are not. I would like to give you several
examples of this from my own personal history, that are part
of my real world experience with rules, regulations and rituals that
feel like the will of God.
Years ago, but this happens even today, I called on a person at the
hospital when I was a young assistant pastor. I listened to the
person, said the prayers, gave the Sacrament, and the person asked
me as I left the door, “And when will the pastor be calling
on me?” I wasn’t the real pastor. Pastor So and So was the real
pastor, and when he called, the angels of God finally came into the
Second example. I
grew up on Norwegian legalism back in Jackson, Minnesota. In this
Norwegian legalism, I learned that I was not supposed to dance,
drink, or smoke. I was not supposed to go to the bowling alley
because it was next door to the pool hall, and the pool hall was a
very sinful place. I think this was because off the smoke hanging in
the air above those green tables, and of course, the bar at the far
end of the pool hall. We could play the card game, Rook, but not
bridge. We could drink wine but not beer or vodka. There were all
kinds of things that we permissible and not permissible, so I grew
up on Norwegian legalism in my childhood. … In young adulthood, I
remember pastor who loved to drink beer, but he was always careful
not to leave beer bottles in his trashcan but boxed them up and
returned them to the store in the next larger town where he bought
the beer. This young pastor wanted to protect his privacy of
enjoying beer, so his parishioners would not know.
A third example of
rules, regulations and rituals that we thought were the will of God.
It was deemed true that certain people were more religious than
others, by the degree of their association with the church. The more
Christian people were especially those who loved their Norwegian
heritage and came to worship more often; those who didn’t
weren’t quite as religious. Someone could be a skunk, but if he or
she came to church sufficiently, he or she was a forgiven skunk.
A fourth example.
Don’t date or marry Roman Catholics. My sister married a devout
Catholic and it was clear to me that this was a violation of God’s
will for our lives. We were to date and marry Lutherans, not
A fifth example.
The years passed, but the same principle applied. I remember here at
Grace that a divorced person was asked to be on the church council,
and this upset certain members of our congregation.
They said, “Divorced people can’t serve on the church
council because they won’t be good role models for our
A sixth example. It
was more than twenty-five years ago that a black man and white woman
got married and did almost everybody have a snit over that. The
pastor, the congregation, the family members, the parents, the
children. This was heresy, for a black and white woman to get
married. It violated all the rules of God’s law.
A seventh example.
You can’t be a male, wear long hair and be a Christian. The
“long hairs,” as they were called then, were tolerated but not
fully accepted into the church. This situation was complicated by
the fact that a favorite picture of Jesus showed him wearing long
hair, and of course, looking very Nordic, and white and thin faced
with a well-proportioned nose. Even having a portrait of the actual
Jesus wearing long hair, “long hairs” violated our customs, the
ways we did things.
An eighth example.
You can’t be too poor and come to worship. It violates our rules,
regulations and rituals not to be clean, well pressed and come to
worship. In the old days, you actually had to wear a suit and tie if
you were an adult male for that was the customary dress. Rules,
example, we can’t use contemporary music. God created the organ
for worship and we are to be lead with this magnificent instrument.
The guitar, drums and bass guitar are not quite instruments of the
devil but coming close.
Tenth example, only
men can be Lutheran pastors and only men can serve on the church
council. Women can teach Sunday School and serve socials but not be
preachers or leaders in the church. We will not accept women interns
because men interns are more effective than women interns. We will
not accept women as youth directors because men are more
authoritative then women as youth directors.
Besides, women can get pregnant, have children, and they
won’t be as effective as men who won’t be so tied down with the
children. By the way, let’s put change tables for babies only in
the women’s bathrooms since the men rarely use them.
The list goes on
and on. We, the church, are forever being confronted with our rules,
regulations and rituals that we have felt are the rules, regulations
and rituals of God. Over time, we often love our rules, regulations
and rituals as much as Jesus Christ. We cling to our religious
customs as much as Jesus and his love for all people. Pastors of
previous generations fought women’s suffrage and the right to vote
based on their Biblical interpretations of women as being the weaker
sex who needed not to talk in the voting booth. This was a highly
charged issue for some pastors two generations ago.
freedom, not only from sin and guilt. Jesus also means freedom from
our interpretations and customs that we think Christianity should
be. In the trilogy of Biblical stories for today, Jesus is forever
freeing us to worship and serve our fellow human beings, in this
time, this place and this culture.
last comment. When I grew up, we sang the hymn, “Holy Holy Holy”
every Sunday morning. I mean, every Sunday morning. I thought that
it was the will of God that we sang it every Sunday. Amen.