Sunday, June 30, 2019
Love God and our Neighbour as Ourselves

Galatians 5:1,13-25: For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 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. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
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In just a few days, representatives from Anglican Churches across the country will gather in Vancouver for General Synod. While there are many things on the agenda, no doubt two will draw the most interest.

After some 12 years as Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Fred Hiltz is moving to a well deserved retirement. We give thanks to God for this true servant. Five Bishops, including our own Linda Nicholls have allowed their names to stand as a candidate to be the next Primate. General Synod members will cast ballots to decide.

What will draw the most interest, especially from the secular media, will be the latest chapter in our long, protracted and oft bitter discussions about human sexuality. While it is possible that this will be the final chapter of the discussion; because we are voting for the second consecutive Synod on a change to the Marriage Canon to allow same sex marriage; in truth, this debate will most likely linger for many years.

What the church decides will be what the church decides, but there will likely be much more discussion and debate, especially at the international level.

What I am much more passionate about is how we have carried on this debate and the willingness of many to hold a position without the courtesy of taking the time to hear what others have to say from a different point of view. So, indulge me while I use today’s reading from Galatians 5 and show just how difficult it is to understand even a somewhat simple passage without being willing to expend the time and study needed to answer enough questions to give you a couple of dozen more questions so you can continue learning.

Having just heard what has been read, you are all aware that the subject of this passage, in fact the whole subject of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is “circumcision?” You didn’t hear that. I wonder why? Oh because those who crafted the Lectionary didn’t use any verses that talked about that subject, but perhaps used an edited version to make a different point?

What was just read for us was verse 1 of Chapter 5. Then we jump all the way to verse 13, omitting the reference to circumcision. What we then have is a bit of Paul’s letter that tells us about Law and Gospel. That is the mechanism that Paul used to address the fact that leaders in Galatia were demanding that new converts to the “Way” must be circumcised, because that was what was required, under the law. Paul responds that under the freedom won for us by Jesus, a rigid, arbitrary rule cannot be enforced because the Law is summarized by love.

So, what we don’t hear from the Lectionary reading, but is in fact the focus of this letter is a struggle over Law and Gospel around the issue of circumcision. (Don’t tell anybody but our debate over sexuality in the Anglican Church of Canada is a struggle over Law and Gospel around the issue of marriage.)

Well, we know how this discussion turned out – Paul won. But not before, in my mind he got a little heavy handed. I am fully aware that what I am about to say may well just be me trying to make a point, by stretching further than the text allows. However, given that is all about how we understand words and how Scriptures are translated and how from culture to culture, generation to generation it is nearly impossible to have a complete understanding of why who believes what, I think this might be an interesting discussion, just in the mechanics.

After telling the Galatians what they should do, Paul wasn’t shy about telling them what not to do. Maybe even in a bit of a judgmental way? Maybe even in a way to show he was not only in the right, he was in charge?

Below, you will find verses 19-21 of Galatians 5, first from the translation we use weekly – the New Revised Standard Version and then from four more different translations.

Galatians 5:19-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,[a] drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 New International Version (NIV)

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 New King James Version (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: [a]adultery, [b]fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, [c]murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God

Galatians 5:19-21 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

19 People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. 20 They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are 21 envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom

Galatians 5:19-21 The Message (MSG)

19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: 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; allconsuming-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. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

Yes, they all say the same thing, sort of, in a general sense. But if you compare the individual way the individual words and terms are translated, there are some significant differences.

Now, in our current study, those translations might not mean much as they don’t really affect Paul’s argument. However, if five different versions of the Scripture can translate terms in five different ways, with subtle changes of nuance; how can we say for certain exactly what any word in Scripture actually means? Well we can go back to the original Hebrew and Greek. But that is where these bands of scholars began and they don’t seem to be able to find common ground. Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill? Perhaps; but I still think it is an important exercise.

So, as I said, I’ve perhaps taken some liberties here. However, this is exactly the way that discussions have gone back and forth for the best part of three decades in our discussions of human sexuality. No matter how many debate for how long, we can’t seem to come up with any kind of consensus. And maybe there are a couple of reasons for that. We have constantly talked at each other, rather that listening carefully to the other side’s position; first trying to understand the other and then suggesting what we might hold to be the understanding. And many have simply refused to participate, listening only to that which will stoke their own personal preference.

So what do I really think? I think no human being(s) have a corner on truth. None of us have now, or will ever have a complete and final understanding of God and what God wants for us and from us. What I really think is that God created humans and gave them just one command – love one another. Simple and at the same time impossible! But that is the dance that is true humanity. It’s not who is right and who is wrong, who has truth and who has been misled. It is the much more difficult – who can love the most! It is always easy to walk away; to dismiss the other; to start my own club. I don’t think God gives us that permission. I think love calls us to struggle, to be patient, to be in relationship. And that is frustrating, maddening and aggravating to name just a few. But it is what to means to love God and our neighbour as ourselves.

Keith Nethery