This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 6/26/22, at Berkeley Friends Church. The scripture reading for this sermon was: Galatians 5:1,13-25, and Habakkuk 2:12-14. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (The spoken sermon differs from the written text.)
In our reading from Galatians this morning, Paul writes that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” He wrote this to the church at Galatia as part of a warning – because he could see that the church was losing its freedom. It was falling back into bondage to sin, into the selfishness, materialism, and infighting that is normal and expected for those who do not live in the Spirit.
The Galatian church was devolving. It was losing its character, its integrity. Having once been set free by the Spirit of Christ, the men and women in the Galatian church were being hoodwinked into accepting a diminished form of the gospel – a pale religion of rules and regulations rather than a living relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Paul knew this was happening, because he had heard reports of the behavior of the Galatian Christians. Paul knew what kinds of behavior indicated the presence of the Spirit in a community. He also knew which behaviors and attitudes demonstrated a rejection of God. And it’s those characteristics that Paul was seeing in the Galatian church at that time: “Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
The church at Galatia had forgotten who they really were. They were becoming subjects of the surrounding culture, rather than citizens of the kingdom of God.
Paul’s words continue to be relevant to the church today. We struggle to remain in the freedom that Christ has bought for us through his sacrifice on the cross. We still find it easier to submit ourselves to the way of the cultures around us, rather than standing fast in the freedom of the gospel. We often pick the more popular way that destroys us, rather than the narrow road that leads to life.
What does this narrow way look like? Paul gives us a list of what he calls the fruit of the Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” That’s what our lives look like when we are living in the power of God.
Now compare that again to the other list, not the fruit of the Spirit, but the fruit of this world: “Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
Which of these two lists sounds more like the society we live in today? Are we seeing a lot of love, joy, and peace? Is our public discourse characterized by patience, kindness, and generosity? Are our relationships marked by faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Maybe. I see this sometimes.
But I have to admit, when I look around our culture I see a lot more of the bad fruit. Sexual immorality and idolatry rule the airwaves and our popular culture. Strife, anger, jealousy, and factions govern our public policy. And as a society we are drunk – some of us on alcohol, but many more on opiates, Netflix, pornography, workaholism, and many other forms of escapism. Anything we can do to distract ourselves, to numb ourselves, to avoid looking at the reality of our spiritual condition.
How about you: Are you seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life, or their opposite? Are we as a church living in the life and power of Jesus? When we observe the culture around us – our city, our nation – do we see a place where it is becoming easier to live in relationship with God, or harder?
I don’t know about you, but for me, living a life that is immersed in God – manifesting the fruit of the Spirit – it feels like an uphill battle sometimes.
There’s a book I really like – a trilogy, actually – called The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. It’s a work of imaginative science fiction, and at one point in the book a group of travelers from Earth encounter a part of space that turns out to consist of four dimensions. So, if you can imagine, just as we in our reality have three dimensions – the x axis (left/right), the y axis (up/down), and the z axis (forwards/backwards) – this part of space has an additional axis.
There’s really no way to adequately describe this additional dimension. As three-dimensional beings, it’s hard for us to conceptualize. But in the book, the characters describe being able to see inside of objects, and even walk through walls. Thanks to this additional dimension, things that are impossible in 3D reality become possible in 4D reality. Things that were invisible become visible. You might even say that miracles can happen.
OK, so as the crew of this ship are exploring this four-dimensional space, they come into contact with a number of structures that they eventually realize are alien spacecraft. These are four dimensional beings, who come from this four-dimensional space. And while communicating with the aliens, the humans learn that the four-dimensional space is collapsing in on itself.
Once, all this space used to have four dimensions – explain the aliens. It was like a great sea. But an enemy attacked them – other four-dimensional beings. In order to win the war, they collapsed space, destroying the fourth dimension, and became three-dimensional in order to escape. But those who remained four-dimensional had nowhere to run.
The sea of four-dimensional space had constricted into puddles, and now the puddles were drying up. Soon, there would be no more sea, and the four-dimensional fish would drown.
This story reminds me of the words of the prophet Habbakuk, who promised that, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
That’s what it looked like for the early church, in the Book of Acts, didn’t it? The Spirit of God covered them, filled them, enveloped them. The first Christians became like fish who breathed in the waters of God’s glory. Just like the aliens in The Three Body Problem, the early Christians became four-dimensional beings amidst a three-dimensional world.
But, of course, the early church was very different from the aliens. Because while the aliens were gasping in their shrinking puddles, the early church was a part of a growing body of water. The Spirit was expanding, and the church was reaching out to draw other three-dimensional beings into the 4D life of Christ. The dimension of the Spirit was growing, the flood of God’s glory was rising, and life was growing richer, deeper, more real for those who were drawn into this hidden reality.
The early church experienced the reality of Habbakuk’s prophecy. The earth was being filled with the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
But we know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians that this growth of the kingdom – this expansion of four-dimensional space where miracles happen – is not necessarily a one-way street. Paul warned the Galatians that they were at risk of, as he put it, “submitting again to the yoke of slavery” offered by the surrounding culture. The church in Galatia had become a four-dimensional space, where women and men could experience a miraculous life in the Spirit. In their sphere of influence, a whole new dimension of consciousness, life, and action was possible.
But without faithfulness, the waters could dry up.
How is the water feeling to you this morning? Is this space that we inhabit as Berkeley Friends Church four-dimensional? Is our community living in the deep waters, or are we trapped in a shrinking puddle?
Most of us are already spending most of our time in three-dimensional space. We live in a society that has rejected God and fails to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. We spend most of our time in that 3D world, and it is just common sense that this will impact our character as four-dimensional beings in Christ.
The water of daily life is feeling more shallow. Life feels thinner. The miraculous often seems far away. As Marcel Gauchet and many others have observed, our world has become disenchanted. Is it possible for us to remain “enchanted” – or even find ways to re-enchant the world?
Paul holds out a suggestion for how we might deepen, and even expand the four-dimensional space and consciousness that we share as part of Berkeley Friends Church. He says:
…You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the days of the early church, the puddle of God grew into an ocean, and a whole new dimension filled the earth. There were new colors that no one had ever seen, and new flavors no one had ever tasted. The daylight took on a different hue, and anything was possible.
This transformation was brought about by the self-giving love of God. It was carried out into the world by people who were following the example of Jesus. Jesus, who became a slave of all, who submitted himself in every dimension for love, and who for this reason was lifted up by God into the highest dimension.
This is a way forward for us today, as we find ourselves increasingly pushed into receding puddles by a culture that no longer knows nor believes in the fourth dimension: Paul encourages us, in imitation of Jesus, to serve those around us, finding freedom in submission to love. We must become more tightly bound together in love than ever before, so that we can demonstrate and name the fourth dimension to a world that has no words for it, no conception of it, even when they experience it.
The one thing that we must not do is to submit again to the yoke of three-dimensionality.
We are four dimensional beings, who have seen and tasted the glory of God. We know what real love is, and Christ has appointed us to live in that love, to share that love with those around us. It is through self-giving love and service to others that the fourth dimension becomes visible in this world, and that miracles can happen.
We must not submit again to the yoke of three-dimensionality. Grounding ourselves in this community, becoming slaves to one another in love, the puddles can deepen and grow again, expanding into this three-dimensional world and creating depth of purpose, love, and wonder.
So, in the words of Paul, “live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Let the Spirit of Christ, the fourth dimension, be our bedrock reality and guiding force. And then the words of Habbakuk will be fulfilled in generations to come: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”