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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow


A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 10, 2024 at Holy Communion

Galatians 4:26–5:1

“For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

This morning our Epistle reading needs some context from the Old Testament, but once we puzzle through it, it is a gospel gem. Jesus invites us into freedom: liberation of the slavery of self-reliance, and welcome into God’s generous provision.

Our Epistle reading depends on the story of the birth of Abraham’s second son, Isaac. Abraham and his wife Sarah were old, but God promises them a child (Genesis 17:16). But the years pass and there is no sign of elderly Sarah becoming pregnant. So they decide that, instead of continuing to wait, a baby should come to them “the natural way.” Sarah asks her husband to sleep with her servant Hagar, who will be a surrogate mother for Sarah’s baby (Genesis 16:3).

Afterward, all the relationships broke down: Hagar started treating her mistress with contempt as if, she was Abraham’s “real wife.” And Sarah retaliates by making Hagar’s life hell. And the animosity gets passed onto the next generation. God did in the course of patient time give Sarah a child of her own, named Isaac. But his older brother Ishmael, Hagar’s son, bullied him, carrying forward the conflict between his mother and Sarah. So Sarah banishes Hagar and her son into the wilderness, where they barely escape with their lives.

And that point of the story is where St Paul goes in today’s Epistle. Quoting Genesis, he tells us to “cast out the slave woman and her son” (Galatians 4:30). He tells us a few verses before today’s reading starts that he is making an “allegory” (v 24): he is using Hagar and Sarah as an illustration of his point.

And his point is this: that living “according to the flesh” is like slavery, but living “according to the Spirit” is freedom. Living “according to the flesh” was Abraham’s attitude when he conceived Ishmael in Hagar’s womb: self-reliance, choosing second-best options, compromising relationships to get what you think you need, not waiting for God’s provision. Living “according to the Spirit” is what Abraham should have done: wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise.

St Paul is assuring us that, as Christians, we live by reliance on God’s promises; we do not live in the slavery of making our own way in the world and our own way in our relationship with God. We are like Isaac, the freeborn child whose life is a miracle and a gift—not like Ishmael, the child born into slavery, a child born out of conflict and mistrust.

Our reading is about what we do whenever that tempting thought creeps back into our minds that says, “God won’t provide. You need to make your own way. You can’t get by on faith alone.” St Paul tells us: “cast out the slave woman and her son”—banish that lying thought which enslaves you to relying only on yourself, and get back to the security and freedom of relying on God’s promises. You are God’s beloved child with a sure place in the household, not his illegitimate child or his slave.

In our Gospel reading we get this teaching in an image. Confronted with the problem of feeding five thousand men and their families in the wilderness, the disciples simply can’t do it: the power of self-reliance has run out. But there is a little boy who, instead of giving up, offers Jesus what he has—five small loaves and two fish—not knowing what Jesus will do with it, but trusting that Jesus can provide. And he does: the loaves and the fish multiply as be breaks them, and everyone has enough with leftovers. God provides as we trust him with everything we have.

The freedom St Paul wants for us comes from laying down our own will—all of our desires to make ourselves secure—and living in the security of God’s goodwill toward us.

Last week I came across an image for what it means to give over our will to the will of God. We should become like metal heated in the fire, which remains itself, but glows with the fire’s heat. As we surrender our self-will to the will of God, we remain ourselves, we are enflamed with a perfection that exceeds our natural capacity. God working in and through us is better for us than anything we could achieve for ourselves.

This is life according to the Spirit, rather than life according to the flesh. Perfection consists in giving oneself up, giving oneself over to the perfect will of God and leaving behind reliance on oneself. This is freedom, freedom from the dilemmas and necessities of making your own way—and it is joy, as we receive from God whatever God provides for our spiritual and material life with thankfulness rather than anxiety.

As we will see very soon in the mysteries of Holy Week, this is what Christ did: not his own will, but the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38). Jesus goes to the cross because he surrenders himself entirely to God, trusting that God will be his defender and justifier, even if waiting for the realization of that promise will mean passing through death and hell first. His reward is to enter full communion with God, united to the Father in perfect fulfillment and security, and perfect love for all things. This life is ours as we also totally surrender our wills to the Father.

Practically, surrendering our will means living in patience, waiting on the call and provision of God. Are we anxious about what the next stage of our lives might hold: illness, loss, financial difficulty? Surrender that anxiety to God, giving up any particular desire you might have for your own future, and wait on his provision. Are we directionless, not knowing what gives purpose to our lives? Surrender to God all the attachments which prevent you perceiving where God calls you to be and what to do, and wait in prayer for God’s prompting.

God’s will might include difficulty for us, but in the end it always includes salvation and a peace which passes understanding. Rest in the security of God’s goodwill toward you, join your will to his in love for the world, and never give that up for the slaveries of worldly anxiety.


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