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Pentecost 2C Sermon
Galatians 1: 1-12

May 29, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

You know someone is not happy when they skip over the formalities and get right to the point. This is exactly what Paul does as he begins his letter to the churches which he founded in the region of Asia known as, “Galatia.” Oh sure, he goes through the niceties of the salutations found in his other Biblical Epistles – introducing himself and his credentials, and greeting the audience to which he is writing in the name of God – but whereas he usually will share a thanksgiving for the congregation, he skips right into this phrase, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” To say that Paul is angry is an understatement. Indeed, he is so perturbed that he will fling curses at the people who have stirred up the churches in that region – twice he ends sentences with, “…let that one be accursed!” What exactly is this perverted gospel that the people are following as they abandon the true Gospel that Paul proclaimed?

When Paul was in Galatia, he preached a Gospel of mercy and grace to all – including those who were Gentiles, pagans who did not start out as Jewish believers. These were baptized and were fully included into the life of the congregation. It appears that after Paul left Galatia to continue his missionary journey in Troas, Philippi and beyond, other Jewish leaders who believed in Jesus came, claiming that they had the authority from the church in Jerusalem, led by Peter, John, and James among others. They insisted that to be acceptable to God through Christ, the non-Jewish believers must observe the laws of Moses. This not only meant that they should observe all of the Torah including kosher food laws and the many festivals of the year, but that the men and the boys must be circumcised in accord with God’s covenant with Israel.

This is where Paul’s anger is based and fueled. It is an anger which leads him to write some things that maybe he will regret later. If we fast forward to chapter 5, verse 12, Paul, in a fit of rage, suggests it would not be such a bad thing if during one of these circumcisions, the opponent suffered a slip of the knife in an act of self-mutilation. We can hardly blame the Galatians for falling prey to these missionaries. I imagine that their logic followed this order: 1. Jesus was the Jewish messiah. 2. The first disciples were Jews. 3. They used the Jewish scriptures. 4. The Jewish scriptures require uncompromised observance of the law. 5. Therefore, those who want to become followers of Jesus must first become Jews, which means participating in all rites and rituals like circumcision. This line of logic enrages Paul: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you IN THE GRACE OF CHRIST and are turning to a different Gospel.”
As we begin this summer season at Clinton Heights, we do so with a preaching series on the second lessons, all of which come from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Now, I don’t plan on getting angry with anyone, I promise, but I do plan to share some of the context of Paul’s original Epistle and how it still speaks to us Christians today. Hopefully we can imagine ourselves sitting or standing among one of the gatherings in Galatia while our leader reads Paul’s words aloud to all of us. Imagine looking at each other as we consider the honest words that this man uses to accuse those who brought this contrary teaching with them, and those who bought into their logic and have already become “Judaized” so that God will love them.

It is a message that we still battle today. We who already have in our possession the stories of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the miracles and healings that he performed, the acts of those first apostles, still battle the voices today telling us who is “in” and who is “out” of God’s kingdom. We even have the struggles that Peter went through in discerning exactly who is accepted and acceptable before God. You may remember that three times, Peter saw a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven full of foods that were unclean for any Jew to eat. God tells him to eat of it, and Peter refuses until God says that there is no more profane things – all that God has made clean is no longer profane. And lest we think that this only refers to food, God sent the Gentile man named Cornelius to Peter to open his eyes to how the vision really refers to people. God has already made them clean and acceptable, so we are to refrain from placing any unfair restrictions on people, and just love them as God loves them.
The relationship between Christians who were formerly Jewish and those formerly Gentile was probably one of the most significant issues facing the infant church. What issues do the modern church face today, and how can Paul’s anger and encouragement shape our congregation’s life? We Lutherans are firmly grounded in the confidence that through Jesus’ love and grace, our salvation is already taken care of. Now we as individuals and as a church can turn our focus to reaching out in love to our neighbors, no matter who they are. This morning we live in the reality that we still need healing - every third month or so, we pray for God to heal us physically, emotionally and spiritually during our worship service. Each of the other Sundays before we receive the real presence of the body and blood of Christ, we lift prayers for our church, for our world and its leaders, for our earth and all life, for people who suffer, and for those who have died and for their families who mourn. We struggle with the presence of those who were, at one time, excluded from congregations because of their race or economic status, because they are divorced, because of sexual orientation, because of their gender or their age or because of something else in their past. These are the modern day issues that will be heavy on my mind (and I hope yours) as we flesh out this wonderful letter from Paul over the next six weeks. He is passionate about these things – so passionate that he breaks the first rule of writing. He doesn’t lead with his thesis statement, but he buries it in Chapter 5 verse one: “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”
This is good news, and it is worth getting passionate about! As we begin our worship during these summer months, may God bless us to appreciate the freedom that is not only ours through Jesus, but is also freely given to other Christians who may come from different backgrounds than we do. May we figure out what it means that God loves us all equally, even when we cannot understand another person’s lifestyle or background. And may our congregation be strengthened to welcome and to love those who, through the true Gospel of Christ, are already loved and acceptable in God’s sight. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.