Author Archives: Tim Sensing

Galatians Sermon Series # 8

What Really Counts

Galatians 6:11-18

Focus: All that counts is God’s new creation.

Function: To affirm the church to participate in the cross of Christ.

Plotline: If I am honest with myself, I like to boast. Paul likes to boast too. For Paul there is a canon, a rule about boasting. And that is Paul’s boast. His boasting is in the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” So we too boast because of the cross.

Canon. Canon is a good word. Most of us brought our Bible, or use one in the pew racks, on our phones, and have several copies at home. The Bible is what we refer to as our canon. The Bible functions for us as our rule of faith. We believe and we confess that Scripture functions for us as the measuring rod of our faith. I believe the Bible is the collected witness of God’s people Israel and God’s people the first Christians. I believe this testimony provides us with a revelation of the wisdom of the community that guides us today. Canon is a good word in that sense and I affirm its use. But that is not how Paul is using the word in our text today.

6:11 See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but the only thing that counts is a new creation! 16 As for those who will follow this rule/canon—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

If I am honest with myself, I like to boast. Now boast is a negative word so I use other words. I can often get away with boasting by calling it bragging. But even then I have to be careful of the context. For example, bragging on my kids is okay. Here is a short list.

  1. What do people think of me? How popular am I? This is much older than how many “likes” you get on Facebook or how many followers you have on Twitter. Prestige, respect, Doctor Sensing (and in my case I have two of those, so, Doctor Doctor Sensing). And because I don’t want to seem pompous, I casually drop the line into conversation rather than announce it from the pulpit. I live in the competitive world of higher education and tenure portfolios where my boasting is contained in by CV and my portfolio. I will be the chair of the Tenure and Promotion Committee next year. To receive what is due, all the applications will be filled with boasting and evidence of pride.
  2. Your world might be different than mine so the list for your boasting might be different.
    1. Financial assets?
    2. Legacy?
    3. Physical Appearance
    4. Accomplishments…trophies, medals, certifications.
    5. Even in the church, folks measure their faith by certain standards. And we boast about our ministries and service. And when we say, “What Counts?” at church, we often do just that, count. We count attendance and we count contributions. I’m the preacher or elder or ministry leader or Bible School Teacher. Titles we take pride in. And like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand…splat! You see, boasting, and we know this, is a foolish game.
    6. Or here, pushing circumcision on Gentile converts in Galatia has a self-serving motive to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (6:12-13).
    7. This is but a short list. You know the list is much longer.
    8. I like to boast, and yes, like the Galatians, my list is much longer.

Paul likes to boast too. For Paul there is a canon, a rule about boasting.1 What does Paul mean when he says, “And whoever conforms to this canon, peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God”? Gal 6:16. What for Paul is the rule, the canon that Paul advocates we follow and that will bring upon us the blessing of peace and mercy? Or to frame it another way, “What counts?” When the rubber meets the road? When the chips are down? When you are in a rock and hard place? When you are holding on by thread for dear life, what really counts? The bottom line, is there anything worthy of our boasting? Is there a rule of thumb I can follow about boasting? Paul says, “Yes!” When you clear out all the trees and the underbrush, there remains this truth that counts.

  1. Paul has two answers in Galatians.
    1. We have already talked about one, 5:6 The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
    2. And the second is here in 6:15, The only thing that counts is a new creation. Love and a new creation converge at the cross.
  2. Paul says by way of contrast, I am not avoiding the cross in order to escape persecution for I bear “the marks of Christ in my body” (6:17).
    1. Paul holds up the cross as the eschatological event, the turning point of the ages (6:14-15). All history prior has come to this one moment in time, the cross. All history and future looks back to this one moment in time, the cross. The cross is how Christians mark time. àß You start at creation and time rolls down the road through the age of the Patriarchs, Moses and the Law, the Judges and Kings until you come to God’s great intervention. God sent his Son, the incarnation, the Advent of the ages. Jesus set us an example and he taught us about God. Jesus died on a cross, raised the third day, and ascended on high. And the Christ Event, Incarnation to Ascension, is throughout Christian doctrine and in Paul especially wrapped up in that one word, “cross.” And all time from Creation to the Christ Event looks to that central moment in time when Jesus died on the cross. After Jesus ascended, he sat at the right hand of God and reigns over his kingdom until he comes again, the Second Advent. And in between his ascension and his Second Advent, we find ourselves in 2019 in Abilene Texas. And all history and into our future actually looks back to the cross as the central point of how we count time. Before the cross, you look forward. After the cross, you look back. For what counts is the cross.
  3. And that is Paul’s boast. His boasting is in the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (6:14). So, where is your boast?
    1. Domician and last Thursday’s lecture and the work with IRC. And this counts.
    2. Sam’s Place. This counts.
    3. Deaf Ministry. This counts.
    4. And your list is longer.
  4. Why is this your boast?
    1. Because the Gal 6 boasting is exemplified when Paul expounds upon this theme in 2 Cor. Paul boasts and even glories in the people, the church. But why?
    2. Because these examples represent new creation realities that emerge by way of the cross.
    3. Because these examples represent faith expressing itself through love.
    4. Therefore we boast in the cross of Christ. And our boasting becomes worship and acclamation of Christ crucified. To give true worship by focusing on the cross we become conformed to him and become servants of one another in love. And through the cross by the way of love empowered by the Spirit, we become new creation communities. What counts is love expressing itself through faith. What counts is a new creation. And they count because of the cross of Christ.
    5. Boasting—The message of the cross destroys all pride, for through the cross the whole world has been crucified. If we are tempted to boast in our wealth or intelligence or accomplishments, we are pursuing a path that leads nowhere. Splat falls the house! We might as well boast in our circumcision for all that is worth. If we boast in our doctrinal, moral, or religious superiority, then we fall into the trap of the Galatians. The cross destroys all such boasting and focuses our eyes upon Jesus, who gave himself up for us. And this is why we boast in the church as an expression of the new creation.

So we too boast because of the cross of Christ. By way of the cross we participate three deaths:

  1. 2:20 Death of self. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.
  2. 5:24 Death to the flesh. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
  3. 6:14 Death to the world. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Therefore, Paul’s kanon, the “rule” of faith that we conform ourselves to, is the cross that brings about a new creation within us. And that is all that counts. The bottom line, that is all that counts! Amen.

[1] Chris Hutson, “The Canon of the Cross,” Leaven.

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Galatians Sermon Series # 7

New Creation Communities

Galatians 6:1-10

Focus:  As a new creation community, the church demonstrates the gospel of love.

Function:  To encourage the congregation to fulfill the law of love for the sake of others.

Plotline: Paul can be confusing at times. While not confusing exhortations with the gospel, these exhortations are necessary for a community to live in harmony. Through mutual responsibility within the community, we fulfill “the law of Christ.” Because it is through the cross of Christ that we are a new creation.

6 My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Paul can be confusing at times. I’ve been echoing Paul’s words about there is nothing one can add to the gospel to make it better, more inclusive, or more effective. Not circumcision, special days, or food laws. Even all the wonderful benefits of the Law to provide moral guidance can add to your salvation. While it has taken churches awhile to catch up with Paul, we have for the most part done that here. And often every generation must renew its commitment to Paul’s teachings on these matters.

Now Paul gives us a list of exhortations, things to do. What’s Up With That? Paul can be confusing at times. On the one hand, you cannot do anything to add to your salvation; and now on the other hand, here are your responsibilities you will be judged by.

While not confusing exhortations with the gospel, these exhortations are necessary for a community to live in harmony. Through mutual responsibility within the community, we fulfill “the law of Christ.

Paul has told them that the Law is fulfilled by the love command and they will not fulfill the desires of the flesh if they keep step with the Spirit. However, Paul did not give them any practical advice about how to live out these abstract ideas. “What does it mean to love my neighbor in the concrete circumstances of life?” “How does one walk in the Spirit?” Here Paul gives moral advice that is precise, concrete, and practical.

In a back-and-forth pattern, Paul gives both individual and communal exhortations. Do any of these have any currency in 2021?

  • Through Individual Responsibility—
    • 1b— Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.
    • 3-5— For all must carry their own loads.
    • 7-8— Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. Paul calls us to live responsibly because you are still under God’s judgment in the present.
  • Through Communal Responsibility—
    • 1a— My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.
    • 2— Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
    • 6— Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
    • 9-10— So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
  • The Galatians had to work all this out in their context, in the midst of this rift between Jewish and Gentile Christians. … We have to work it out in our context, in ways that demonstrate the Spirit of God living in us, exhibited with love.
  • (Imagine ways with the list above. What would it look like here if….?)

Because it is through the cross of Christ that we are a new creation. Once we were not a people, but now we are the people of God. And as a new creation community, we are cross bearers for the sake of others.

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Galatians Sermon Series # 6

A Single Command

Galatians 5:1,13-15

Focus: God’s freedom expresses itself through us in love.

Function: To exhort the church to be slaves to one another.

Plotline: Freedom is a word tossed about a lot these days and means different things to different folks. So, what is the nature of Christian freedom? Let me repeat, Paul says Freedom is not to be used to satisfy our flesh. Furthermore, Freedom is not to be used to exploit or take advantage of others. Therefore, Freedom is to be used to serve one another in Love.

Freedom is a word tossed about a lot these days and means different things to different folks. Liberty fundamentally means something different to a Libertarian than it does to a Socialist. Often these days the freedom defined by “individual rights” and “the rights of others” is oddly polarizing. Both groups hold the words “freedom” and “liberty” in the highest esteem. We tout freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms, but we argue about the specifics. We see freedom as an inalienable right not just for the individual but also for the “least of these” among us. America not only stands for liberty at home, but also defends human rights internationally. Yet we argue about freedom and the extent we are free to exercise it. Individual freedom and the rights of the autonomous self to make decisions often conflict with the larger human community. That is at the heart of the FBI’s desire to access your iPhone and the battles over assault rifles, handguns, and the NRA. You are taxed in order to support local law enforcement. That tax is a restriction on your freedom that we as a democratic society support. Our laws are communally discerned restrictions on our freedom. Overwhelming majorities on both sides of the aisle vote for laws that restrict our freedoms. And ironically, the flip side to the whole debate about freedom is that we also take freedom for granted. Liberty—one of the most prized virtues of a democratic society. And while debatable, freedom is primarily defined by how we think of the individual and the autonomous self.

Last month we begin with Gal 1:3-4 as Paul’s definition of the gospel.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.

So What is the Nature of Christian Freedom?

What does Paul say?

  1. First, liberty is not legalism.

5 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

  • A yoke of slavery of rules and regulations that some want to add to the gospel. And I have talked about that in previous weeks.
  1. But also, second, liberty is not license. A yoke of slavery to the flesh.

For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. …13 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. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

So, how does liberty not legalism and liberty not license connect in Paul’s thought? If someone does not need to adopt a Jewish way of life and all the Law provides in order to belong to the Christian community, then how in the world can one live a moral life? Isn’t the only way to live a moral life is by following rules?

Let me repeat, Paul says Freedom is not to be used to satisfy our flesh (Gal 5:13a).

  • Liberty is not a license to sin. Freedom should not be an unrestrained opportunity to engage in sin. The Gospel alone provides true deliverance from sin’s power. The first responsibility of freedom is to say “NO” to the desires of our old sinful self.
  • Galatians does not use “forgiveness” as its term to talk about God’s remedy for sin. I know, I know, forgiveness is a key term in other texts. All I’m saying is that the word is not found in Galatians. Paul, here in this text, talks about righteousness in terms of freedom. It is Christ’s victory that has set us free.
  • Desires of the flesh are listed in 5:19-21. “Fornication, impurity licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
  • Just in case your way of participating in sin does not make the list, your excellent ways of avoiding God are covered when he says, “and things like these.” And if your list is less spectacular than those that made Paul’s list, do not be deceived, they are no less deadly. And it is an impossible request to “not gratify the desires of the flesh” on your own And apart from the Holy Spirit, you cannot.
Missionaries Paul
Law—not license Liberty—not license
Law was needed for moral guidance Spirit is needed for moral guidance/development
Law enhances the power of the flesh Spirit enhances the virtuous life—fruit that is an evident expression of the life of God.
  • If you walk by the Spirit (5:6), are led by the Spirit (5:18), live by the Spirit, and are in step with the Spirit (5:25), there is no need for you to do the works of the Law, to adopt Jewish practices, because the Spirit will produce its fruit in you, thereby fulfilling the law. It is not automatic but will require you to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (5:24).

Furthermore, Freedom is not to be used to exploit or take advantage of others (Gal 5:15).

  • Paul gives a concrete example. He speaks of “Biting” and “devouring” one another. He speaks of destructive talk and destructive actions.
  • The word “consume” pictures two snakes who fought over a hot-dog that the zookeeper placed in their pen. They both began to devour the meat, one on either end. When the two meet at the middle, the one with the larger mouth kept on going and consumed the other! People are often like these snakes, consuming one another with unkind words when they disagree on an issue.
  • This congregation has had a history of people being bitten and devoured by others. This fellowship should be the place of refuge, yet at times our own “friendly fire” is more damaging than anything the world throws at us. We worry more about who is right or who hurt who first than we do about making things right no matter the cost. It doesn’t matter who is right or who hurt who first or who sin the most, all that matters is making things right.
  • As the old campfire song says, “Guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.” To do so, often I have to be willing to allow my own ego to be bruised and crushed. To do so I must forego my own rights, pride, and autonomous self. Christianity is not a democracy. It is a theocracy. Jesus sits on the throne. Compared to the cross, that cost is insignificant. Compared to the unity we can share in Christ, that cost is negligible.

Therefore, Freedom is to be used to serve one another in Love (Gal 5:13b-14).

  • Keeping in step with the Spirit can be wrapped up for Paul in a single command. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Those who are no longer under the law are led by the Spirit that produces its fruit in their lives (5:22) so that their faith expresses itself in love (5:6). Even though believers are not under the law, they fulfill the law through the love commandment (5:14).
  • The Gospel delivers us to freedom and manifests itself in our community. It is demonstrated in our loving service, not competitive striving (5:26). We live in an age obsessed with personal freedom. We want to protect our rights. In such an age, it is far too easy to hear Paul’s proclamation of freedom as a license for the indulgence of individual desires and interests. The freedom of which Paul speaks is not autonomy, a word that means “self-law” or “independent moral agent”. Freedom in Christ is a freedom that says, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (2:20). It is freedom for life together in community under God in order to serve one another in love. Especially a love that is expressed in the Fruit of the Spirit.

So, what are some practical ways my freedom makes a difference?

  • The cosmic perspective of 1:4 and 6:15 … free from the present evil age and I live into a new creation. The standards of the world around me are not restricting me. Our deep attachment to corrupt systems of measurement (education, attractiveness, 401k, etc.…), our distorted quest for identity, our malformed relationships with men and women, Christians and Muslims, Whites with other ethnicities, etc.… all of these are more than an attitude adjustment. They are symptoms of the persistence of the present evil age with which the gospel collides. No social agenda or political correctness will solve the situation, and no pedagogical strategy will suffice, because the power of evil is such that is can corrupt even the purest of motives and the sternest of resolves.
  • Paul proclaimed the good news that the release that cannot be secured by human effort has come through the action of God in Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to one another.
  • Similar to the ropes and harness strapped to my body as I repel over a cliff face. Without the harness, I would fall to my death. The restriction of the harness gives me the freedom to experience rappelling and provides me a path forward to continue down the trail.
  • The harness of the gospel is love. Listen to the text again.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. …13 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. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The illusion of freedom is to do what I want. The reality of God’s freedom is entering into the realm of God’s love that transforms me.

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Galatian Sermon Series # 5

Christ Formed in You

Galatians 4:8-20

Focus: Christ in us generates a blessed way of being in the world.

Function: To affirm the forming of Christ within us that is expressed by a flourishing life.

Plotline: The letter to the Galatians is part of an ongoing story of Paul’s relationship with these churches: a relationship that began full of joy and goodwill; as blessed people. But all that changed. The blessing was gone. They no longer felt goodwill towards Paul. So Paul asked them, “What happened to your blessed way of being?” Paul thought the birth process would have to start over until they are formed in Christ. But that is not what he says. “Till Christ is formed in your midst.” So how does that does that flourishing blessed life formed in us play itself out? We will wait till next week to see Christ formed in us as freedom and love. For this week, let’s look at virtue.

 

A good friend at Purdue nicknamed me, “stone-faced.” It wasn’t meant to be a compliment. If you have not noticed, I do not carry many of my emotions on my face. I once told the campers at Carolina Bible Camp that if they caught me smiling, they could make me run around the mess hall after lunch. However, the Galatians were not so much having stone faces as they were developing stone hearts. READ TEXT

4:12 Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong. 13 You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; 14 though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What has become of the goodwill/blessedness you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them. 18 It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Stone-Faces in Galatia

  1. The letter to the Galatians is part of an ongoing story of Paul’s relationship with these churches: a relationship that began full of joy and goodwill; as blessed people.
  • When Paul had first visited them they were willing to care for him even though he came beaten and worn. Much speculation has gone forth as to his condition. Some have guessed that he contracted Malaria in the lowlands of Pamphylia, and had now fled to higher altitudes. Others surmise his problem to have been epilepsy. And of course, a common assumption has been that he had an eye disease. V. 15 says they would have torn out their eyes for Paul and given them to him. They loved him so much they would have given him their right arm, plucked out their eyes for him. I believe his condition was due to being beaten, severely persecuted, so as he says, “For I bear the marks of Jesus” (6:17). Someone else had beaten him, but they received him and subsequently the gospel with all graciousness, goodwill, and blessing.
  • And Paul reciprocated by him becoming like them. He lived like a Gentile among them. He even ate with them opposing those who would not share table with them. He set them an example of how one behaves when you are with folks who are different. The experience of having someone into your house and on your turf is quite different when you are in their house and on their turf.
  • Whatever his condition though, the point is that they were blessed at the teaching of the good news of Jesus Christ that they accepted Paul in spite of his condition, and were willing to aid him. They treated him like he was an angel from heaven. Even as they would accept Jesus (v.14).
  1. But all that changed. The blessing was gone. They no longer felt goodwill towards Paul. So Paul asked them, “What happened to your blessed way of being and the goodwill you had for me?” Missionaries had come teaching rules about circumcision, special days, and dietary laws thus robbing them of their joy. Robbing them of the blessedness of the Spirit in their lives.
  • Now in Galatians 4, Paul turns from a heavy theological argument to a personal appeal. He asks them to recall an earlier time when they were united in Christ and free because of the gospel message they heard and received. So he appeals to them, “become as I am.” His classic appeal to imitate him so that we all together can live out the cruciformed life. Paul’s pastoral ministry is to call communities to be transformed into the image of Jesus (James Thompson, Pastoral Ministry according to Paul).
  • When these Galatians first came to know the Lord, they were thrilled about life in the Spirit. But the missionaries had infiltrated their midst offering them a package deal with grace+ that returned them to slavery thus undoing his work among them. Their freedom, their joy, and perhaps worst of all their relationships were lost. And Paul grieved over that loss. And the lost blessedness of life in Christ and their goodwill towards Paul.
  • And he feared that their formation would be halted. Paul thought the birth process would have to start over again. He is troubled that Christ who was conceived in them has the potential of being aborted in them.
  • Paul longed for the process of maturation would be complete “Till Christ is formed in your midst.” Christ (who is the seed of Gal 3:16, 29) is conceived and birthed in the life and ministry of the church for the sake of the world.
  1. So how does that does that flourishing blessed life formed in us play itself out? We will wait till next week to see Christ formed in us as freedom and love. For this week, let’s look at virtues.
  • A formed person will look like the fruit of the Spirit. The virtues of living a good life.
  • Conversely, an unformed person will look like the acts of the flesh. The vices that characterized a person who does not know freedom and love (explored more next week in Galatians 5).
  • The Fruit of the Spirit flourishes from the Spirit forming Christ in us; a temperament, a disposition of goodwill and blessing, a frame of mind that comes by our keeping in step while on our journey by the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit. And then Christ will be formed in your midst.
  • I was asked by a church to be part of the Wednesday night Bible series on the Fruit of the Spirit; a hallmark list of virtues. I was assigned the virtue of “Joy.” Those folks who know me best would all chuckle thinking of me as an expert on joy. How is stone-face going to talk about joy? I did what lots of preachers do; I did not do my assignment. Instead I went to this text in Gal 4 because of the NIV translation, “What has happened to your joy.” Instead of a topical sermon on joy, I wanted to keep the individual fruit of joy in its larger context.
    • Just like we refer to “boots on the ground” to refer to the whole army, and “let’s count how many head are in the barn” to refer to the whole cattle heard, so let’s allow joy to stand for all the fruit, joy as a symbol for the whole fruit bowl.
  • The fruit of the Spirit is Joy. Be joyful. Be joyful right now. 1, 2, 3 … On Cue! On Demand! By Command! Be Spontaneous! NO! Joy cannot be summoned forth on command. Joy is not a mood that needs enhancement with St. John’s Wart; Joy is not some out-of-body experience or ecstasy; not a personality trait that comes from our genetic make up; not something that changes with the wind, weather, the situations of the day, or the humor of the company you keep.
  • Joy expressed by a new father with a newborn like when Leslie, our newborn daughter, crying was first put in my arms; friends at a picnic playing volleyball; a church at Graham’s & Leslie’s baptism. I have experienced these moments of joy, and so have you.
  • This fruit as I experience it: My relationship with Laura as my best friend; this joy in my children Leslie and Graham; this fruit in completing tasks; being alone; preaching. And as I experience this fruit, it might be more subdued—quiet. But that is thinking of this fruit as an individual experience—more or less just a way of thinking about our feelings. But I believe that the way Christ is formed in me is how the fruit of the Spirit flourishes within me as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
  • But also, here is the mystery, holding a hand of a dying friend. Surely the Lord is in this place too. Or when my family gathered around my father’s body just minutes after his passing early one Sunday morning this past summer and we took communion together. As Paul so often reminds us, joy comes forth in the midst of suffering and in the turmoil of persecution. Often Joy is found in the context of loss, pain, and suffering. Joy that is formed in us by the Spirit’s activity in our lives is due to the gospel of the cross. Just as Jesus for the sake of the joy set before him endured the cross (Heb 12:3).
  • This fruit transcends our context and overcomes our circumstances. This fruit is found in discovery, a glimpse into eternity; beholding the spiritual perspective; where the broken is made whole; where we live into God’s new world, a new way of being. This fruit is found along our journey where we encounter the holy, behold his glory, and meet God. Surely the Lord is in this place.
  • Paul would talk about this differently than I’ve been doing—communally. How is this fruit, these virtues, experienced or expressed by the community? The ethos of the church here: For example, your gift to world missions. Your desire to bless those outside at your own loss. It is a gift that comes from the gospel and generates goodwill here. And the blessed life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control flourishes because Christ is formed in you and expressed through you.
  • The community will organically produce virtues formed by the Spirit as long as the Spirit guides and shapes us. And the guidance of the Spirit will have a recognizable character. By the Spirit of God you have been given freedom to walk in God’s way, to keep in step with God’s character. So the Joy that we experience, we experience together as the Spirit’s fruit in our lives and in our relationships. As Christ is formed in you, blessedness flourishes.

While Paul mourns what is lost by the Galatians, let us all aspire to express the fullness of Christ formed in us.

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Galatians Sermon Series # 4

Living Out Your Baptism

Galatians (3:1-25) 3:26-4:7

Year C, Proper 7

Focus: God, in Jesus, reconciles all people.

Function: To inspire us to welcome others as Jesus welcomes us.

Plotline: All people seem to have an inherent desire to differentiate themselves from others. Our tendency to divide and distinguish ourselves has deep roots. So God intervenes with a strong hand of guidance. Finally, in Jesus, God reconciles us all. Therefore, we are now free to embrace our oneness by embracing one another.

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. 4 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

She came to me after the sermon a few weeks back saying, “You don’t always know what the little ones hear. They are listening. After your comment about white church buildings, my grandson said, ‘Grandma, your house is white.’ They are listening. And it reminds me that one of the criticisms you can level in the real estate market is, “All these houses are cookie cutter.” We do not want something that looks just like what everyone else owns. We want something with “character”.

  1. All people seem to have an inherent desire to differentiate themselves from others. We enjoy our independence and exert our autonomy at every turn. We resist efforts that try to treat us as if we are all the same. Our two-year-old grandsons are already differentiating themselves from their parents. Racial, Economic, Gender, Education, Religious, Political, etc.… We separate ourselves. Often, our separations end in prejudice, suspicion, hate, envy, and rivalry. It even happens at church—People want to separate themselves from others.
  2. Our tendency to divide and distinguish ourselves has deep roots. Did it first begin in the Garden? One of the primary consequences of the events in the Garden is that sin broke relationship between men and women. No longer is there a notion that we are both created in God’s image–male and female. The realities of a patriarchal system where men have rule over women emerged from the story of fallen humanity. Furthermore, the Table of Nations in Genesis 5 and 10 notes specifically how this group differs from that group, one nation lives here; another there. And today we still separate ourselves into enclaves, pockets, and ghettos. While our God of heaven and earth is a God of diversity, our God is not a God of division. Christians celebrate diversity. Christians fall prey to division.
  3. So God intervenes with a strong hand of guidance. God called Abraham out from the nations in order to call a people who would be wholly devoted to being “Holy as I am Holy.” And through Moses, God liberates the people from Egyptian bondage so that they can be free to serve with their whole hearts. And the Law was given to provide the structures and boundaries for life and community. Paul speaks about the Law. It served as a disciplinarian, schoolmaster, or custodian to protect and guide God’s people into their promised future.
    1. The very Torah intended to free so that God’s people would be a light to the Gentiles, often functioned just the opposite. So God intervenes again. It was never meant to hinder us but was a promise of God’s grace. Those of us who are in Christ have graduated from the law’s training. We now live as children of promise.
  4. Finally, in Jesus, God reconciles us all. [Read Text].
    1. Our union comes from our identity in Christ in baptism. We put on Christ in baptism. Our life before has now ended and a new life has begun. When we present our passports at the door, there are no additional membership requirements, no forms to fill out, none of the other societal requirements of standing or identity. It is not the gospel bundled together with something else. Our union comes from our identity with Christ in baptism.
    2. The “not yet”/“already” tension of our reconciliation is apparent. We are already reconciled together as one people, the church. Yet, the evidence against that reconciliation is all around us. We are “not yet” a united people.
    3. I use to think this was a good text to talk about how we are all one in the future, in terms of salvation. I kept the theoretical and the practice separate. I kept the theological and the ethical separate.
    4. I now think my former way of thinking was just mental gymnastics to avoid making hard decisions. Galatians is about the ethical (foods, circumcision, and holidays); about the separation of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul roots our identity in Christ and therefore rejects all kinds of ethnic and religious identity politics.
    5. Throughout history to this very day there are movements within churches that seek to define our identity based on race, on national origin, on class, on gender, and on many other social practices. But Paul says, we are all one in Christ through baptism. As God intended in creation, being created in the image of God; so now we are recreated in Christ. Differences and hierarchies and discriminations all resulted after creation because of sin. Differences and hierarchies and differentiations are washed away because we all are now clothed in the righteousness of Christ. In Jesus, God reconciles us all.
  5. We are therefore now free to embrace our oneness by embracing one another.
    1. Identifiers: Marines; Alumnus of a school. Examples of folk who know their identities. We are Christians.
    2. What does it mean to live out our baptisms? We live into God’s new creation.
    3. Images:
    4. If we find a wild lion in our midst, suddenly we find a common ally. We become united.
    5. Photo on the Internet of the handicap child who is separated from the class in the school picture. The backlash has caused the school to retake the photo. But somewhere the teacher failed to fulfill his duties of treating all people fairly. He failed to fashion and protect the community of the classroom.
    6. The purpose of school uniforms …
    7. Richard Hays notes (NIB, pg. 348), “Therefore, as we reflect on Galatians as Scripture, we must ask ourselves at what points we are in danger of superimposing our religious culture—even the cultures of particular church traditions—on communities that are responding to the gospel in fresh, indigenous ways under the guidance of the Spirit. This can happen not only when Christian missionaries encounter non-Western cultures, … It can happen when other Christians object to musical and artistic forms of worship among younger Christians. It is most certainly happens in every case where ethnic pride or nationalism co-opts the gospel. After reading Galatians carefully we will find ourselves prompted to scrutinize our churches to see where we may be unintentionally nullifying the grace of God through explicit or implicit membership requirements unrelated to the heart of the gospel.”

Paul holds forth the vision of a community of faith in which all are one in Christ. Those who are justified are incorporated into Christ who, like a garment, envelops us. Given the promised Spirit, we receive the life that only God can give. And this is more than the justification of us as individuals; righteousness leads to the creation of us as a people of God. All are children of God.

What a radical statement! This is not merely a matter of an isolated slogan; it is the central theme of the letter as a whole. Jews and Gentiles are no longer divided, because Christ’s death has brought us together. All are children of God.

We are therefore now free to embrace our oneness by embracing one another. Read 3:25-29. – We are now all children of God, co-heirs with Christ

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Galatians Sermon Series # 3

The Cruciformed Life

Galatians (2:15-21) 2:19-21

Year C, Proper 6

 Focus: God calls disciples to live cruciformed lives.

Function: To exhort the congregation to live cruciform lives.

Plotline: Hallmark texts exemplify the heart of the gospel. Being a hallmark text requires heavy unpacking. And once unpacked, such texts call us towards God’s eternal purposes.

  1. I do not know your favorite text in Galatians. Which text is placed on the refrigerator magnet? Some texts are heralded as a hallmark text; a text with the stamp of quality embossed on it. The text I was asked to memorize in college was Gal 2:19-20. Hallmark texts exemplify the heart of the gospel. And as we move towards this grand summary of Paul’s theology, let’s summarize a bit.
    1. The gospel is complete; there are no supplements.
    2. Who sets things right?
      1. God! If you fail to grasp that it is God who justifies, makes us righteous, and includes us into the people of God, then it is an easy step to start enforcing boundaries of who is in and who is out. We begin to monitor their passports at the gate. God’s seal of approval is no longer enough.
      2. The gospel is not an option or a lifestyle or a decision; it is the whole of life.

2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faithfulness of Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

  1. Being a hallmark text requires heavy unpacking. Some texts are so dense with the gospel of God that a casual reading does not cut it. Let’s pause here and do some deeper Bible study. I do not have some funny story or a heart-warming illustration. Let’s just talk about the text for a moment. Not every verse …
    1. 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through the faith of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ. (Jesus’s faithful obedience; the faithfulness of Jesus). The KJV got this translation right. And that is the same point made in Hebrews 10:9, Jesus came to earth for the expressed purpose of doing the will of God.
    2. God accomplishes justification through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (16a). We do put our faith, our trust in Jesus (16b), but Paul’s emphasis is that the story of Jesus Christ is about the one “who gave himself to deliver us from the present evil age” (1:4). This is the gospel. And you cannot qualify it or add to it.
    3. Is there one central and uniting theme throughout Paul’s writings? Yes, Cruciformity. Paul says, “I preach nothing but Christ and him ___________.” Yet nowhere does Paul re-tell the story. But the story is on every page. Student assignment I give in my Preaching Paul Students are to take their assigned portions of Paul and note every time Paul either alludes to or explicitly references the cross. The final count always impresses on them how much Paul relies on the narratival sub-structure of the cross.
    4. Cruciformity in Gal emphasizes that it is both a cross-shaped way of being in the world and a resurrection-shaped way of being in the world.
  2. And once unpacked, such texts call us towards God’s eternal purposes. Let’s grapple a bit with the implications of this text.
    1. ppt Slide from Desiring the Kingdom: Marketplace (malls/online shopping), Education, Sports, Wall Street, Entertainment, Nationalism, Politics … and social media, happiness, escapes of all sorts.
    2. I check a news page everyday on the web. I am amused at how much celebrity gossip is present. The question? Why am I checking the page everyday…national news, sports, stocks. I too have my desires.
    3. I am crucified to these idols, the life I live in this world I live by the faith of the one who gave himself for me. That life should not just be in my confession but also in my behaviors.
    4. What about here at church?
      1. Paul’s practice for conflict resolution … And if you listen closely, this hallmark text solves all your divisive problems. Not all your problems, for living a crucified life might just create some problems.
      2. Can I model losing? Even teaching a Bible class, do I have to have my way? Do I have to have the last word? Do you have to please me?
      3. Change Agents? Let’s change this church according to my vision of community. It’s Idolatry. Creating the church into my own image.
      4. Virtues and Doctrines—as a whole. What you believe and how you live are integrated. What you know transforms how you behave. The way you see God and the way you see yourself in the world are one and the same.
      5. Examples of doctrinal issues…I cannot even pick an example without it causing someone some heartburn. I can use someone else’s examples e.g., one cup congregations. But I cannot choose examples that are local. You want to hear a hard word from the pulpit, “Until you give up your examples, you have yet to understand the implications of the gospel.” And then the life we live (virtues & doctrine) “we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
      6. I died to the law, Paul says. Similar to Rom 7:1ff – I died. The law did not die. No, Paul says in Rom 7 that the law is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual. The culprit in Rom 7 is not the law. The culprit is sin in me. The law did not die. Paul says, “I died to the law.” I died and that marriage relationship is now over. And as a dead person, I am now free from that covenant. I can now marry again. I am now free. So Paul says, 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

And that’s the call of the gospel church.

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Galatians Sermon Series # 2

Church Potluck Catastrophes

Galatians (1:11-2:10) 2:11-21

Focus: The gospel radically changes all social relationships.

Function: To challenge the congregation to change their social relationships.

Plotline: Let’s talk about eating in some socially uncomfortable places. Yet we believe the nature of the gospel radically changes all our social relationships. So, why do we still let our prejudices stop us from embracing our brothers and sisters in full fellowship? The gospel calls us to live together.

Let’s talk about eating in some socially uncomfortable places.

  • Laura and I eat at restaurants all over town these days. And the old adage is true, “You probably best not think about how the food is prepared.” I once observed a young man who so diligently washed his hands only to pull the disposable gloves out of his back pocket. The story this week about a local restaurant worker who ingested Meth in the food that was in the break room creates concern about what is in your food. And when the server comes to your table with teeth that are obviously Meth affected, the odor in the uniform that portrays a different standard of cleanliness, all these feelings start pressing in.
  • It happens at people’s homes too. I’ve been in homes where a mouse runs across the couch and later across Laura’s foot in the dining room. I’ve been in a home where the smell of urine was entrenched. I’ve been in homes when the cigarette smoke coming out of the kitchen is so thick that you wonder if the food is burning.
  • And it happens at church potlucks. Everyone knows not to eat her pie. And you wonder, being last in line, about the casserole no one will eat.
  • And in today’s text, Paul tells the story of a church potluck. Paul describes this not just as a socially uncomfortable place, but a church potluck that opposed the gospel. It was a bit more sticky than just uneaten pie.

The Nature of the Gospel (1:11-12): We believe the nature of the gospel radically changes all our social relationships. Paul tells four stories of how he did not receive the gospel from human origin but through the revelation of Jesus.

  1. The Gospel radically changed Paul when God revealed the Son to him on the Damascus road. (1:13-17).
  2. The Gospel was confirmed three years after Paul’s conversion (1:18-24).
  3. James, Peter, and John confirmed the Gospel 14 years later in Jerusalem when he defended the truth of the gospel (2:1-10).
  4. The Gospel was confirmed in Paul’s confrontation with Peter and others over their anti-social behavior when they withdrew from table fellowship with gentile believers (2:11-21). The story is about a potluck catastrophe.

Let’s take talk about story # 4 in a bit more detail.

Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch

2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; 12 for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. 13 And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

This is the story of the church potluck. Paul describes this not just as a socially uncomfortable place, but a church potluck that opposed the gospel.

So what was Peter reacting to? This is the same Peter who witnessed the blanket coming down from heaven when he slept atop Simon the tanner’s house and subsequently ushered in the first Gentile believers. The story demonstrates the complex nature of social relationships and the difficulty of living a coherent faith. The story demonstrates that even as someone like Peter evolves, he too is inconsistent in his practice. Slippage occurred between his testimony and his behaviors.

Now Peter had no problems at first. He ate with the Gentile Christians at first. But when some from Jerusalem came, he caved. These Jewish Christians were demanding strict obedience to Jewish practices. Jews cannot live like Gentiles. Gentiles cannot continue to live like Gentiles and be good Christians. Gentiles must learn to live like Jews. By accepting these works of the law, these boundary markers, Gentiles indicated that they were identifying with a Jewish way of life and so somehow share more fully in the blessings of the Messiah.

  • And Peter caved to the pressure to conform. If not to their interpretation, he fell prey to their prejudices and segregating ways. In so doing he broke fellowship that was established by God in Jesus. So how is that gospel embodied in everyday social practices? One table. We share together a common life. Paul confronts Peter by saying, “the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has brought into being a new community that embraces Jews and Gentiles together as God’s people.” This is not an implication of the Gospel. It is integral in the gospel itself. You cannot be saved by the gospel and also refuse to sit at table.
  • And its not just about potlucks and meals.
    • Drinking from the one cup. Baptisteries that are segregated. Who our children might date.
  • So we believe the nature of the gospel radically changes all our social relationships.

So, why do we still allow our prejudices to interfere with us embracing our brothers and sisters in full fellowship? Or as Paul states in today’s text, 14 But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel [KJV “straight forward”; NIV “acting in line”], I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

  • Let’s Imagine…The Eighth Deadly Sin—walking into a smoke filled room and prejudging the activities that go on there, “as the men take off their leather jackets and open up their Bibles for study.”
  • Prejudice is predetermining, prejudging, anything not based on evidence. Ignorance is the breeding ground for prejudice. It closes one’s mind. It is a habitual generalizing and categorizing to give a sense of control and security.
  • It is hard to understand the harm in prejudice until we have been the object.
  • Each generation develops its own prejudices: hair, punk rock, rap, earrings, etc. Whenever we allow the identity of our community to be fundamentally defined by any sort of national or cultural or religious marker other than the gospel, we are repeating the error of the antagonizes.
  • Richard Hays notes (NIB, pg. 229) — “The dominant symbolic world in relation to which the church in Western culture must define its identity is not longer Jewish culture; rather, it is the culture of public secular rationality. Whenever we find that people have begun to think of themselves as Americans first and Christian second or to meld these identities uncritically together, we are in the presence of a false gospel. Whenever we encounter pressure to allow our identity to be shaped fundamentally by market forces or by allegiance to racial or ethnic identity, we should remember the examples of Paul and Barnabas, who refused to yield even for a moment to the pressure to conform to prevailing expectations about what normal ‘religious’ behavior looks like.”

Today, we do not exclude people based on Jewish laws about diet, holidays, and circumcision.

Yet, we all exclude and marginalize others. I grapple with my own distaste about how some folks live. And out of my own inner wrangling, does it affect my lunch plans?

  • Folks who are able to work and yet beat the system through misusing our welfare system.
  • Folks who have different religious ideologies.
  • Folks who are loud, obnoxious, and push the envelope on what I think is dignified and quiet.
  • Folks who define public morality different from me.
  • Political differences about taxation, gun legislation, immigration, health care, etc.… I do not know about you, but when I sometimes learn about how my fellow believers vote and support some issues, I cringe.
  • It is no longer about mice running across my feet or the smell of cigarette smoke in the kitchen. My stomach is unsettled because of the conversations.

And while much of this list seems to be “outside” the church walls, let there be no doubt, this list describes squabbles inside the church as well. But let me go ahead and add some of those doctrinal battles.

  • Various worship practices.
  • Folk we consider to have full membership and others who seem to have 2nd class citizenship (e.g., divorce).
  • Folks who disagree on how we experience God and God’s Spirit in our lives.
  • How we see God’s activity in our lives (free will vs. pre-determined)
  • And many other 21st century identity markers. We are not painting our church building white because that is the color that other group uses to paint their building.

And when eating dinner at their house, and these subjects come up, do we arch our back for a fight? Do we pack up our toys and go home? How do we react?

So, why do we, saved by the gospel people, still allow our prejudices and biases to stop us from embracing our brothers and sisters in full fellowship? And full-fellowship that often is still defined by who we will and will not eat with. Because, according to Paul, we do not live consistently with the truth of the gospel. Galatians is a grand theological treatise that discusses heady and difficult truths— but with nitty-gritty everyday implications as real as, “Who are you going to eat lunch with?”

And you do not need to be reminded of these issues. You open your arms wide here. Praise God for your example! You include others who outwardly look and act differently but who inwardly look just like you; in-dwelt and formed by the Holy Spirit we all have hearts purified by same blood, redeemed by the same savior, and devoted to the same gospel. You do not need to be reminded. My exhortation to you today is the same one I gave last week—Continue to Hold Fast to the Gospel!

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Galatians Sermon Series # 1

No Introductions Required

Galatians 1:1-12

Focus: Preaching that is called by God protects the integrity of the gospel.

Function: To emboldened the church to hold fast to the gospel.

Plotline: When the gospel is preached, no introductions are required. Therefore, don’t mess with the gospel. Why would anyone exchange the freedom the gospel provides for anything that endangers that freedom? So, don’t mess with the gospel.

1 Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

There Is No Other Gospel

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— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul’s Vindication of His Apostleship

11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

  • The title, “No Introduction Required.” Well, maybe I do need an introduction since I’m visiting here.
    • But Paul says, 11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
    • Paul says, No Introduction Required. Paul planted this church by the authority of the Gospel and testified by the Spirit. When the gospel is preached, no introductions are required.
    • Therefore, Don’t Mess with the Gospel. READ TEXT
  • Don’t Mess with Texas. Inspired by true Texas pride, Texas goes to great lengths to keep the state litter-free with award-winning ads, statewide road tours, education programs, and contests. For thirty years, the Don’t mess with Texas campaign has taught Texans the real cost of littering.
    • The campaign is rooted in Texas pride and calls for citizens to protect and defend the beauty of state’s environment.
    • Yet, sometimes I’m astonished when I’m on a back road, I see what looks like whole trash bags dumped out or I see someone throw out a McDonalds’s bag from their car window. Don’t mess with Texas!
    • It never stops astonishing me about what people will do. Littering is just a little example. We could fill a chalkboard full of how humans surprise us with their actions.
  • Paul is astonished how quickly the Galatians are about to trade the gospel for something so much cheaper. To trade their freedom for slavery. Paul is astonished how this church is messing with the Gospel.
    • Paul is astonished…like a parent who sees a child quickly give up his training; like a bird set free from its cage only to return; like the prisoner who cannot adjust to the outside and seeks ways to be incarcerated again.
    • And for Paul this is not good news! It is not good at all.
  • Why would anyone exchange the freedom the gospel provides for anything that endangers that freedom? While we yet do not know all the details of what the Galatians have done, Paul accuses them of accepting another gospel even against the evidence of their own experience of the Holy Spirit (3:1-5). You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
    • Both sides are Jewish Christians. Both Paul and the teachers that have followed him share a common heritage and a common salvation. Yet Paul frames it as opposition between an apostle of Jesus Christ and the community-disturbers and gospel-distorters.
    • It is easy to make our own list of what the other gospel is…
      • Any doctrine that we personally do not believe.
      • Any false teaching that does not agree with the orthodox teaching that we hold so dear; we have heard all our life; the way we have always taught it; what my mama believed.
      • But that is not what Paul is talking about here.
    • We will later learn in the letter that the other gospel is a message that confines other people in a box. Paul is very specific about what the other gospel is…a message that is opposed to grace and especially opposed to freedom.
    • Some folks were using the traditions of Judaism as a preamble, or entrance requirement into life in Christ. Jewish Christian missionaries had come subsequent to Paul’s planting the church there. They began to supplement Paul’s gospel. Note, they were not opposing Paul, only adding to what Paul taught. They were teaching you had to live like Jews if you were to be considered a part of God’s people (2:14).
    • Three pillars of practice exemplified that preamble: Jewish Christians equated dietary laws (Gal. 2:11–14), circumcision (Gal. 5:6; 6:15), and Jewish holidays (Gal 4:9–10) as boundary markers for their identity. These three practices were identity markers that Jewish Christians embraced. And these practices were not wrong for Jewish Christians. Gospel + // A bundle like TV + Internet + Phone = new contract (bound again). The objection Paul has is bundling the Gospel with Jewish practices as essential for Gentile Christians.
      • They advocated obedience to everything written in the Law (3:10), promising that those who kept the commandments would find life (3:12).
      • Louis Martin, “The Apocalyptic Gospel in Galatians,” Int 54, pg. 247 states it this way, “If you Gentiles continue in the path of sin, you will be shut out of God’s kingdom. But if, alternatively, you will commence observance of the Law, repenting of our sins, we can promise you – on the basis of the Law’s blessing, now affirmed by God’s Messiah – that God will respond to your repentance, forgiving your sins, releasing you from the Law’s curse, and assuring you of life.”
      • In other words, they taught the Law of Moses would provide moral restraint to their fleshly impulses (5:16, 24).
      • And in these ways they had additional membership requirements. On the face of it, the message appears to be a simple restatement of the Gospel and the law filtered through a traditional reading of Deuteronomy. It was highly attractive and many believed it.
    • And what simply looks innocent on the outside is a threat to very Gospel of God and the way of the Spirit of freedom.
      • It is like a multi vitamin, merely a supplement, but yet lacking the power to cure a disease.
      • If only we pray more or better, drink our orange juice, exercise, be kind, think positively, join the gym, participate in church programs, believe the right things, practice religion the right way, then we will be wealthy, healthy, and wise. Then, we will be saved.
      • We seek out enhancements to make our salvation more vibrant or meaningful or significant. Nothing wrong with the programs, but when they are essential, then the gospel is nullified.
    • And I’m continually astonished how sometimes we ourselves act by putting people in a box.
      • A unity movement that excels in sectarianism.
      • Myself, I astonish myself, in how I act by putting expectations on others that I do not put on myself.
    • Paul says, “Don’t Mess with the Gospel”
      • For the gospel is a singular message of grace and freedom.
      • A message that states that only this Gospel places you among the true people of God through the faith of Jesus Christ. God has acted to set the world right and to rescue us from slavery to human religious programs.
      • Re-look at text. READ 1:1-4 again.
        • The gospel is not of human construction; it comes from God, who has taken the initiative to rescue us.
        • Rooted in what God has done in Jesus Christ on the cross, the freely given love of God.
        • God raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection demonstrates God’s power over death. Christ delivers us from the grip of the present age.
        • Rooted in God as your Father (1:1, 3, 4). 3xs
        • A message that was revealed by Jesus. You see, the message, the messenger, and the origin of the message are bound tightly together.
        • In order to “set us free.”
        • What you believe affects what you do.
      • A message that comes to Paul (1:11-12) from God through Jesus Christ. Divine origins, not human origins. Therefore Church, hold fast to the gospel preached to you. And do not supplement it, bundle it with something else, or add to it.

Paul says, “Don’t Mess with the Gospel” Paul says, “Hold fast to the faith of the one who gave himself up on your behalf for it will set you free.”

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Timely Quote

While preparing for my sermon I read the following.

Today people are fundamentally consumers: they want what they want when they want it, even in the church. If they do not like what is happening or what they hear, they leave and start shopping for a better deal. Meanwhile, the pressure is constantly on preachers to increase attendance, to raise the budget, to grow a church–to do whatever it takes to improve market share. Be nice; be funny; make promises; do not offend. There is an inordinate desire for approval, for applause, for appreciation on the part of pastors today. To Paul’s queston, “Am I seeking human approval, … am I trying to please people?” (Gal 1.10), many preachers today would have to answer, in all honesty, yes. When preachers are captive to public opinion, when churches too easily become purveyors of gospel gimmicks, offering the religious goods and services people want, what is sacrificed is the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel.

–Heidi Husted Armstrong

“Galatians 1:1-12,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, pg. 90.

I am not planning to use the quote in my sermon because it does not fit the congregational context. I’m the visiting preacher and the church spends most of its energies reaching out to the local deaf community and African refugees. Yet the quote resonates with other voices I am hearing lately. For example, Chris Seidman at the Branch Church was a guest lecturer in my class on practical theology. I asked him to talk about his ministerial identity and relate how it connects to practice. He spoke about Jesus’ baptism and how Jesus began his own ministry after the word from heaven, “This is my son whom I am well pleased.” Chris spoke about how ministry springs forth from the blessing and grace of God and not from the approval of people. The examples he gave convicted us all.

I am part of a team that facilitates healthy matches between churches and ministers. It is satisfying work. Yet there are times when both parties would do well to commit themselves to the ability to be a slave of Christ in service to his unchanging gospel. The church might actually get smaller if such matters were practiced. As Fred Craddock often noted, It is not bad preachers that people will not listen to; it may just be very good ones.

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The Living Pulpit

The Living Pulpit: Sermons that Illustrate Preaching in the Stone-Campbell Movement 1968-2018 Paperback – April 10, 2018

Fifty years of preaching excellence in one volume.

The Living Pulpit collects sermons from representative preachers in the Stone-Campbell Movement–pastors affiliated with the Churches of Christ, the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)–over the past 50 years. The fourth volume in a series that began in 1868, this collection of sermons from 40 ministers, reviewed by a diverse team of scholars, captures the theological themes and changing approaches to preaching across the Movement’s three streams. Emerging from an era of mutual suspicion, the three streams have developed a better understanding, shared mutuality and respect for each stream’s unique qualities, and cooperated in many venues, qualities reflected in this collection. The Living Pulpit2018 helps preachers and scholars recognize where preaching has been–and why it has been there–in each stream, and where preaching appears to be going in a new mission field for Christianity and the Unity Movement.  See it on Amazon here.

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