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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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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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Ready, Set, Wait

ACU’s Graduate Chapel, November 8, 2017

Ready, Set, Wait (Mt. 25:1-13)

Every generation believes Christ will come again in their lifetime. On October 2, 1982, many waited for Christ’s return on a mountain. They had sold their lands, quit their jobs, and traveled to the site hoping for the clouds to part. I didn’t hold much stock in the predictions. Instead, I got married on that day hoping for a full-life right here on earth. Every generation, there are some who believe Christ will come in our lifetime and some who will go about their daily business. Our generation is no exception. I believe it is natural for me to expect Jesus to come at any time. The sooner the better — Come Lord Jesus! But each generation to date has had to deal with the problem in the delay in the second coming. Even the NT gives evidence of a belief that Christians had that he would come soon. There was wavering on the part of some because of the delay.

  • 2 Pet. 3:3-4 “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, `Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”
  • Every generation waits — Where is this coming? Some ask hopefully. Some ask scoffing.
  • It was the same in the days of Noah. The people scoffed at Noah for building an Ark. Rain? Flood? Where is this rain you have promised? Even though he warned them for 120 years, they would not prepare themselves for the unforeseeable. How could anyone predict? Weather Watch News First Action News 12 with up to the date weather information had no warning. The Weather Channel did not predict it. The old coot down the road with his divining rod had no clue. So why do you get prepared just because Noah says so? And they were unprepared when the waters engulfed the world. Noah believed it! But most asked, “Where is this coming?”
  • Every generation believes Christ will come again in their lifetime. And like every generation, we wait.

So it was in the parable that Jesus told about the ten maidens who waited on the bridegroom.

  • These maidens were waiting for the bridegroom to return when the unexpected happened — the bridegroom was delayed. No phone, no text message, all they could do was wait. And they waited. And five maidens ran out of oil.
  • The last instructions given to the bride’s maids said, “Be on time for when they close the doors, no one will open them again.” And the wedding started on time and ended exactly 30 minutes later. But that’s not always the case.
  • Flat tire, Groomsman late, the preacher got sick, …Being prepared for all foreseeable problems, but what about the unpredictable catastrophes? Your motto might be, “Be Prepared.” But sometimes we are caught with our pants down.
  • Both wise and foolish virgins doze, no praise or blame attaches to either group for this. There is no point in seeing hidden meanings in the oil or sleep. The sole distinction between the two groups is this: the wise bring not only oil in their lamps but an extra supply in separate jars, while the foolish bring no extra oil. The foolish expect to meet the groom, but are unprepared for his delay. The wise virgins cannot share their oil for that would cancel their own preparedness. The unexpected happened. Those not allowed in is the rejection of those who, despite appearances, never made preparation for the coming of the kingdom.

And we wait. Christians have been waiting for 2000 years. Maybe Jesus will return tomorrow, maybe another 2000 years. So we wait.

MEANWHILE–

  • Spouse is unfaithful
  • The doctor says cancer
  • A church leader disappoints
  • The church closes its doors after 99 years of service. Stories are shared of the good times and the disappointments. They waited, but the natural life cycle of a church kicked in, just as it has many times in 2000 years.
  • God is silent
  • The list is endless of the unexpected calamities that might come while we are waiting: financial, physical, social, and theological.
  • So we wait.

Imagine with me a city street where various people stand unemployed on the corner while others asking for handouts, selling drugs, fighting, or peeking out a jail cell crowd the sidewalk. On the other side of the street is a church. On any given Sunday, after the breaking of the bread, folks flow out of the church and begin to interact with the other side of the street. One intervenes in a domestic dispute. Another assists an addict into a hospital. A Bible school class lays head to toe in front of a bulldozer about to destroy low-cost housing. Still others bring bags of groceries to those who are hungry. Can you imagine the scene? And can you see Jesus as he bends down with arms spread wide to gather up everything and everyone who is waiting?

So we wait …

On any given Sunday, after the breaking of the bread …

we wait by …

…Watching

…Fulfilling our responsibilities

…Preparing for the unexpected

…And Thankfully, we wait with each other with our lamps trimmed and our oil ready. Amen.

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Graduate Chapel, August 2016

A Word of Exhortation

Hebrews 13

Call to Worship

Welcome to Grad Chapel. Our text today, for those of you who grew up like I did, always brings a smile to my face. I grew up at church. My grandfather was an elder, my father was an elder, my mother was a Bible school teacher four quarters out of four both Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I grew up in a home where babysitters came to my house so that my parents could go to Cottage Meetings to watch filmstrips. I started preaching when I was 13. Anytime I had a sermon and the preacher okayed the message, I could preach on Sunday nights at Elmwood Avenue Church of Christ in Lafayette Indiana. So if you grew up like I did, and I know some of you didn’t, there emerges insider language. I’ve used quite a bit of insider language already. Our text today makes us insiders smile for it is the text about entertaining angels in their underwear. And for a little kid, an angel wearing boxers or briefs is funny.

  • I didn’t grow up where the insider language, “our text for today,” referred to a lectionary, a set of Sunday readings laid out not only for your church but also for all the churches that embraced the Christian Year as its liturgical calendar.
  • Continuing for the fourth year, Grad Chapel is going to follow the lectionary in order to provide us a rhythm that for all of you who come regularly to this place through the academic year can worship our God and in the words of last Sunday’s lectionary text you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.
  • The Lectionary does not follow the academic year. The academic year begins towards the end of the Christian Year, during the season of Pentecost, Ordinary Time of Year C, Proper 17. And our text for this coming Sunday is Hebrews 13.
  • Our text exhorts us with “a word of exhortation” to welcome you here in mutual love, for who knows, there might be angels among us… And they might be wearing their underwear.

Message

22 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

  1. “A Word of Exhortation” – it would not be Hebrews if we did not go back to the OT for some examples. The Deuteronomist places Moses with his GPS saying, “You are Here.” The little blinking dots says, “You are on the border between here and there and before you go forward, let’s look back to where and why you’ve been.” And Moses offers words of exhortation to the camp of Israel, words of memory and hope. Throughout the Deuteronomic history, words of exhortations, preaching, carries the story forward. Words that not only remind God’s people of God’s promises and mighty acts, but also words of warning, words of hope, and words of possibilities. Hebrews 13 reminds me of Moses and the Children of Israel who lived in the safety of a camp, protected by community and family, and who were exhorted to embrace the challenges and opportunities before them.
  2. And the preacher in Hebrews replicates that tradition with his word of exhortation saying, “Hold on to your faith in Jesus, the author, pioneer, and perfecter of our faith.” And the preacher here makes an allusion, 10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. And those who know the insider language know that “going outside the camp” is an exhortation that calls them to a different kind of ministry, a cruciformed ministry, a ministry of challenge and possibility. Words that call them, in his words, “torture.”
  3. And, as all good preachers do, this preacher gives us a list of concrete expressions of those challenges and possibilities. Listen again to his list…

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unaware. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

This preacher chooses this list because these challenges and possibilities connect to the audience’s immediate context. As you begin this academic year, may this old list of challenges and opportunities guide you. Let this word be a word of exhortation.

  • Who among does not need to hear about … Mutual love in a divisive world so full of “we” versus “them” rhetoric, discriminatory and hateful words that only build walls.
  • Who among does not need to hear about … Hospitality in a wall building society where the strangers are cast in the role of enemy and fear of others is highly prized.
  • Who among does not need to hear about … Remembering those in prison especially those who are systemically profiled as undesirable and disproportionately removed from our neighborhoods.
  • Who among does not need to hear about … keeping our marriages and other covenant relationships pure and undefiled. In the midst of so much temporary and mobile connections, where “hooking up” is glorified.
  • Who among does not need to hear about … contentment, especially when all we hear about security is only in terms of social, national, or financial.
  • Who among does not need to hear about … leaders who are worthy of imitation because of their faith.

So as we begin this academic year together, with two final exhortations …

15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Benediction

20 Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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First Sunday of Lent

Confessing Jesus Christ

 Romans 10:8b-13

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Coming here today has brought up many memories about our church plant in NJ. Once I recall being asked to give expert testimony for the case of the Sailor’s Mystery Signature. Walt’s Last Will & Testament was being contested. One of the key points of the dispute was his signature. Why me? Why was I asked to give expert testimony on a man’s signature? Because I had witnessed one of the only legal documents accessible, the Cape May Courthouse Church of Christ incorporation papers.

  • So what is the role of a witness? One who has seen or heard; one who has experienced an event. Let’s call that the “Behold” phase of being a witness. You’re standing on the street corner. A yellow F-150 runs the red light and hits the black sedan. You are the witness because you beheld the event in question.
  • And there is a second phase, the “Declare” portion of the role of the witness. Whether it is simply giving your statement to the police or going to court to testify, you are turning to give your voice to the events in question. While some will discount testimony as mere perception, our whole legal system is based on the fact that testimony is not perception but the report itself. And testimony is not the event itself for it is the hearers of the testimony, the jury, who are called to decide how credible is the testimony. And the jury, once convinced by the testimony, is persuaded to act on the testimony as evidence. The event affects the witness; the testimony affects the jury.
  • And so too our faith. We were not witnesses of the actual events 2000 years ago. We rely on the faithful testimony of eyewitnesses. We deem them reliable and therefore we believe. We are not left alone with just the eyewitness accounts, but God’s Spirit testifies to our spirit the truth of these events. And from our belief, we then have experiences with a living Christ. And from our experience, we then give testimony. And the chain of witness continues.
  • Like a hinge—Behold><Declare. You cannot declare what you do not behold. And if you behold, you have the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to declare. [i]

So what have we experienced as Christians? The season of Lent, this first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar, focuses our attention first and foremost to our experience of sin. Sin…let us count the ways. Recently, I have heard sermons on Narcissism, consumerism, selfishness, and a series on greed. The church has a tradition of naming the seven deadly sins, also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins. The list includes pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

  • However you name sin, sin only becomes real when you move from the abstract to the concrete in your life and experience. For example, Spotlight, when the reporter realizes he is the one guilty of complicity of child molestation by burying the story years earlier. And even more concrete, when I come to recognize the harm my own sin causes, not abstractly, but last Tuesday afternoon.
  • And in the midst of that sin, many, not all, call upon the name of the Lord. What does that call look like? How does it sound? In what pitch is it sung? Throughout the centuries and across many neighborhoods, the words and the cries may seem quite different. So as we listen to people, are they crying out for God? How does their soul express their experience of sin in the world and their experience of sin in their own lives? And even if their call upon the Lord is different than my call upon the Lord, when they call, the Lord hears them all.
  • But also, this text draws us to a hopeful end. For it is not the confession of sin that this first Sunday of Lent points us to, but the profession of our faith. While it is true, no one is righteous, it is also true, no one is hopeless.
  • And I then confess, profess, give testimony, and declare to the fact that Jesus makes a difference in me and in my community of faith. And that profession, just like confession, can be expressed in myriad of ways. And communities and traditions might express it differently than I do. Most often communities do it through liturgy. Through prayer, song, worship, reading of scripture, fellowship, or other spiritual disciplines and sacrificial service, we together experience a living Christ and profess our faith.

In preaching it works like this. Vs 8b “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)”. It is this same Roms 10 text that in the larger context continues,

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’ So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

  • In the preacher’s study, many contextual and exegetical gems are examined. Historically, she might note that Paul is calling the diverse Roman community to realize that when “all” profess “Jesus is Lord”, then “all” of them are saved. Some of the historical and exegetical material might get left behind in the study because the preacher is looking for how the theology of the text applies in 2016. The preacher beholds the living word of God and swivels in the chair of the study to the pulpit to proclaim what is seen and heard. The person in the pew hears that preached word and beholds its transforming power in the heart and swivels to life, family, work, and community to proclaim faith.
  • Near us and even in us is the transforming word of salvation. We can be changed, forgiven, renewed, and enriched.
  • That in a nutshell is a theology of proclamation as testimony, or the witness or preaching.

But the role of witness is not just reserved for preachers. The role of witness is bound to your baptism. Romans 10 comes after Romans 6. All who are baptized have such a view as this. Listen to Paul’s audience in the text … [Re-read Romans 10:8b-13]

“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

That text is a living word. So we behold Jesus… (Refrain)

  • We behold Jesus… Who met a woman at a well treating her as a person of dignity.
  • We behold Jesus… Who met a blind beggar and gave him relief.
  • We behold Jesus… Who met 5000 hungry folk and gave them bread and fish.
  • We behold Jesus… Who ministered to a rich guy in a sycamore tree of all places and brought salvation to his house.
  • We behold Jesus… Who restored life to the brother of two grieving sisters.
  • And we behold the countless stories, one right after another, of Jesus encountering people in their darkest hour, encountering people in their pain, encountering people in their suffering, encountering people in their sin.
  • And we behold that salvation is good. And all of these stories still testify today.

I believe Jesus is raised from the dead. Therefore, I confess that Jesus is Lord.

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.

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Sermon– Available Powers

Available Powers

Reading: James 5:13-20

This chapter is James’s anti-money sermon. Only in a rich country do you have to take the time to qualify or justify preaching an anti-money sermon. And you especially don’t like a guest preacher coming into town and railing against your checkbooks. So we preachers justify. “I’m not talking against being rich. Abraham, Job, and Joseph of Arimathea were all godly rich dudes.” You’ve heard the old worn out joke about the preacher who constantly preached about those folks who own two cars. Then one day, he got a second car. And next week he preached about owning two cars … and a boat. So we preachers justify ourselves because we know folks do not like anti-money sermons. None of us like sermons about our pocketbooks.

I know I’m the guest preacher, but James 5 is the chapter that came next in my preaching calendar. I’m preaching through James. Last time I was here, you got James 2. This week, James 5 continues a theme that cycles throughout the book of James: The rich were oppressing the recipients of James’s letter. The rich are the folks that represent unbelief, immaturity, and instability throughout James. The rich are James’s rhetorical foil; his straw man that he sets up just to knock down.

And it is in chapter 5 that we find out why. James 5:1-6. The rich in the community were persecuting Christians. The rich put their primary trust in riches and not in God who gives us all things. James condemns the rich severely due to their injustice (4-6); selfishness in gratifying their own lusts (5); and murder. Do not envy them!!!! Money cannot buy health; Money cannot buy happiness; Money cannot buy a good name; Money cannot buy trust; Money cannot buy respect; Money cannot buy love. Money cannot secure your security. Money cannot protect you. Money cannot buy you God’s favor. And $ is the representative metaphor of all the powers of the natural world that oppose God and oppose God’s people.

The rich were oppressing folks in James’s church. And in the reading today, James’s asks

  • Is there anyone of you in trouble?
  • Is there anyone of you happy?
  • Is there anyone of you sick?
  • Is there anyone finding that your faith is wavering?

The sources of our troubles are manifold. I do not know your stories. But when you are alone at night, what keeps you awake? What are the anxieties that you put on a list? When you pray, what dominates your requests to God? When you open up to your best friend, what is on your heart? What is tearing up your days? Do you have your list?

And here’s the question. When you have your list completed, what resources do you depend on to address your troubles?

In James, there are two possible resources people turn to in order to address their list.

  • Money represents a natural power source.
  • The powers of the world, the structures and supporting beams of society, the pillars of the world, are powers/idols that work against God’s way in the world thus opposing God’s people. Paul’s description of this reality is “principalities and powers.” For James’s, it is money.

Let’s keep these powers in perspective:

  • God is the first cause power, the prime mover, the originator and sustainer of all life. Human laws, rules, traditions, institutions, and other human activities are second cause powers. Such second cause powers as financial structures, commerce, unions, exchange of goods & services, educational or political institutions, and technologies are unable to address the items on your list.
  • For graduate students, those powers press in on them in the form of debt.
  • When second cause powers usurp God’s power, they become corrupt.
  • When we move these powers to first place, the powers will oppress and overcome. We think we can handle and control these powers and use them for our own good, but these powers, left unchecked, dominate the world for their own good. They oppress the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised. When these powers usurp God in society, these powers not only hide God, they are at war with God. All these second cause resources complicate our lists; they do not address them.
  • Christ dethroned these powers of injustice and death. God placed them under the footstool of Jesus. In their proper place as second cause powers, they can be used for the glory of God but only if they remain under the footstool.

But there is an alternative power source.

James’ church, they did not have banking systems, armies, computers, and modern advancements. They depended upon God, they trusted in prayer, they trusted in Jesus’ sacrifice. James is all about FAITH and he writes to this community in order to protect this church from the powers of this earth. His answers to the powers and principalities that oppress are: perseverance and fellowship.

James has been giving valuable lessons on how to respond during trials, suffering, and persecution. The mature man and woman of God will respond with a lifestyle that will be pleasing to God. James concludes his sermon with the same theme that he began in chapter 1: perseverance, patience, and endurance. James 5:7-11.

Patience: Until the Lord comes. Our victory may not be evident until then. Then our understanding of how God works will be made complete.

James gives three examples of patience:

  1. The farmer takes care of his equipment. He plows, weeds, and fertilizes. This is active waiting–and he will be ready for the harvest.
  2. The prophets spoke with no response. We now consider them great exemplars for God.
  3. Job endured, unlike many of lesser character who would have lain down and cursed God.

Take out your list. You do not have to endure alone for your dependence is not on the rich or on the powers of the world, but instead, your dependence is on God and one another. When James gives concrete practical advice about how to access the power of God, he roots that advice in prayer, worship, and community. The Scripture reading this morning asks,

  • Is there anyone of you in trouble? Pray (See Elijah vs. 17-18).
  • Is there anyone of you happy? Sing. Don’t forget the Lord during the good times.
  • Is there anyone of you sick? Call the elders–let the family of God support you through troubled times. Rely on each other in all areas of trouble. Confessing and praying with each other is good practice (vs. 19).
  • If any of you wander from the truth, then let us all gather around that person and restore that person gently. What a wonderful display of the forgiveness of God.

I agree–I do not like anti-money sermons, because our trust is in the power of God.

 

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