2nd Sunday after Pentecost, year C (proper 4), preached 5/29/16
first reading: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
second reading: Galatians 1:1-12
gospel reading: Luke 7:1-10
For the next six weeks our second reading is going to be from the book of Galatians, one of the most important “books” in the whole New Testament. With that in mind, I’ll spend my next few sermons exploring this foundational book, which is really a letter from Paul, to a group of churches in Galatia.
Have you ever gotten a message, expecting it to be a joy, but instead you’re left speechless, confused, angry, or in pain? When I was in seminary, I got a Christmas card from someone who had been a consistent support person for me. But instead of a card sharing the joy of Christ’s birth, inside was the friendship equivalent of a “Dear John” letter.
She told me that she found our friendship draining to her and she didn’t want me to contact her any more. In a CHRISTMAS CARD.
Anyway, that was the first thing I thought of when I took a look at our reading from the letter to the Galatians. Because in many ways that’s what happened to them. They were having an internal struggle, but nothing they thought was deadly to their faith.
When they got a letter from Paul I’m sure they were overjoyed to hear from their spiritual founder. Very quickly they would’ve realized this letter was NOT what they expected.
Paul starts off his letter in the typical manner of his day: he identifies who he is as the sender – “Paul an apostle” – then to whom he is sending the letter – “the churches of Galatia.”
At this point in their culture it was typical to give a salutation and thanksgiving, and this is when it all goes to pot. There is salutation alright, but absolutely NO thanksgiving.
Listen to what we find at the beginning of some of Paul’s other letters:
- “First I think my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” Romans 1:8
- To the Corinthians he said (1:4-5), “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…”
- And to the Philippians (1:3-4), “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…”
NOW… hear what the Galatians heard:
“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…”
Paul is angry about what he had heard and gets right down to business – and it’s not pretty. Listen to some of the words in these opening verses: astonished, deserting, perverting, contrary and accursed (twice!). Later on in chapter 3 he calls the Galatians “foolish” and “bewitched!”
He was angry – and frightened for them as well. What had him so angry and frightened? Again, in vs. 6-7: “quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to another gospel… there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”
For Paul, this false teaching is no small matter – it was a corruption of the meaning of Jesus’ life and death. It goes right to the heart of our faith in Jesus.
And what was this false teaching? What was this perversion of the gospel? It had to do with keeping THE LAW.
There were some who argued that converts had to follow the Mosaic law – including circumcision, along with Sabbath and other ritual laws found in the Old Testament. Paul will spend the entirety of this letter disputing this. And he states right up front, in vs. 11-12, that this is NOT a message of his own making. It’s bigger than him.
He gives us a clue to his main point in verse 4 – that the Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins to set us free…”
FREEDOM is his main argument – that we HAVE freedom in Christ. We are NOT bound by the Law and its demands. But Paul also tells us what we are to DO with that freedom.
He sums it up well in chapter 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” So we are free – free through Christ from the demands of the Law. But this freedom isn’t an excuse for laziness or lawlessness. As he says in 5:13 – “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.”
Our freedom is an incredible gift. Our sins are forgiven. Our slates are wiped clean through the love of Jesus. But our freedom in Christ also calls us to love one another – the ONE command Christ DID give to us.
This is a good thing to remember on this Memorial Day weekend, when we honor those who used their freedom to serve our country, and gave their lives in that service. Freedom isn’t free the saying goes. That is true in our form of government, but also in our life of faith.
As Paul wrote in v. 4, Jesus Christ “set us free.” But that freedom, that incredible weight of sin lifted from our shoulders, calls us to then lift up one another.
Losing that knowledge, that experience of freedom in trying to keep the Law – leaves us burdened, wondering, “How well am I doing?” “Am I doing enough?” THAT, for Paul IS a perversion, “another” gospel – and NOT acceptable to him, or to God.
So today, and every day, let us embrace and celebrate the freedom we have through Jesus Christ – freedom that calls us to love ourselves, and one another.
*The photographer of the photo above is unknown.