Free People Free People

Sermon on Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29 – May 28, 2017

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 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? 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. 5 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? 6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed. (v.6 = Genesis 15:6)

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 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.

Paul seems to start out chapter 3 with a string of rhetorical questions: did you receive the spirit by doing 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?

No, no. Don’t try and answer him. I can see him, hand out-stretched, telling anyone who is trying to respond to just put their hands down. These are not meant for answers because Paul has the answers.

Now, this is a letter sent to the churches in Galatia, churches he helped to start and who now are actively excluding people by putting the law out in front of them. So Paul is not there in person speaking to them. But these letters were most likely read out loud to the congregation. Can you imagine that? The poor messenger.

But Paul knows what he’s talking about because he started out as a guy named Saul who persecuted Christians. Hated them. And then had an amazing conversion experience where he lost his sight and now he’s responsible for most of the letters in the New Testament.

Now, just to get you caught up: the first Christians were Jews, if that makes any sense to you. Jesus was not a Christian but instead was a devout Jew. So the first followers of Jesus were also Jewish. So, in order to be a good Jew, there were laws you had to follow. Laws passed down from Moses, laws of old. They regarded circumcision and what you could eat. It was all about being made holy and right with God. And the church in Galatia has fallen back under the spell of creating hoops for people to jump through in order to be part of the church. Something Paul worked hard to, well, not do, when he helped to get this church started.

What’s really at stake here is what remains at stake for us today. Is the church based on rules or love? Are we all about grace or keeping laws?

A theologian I follow and study is Richard Rohr. He has this to say about this tension found in our spiritual lives:

The relationship between law and grace is a central issue for almost anyone involved in religion. Basically, it is the creative tension between religion as requirements and religion as transformation. Is God’s favor based on a performance principle (Law)? Or does religion work within an entirely different economy and equation? This is a necessary boxing match, but a match in which grace must win. When it doesn’t, religion becomes moralistic, which is merely the ego’s need for order and control. I am sorry to say, but this is most garden-variety religion. We must recover grace-oriented spirituality…

the law …is just to get us started, but legalism too often takes over. …Laws can only give us information; they cannot give us transformation (Romans 3:20; 7:7-13). Laws can give us very good boundaries, but boundary-keeping of itself is a long way from love.[1]

So Paul appeals to the Holy Spirit’s work among them – the thing that he witnessed among this community when he was with them. They believed then – what’s changed? Has the argument of good order and exclusion won? What about the power of the Holy Spirit?

And then he reminds them what it looks like when God’s grace is being lived out:

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.

And we need reminding, don’t we? We do. It’s too easy to forget that we are, each of us, a child of God. It’s too easy to put dividing lines between us. It’s too easy to just do it the way the world does it: categorize people by what they’re worth, what they look like, and who they will serve or be served by.

[bumper sticker]You see, Paul wrote this impassioned letter to this church so that they would be different from the world around them. He’s encouraging them to keep church weird. Actually to make weird the starting point.

Because, when you get right down to it, what we’re asked to do looks nothing like how the world works or is supposed to work. A friend of mine, with her church in Missouri raised money to pay off any kid’s lunch account that was past due and the money is caught up in red tape. Another group of people began feeding homeless people in parks in Detroit. Then the city council passed a law saying it was illegal to feed homeless and hungry people. So, this same group of people met in the same park and instead held a worship service and communion, well, they fed people during communion.

The red tape and city council remind us of our human tendency to want to regulate and control. This is why River of Hope has a purpose statement and guiding principles. They gently move us away from our tendencies and remind us of God’s call to love instead. It’s why we have them in front of us at our meetings, because we want each decision we make to be guided by the metric of love rather than regulation.

And this is something we have to be constantly reminded of. We must be re-taught our story and God’s story over and over again. We need to re-learn that this story is one of transformation and love, not of law-keeping and hash marks.

It’s why I invite you, week after week, into daily prayer and scripture reading. Because it’s so easy to forget. We forget all the time that the purpose of church, the purpose of following Jesus is to have our heart and lives changed. The Gospel, the Good News we find in Jesus Christ, breaks the law wide open and gives us freedom to love as Jesus has us love.

[Gottman slide] And why does God wish this for us… because Hurt people hurt people. But you know what? Free people free people. That’s what this is all about. It’s what the church is for. We are freed in Christ as children of God to freely show that love to others. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ breaks the law wide open and redefines the law as the law of love. A love that proclaims:

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.

 

[1] https://cac.org/grace-must-win-2017-05-21/

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