Monday, June 18, 2007

Christ Died for Nothing?

Today, as we continue to our Galatians’ series, our scripture reading is Galatians chapter 2: 11-21. It can be found on page 824 of you pew Bibles.

I invite you to listen for the word of God.

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
-The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God
For many of you who are reading from your own Bibles, some of the words I just read may have been slightly different from what you see in your own translations. The pew Bibles, which offers the same translation as the one I just read, is called the New International Version. Some of you may be reading from the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, The King James, the New King James, the Message, or the New Living Translation.
All these translations have aspects that make them unique from the others. In seminary we always used the New Revised Standard Version, so that translation is the one that I always read first when preparing for a sermon for through the course of seminary I wrote a whole bunch of notes in the margin, notes that some times offer good ideas, or pictures that remind me of how board I was in a particular class.
Translations of the Bible are important because not Jesus, nor any of his disciples, nor any of the great hero’s of the Old Testament, spoke English. As I am sure many of you know, our Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and while Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew in much the same way that Haitian Patois is a dialect of French, the New Testament was written in Greek because Aramaic was considered to be too vulgar a language to be worth writing, at least that is what the ancients thought.
Because of these issues, sometimes the Bible seems like a story that has been passed from one person to another as children often do in a circle playing a game we used to call telephone, where the original message ends up getting muddled up as it is whispered from one person to the next. Often though, the original Hebrew or Greek author’s message ends up getting smoothed out, where a translator or scribe some where in the thousands of years of history tries to change a word just so slightly as to make the intention more plain.
Such is the case with a very simple word in today’s passage: “Peter.” It is a word that may make you wonder how it could be messed up at all, and indeed, the original writer’s intention remains intact, it’s someone’s name, and in English we almost always refer to this person as Peter. However, Jesus never called this person Peter, and neither did Paul, the writer of this letter to the Galatians. In the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 42, Jesus first meets this person that we call Peter and Jesus says to him, “you are Simon, the son of John, you will be called Cephas”, and then the author of this Gospel adds, “which is translated Peter.”
The reason I go to all this trouble of discussing a single word is simply to say that Jesus calls ol' Simon son of John “Cephas,” an Aramaic word that literally means Rock. This name that we may all assume had never been given to anyone before this incident, as it is an incident that predates even Rocky 1, not to mention Rocky 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. But the name makes sense in Mathew’s Gospel when the same incident is retold and Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” This verse didn’t make any sense to me until I found out that the Greek word “Petros,” just like the Aramaic word “Cephas,” means Rock, so that the original Greek translation of Matthew’s Gospel reads much more like “And I tell you, you are to be named Rock, because you are the Rock that I will build my church on.”
To kind of sum things up – the name Peter that our pew Bibles’ use is OK, because it is the English way of saying the Greek word Petrus, which is a translation of the Aramaic word “Cephas” which literally means Rock.
But not everybody knows that.
It is something that we too often take for granted, that our English translations give us exactly what we want from the Bible – that there are no mistakes, that there has been no error made, but the sad truth is that as English speakers we sometimes miss out on cool stuff like this part about Peter really meaning Rock.
However, no editorial change or my explanation can take away the strength of the last sentence in our passage from Galatians, for this sentence reads the same in Greek or English or Aramaic: “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Even if we were like the Muslims who only recognize the Koran in its original language, Arabic, and do not recognize translations as we do as having equal authority, this closing to our scripture reading would read with the same strength, with the same peculiarity, forcing us to ask ourselves, how on earth could Christ have died for nothing?
But, I have found sense in this claim when I think about Peter, not only the character himself but the actual word - as we now know it is a word not perfectly represented by the English name, and that our Bible, as it stands before us in English, does not always tell us exactly what we need to know, but reading and understanding our Bibles necessitates real study, interpretation, grammatical explanation, group discussion, the willingness to question things we have always been told, and, above all, the workings of the Holy Sprit. For the truth of the matter is that this Bible of ours is not perfect, it has been translated and retranslated, told and retold, used to justify slavery, the subordinate role of women, discrimination of gays and lesbians, tainted by the sin that resides in the human hands who shape its words and their meaning. In other words, we cannot trust in the goodness of this book as it stands alone, for this book is not the Word of God because it is perfect as it appears before us - but because God has chosen this medium to work through.
The same idea should be applied to our friend Peter, or whatever you want to call him, as we read in today’s passage.
In this passage Peter has been tempted to trust in his own goodness, his own potential for perfection. He has been tempted back to trust in his own ability to achieve perfection, his own innate goodness, rather than trust in the God who works through him.
Peter, like this Bible, is not the Rock that the Church is built on because he is good, but because God is good and God has chosen Peter to work through.
Paul, who wears his life as a persecutor of Christians as a constant reminder of his own sinfulness and a real sign of how God worked and is working in his life sanctifying him for the work of the church, must remind Peter of his dependence on the grace of God and so Paul takes Peter aside to say, “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
It may be hard to navigate this thin line between right and wrong that Paul draws in the sand, this line between trusting in our own goodness rather than trusting in God’s goodness, trusting ourselves to achieve salvation rather than trusting in Christ’s salvific work for our salvation, because we do as Peter has done all the time.
I say from personal experience that the temptation to trust in the Law or in myself is especially strong for clergy – the world seems to think that we are special, especially good, especially wise, especially holy – as some people still hide their drinks from my judging eyes at parties, seeming not to notice my hair which signals exactly how far I have strayed from sainthood.
The Bible is the same - as some still attempt to trust in the words alone without realizing they use these words for their own human devices, condemning what works for the good of one group but threatens the needs of the powerful, as the Bible was used to justify slavery in this region of the country, by people who mark the Presbyterian Heritage that I hold dear.
But in this realization lies the reason Paul calls Peter back to trust in Christ and not in the Law, lies the reason Paul claims that “if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
For if we could be justified by our own goodness, if righteousness could be gained through the Law, if we could be perfect by our own actions, had the capability of serving God out of our own volition – than God, the judge and arbitrator over us all would have to be exactly that, a judge and arbitrator, judging us on our ability to serve and obey according to the statues of tradition.
If this description were the true identity and role of our God than there can be no doubt of God’s judgment over each and every one of us – God will proclaim us all guilty.
But God has not chosen to do so, God has not chosen to judge us according to the standards set forth in the Bible, in tradition, or by our own self righteousness – for our redemption comes not through our own actions, but through Christ’s.
The God embodied in human form who gave his life for us is not the image of a judge, but a savior, and so we must affirm that it is not we who are good, but it is the goodness of God that works in us.
So why then would we, like Peter, raise ourselves behind the great desk, holding the gavel that God has willingly vacated?
We are the church, and those outside too often see us as the self-righteous judges of this society, though we, more than all people know that the God who has the right to judge us chooses not to.
Just as the Rock, the foundation of the church, Peter, fell into the temptation to find status and justification through the works of the law, so the church that has been built on that foundation does the same.
By doing so, we boast in ourselves, but we also willingly place ourselves back in the prison that God liberated us from – “for if justification comes through the Law, than Christ died for nothing.”
But, just as this passage reads, God will not be a servant of sin, and the truth of the gospel will rain forth – the sign of God’s presence will be vividly displayed in this place, not because we are perfect, as we have faltered and we will falter again, but because God works in this place, through us, in us, and despite us.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Bar of Irish Spring Soap

This morning’s (second) scripture reading is Galatians 1: 11-24, and can be found on page 823 of your pew Bibles.
I invite you to listen for the Word of God.
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and I later returned to Damascus.
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles – only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie. Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judaea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me.
-The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God.
I would always end up jealous on the days when the students who came from anther country were invited to dress up in traditional clothes and bring their traditional foods for the class to eat. They were invited to share a part of their heritage with the rest of my elementary school. It’s weird that I remember it all so well I guess, but I really wanted to wear something cool. I remember that in my class on that day there were students who wore Kimonos, others who wore traditional clothes of Eastern Spain, a girl with roots to Sweden I think even wore some wooden shoes her grand mother brought her, but I remember not really having much of anything that made me feel special. I would end up feeling like I didn’t have any deep roots to some exciting part of the world.
It’s possible that this experience of longing for an exciting culture to celebrate is the root of my fascination with Irish Spring Soap – that was all I used for a while in fact. When I did some kind of research paper I found out that I was mostly Irish, so buying this soap made me feel like I was connected to something exciting. Or, I figured I was at least beginning to smell like someone connected to something exciting.
But Paul the Apostle, unlike me, seems to have done a lot more than use a particular soap to celebrate his roots. We know from this passage in Galatians that he advanced in Judaism beyond many people his own age, for he was far more zealous for the traditions of his ancestors. He was considered by some to be a Jew’s Jew, a man who did more than buy Jewish Spring Soap, but ate Judaism, read Judaism, breathed in Judaism, truly living out the traditions of his ancestors – living in the line of hero’s like Moses, Ruth, and Ester. If he would have gone to elementary school with me I would have been jealous beyond measure.
But, this faith of Paul’s led him to persecute the church – he in fact, as this passage we have read this morning tells us, was persecuting the church in the hopes of destroying it. To use his own words in this letter: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” But God, who had set him apart before he was born and called through God’s grace in what he calls a “revelation from Jesus Christ”, changed the course of his life completely so that he might proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles.
To do so is not nearly so easy as some might think, and for those of you who think it might have been easy for Paul to turn his back on his traditions, turn his back on all that he had been raised to believe and take pride in, let me tell you that it would have been hard for me to give it all up. As a kid sitting in a lunchroom with a hot dog or peanut butter sandwich, longing for an enchilada, Kim chi, or potato pancakes, anything to make me feel like I was a part of some exciting culture, I don’t see how he did it sometimes. His culture defined him, his culture told him how to live and how to measure his success, his culture told him whom he was – and in measuring his success and his adequacy, his worth, told him that he was pretty darn good. According to the standards of his culture he was a good person, a successful person, a zealous believer.
But he let it all go, something very difficult for anyone to do.
Including myself, who at one time thought his only link to anything respectable was through a bar of soap. Of course, even though my family line goes back to Ireland and Wales, as well as many other exciting places, I have my own cultural heritage that runs much deeper. I am connected to the American South in a way that does make me proud at times. I take pride in eating boiled peanuts and chicken livers, not only because I like the way they taste, but because I love the way it feels to be connected to a particular place in this world, connected to my ancestors in an important way.
But Southern food is merely the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the culture that I am so much a part of I don’t recognize it sometimes. A culture so much a part of me that I didn’t recognize it was even there in elementary school. Today, it is funny, but also ironic, that I found some kind of cultural expression in Irish Spring Soap, because in buying something, I was doing the thing that seems to define my true culture more than doing almost anything else.
Its true, and sometimes it’s a sad truth, but we are in fact drenched in a consumer culture, just as much, if not more, than Paul was drenched by his Judaism. Paul learned the Law, those ancient rules of his people recorded in books like Numbers and Deuteronomy, and we – “celebrate everything American” – a slogan I saw not long ago just above a huge plate of stake and potatoes – often by buying stuff. Driving up 85 yesterday I saw a man driving a car with a giant bumper sticker that said, “I love my wife.” A great example of how we show our love and affection by buying things, by buying things that display who we love for everyone to see, whether in a bumper sticker, a tattoo, or a diamond ring. We even express our faith through this cultural mechanism, buying Jesus fish for the car, books on faith at the grocery store or local Christian Book store, even watching movies, whether it be Bruce almighty, Evan Almighty, or Jesus of Nazareth, we do in fact celebrate what we believe and who we believe in all through our most common cultural mechanism – and so we might ask ourselves, who is it that we are worshiping in the act of buying things?
Through a “revelation from Jesus Christ” Paul left the faith of his father’s and mother’s to follow Jesus. It was a revelation so strong that he became a great leader in the faith that he once persecuted, the faith he once wanted to destroy – and I wonder how and why he did it. But I assume that it is for the same reasons that, despite what we buy and what we are able to buy, we do not find the happiness we are promised. There is a Voltzwagon ad up on I 85 that says, “Negate Negativity, Dare to be Happy.” I guess this one struck me in a way that some other signs don’t because it seems so happy to say exactly what it means, whereas other advertisements that are forced on us each day are not so up-front. “Dare to be Happy,” at a time when the world does seem so negative, but do so by buying a car that runs on something that is going to be more and more expensive, needing more and more maintenance, that you will spend more and more time in as your commute gets worse and worse.
And if this car does not “Negate Negativity,” If “Daring to be Happy” and buying this new car does not in fact turn out to be all we thought it would, what will you do then. I assume Paul faced a similar situation living according to the Law. If maybe he could only squash this little group of Christians he might have thought to himself, maybe if I just get them destroyed, then I’ll get the promotion I was hoping for, and then I’ll be happy – knowing that my way of life is what God intends.
The fact that Paul was faced with, is that the way he was raised, the culture that surrounded him, was not as perfect as he had been raised to believe – and so it is with us. We have been raised in a culture that some times tells us one thing while Jesus tells us another. In the same way Paul found that he could not live up to the Law, could not find his salvation by living according to its statues and claims, and saw in Jesus Christ the true means for salvation – so we will find that though our culture seeks happiness through more money, more goods; seeks peace through bigger guns and a new campaign for a missile defense system, buying up the most technologically advanced products that are promised to ensure a safer and more secure future, what we find in the Bible is very different. Jesus calls us to trust in his own act of salvation, not in our ability to earn it ourselves. To trust in God’s call, mentioned three times, in Micah, Isaiah, and then Joel, this call to “beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.”
Such a call doesn’t make much sense in our consumer culture, and the call of Jesus didn’t make sense in comparison to Paul’s culture either- that God’s love would come for free, to all people, whether they wore the right fabrics, ate the right foods, obeyed the right traditions – so different in fact was this Jesus that the Law that Paul tried so hard to live by must have seemed so harsh, so much like a prison, once the “revelation from Jesus Christ” set him free.
To think, that he could eat shrimp and pork, when he had gone so long without it.
To think, that the beard could be cut, when it had taken so long to grow it.
And then, the circumcision – well, we will talk about that later in chapter 5.
This new way of life that Paul discovered in Jesus Christ he will later call “A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” and why shouldn’t he? This new life in Jesus is so different from the life that he was living as a Pharisee.
And the Christian life is no different in contrast to “this present evil age.” We want to buy happiness in cars and houses, buy security in alarms and locks, even buy peace in missile defense systems. But we can fight against the culture that enslaves, living lives for Christ by doing the smallest things. In letting go of our money, giving it away, we are setting ourselves free from a culture that tells us there is not enough, claiming our new life in the new creation where there is plenty. In saying that more hours at work is not necessarily worth all that the pay check promises, to believe that less could be more, that life lived in ways that build up relationships, human dignity- a life that honor’s all people, that these things are more important than anything else.
In doing so God will set us free from the clutches of a culture that we will never measure up to, and that God will use us just as God used Paul – the wealthiest country in the world can do just as much by changing its ways – and freedom, happiness, and peace will be our wages.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

"Let Him Be Eternally Condemned!"

This morning’s scripture reading is Galatians, chapter 1 verses 1 through 10, and can be found on page 822 of your pew Bible.

-I invite you to listen for the word of God.

Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

-The word of the Lord

-Thanks be to God


I have had some pretty funny jobs from time to time. Being an Associate Pastor is definitely the most respectable position that I have had the honor of holding, especially compared to my stint as a “secret shopper” for Captain D’s.
As you all know I am sure, Captain D’s is a great little sea food place that specializes in fried fish, and I should know, as I have had just about everything on their menu. My job as a secret shopper was to go to any Captain D’s and order, watch the clock to record the time it would take from giving my order to receiving my food, and to research the general quality of the food and customer service at any given Captain D’s. I would fill out a little questionnaire on the Captain D’s Website, and then would be reimbursed for my time and expertise. The beauty of this job for me was that I could eat Captain D’s for free just about whenever I wanted, but my surveillance of the restaurant served another purpose. The head-honcho’s at the Captain D’s Headquarters, whether they are stationed in New York City or on a huge Pirate Ship in the south Pacific I’m not at liberty to say, but they used this under cover operation of secret shoppers to keep an eye on their stores. If one restaurant were treating their customers badly, corporate head quarters would hear about it. Also, if an employee were doing a particularly good job, corporate head quarters would hear about that too. In a fairly inexpensive way, Captain D’s employees had to stay on their toes and treat every one with respect, because they knew that anyone could be a secret shopper.
In ancient Greece there were stories that operated in a similar way. There were stories of gods and goddesses who would take human form, go out into the world and see who would treat them with respect and who would not. Those people who treated the secret shoppers of Greek Mythology, the gods and goddesses in human disguise, with respect were rewarded - and those who didn’t were punished. It was a good technique for keeping people acting right, and so it lives on with Santa Clause who is always watching to see who is naughty and who is nice, who is good and who is bad, who is serving fried fish the way they are supposed to and who is slacking off because we never know who is watching, so we are supposed to treat everyone as we would like to be treated.
According to Bible scholar J. Louis Martyn, it is in the light of such undercover scouts that we should understand Paul’s identity as “Apostle.” He is one who has been sent by Jesus Christ and God.
As God’s “secret shopper” Paul seeks to be a servant, not to human powers, but to God. He speaks as a representative of the one who sent him, and he speaks as a representative of Jesus, who in becoming human found out just who was naughty and who was nice. In taking human form, Jesus found out that people are often more interested in serving ancient laws and traditions – making faith cosmetic, changing the appearance of evil rather than changing the evil itself. Jesus realized the true misguided-ness of human kind as he was tried, convicted and hung from the cross by plenty of people who claimed to be God fearing and righteous – for too often we serve what is not God and so do not recognize God in our very midst.
Paul, ambassador, or scout, of God is once again checking on the Galatians. As a traveler in Asia Minor, an area we now call Turkey, Paul was welcomed and embraced by the Galatian community. Their hospitality gave him a relationship that allowed him to present his new friends with the gospel, but now Paul writes to the Galatians and is disappointed. He writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”
Paul sounds mad, really mad in fact. He is disgusted that the people who were once so receptive to the gospel are now “turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.”
His words, though obviously directed to the Galatians, have a lot to say to us now, nearly 2,000 years later in a part of the world Paul would have known nothing about. Not because his words hold some secret code or meaning that reveals the future, but because the Galatian people’s situation is not so unlike our own. Just as the Galatian church was once receptive to the gospel, on fire for God as many would say this country once was, now the Galatians are in need of a rebuke for they have slid into another gospel - just as many would say that this country, founded on Christian principles has abandoned the truths that we once held so dear.
It makes me wonder what Paul would make of this world that we live in if he was getting so mad at this little old community out in Galatia, a small town in a place we now call Turkey – just because they decided that turning back to Jewish customs wasn’t such a bad idea.
Would he speak out about how our community has changed, speak out against a growing secularism, the way prayer seems to have been kicked out of the public schools, the way the difference between right and wrong seem so less clear, the lack of respect for the Sabbath, increasing divorce rates, the broadening of what marriage even means – would he be disappointed in such things? Would he think that we had failed in our duty to God, faltered in our faith as he observed us as God’s representative?
Would he call to those who tempt us as he called to those who tempted the Galatians away from the true gospel, would he challenge the changing tide saying, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
I know that there are many who believe Paul would do just that.
Not unlike the Georgia woman fighting to have Harry Potter books removed from schools so that her child’s education will be free of witchcraft and wizardry, a temptation that she assumes was not there for her as a child and so should not be there now.
Not unlike the street preachers who stand on street corners of Atlanta condemning same sex couples to the fire and brimstone of hell, these relationships would never have been accepted just 50 years ago and so why should they be now?
Not unlike the mothers and fathers who fight for public Christian prayer to be made a part of everyday life and for the 10 Commandments to be made a public reminder, visible in every court room across this country – they remember praying each morning before class, so why should their grandchildren not have the same experience?
I wonder about not only Paul, but also others, like Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, even Richard Nixon, what would they say about the world as it is today?
What would Martin Luther King Jr. think about this country now? Would he be proud of increasing diversity in all regions of the country, or would he be disappointed as so many were to see that the crowds of those with no where to go in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina were mostly African-American, would he be disappointed to see that in this country poverty and race are still linked in a way that seems to say nothing has really changed – or that at least the evil that really needs to change has remained while we have occupied ourselves with things that don’t really matter.
It’s hard to say what Paul, or anyone would think of this country or of this world if they were to come back – But I do know that there are many who think this country is going to the dogs – and I believe that they think so for all the wrong reasons. I do know that there are many people who see all the changes that have taken place in the last 50 years and who cannot help but be disappointed, while I think that they should be disappointed about all the changes that should have occurred but haven’t.
Our world is changing, and this country is changing just as the Galatian community was changing, but today we too often go after the wrong agents of change.
So it’s a good thing Paul is a tricky guy. He uses strong language. He speaks with a big heart and a lot of passion because he is sent, not from humans; he speaks, not on the basis of human authority, but he is one sent from Jesus speaking Jesus’ words. Representing Jesus, that great secret shopper who surprised the world of sinners by his presence, Jesus who had every right to condemn the world as a bunch of hypocrites for they said they believed in God but did not recognize him and in fact put him on the cross - Jesus who should have wiped us all out for our sinful and misguided ways, instead, freed us from our sin, freed us from the present evil age that is so much a part of everything we do and say that we don’t even know it is our reality.
Like Atlanta’s street preachers, there are many who believe that evil is out there changing this country for the worse, that the force that corrupts us is right out there and that Jesus should come and wipe those folks out saying to them as Paul did, “let him be eternally condemned!”
But we know that is not what Jesus did – and Paul knows it too.
Jesus came to this earth and he did not condemn us as he had every right to according to the law, rather, he set us free by showing us the error of our ways – the fallen-ness of our tendencies, the brokenness of the societies which we have created.
As we look to the future, we must ask if we are like “Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” Are we like Paul who asked, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
– or do we serve a past that we have idolized, no longer serving God but serving the memories of a country or a church that was not nearly so rosy as we remember it being.
God who was present to us in Paul the Apostle, in Jesus Christ, and now in the Holy Spirit - sets us free from judging ourselves according to the past – sets us free to know and be receptive to what God is doing in the present and in the future. As for those who tempt you to do other wise, it is to those who Paul says, “let him be eternally condemned!” But of course, what’s the point in that, as for those who are still striving for a bygone era, they are already condemned to serve the past, rather than serving the living God who Paul knew would be doing something new in our midst.