On Galatians in which I ruin Mother’s Day, but only temporarily

May 13, 2012
Glyndon Lutheran Church
Pastor Jeni Grangaard

When I was new to faith, I was a bit clueless.  Christianity doesn’t come with an owner’s manual, per se. Not one that is really perceptible or easy to follow. Faith doesn’t translate into action as if through osmosis–faith isn’t natural to us. Sure, there’s the bible, but have you read it? It’s pretty confusing and a little outdated and big.  But I wanted to cling to something. I wanted to know what to do with this thing that had just been given to me, this thing that burned like passion but calmed like waves washing to the shore.

I remember that my ritual became saying the Lord’s Prayer each night before I slept, a practice I still continue. I started going to church, even though I had no idea how to find hymns in the back and the order of service in the front. I read the bible my best friend gave me when I graduated from high school. Some parts were beautiful:

Whatever you do, do well.  For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom….People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often caught by sudden tragedy. Ecclesiastes 9

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky and those who turn many to righteousness will shine like stars forever. Daniel 12

And one stuck out, one in the book of Galatians, bookmarked with a card from a faithful friend, Galatians 2:19-21, which reads, in part:

I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but it sounded nice and I wanted to live fully and joyfully into this new life and new reality called faith.

To be honest, this search was exhausting and demanding and in the middle of it, I just wanted to find a clear, black and white description of the life of faith for me to imitate. So I clung to the laws offered in our book of faith. I clung to the laws of the land. I regretfully separated myself with those deemed by preachers to be unclean. I even drove the speed limit for about 9 months when I was 20 years old. I wanted to no longer conform to my culture but be transformed by Christ.

I think I can resonate with the community in Galatia, an area in modern day Turkey. Now, for all intents and purposes, it could be called Glyndon, or Georgia, or Galveston. It was a real place with real flesh and bone people and a real life problem: how do we live together fully and joyfully into the new life of faith? The message of Jesus, that he was the Messiah and died but was raised had set their hearts on fire. They burned with passion but felt the cool, calming peace that only Jesus can give.

Like I did and like any discerning community would do, the people turned to the scriptures and tradition to search out the right thing to do, the right way to live. Where else could you turn? So they looked to the Psalms or songs of the community of faith that praised God’s law or teaching. They looked to the Torah, the teaching handed down through the generations that offered instruction and laws for living. They know what we confess, that the life of faith isn’t about being comfortable, it carries sacrifice and commitment, and like many Christians since, their adherence to the faith came at no small cost to them. They looked and found the covenant God made long ago, a covenant that distinguished who the people of God were to be, a covenant that was made through circumcision.  So, that is what the faithful male adult converts did in order to show their faithfulness.  This being in a time with neither anesthetic nor antibiotics.

Sorry to ruin your Mother’s Day, but, Moms, you’ve seen worse, no doubt. We can all just be glad to be from Glyndon and not Galatia.

One thing is for certain, these Galatians sought to live into the faith of Jesus through following the laws of Israel, even the really hard to follow ones.

And Paul, the letter writing, circumcised on the 8th day of his life faithful Jew, preacher of the good news of Jesus to this early church…called them foolish. Perverters of the gospel. Like Paul, I too could take a lesson in tact and gentleness.

You see, I’m not sure what would be more painful, to go through a traumatic physical change or, after, to have gone through the painful physical change and be told you are foolish.  Ouch.  We are want to ask, “why does he use such harsh words? They were just trying to be faithful.”

But here’s what’s happening. The people are looking behind them and not in front of them to the new creation that is growing out of their faith. The people are looking for words to put around their new faith and looking for ways to live their new life. But they tried to do the same old thing: trusting in the work of their hands rather than the work of God’s hands. The people are trying to make themselves right rather than trusting or having faith in Jesus, who died, taking the sins of the world, theirs, yours, mine, and leaving them on the cross, in the grave. Christ alone makes us right. Christ alone forgives our sins.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with following the law and indeed it is good for this life and living. But the law cannot–whatsoever–make us right with God. Would that it could! Would that we could know where we stand with God by our actions, works, following of God’s law. The law does not distinguish us in God’s eyes. Only Christ.

For through the law, I died to the law, Paul writes in Galatians 2, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification–if being made right–if earning forgiveness–comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”

The law can show us right living and wrong living, but it has no power to make us right. Only Jesus can do that. Only faith can make that happen. And what’s more, trusting in the law to save us only nullifies, voids, invalidates, countermands, cancels Jesus’ death for us. It puts us in the place of Jesus as our Savior and Messiah. Why would we need Jesus if we could save ourselves?

Bad news: you can’t save yourself. You can’t make yourself right before God. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. Good news: Jesus can save you. Jesus can make you right before God. In fact, Jesus has saved you. Jesus has made you right before God. And the life you live by faith in the flesh can be lived well.  There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.

What can this mean for us? What then? Do we live a willy-nilly life loose from the law?

By no means. We can and do look to God’s law to help us live our life, but we cannot use it to justify ourselves, we cannot use it to create barriers or distinctions, we cannot use it to say who is in or who is out, we cannot use it to say who is clean and unclean, we cannot use it to take away the civil rights of others.

To do so would be foolish and a perversion of the gospel.

Elsewhere in his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; all of you are one in Christ Jesus. The things that distinguish us from one another are gone, taken down, erased…in Christ. Distinctions are no longer our reality, for we are all in this together in Christ.

We look to Christ alone to make us right.

We look to Christ alone to make our neighbors right.

And that is scary.

That takes deep trust.

That takes real faith.

But it also offers true hope and a bright future.

We could not save ourselves, so God saved us.

We could not make ourselves right, so God in Christ made us right.

We are called to move out of fear and into faith, faith that Christ is enough.

Righteousness does not come from us, but from the one who took our unrighteousness: Jesus. Righteousness comes through faith, and faith, is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, says Martin Luther.

For Freedom, Christ has set you free, Paul writes, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love serve one another.  You see, it’s not just freedom from something, but freedom for something, for a life lived in faith through love. Life is not worthless, but worthy. Worthy of being saved. Worthy of being redeemed. Worth of your care and attention. Worthy of God’s love. And of course love flows from God through us; for the whole law is summed in a single commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Who are the neighbors, either right next store or a thousand miles away, that God is calling you to love? Who are the people in your life that God is shaping you to serve? This is what it means to be faithful, to love God and love one another.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still searching out what this means. I haven’t finished my faith journey and I’m pleased to journey together with you, we’re all in this together, we all learn on the way.

In our searching, we are given guideposts, beacons of light that help us discern the way to live faithfully. As Lutherans we look to God’s grace wrapped up in things like water, wine and bread. In the waters of Baptism we all have put on Christ. For all the baptisms you’ve seen here, it’s just a drop in the bucket of all the fonts in all the places in God’s great creation where God is claiming, naming and sending his children into the world to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with him. We’re all in this together, we all learn on the way.

For all the times we step up to Christ’s table and take the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, we take Jesus into our own bodies and then out into our lives where we do church in our homes and in our jobs, at school and with our friends. For all the times we step up to Christ’s table, he steps into our lives and the lives of saints and sinners across the world and across the generations. We’re all in this together, we all learn on the way.

For all the times we gather in this room to hear God’s grace through word and touch it through sacrament, we are sent out, back into the world and back into our lives, into classrooms and boardrooms, into fields and forests, into cubicles and trucks, we are sent out rooted in God’s grace and grown into faithful servants who love, even if we don’t know exactly what that means, we’re all in this together and we all learn on the way. That, dear friends in Christ, is a life lived in the living, daring confidence of God’s amazing grace.

(Huge HT to Mary Shore who provided a beautiful framework over on workingpreacher.org).

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