2nd Sunday after Pentecost—Year C—June 2, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
That is how Paul starts most of his letters, or at least ones that have been preserved in the Bible as we know it. Even to the church in Galatia he begins: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” and then he immediately goes on to preach the gospel, “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.” He succinctly shares the heart of Jesus’ message and mission in one short sentence, in case any one has forgotten…which is in fact, exactly what has happened in the Galatian community.
After his normal greetings, Paul skips his normal admonition of the Galatians’ faith and lives. Instead of saying that he prays for them and lauds them for their work for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he scolds them. Actually he yells at them! Can’t you just hear the change in tone?
I imagine that Paul hurriedly writes his normal greetings, and then with the release that comes when you are finally able to say something that you have been wanting to get off your chest, Paul burst “I AM ASTONISHED!”
He is astonished that the church in Galatia has so quickly been led astray and deserted the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have abandoned the gospel that is marked by love, freedom, and the cross, for that focuses instead on works, on what the people believe and do, instead of what Christ has and is doing.
Paul is upset by the direction in which the Galatians have been led as a church, as the gathered body of Christ, intended to receive and then also proclaim the good news to others. But instead of good news, they have been proclaiming bad news. For that is what telling people they must act a certain way in order to gain salvation is. It is bad news, because if we have to earn salvation through our own works, we are out of luck, because we will never get there. But thankfully, the true gospel, the one that Paul advocates, reminds us that we are saved by Christ, by faith through grace, not by works. Period, end of story, there is nothing we can do to either gain or lose the love of God, Christ has done everything that is necessary. We can turn our backs on the love of God, but even then, it is still there when the Holy Spirit turns us back around through the preaching of the Gospel. God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is a free gift that has been shared with us, and we are encouraged to share with others.
But what gospel do we tend proclaim out in the world? Do we proclaim the good news or do we tend to focus on bad news? Do we proclaim Christ crucified or our own works? Do we bask in God’s love or do we seek human approval?
This is something that we constantly struggle with as people of God. For although we are claimed and forgiven, we still are sinful, and that sin leads us to want to be in control. It is a lot easier to believe that we must do a check list of things in order to be saved: be circumcised, attend church regularly, serve in worship, serve on Council, agree to be baptized and confirmed, tithe…I could go on, but there is no point, for it is not these actions that cause God to love us. It is not these actions that make us saved. It is not our doing, but the Holy Spirit working faith in us that is alone effective.
Now do not get me wrong, that list is a list of good things to do. It is through those actions that we can testify to the power and love of God, but we must be careful that in the midst of that preaching through actions we do not pervert the gospel. The focus should ever remain on the works of God that enables our good works, not the opposite, not our works, that enable the saving power of God.
For instead of the burden of the law, of rules, of requirements, we now live in the freedom of the gospel!
This opening part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes me ask the question: “how can we better live into and proclaim the freedom of the faith that has been given to us?” For we also understanding that having been given the gospel does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want, to act in whatever manner we please, for we are called to live in response to the good news, that we might continue to spread it to all nations, to every corner of the earth, as Paul began doing.
And so we continue to act, struggle, and reflect on our actions boast God’s righteousness instead of trying to boast our own. How do our words and actions, our own response to the gospel share the good news instead of turning it to one of obligation instead of freedom? Every day we will struggle, and some days we might fall short, but thank goodness that does not change the fact that God still loves us. And I also thank God that we have Paul’s fiery, impassioned letter to remind us of the dangers that come when we respond to the good news by changing it into bad news and spreading the latter to our neighbors.
The Holy Spirit brought the good news to us, whether it was through human words, hands, or through a vision of Jesus Christ, like Paul, and the Holy Spirit will continue to work through us so that we can be the hands and the mouths that spread the gospel of freedom instead of another gospel, one that is not good news at all.
And “may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”