FIRST LESSON: I Kings 8:22-24, 31-40
SECOND LESSON Galatians 1:1-12
SERMON: “Living Resurrection – Church and Gospel”
Sometime last week one of my Facebook “Friends” posted a picture of a church sign. Some of those can be quite funny; others rather pointed. This one said, “God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians,” and was ‘signed’ by the pastor. Several people had clicked “like.” One person had commented that “true Christians are not hateful.” Rarely do I comment on Facebook posts, especially ones that put forward any kind of controversial position. Mostly that’s because I’m pretty sure that my comment will have little likelihood of changing anyone’s mind. But I posted a comment on this one, perhaps because it carried a pastor’s ‘signature.’ More importantly, it expressed something that on the surface many will agree with, but it carries a message tucked into its back pocket that I believe is theologically unsound.
“God prefers kind atheists over hateful Christians” implies that God cares more for some of his children than for others. So this time, I commented and wrote, God loves all of his children. He does prefer loving kindness over meanness. Jesus taught us to love even our enemies.” Some of you may agree with my response, others perhaps not. We find no end of topics to debate. How do I know what God prefers? I do know some of the things Jesus taught us about God, and loving even our enemies is one of those teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, 43 ”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
Frederick Buechner, in one of the most memorable passages from his book, The Magnificent Defeat wrote:
The love for equals is a human thing ... of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing ... the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing ... to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is bewildered by its saints.
And then there is the love for the enemy ... love for the one who does
not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer.
This is God’s love. It conquers the World.
I know, it’s just the beginning of summer, and September looks a ways off, but someone suggested to me a book for the Adult education class that I find intriguing and exciting: What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian. You may laugh at the title, but it’s not such a bad idea to sort out some of the commonly held misunderstandings concerning what Christianity doesn’t actually teach and then to grasp the core beliefs of Christian faith. To be a Christian do we have to believe that bad people are going to fry in hell or that Jewish people and other non-Christians won’t make it to heaven? What do Christians believe about the identity and work of Jesus? What are those “essential tenets of [Reformed] faith?
This is what Paul is getting at in this letter to the Galatian churches. It is a trumpet blast for freedom in Christ. Martin Luther considered Galatians the best book in the Bible. It has been called “the battle-cry of the Reformation,” the great charter of religious freedom,” and the Christian declaration of independence,”
In this profound letter, Paul proclaims the reality of our liberty in Christ-freedom from the curse of the law and the power of sin, and the freedom to serve our living Lord.
Most of the first converts and early leaders in the church were Jewish Christians who proclaimed Jesus as their Messiah. As Jewish Christians, they struggled with a dual identity: their Jewishness constrained them to be strict followers of the law; their newfound faith in Christ invited them to celebrate a holy liberty.
Paul was accused by some Jewish Christians of diluting salvation to make it more appealing to Gentiles. These Jewish Christians disagreed with Paul’s statements that Gentiles did not have to follow many of the religious laws that the Jews had obeyed for centuries. Some of Paul’s accusers had even followed him to those Galatian cities and had told the Gentile converts they had to be circumcised and follow all the Jewish laws and customs in order to be saved. According to these people, Gentiles had to first become Jews in order to become Christians. “Gospel” means “good news.” This would not exactly be good news to the Gentile converts So Paul wrote this letter to the Galatian churches to explains that following the Old Testament laws or the Jewish laws will not bring salvation. A person is saved by grace through faith.
In spite of the fact that the Jerusalem council settled the law versus grace controversy in about 49 or 50 A.D. There are still arguments about what constitutes salvation. Even today there are many false gospels being preached.
Bob Kaylor, Senior Minister of the Park City United Methodist Church in Park City, Utah writes:
“There are plenty of gospels out there that more reflect the culture than they reflect anything having to do with Jesus. Think about some of them:
“The Gospel of Hate spewed by “Christians” from the Westboro Baptist Church, who picket soldiers’ funerals and believe that people who don’t follow their agenda deserve whatever tragedy befalls them. So much for grace.
“The Gospel of Prosperity touted by famous TV preachers who tell their people that God wants them to be rich, and that all they need to do is “name and claim” what they want and God will give it to them (if they will only believe and send a check to their ministry). So much for “Blessed are the poor” (Luke 6:20), and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
““The Gospel of Sin Management”-- a phrase coined by Dallas Willard to describe a gospel that “produces vampire Christians who want Jesus for his blood and little else.” This gospel is only concerned about getting people into heaven and “reduces salvation to a spiritual exchange divorced from life in this world. It makes salvation and God irrelevant to daily life.”
The Social Gospel, which grew out of the Enlightenment idea of progress and reason, believes that humanity can rid itself of social evils, and that human progress will continue to make things better and better. In this gospel, Jesus provides a good example of how to make the world a better place, and his death and resurrection are mere metaphors for living sacrificially --more good advice than good news.
“The Apocalyptic Gospel is all about watching the sky for Christ’s return and waiting for the Rapture that will suck all the right-believing Christians into the great beyond like some kind of Heavenly Hoover, leaving the rest of humanity behind to stew in hell.
‘You can probably think of other “gospels” that get preached all the time. Of course, there may be elements of truth in some of these “gospels.” God does hate sin, but continues to love sinners. God does want us to be prosperous, but in the richness of his grace, not necessarily the wealth of our bank accounts. Jesus’ blood does save us, but it doesn’t just save us from something, it saves us for the work of God’s kingdom. Yes, God desires our participation in making the world look more like what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer (“on earth as it is in heaven”), but we can’t make that a reality that without Christ’s redemptive death for the world and his resurrection promise of the ultimate defeat of death. We do, indeed, await Christ’s return, but he’s not coming to take us away -- he is coming to take over!
Living resurrection in the church means living out the grace of God’s love poured out for all of us in the earthly life, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Living resurrection in the church means loving not just the lovable, but also the unlovable. Living resurrection in the church means extending to others the same grace that God offers to us. Living resurrection in the church means that we can come to this Table, share bread and cup, remembering that Christ is the host at this meal and invites us to come, not because we are good, but because he is good.
The grace of God is embodied and enacted in Jesus’ death. We cannot defeat sin and evil and change the world on our own. We need a Savior who defeats sin and its ultimate power, death. Jesus does this through the cross and his resurrection (1:3-4)
The grace of God enacted through the Lord Jesus enables us to become children of God, bringing people from different backgrounds, cultures and customs together into a new community not marked by ethnicity and circumcision, but by faith and baptism (1:3).
As God’s children, we participate with God in his mission of transforming the world into God’s new creation. As Paul puts it, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”