Sunday, June 5, 2016

Glory Be!

Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
June 5, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Our first reading for today comes from the first chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. For the next few weeks we’ll be looking at this letter and thinking about what it might have to say to us today. The context of this letter is much like most of Paul’s letters to churches – it was occasioned by an issue in the church that Paul took great pains to address in writing. This particular letter was written not to just one congregation but to a cluster of house churches, and it was intended as a kind of circular for them to share.

Paul is extremely distressed with the Christians in Galatia. He started the churches there, and has an almost parental feeling for them. Now he writes to say is astonished and perplexed by them – in fact, he is really quite angry and dismayed. One sign of his anger is that among all of Paul’s epistles, this is the only one that does not include a thanksgiving in the opening greeting. In every other letter, Paul greets the people with grace and peace, gives a hint of his subject matter, and then expresses thanksgiving to God for them. But not this letter! Paul is not feeling very thankful for them!

Let’s listen to Paul’s words to the Galatians:

11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they glorified God because of me.

In our gospel reading, Jesus has gone to the gates of a town called Nain, and has encountered a funeral procession. Moved with compassion for a grieving mother, Jesus reaches out and raises her son back to life. 
Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Luke 7:11-17.

11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has risen among us!" and "God has looked favorably on his people!"17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

As I was preparing this sermon,
I ran across a cartoon of the Apostle Paul.
He is depicted at a wooden table, writing a scroll.
His letter reads:
“I Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, greet you in the name of the Lord,
and ask you to keep your dog out of my petunias.”
The caption is “St. Paul’s Letter to the Bergmans.”

The New Testament contains a variety of letters,
and most of them, especially those from Paul,
are along the same lines – encouragement, critique, teaching and preaching.
All of them deal with issues far more serious than dogs in the flower beds.

This letter to the churches of Galatia was written on a very serious issue.
Every so often, there is a defining moment for the church,
a time when Christians are led astray by a leader,
or a message, that conflicts with the teachings of Jesus.
This letter was written for just such a time.

I’m not talking about differences of opinion on carpet color,
or variations in denominations,
or even disagreements in the interpretation of Scripture,
or any of the many ways that people of good faith may disagree.
I’m talking about enormous, cataclysmic heresies.

In 1933, in Germany, the Nazis seized power
and began to pressure the Protestant churches to “aryanize” the church –
to expel any Jewish Christians from ministry,
including clergy whose spouses were of Jewish descent -
and to adopt Nazi principles as the principles of church government.

Many churches succumbed to the pressure,
and many Christians embraced the Nazi ideas.
A movement called the “German Christian” movement
taught that racial consciousness –
that is, the idea of the Aryan Germans as the master race,
was a revelation as important as that of scripture.
In the town of Barmen, however, a new movement was forming –
“The Confessing Church” movement.
This movement insisted in a strong theological declaration
that the only revelation from God
is that which is in scripture, revealed through the Holy Spirit,
and the person and work of Jesus Christ.

In 1934 they wrote and published the Theological Declaration of Barmen,
a bold statement to the churches of Germany,
encouraging them to stand firm against the fear mongering nationalism
that Hitler and the National Socialists
were attempting to equate with Christianity.

It is a powerful confession of faith.
“We reject the false doctrine,
as though the church in human arrogance
could place the Word and work of the Lord
in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.”

It was not so different in the first century in Galatia.
The apostle Paul is furious that these Christians,
most of whom had formerly been pagans, non-Jews,
had been so easily led astray.

They had been taught by him, led by him,
through the authority of Jesus Christ, led by the Spirit, called by God.

Now they’d been told by some other so-called teachers
that Paul had omitted some important teachings –
namely, that these new followers of Jesus must also follow Jewish practice.

How could they now believe
that Paul had omitted such seemingly crucial facts?

Had Paul watered down the truth,
drawn them in with the simplicity of the gospel, only to later add,
“Oh, by the way, you also need to be circumcised,
and follow Jewish dietary laws, and Jewish practices,
in order to be part of this church.”?

By no means.

Paul assures them of his call from God,
his knowledge of Judaism,
and his knowledge of the Gospel.
He sets out his credentials, his purpose, and his aim –
to preach the Gospel, and thereby bring glory to God.
As one who formerly persecuted the church,
as one who knew the law inside and out,
he knew that the gospel message is the saving death of our risen Lord,
and that gospel alone is sufficient.

The book of Galatians will continue to stress this crucial point:

Not Jesus plus something else.
Just Jesus.

We Presbyterians are wary about the drawing of lines.
We are uncomfortable with dogma; we prefer dialogue.
But like the church in every age,
we are always in danger of being misled
by those who want to repackage this gospel,
who want to offer some other message
than the saving death of our risen Lord.

You don’t have to look very hard to find them – just turn on your television.
Surf the internet – do a Google search for Christian teachings.

You’ll find so many messages that would lead you to believe
there is something more to the Gospel than the message of God’s grace.

Some would have you believe that there is a new Messiah, come to save us.
They’d have you believe that God wants nothing more
than to see a particular political candidate in office.

But we’ve seen how badly that belief can go wrong.

Some would have you believe that our nation’s government
should espouse Christian principles and support Biblical teachings,
that this would save our country.

But we’ve seen how subordinating the gospel to the government
worked out in Germany.

Some would tell you that the purpose of the Christian life
is to make you happy and wealthy.

But we’ve seen how well great wealth and power works out
for those self-appointed preachers of the prosperity gospel.

If we aren’t sure how to distinguish the true gospel from the false one,
Paul’s letter to the Galatians will give us clarity and standards.

Moreover, we have the life and teachings of Jesus Christ
with which to measure and evaluate other claims.
Where does the gospel rest? In Jesus.
What does the gospel teach? Only Jesus.
What authority do we follow? Jesus. Only Jesus.

In our gospel story today, we see the central work of Jesus Christ –
to see our suffering and love us,
to look on us with compassion,
to heal us and give us new life,
to raise us from death to life,
and for a single purpose –
that God may be glorified.

That same Jesus calls each one of us,
as Paul was called,
snatching us up out of the jaws of death and defeat,
delivering us to life,
so that we may follow in Christ’s way –
not for our own glory,
but to see the suffering of the people of the world, and care for them;
love them, to look on others with compassion,
to offer hope and new life in Christ,
to walk in that new life
so that God may be glorified.

To God alone be the glory.


1 comment:

  1. As always, Pastor Berry, your sermon has teachings that help us use history as tool for growth rather than repeating mistakes. Very much enjoyed learning of "The German Christian and The Confessing Church". As humans and Christians we want to believe that we would never behave in a manner as Nazi Germany did, but it sometimes seems that history has a way of sucking us into cesspool of poor decision making (even with our knowledge of history) then spewing us out with a new set of history lessons for future generations. But the bottom line is "our saving grace through Jesus Christ." Thank you for spending the time with Christ to write this sermon. It's helped me to be more conscience of praying to God to make holy decisions rather than self centered ones. Segue