July 7, 2019

2019 July7_FrIan

Proper 9 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

It’s sometimes comforting to be reminded that the Early Christians were no better at getting along and understanding the true message of Jesus Christ than we are today. As one of my New Testament professors said of the Letter to the Galatians, “Paul was hoppin’ mad!” Galatians has none of the customary personal greetings that are found in Paul’s other letters; relations are strained; Paul is hoppin’ mad! Here’s why:

 

The Christian communities in Galatia were made up of mostly gentile converts. When Paul left, some individuals started preaching “another gospel” based on salvation through the Mosaic law. So, Paul wrote the communities to guide them back to his teaching of salvation through Jesus Christ. So, yes, it is sometimes comforting to be reminded that the Early Christian were no better than we are today.

 

The core message that Jesus brought to us has often been completely obscured by the special interests of Church leaders throughout time.

  • Established orthodoxy vs that which was declare heresy
  • Christianity vs Judaism
  • Christianity subsuming pagan festivals
  • Doctrine of Discovery
  • The Crusades
  • Prosperity Gospel

 

There have been so many actions throughout history, and there continue to be, onto which some warped version of the Message of Jesus Christ has been used as justification for what were clearly immoral, unethical and illegal actions, even for their own times.
Putting all those big things aside and bringing the issue closer to the everyday person, raise your hand if you have been told by someone else something about Christianity – your own faith – which you believed to be outrageously false, yet it would have been more difficult than it was worth to correct? <show of hands – get a few responses>

So, what is the message of Jesus that we are supposed to preach as Christians?

 

It can be confusing. Just walking through downtown, you will walk past

 

  • The Episcopal Church,
  • the Presbyterian Church (USA),
  • the Seventh-day Adventist,
  • Trinity Presbyterian,
  • Grace Church,
  • the Roman Catholic Old Mission,
  • and Elevate Church in the Fremont Theatre.


We are all worshiping this morning – except the SDA – they worshiped yesterday. This proliferation of Christian communities, all with slightly different messages, in downtown San Luis Obispo is a result of different teachings by different preachers, all of whom have had some sort of personal interest.

I

n the Gospel story, Jesus commissioned 70 people to go where he intended to go to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God. I’m wondering how many different messages about what the Good News of the Kingdom of God there were among those 70. I can guarantee you that there were at least 70 different versions, if not more! So, if Paul was hoppin’ mad at the Galatians for preaching salvation through the Law of Moses instead of through the Cross of Christ, then Jesus must have been – and probably still is – completely incensed with the number of different teachings we’ve got going now!

 

Why is the message important? Well,

Salvation is important:
Eternal Life,
inheritance of the Kingdom
of God.

A lot of Christians have trouble articulating what Salvation, Eternal Life and the Kingdom of God are…but let’s just say, it all matters because we all want to get into Heaven, and we need to know what we need to do in this life in order to get into Heaven. That’s overly simplistic, but let’s stick with that for now.

 

The accuracy of the message is important on three levels:

  • The Global
  • The Community
  • The Personal


By Global, I mean the Church Universal. The message of Jesus Christ about the Kingdom of God matters to the Church Universal.

 

By the Community, I mean those around us. If we don’t understand our message, and if different parts of the Church have different messages, then those who want to hear the message won’t know which message to listen to. This is a serious problem for evangelism.

 

By the personal, I mean you and me as individuals. When you walk away from here today, will you know what to do to nurture your relationship with Jesus for the next 167 hours before you are back here again? All the way back to the Early Church, there was a crowded field of preachers claiming to preach the authentic Good News of Jesus Christ – sort of like the current field of Democratic Presidential Candidates.

 

So, what is the authentic message of Jesus Christ, and can we find it in today’s Scriptures? If the two pieces of Scripture from the New Testament were all that we had, what would we be able to tell others about the Good News of Jesus Christ? I found 3 things:

 

1) Include everyone.
2) If you’re thinking only about
yourself, you’ve got it wrong.
3) Bring peace.

 

Include everyone: A major distinction between Jews and Gentiles was male circumcision. How that was monitored, I don’t know, but it was a very important issue for Paul. He repeatedly expressed, loudly and clearly, to the Jewish Christians who were insisting that the Gentile converts be circumcised: Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcomed into the Body of Christ. Paul wasn’t actually flexible on the spiritual journey part – to become a part of the Body of Christ, one had to accept Jesus Christ. But Paul wasn’t as strict as people make him out to be. While Peter and other Apostles were insisting that Gentiles convert to Judaism, including male circumcision, Paul was welcoming Gentiles without that first conversion stage. Paul’s argument against circumcision related to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ makes it clear that every person has the potential to be included.

 

If you’re thinking about yourself, you’ve got it wrong: “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals”, “eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there.” Jesus’ commissions in other Gospels are similar. The lifestyle of an Apostle was to be minimalist, and their responsibilities were to serve the needs of others, rather than their own. Discipleship is “Servant Leadership.” We are all called to Discipleship by our Baptism. We are all called to serve God’s people.

 

Paul also instructs the Galatians to “work for the good of all.” These churches were tiny minorities around Galatia, with their own tensions and conflicts. Internal divisions were not only contrary to the Gospel, but were also not going to win them any favors from the surrounding communities. Paul’s message was both “all are welcome” and “love all; serve all”, like the slogan for the Hard Rock Café.


Bring peace: That is easy to see. “Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’”

 

This is what we want to practice, and we want others to know: Include everyone; it’s not all about you; bring peace. As you do those things, as you live those things, the reality of the Kingdom of God will unfold. Jesus does an awkward job at describing the Kingdom of God during His earthly ministry. He uses a lot of metaphors and parables that no one listening or reading understood. That’s because, like the Torah before Jesus, or the Law of Moses, this inclusion, selflessness and peace-sharing wasn’t to be followed like house rules; it was to be lived. Living inclusion, living selflessness, living peace to others is more than doing those activities; it’s a much deeper engagement; unconscious. That journey toward living the teachings of Jesus opens us up to the Good News, to the Kingdom of God, which are revelations that cannot be taught.

 

But, we are no more wiser than the Galatians, the Apostles and the 70 Disciples, and they were no wiser than we are. It wasn’t too dissimilar a situation back then:

  • The pro-circumcision faction may have been currying favor with a powerful ultra-conservative group in the Jerusalem church.
  • They may have been trying to appease unconverted Jews who did not like that Gentiles were being accepted into the ‘people of God’.
  • Some of the Galatians were picking and choosing which parts of the law to observe.
  • Others were boasting about numbers of conversions and circumcisions.

Switch some words around, and can you recognize some parts of the modern Church!

 

Both Paul and Jesus point Followers outward, outwith themselves: Paul points toward the Cross of Christ, only understood by making a radical break with ‘the world’ and ‘flesh’ and becoming a true follower. Jesus points toward the Kingdom of Heaven, which can only be accessed by the Father, through the Son. There is no shortcut.

 

Both Jesus and Paul are very clear about what it means to be a Christian. Yet, there is infighting among the Galatians about inclusion, and we can probably safely assume that the 70 newly-commissioned Disciples preached 70 (or more!) different messages about the Kingdom of Heaven!

 

Paul and Jesus both tell us that our pettiness, the pettiness that human beings so easily reduce themselves to, does not matter. Paul tries to explain to the Galatians that the New Creation in Jesus Christ is a place where there will be no distinction between circumcised and uncircumcised. Jesus tells the 70 that the Kingdom of God is near, it does have an influence on the world both presently and in the future, and He instructs them to tell everyone they meet.

 

This was – and is – all very important, so important to Paul that he butts into the conversation. Let me tell you about that weird interjection near the end. Paul often dictated his letters to an amanuensis, a person who wrote what he spoke, a sort of scribe, someone to blame any mistakes on. Because the recipients of Paul’s letters would have known this, at the end of the Letter to the Galatians, Paul felt the need to illustrate how serious he is about what he was telling them. So, he points out the “large letters” in his own hand. This was not a vulnerable moment in which Paul admits to having bad handwriting. It was to show the reader that Paul himself had taken the pen to paper to highlight the importance of his message: Stop squabbling about circumcision – focus on Christ Crucified.

God did something similar,
but more dramatic.

When God discovered that the People weren’t paying attention to what He was saying through the Torah, the Prophets and various signs, He decided to exercise His own hand by coming to us as Jesus of Nazareth. That act, the Incarnation, brought the Kingdom of God near…and that is what Jesus wants the 70 to preach; that is what Jesus wants us to preach.

S

o, it’s sometimes comforting to be reminded that the Early Christians were no better at getting along and understanding the true message of Jesus Christ than we are today. When you do get confused about the message, distill what you read in scripture. From what we read today, Jesus and Paul are telling us 3 things about the Kingdom of God:

1) Include everyone.
2) It’s not all about you.
3) Bring peace.

Those messages are not confined to today’s scriptures. You will f
ind them all over the New Testament. And whenever you are pressed or in doubt, you can follow the words of the Presiding Bishop which are always writ large:

 

If it’s not about love,
it’s not about God.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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