Feeling rather guilty for not writing here for the last several weeks – and then (in Pauline fashion!) I realize that I do well not to make more of myself than I ought. Might I hear his voice saying: “Yeah, right: feel guilty, disappointing all those THOUSANDS of blog readers who have been dying of thirst these past few weeks, yearning to receive just a drop of your enlightened wisdom.”
Thanks, Paul, for keeping it in perspective.
And, so…Paul. There’s a random way to begin again. With Apostle Paul. But that is indeed where I’m headed these next few weeks. The beginning of a 3-part sermon series on Galatians. I’ll be preaching on Paul’s rant to the Galatians (well, officially, it’s an “epistle” – that literary form that was common in his time – namely a letter, read in public, by which a person wrote to a community to connect, correct, corral, and teach). But as we shall see, it’s really a kind of loving rant to people whom Paul dearly loves, but seem to have gone way off track.
There’s a lot there that’s abstract, but beneath it all is something of a real drama. We see Paul at his most ticked off – at one point wishing that those who are trying to circumcise folks among the new Christians in the Galatian church might have “the knife slip” in their circumcising…meaning…he wishes they would castrate themselves. Check it out. (Galatians 5:12)
Tell us how you really feel, Paul.
The first sermon, this Sunday, will focus on 1:11-24, but I really hope that anybody reading these words might simply pick up and read the whole book. Read a chapter at a time, or you can read the whole thing in about 20 minutes or so.
But, in this first sermon, I’ll be talking about the context of Galatians, which has to do with some teachers who crept in after Paul had established the church there and started preaching a “different gospel” than the one Paul taught them. Namely, one that enjoined the new Christians to think that what Paul taught was “Christianity lite.” These folks (called “the Judaizers”) were proclaiming that to be a “real” Christian, one had to become Jewish, and adhere to the rigorous and strict fundamentals of the Jewish dietary and purity laws.
The territory I’m going to explore this Sunday has to do with this: Paul is battling fundamentalism. A perversion of Christian faith that misses the point. In doing so, he is defending his authority as a teacher – and not one proclaiming “his” gospel vs. “their” gospel – but the gospel, one that is capable of transforming human beings from the inside out, making of this humble human flesh, beautiful new creations in God’s image.
So…think of Galatians as Paul vs. the Fundamentalists.
As I think of that theme, I think of one of my cousins with whom I grew up. Certainly one of my favorite cousins; maybe one of the funniest guys I have ever known. Like me, the son of a preacher (or PK as we were most commonly known). Then, when he went off to Brown, he met Jesus. In a big way. After that, I remember arguing with him over the Bible (and argue was the operative word). Instead of the lightness with which he had taken himself and others, I detected that he had become hard, heavy. The world was not seen in color, or even shades of gray – but black and white. There were the righteous and the damned. The good and the bad. There was the right way to behave, and the wrong way to behave. I did not find much grace in it at all, unless you believed in the very narrow version of reality with which he had come to make sense of an ambiguous world.
Not that what we do, or what we believe, does not matter (this we shall explore in the last part of the sermon series). But what’s at stake for Paul – and for us – is a Christianity that transforms us not via a set of rules and regulations, of thou shalts and thou-shalt-nots. What’s at stake is the preservation of a power (via a message) that re-creates people, such that they don’t need those rules. The rules become irrelevant, because what emanates from them is nothing less than the very love of Christ, which has not only claimed their lives, but the whole world.
So – read up, if you would. And if you do a little study – let me know if you see the same thing here. Would love your comments here, or along the way – O you thousands of readers out there.
PS – hope you’re signed up for Revive! I think it will be a blast, and I suggest you not miss it….