Sermon, Pentecost 4C, Sunday June 16, 2013, St Petri
Series ‘ Galatians: Living the Gospel, Week 3
Living the Gospel
Galatians 2: 15-2115 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in[a] Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
There’s nothing quite like a local church community in terms of being a community with all kinds of people in it. The diversity of people personalities and experiences in a local church is one of the things that makes a local church such an amazing place.
Of course, because we are human, sometimes the differences we have can create a bit of tension and even conflict.
People may think that the first church community was never in conflict, very unified and quite perfect. But it wasn’t! Paul tells of a conflict between he and Peter.
Peter and Paul had spent fifteen days together before this letter was written when Paul first went down to Jerusalem to consult with Peter about the message he was proclaiming among the Gentiles. All seemed to go very well on that occasion (Gal 1:18). After that meeting, Paul was happy to testify that “God was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews…. (Gal 2:8).
But when Peter came up into Gentile Antioch and Paul observed something about Peter’s behaviour that didn’t quite line up with the gospel of Jesus, the challenge was on.
Paul noticed an hypocrisy driven by fear in the behaviour of Peter. When no Jewish colleagues were around in Antioch, Peter was one of the Gentles. He ate with Gentiles and did not keep the Jewish law among the people. But when the Jewish Christians came up from Jerusalem, all of a sudden, Peter returned to the Jewish law by not eating with Gentiles and returning to the food laws of Jewish people.
Peter was engaged in that “gospel +” living we have been talking about.
Gospel + something else to get God’s grace.
Peter was leaving the gospel of God’s underserved love received only by means of faith in Jesus the Messiah by adding something extra to it for his wellbeing. The “plus” was nationalism. He was insisting that Christians can’t be really pleasing to God unless they become Jewish in their lifestyle and belief. This is just another form of legalism – or relying on the Law for our wellbeing before God and with each other.
Peter was rebuilding what had once been torn down and therefore showing that he himself was indeed a lawbreaker before God, says Paul (Gal 2:18). Before we point the finger at Peter too long, we might look our own legalisms…
We have similar sorts of exclusive social behaviour based on a failure to trust the gospel of Jesus as our only means of wellbeing, community and life.
Being Sectarian: It is extremely easy to stress our own distinctiveness in terms of teaching and story and way of being church in order to really say that our church is superior and our belief more authentic or pure that others’.
Class, Nation and/or race distinction: We human beings, and even us redeemed people of God, seem to thrive on making distinctions to feel superior.
We seem to pick just about any difference between us, be it social standing, level of education, income or the place we live in of anything else to cluster in groups and speak about “those other people” in an attempt to cope with our feelings of inadequacy, our lack of understanding of others and our fears of difference.
Taking ourselves too seriously: This is taking our own preferences too seriously and loading them up with moral significance which in the end is only cultural.
EG. Being a church with a certain reserve, less visibly seen emotional expressiveness and feeling superior to those in churches that have more emotional expressiveness and vice-versa.
We struggle to sit with the reality that we just different and make our differences articles of faith when they really may be only cultural differences between people.
We can easily believe that our customs and music and way of gathering are spiritually better than others, when in fact they are just different.
Paul declares, “God did not have fellowship with you, Peter, on the basis of your race, culture, custom and keeping of rules.
So, though you were very good and faithful in keeping these customs and rules, these had nothing to do with God coming to you with the hand of friendship and loving you in his Son, Jesus”. In fact, this way of living was really all about you – you at centre, you first then God. It is that old “gospel reversal” of which we have spoken.
GOSPEL REVERSAL LIVING
I think, act, do, keep the law well → God responds by accepting me
So, Peter (or any of us), you cannot have fellowship with God and each other on the basis of customs, race or nationality – these are not where your heart and your wellbeing lie (Gal 2:15-16).
Our only foundation to be united and effective and faithful to our God in life and our only basis for fellowship with him and each other is the gospel of God’s grace given in Jesus. He makes us one. He makes brings us together and gives us meaning and purpose for living.
But see here how the gospel actually shapes not just Paul’s thinking and his faith but his action and his relationships…
The gospel message our lives speak is;
NOT “Try harder” BUT “Remember God’s grace for you” (the gospel)
EG. Racism is wrong not only because it hurts people but because it is fundamentally opposed to the gospel of God’s grace received by faith by anyone who calls on the name of the Lord.
Racism is then just a continuation of gospel + living and belief in one part of our lives. It is borne of the desire to feel we are in some way “better’ or “righteous” over against others. It is ignoring the truth or just plain forgetting the truth that we are accepted, of great value, loved and we belong to a community by God’s gracious hand given in Jesus through our baptism.
Racism, like any other divide we put in place to feel more accepted, secure, superior, is a failure to live our lives under or in line with the gospel.
So Paul challenges his brother not by making him feel guilty but by reminding him of who he is and whose he is in the gospel of Jesus
So, we see here the way of the gospel:
You better get better in your behaviour→ God’s will accept you
God has loved you and accepts you in Jesus → Now respond
Friends, this is the Christian way of living with difference and even at times, “opposing” someone. When you are trying to motivate someone or help them see a truth of God in a particular area of life or wanting them to find the riches of God’s grace given in Jesus for them, then you are best to use God’s grace and mercy as the motivator and not just more rules and the guilt and fear that come from the law.
Yes, Peter’s behaviour was wrong and Paul said this “in front of them all”. And yet he did not only say the behaviour was wrong but then brought them back to the gospel as the only way of renewal, forgiveness and change – he talked about God’s grace as our only hope and life and urged Peter to remember who he was in God’s grace – in his baptism.
He says to a fearful Peter, “Peter, you do not need these people’s approval. You already have got Christ’s”. There was no need for “gospel +” living. The gospel is enough for you.
When we speak the good news of God’s grace as we talk about our wrongs we can speak quite strongly and directly and it will have a much higher chance of being received because it will show that in the end we are actually for the person not against them – and that God is actually for them and with them, not against them and apart from them.
Parents, when your teenager/young adult leaves the house to go to a party, what is the gospel thing to say?
Don’t do wrong tonight OR Remember who you are tonight
To a friend who is scared and yet outwardly rejecting the church and the gospel we love, which is the gospel way to be?
Friend, you better come to church OR God is still with you and is still calling you back home
When you are wronged: What is the gospel thing to say and do when you are wronged or can see hypocrisy in your parents or your colleagues…
Friend, when you did that or say that it hurts me and others but God still loves both of us and is calling us to forgive each other as he has forgiven us in Jesus.
Friends, what we hear Paul doing is living in the gospel and it is the hope we bring to our parenting, our teaching, our friendships, our marriages, our work place.
Gospel mission as church?
Raising up the gospel of God’s gracious kindness already offered in the person of Jesus for people who can never be superior enough by keeping a million rules and expectations but are freely