Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29
Friends, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
You foolish Galatians. That’s how our reading for today begins. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Harsh words. For those of you who don’t know or who could use a reminder, the book of Galatians that appears in the New Testament was originally a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Galatia. In the earliest years of Christianity, Paul likely helped to found this church and certainly acted as a leader and councilor as the Galatian church continued to grow. In this letter, Paul addresses some of the disconcerting things he has heard, particularly about what some others in Galatia are teaching. And he doesn’t mince word about it. Most of Paul’s letters begin with a nice little section where he says something like, “I thank God for you continually, I’m so happy you’ve been so faithful, I pray for you all the time. You guys are just great.” But in Galatians, Paul’s letter starts, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel!” And so his tirade continues in chapter 3… You foolish Galatians! What the heck were you thinking?!
So what’s got Paul’s tunic in a twist? Well, it would seem that some in Galatia had been telling non-Jewish believers that in order to be truly Christian and accepted by God, they need to be circumcised and follow certain other Jewish laws. Remember, the disciples and many of the earliest Christians were Jewish. As more and more non-Jewish folks, or Gentiles as Paul calls them, became Christian, there was debate around what Jewish laws still needed to followed in order to be a true convert.
If this is all sounding familiar, it’s because Pastor Aune talked about the exact same thing two weeks ago. At the Council of Jerusalem, which is recounted for us in the book of Acts, church leaders were having the very same argument. It was decided at that Council that Jewish laws DID NOT need to be observed because, as Peter put it, “we [the Jews] will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they [the Gentiles] will.” The law does not save, only the grace offered us by God through Jesus Christ. Case closed. Done deal. Except not really, because when Paul writes this letter, some 5-10 years later, people are still having this argument. At the Council of Jerusalem, Paul had been on the side of not requiring Jewish observance, and here he is, a decade later, still having to make his case. He’s been beating his head against this particular wall for a long time, and in frustration, he cries, “You foolish Galatians!” Haven’t I told you this over and over again? When will you get it through your thick skulls? Only faith in Christ matters!!
If you’re someone who remembers a sermon for longer than it takes you to drive home from church, again, this is probably sounding familiar. This is actually the third week in a row that we’re talking about this same general idea. As Christians, we’re saved by grace through faith. Or as Pastor Torgerson put it last week, the only thing that makes a Christian a Christian is Christ. But this concept is worth preaching again because we, like the Galatians, are so quick to forget. We’re easily distracted, so the message bears repeating. Our hearts and our heads can be pretty thick sometimes – because the world we live in is so vastly different than the grace and forgiveness Christ offers us. We live in a society dictated by rules. There is a certain code of conduct for anyone who wishes to venture outside their doorstep in the morning. We rightly teach our kids that there is cause and effect, that actions have consequences. We know from experience that no one is going to let you off the hook and hand you anything for free. Because that’s not the way the real world works.
And then we see the cross. We see this gift of grace that Christ so freely gives us and are tempted to say, “So what’s the catch?” And before we’ve truly wrapped our brains around this thing that seems so out-of-place in our world, it’s Monday, and there are deadlines to meet and speed limits to follow and milk to pick up because the experts say everyone needs so much calcium a day. And all of the rushing around, all of the pressure that we feel starts bleeding over into what we hold most dear and most sacred. And we start to doubt – Does God really accept me as I am? Was Christ’s sacrifice really enough for me? Am I really enough for God? Surely there’s something more I need to be doing?
These questions poke holes in our very souls, and the only thing we can think to do is to rush to fill them with our own self-righteousness. So we work extra hard at being good: we pick up an extra shift at the food shelf or write an extra big check to our local charity or, if you’re like me, you make a completely unrealistic commitment to read your Bible way more than you do now. We do all these wonderful things for all the wrong reasons. We try and try to convince ourselves that we’re really not such bad people after all, that we’ve done enough good to balance the bad, or at least we’re working on it. We compare ourselves to those around us, pointing to the sins of others in an effort to downplay our own. We walk around in the murkiness of the world and we start obsessing over the shades of gray, trying to justify our lives and our actions to God and to ourselves.
And God just looks at us, in all of our scrambling around, and lovingly says, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” Don’t you understand? Are you so quick to forget?
In Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith. There is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free. There is no longer male or female, young or old, Republican or Democrat, traditional or contemporary service-goer.
We are all one in Christ Jesus. We are all covered by the same grace provided us through the death and resurrection of our Lord. Let us never stop reminding one another of that truth. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are enough. And there is nothing, no good work or act of disobedience that could ever enhance or diminish that truth. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. Thanks be to God. Amen.