The Main Thing
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21
When I was interviewed at Augustana for the interim associate position last July, I was told that Augustana is a church who keeps the main thing, the main thing. Have you ever heard that before? We keep the main thing, the main thing…
And what is our main thing?
Our main thing is the Gospel of Jesus Christ –
And WHO is our main thing?
Jesus is very heart of who we are and what we are about.
Another way of putting it is that at Augustana we choose not Major in the Minors.
Majoring in the Minors… believe me, it is an easy trap to fall into…. and it was precisely what was happening in our scripture lesson for today. A group of Jewish Christians – the Circumcision faction – were Majoring in the Minors and they insisted that the Gentile Christians play along.
And – Paul was having NONE of it.
In Galatians 2, Paul and Peter (Cephas) are in Antioch, an ancient Greek city, where many Gentiles had become Christians. Culturally, they were Greco-Roman, and the Jewish Christians regularly shared meals with these Gentile believers- and undoubtedly ate pork, shellfish and other forbidden foods.
News must have reached the Jewish Christians from the circumcision party in Jerusalem, because they came to Antioch. (Do you remember these guys from last Sunday?) They insisted that if you wanted to be a TRUE Christian, you had to follow Jewish laws and traditions. So – no more pork or shellfish, and the men better get circumcised ASAP. They were acting like the border patrol – determining who was in – and who was out.
Peter must have been threatened by them, because he suddenly stopped eating with the Gentile believers. Do you see the division and fracturing that was beginning here? Dangerous stuff. Thankfully, Paul addresses it by reminding them that it is not these works of the law – like circumcision – that make us right with God, but that we are justified through faith in Jesus. They were getting way off track. Majoring in the minors.
We, like the church in Antioch, have a fair amount of diversity. We are different ages, have different backgrounds and are at different places on our journey of faith. We have different taste in music, food, and art. Some are Republicans, others Democrats or independents, and some don’t vote. We have different convictions regarding controversial issues such as guns, abortion, immigration, and marriage. My blood pressure rises just thinking about it!
How do we – as a church – avoid factions and division when we hold diversity of opinion and viewpoints?
I love the 1991 movie City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal at Mitch. Mitch is from the big city and dealing with a midlife crisis. He and two buddies decide to go on a two-week vacation out west to help drive cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. It is hilarious, as you might imagine. On the trail they meet real cowboys, one of whom is a tough old guy named Curly. As they are riding along, Mitch and Curly have a heart-to-heart conversation.
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else is…
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.
Our one thing – or our MAIN thing -is Jesus. We stick to that – and everything else falls into place.
I believe the key is to be defined by our core beliefs, (or the main thing) rather than agreement on a variety of controversial or divisive issues.
Think of the church as a circle (or as a bound set if you like math). We could choose to be defined by our boundaries…or who is in and who is out. For example, we decide we are a pro-pink carpet church. Everyone in our church is totally supportive of pink carpet. If you think pink carpet is just WRONG – you are out.
OR we can be defined by our center… Like a centered set, the boundaries are a bit fuzzier but all in the set are coming together… moving toward the center. As a church, our center is Jesus, our main thing… and that is who we choose to be defined by.
I was told by some Augustana folk that you played a parachute game at the orphanage in Tanzania. So fun. Everyone holds onto a huge parachute and moves out farther and farther out until it is taught and forms a huge circle. Then someone with a cross comes to the center and pushes up higher, and higher and higher. What happens? As the cross is lifted up, everyone moves closer and closer together. Like an umbrella closing. The center draws them in.
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Jesus was referring to his death on a cross, but I think the verse also applies here…As Jesus is lifted up at our center, as keep the main thing the main thing, as we focus on Christ and what he has done for us, we will be brought together in unity.
It is not our job to change people’s opinions. Nor is it our job to police the boundaries of who is in and who is out. God is the one who draws us in. And God is the one who transforms hearts/minds. Not us.
Augustana, our job is to focus on and lift up Jesus Christ as our Lord in all we do. As we keep the main thing, the main thing to the glory of God, and God’s son, who loved us and gave himself for us all.
Thanks be to God,