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"Christ Who Lives In Me"

Posted on 6/7/2017 by SuperUser Account in Luke Galatians

Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14 New Testament Reading: Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21

              We enter Galatians today, and will be in Galatians for the next three Sundays, including Pentecost.  The Easter season, the 40 days between Easter Sunday and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the young church that we celebrate at Pentecost is more than half through.  We’ve been marking the Easter Season with the Easter candle which will burn the Sundays of these 40 days and then only again until next Easter at baptisms and funerals.  We’ve remembered our baptism in the water in confession.  We’ve continued to sing hymns about Christ being raised from the dead.  This season, this Easter season is a time to remember that we are new creations in Christ.  We have been saved and in that salvation we are changed.  Paul’s message to the Galatians is a stern letter reminding them to not sway from what they have been taught and to be true to the cross that they claim. 

              The white crosses of the cemeteries at Normandy are overwhelming.   There are so many of them.  Row after row.  Name after name.  Life after life.  Sons.  Fathers.  Uncles.  Brothers.  I felt compelled to go and see the grave stone of my great uncle Warren. 

The only memories I had of him were memories of the hole that his death left in the life of his family.  My grandmother only talked about him once or twice; she had a family picture that he was in and she would take it out every rare once in a while and point to him and stare down at his face.  And his wife; they married just six months before he left to serve in Europe.  She never remarried even though she was only in her mid-20’s when he died.  It was always such a sad story to me.  The loss of this young man.

              A very kind staff person at the cemetery identified where in the fields and fields of crosses my uncle’s cross was.  She took me out to the site, and she carefully brushed dark sand into the writing on the cross to make the name and other information on it easier to read, and easier to photograph.  It was overwhelming.

              She thanked me, which seemed sort of odd at the time, since I never knew the man.  But after some time, I thought maybe that thanks was to the United States and the other allies who fought on that ground on which we stood, and in many other places in the world, against a toxic theology and nationalism that was taking over the world.

              Such a tragic, costly expense must certainly have been necessitated by some evil that it could not be allowed to continue.  All of those crosses, and they only represented a portion of the lives lost in that war.

“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.“

  

              Such gross manifestations of human evil and power occur apart from God.  That is our sinfulness. 

Hitler is an extreme example of what Paul writes about in Galatians, but maybe an extreme example is a helpful example, so that we understand the risk and potential harm that can come from what Paul so adamantly writes about in this letter to the Galatians.  He is scolding the Galatians, imploring them, not to reduce or trade in or diminish the cross and the Gospel - - the good news of Jesus Christ - - with human imposed understandings and requirements. 

The cross of Jesus Christ was a hefty price to pay for the sin of humanity.  It was not only one of the cruelest and most gruesome forms of capital punishment imposed by the Romans, but it was also the focal point, the weight bearing point, like when you take a magnifying glass and run the sun through it and it collects all of that energy into one place and it is so hot that it will burn - - the cross was that kind of spot for God’s dealing with human sin.  It was a cross of death for the Romans and it was a cross of death for sin.  It was a horrible, horrible price to pay - - one that we can only begin to grasp during this Easter season as we consider Jesus’ trial, crucifixion and death and those painful words that he cried from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”   And yet already - - just 20 years or so after the death of Jesus on the cross, the Gospel was already being threatened with alterations.  Watered down.  Changed for human gain, not God’s. 

              The tragic, costly expense of the cross was necessitated by the world of evil, by the sin of humanity that refused over and over to be faithful to their covenant with God.  Abraham was faithful, Moses, the prophets - - sure there were handfuls of folks who heard God and who responded, but the bulk of people - - God’s people - - chose to keep on living their way and ignoring, or selectively choosing from, God’s way. 

Instead of just smiting all of humanity, God sought another way, a way not dependent on our effort or our faithfulness, but on God’s gracious love.  And in grace and peace and love God finished sin on the cross, the horrible cross, so that we might be saved; so that the Old Covenant of Law was finished; so that the New Covenant of life - - life over sin, life over death, and life for the entire world - - a new realm, would begin.  In the defeat that was accomplished on the cross, something entirely new began.

              Salvation became available to all people.  Not just the obvious candidates, the Jews.  But all.  No one had a head start.  No one was behind.  No one deserved it more than anyone else.  It was offered to everyone, Jew or Gentile, without any distinction of one over the other.

              Huge price paid.

              Huge act done.

              To save.  To save and to change the world through believers whose lives were changed by the salvation that they had received.

              “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

 

              This was the good news Paul had preached to the Galatians.  Freedom in salvation.  Freedom to be saved with a salvation that then resulted in spreading that salvation in the world.  Paul had been with the Galatians sometime between 49 and 56 CE, roughly 20 years after the death of Christ.  He was passing through Galatia, the area that includes much of modern day Turkey, around Ankara, on one of his missionary journeys.  The Galatians were people of Celtic origin who had migrated there from Europe in the third century BCE and settled in the highlands around modern day Andara.  The province was named for these Galatian people by the Emperor Augustus.  Paul didn’t intend to stop there but has some sort of ailment that requires him to do so.  And while he is there, he preaches to the people of Galatia; they are pagan Gentiles, not Jews.  They do not know the law.  They listen to Paul and they believe and, with his help, they set up faith communities.  And the faith communities flourish.  We do not know how many churches there were in Galatia, but scholars think quite a number of them.  House churches, small community churches.  They were well-established by the time Paul left.

              And then Paul hears the Galatians are being swayed by missionaries.  These missionaries were Jewish Christians.  They were not trying to persuade the Galatians to recant the faith, but were telling them that Paul had not told them the whole story.  They portrayed Paul as one who did just told them what they wanted to hear, who would not tell them that they needed to also fulfill the Law because he didn’t want to turn them away.  The made it seem that he had shared with them only part of the good news, and now, they were there to tell them the rest.  What they were teaching was that the Gospel was not enough.  Jesus was the ultimate interpreter of the Law and these missionaries were calling the Gentiles in the name of Jesus to obey the law as revealed to Moses.  They preached that circumcision was necessary to enter into covenant relationship with God and obedience to the Law.  And they claimed higher faithfulness and authority because they were from the “mother” church in Jerusalem, which seemed much more proper than Paul’s wild conversation out along a road.

              Paul was furious!  Why was Paul so mad?  Imagine having taught your children a lesson 1,000 times and then find out they went against what you taught them anyway.  Paul had nurtured and taught these young believers and stayed with them until they were flourishing.  How could they believe this doctrine that was so counter to what he had taught them?  These missionaries were preaching a false gospel that gutted the cross and the good news.

              This reapplication of the Law was something out of human insecurity.  Living in the freedom of the Gospel in a church of Jews and Gentiles was hard because they had to build a community in a diverse community.  The Christians of Galatia would have had completely different life experiences and traditions and cultures, and these Jewish Christians thought it would be so much easier if everyone had the same rules and all the better if the same rules were THEIR rules.  And so, they preached a need to adhere to the Law in order to be saved.  But if we need the Law then the cross was for nothing and we are right back where we started - - unable to meet the requirements, and enslaved again to something that only reminds us that we cannot be saved on our own.

 

              “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

 

              “Why in the world would you give up the freedom of the Gospel for the burden of the Law?” Paul writes to the Galatians.  Why would you turn in salvation for sin and death?  It is not the Law that saves but the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  By grace you have been saved!  Do not become confused about that!

              Paul goes back and positions himself as a higher expert than these Jewish Christians who have come to the Galatians, after all, he did encounter Christ.  He is considered a first-hand witness, just like Peter, and James and John.  The Jewish Christians could not claim that kind of authority.  And then he builds on the change that occurred in his life as a way to testify to the power of the cross and the Gospel in his life.  He had a life of position, power, and safety before he met Jesus.  Things could not have been going more his way.  And he could have continued forward in that position and power and safety, persecuting the Gospel and defending the Law as he so passionately did - - standing silently while Stephen was stoned, and he was on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus when Jesus appeared to him on the road.  He could have refused.  But he was saved and in his salvation he was changed.  His life of safety and position was traded in for a life of suffering and hardship.  He was always on the road.  He was always sick.  He was beaten and jailed, spit on, jeered, rejected.  Why?  Because the Gospel had not just saved him.  The Gospel had saved him and changed him.  He was now a vehicle for spreading the good news of salvation and transforming the world away from sin and to the will and power and life of Almighty God.

 

 “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

              And because of who Paul was and because of the experience he had, he argued vehemently that the salvation of the cross necessitated life change.  Life change so significant that it appeared that it was no longer the old person but a new person who lived.  He not only gave up everything - - position, power, safety.  He had completely changed.  The former Paul would not have socialized with or likely even touched a pagan Galatian.  And now?  Now?!  Now he has been living in community with them as brothers and sisters because they are no longer Jew and Gentile but one in Christ!

              Why would you give that up?  Why would you go back to the Law?  You have been freed and saved!  Live that freedom and salvation that was given to you only out of love and grace that you might have peace!

The Gospel, that gift from God of salvation was not for some.  It was for all.  It did not come to divide by race or ethnicity or social class, but to unify.  So Galatian Christian and Jewish Christian would sit side-by-side at table and break bread and share the cup in new practices that would bind these totally different people with one another and with the rest of the world.

 

              Reducing the Gospel to fit our comfort zones, be they our own or those of people like us, is not just turning on the cross of Christ, but it is denying someone else salvation in God and that is not an authority that human beings hold.

              A few days before I stood among all of those white crosses, I had walked through the concentration camp at Dachau.  The two experiences together were enough to make me almost completely silent for days - - what had taken place was too much.  So many things in Dachau made me sick and sad.  But one of the most notable was the sign on the gate that prisoners entered.  Arbeit macht frei. That German translates into this English.  Work sets you free.  It was a horrible false hope that maybe if they worked hard enough and did the right things that they would receive freedom.  Hitler’s version of the Gospel was not the Gospel of Christ at all, but a religion of self-supremacy and hatred and death.  And all of those white crosses represent just part of the cost - - just part of it! - - of rooting out that horrible, horrible system of belief and being.

              Around the world, there are still horrible things, horrible, horrible things occurring.  Sometimes they happen here too.  But more often we are faced in 2017 in Ohio not with a blatant evil, but with a culture that encourages us to tone down the Gospel, set aside parts of it, make it comfortable, make it safe, make it easier for our life. 

              The letter to the Galatians still has great value to us today.  Precisely for this.  For big errors from the Gospel often start with small errors from the Gospel that go un-checked and endure and snowball.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear, Almighty God.

              Do not trade in the freedom that you have in Jesus Christ for the Law that you can never fulfill.  Do not diminish the cross.  Don’t do it!  Paul writes with emotion and passion so that they do not trade in the grace and salvation that they have been given for the unfulfillable Law.  Receive the freedom that is in Christ and become that freedom for someone else and for the world!  Paul pleads.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. 

              We have been crucified with Christ, and by the grace of God may it be that it is no longer that we live, but that it is Christ who lives in us.  That the salvation given to us in love and grace would be spread to the entire world.

              Amen.  May it be so.  May it be so today.

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