As we found out last week, in Paul’s opening words of this Letter, he’s quite enraged, infuriated. When we meet the Galatians today, they have been further trounced upon by Paul.
You will remember Paul is the founding pastor of the Galatian churches and word has reached him that opponents are guiding his churches away from an inclusive gospel; casting doubt upon Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul is accused of preaching an immature, underdeveloped type of faith.
And so Paul rants. He raves. His voice reverberates from hundreds of miles away, right up through the ink on the page: “O you reckless, idiotic Galatians: you do not have to become Jews to be Christian; males need not be circumcised; no one need keep kosher, nor follow the Laws of Moses, to belong to the family of Christ Jesus. Not food, nor ritual, or law is needed to be free, in the One who has saved us – anything else is a perversion of the Good News of Christ. You are traitors to a life in Christ. O foolish idiotic Galatians!
It finally came to me this week: as Paul lashes out to this church he loves, he does it, not out of anger or fury; he lashes out because of fear. Fear, dread, anxiety, because he’s so far away, he can’t get to his people, his congregations, to shake them and persuade them, and love them and remind them that, Christ crucified and raised, is for all humanity. It’s a fear born because he knows they’re still toddlers; not yet grown up in Christ.
You can smell his fear lifting off the page. It’s a living, breathing, gasping thing, because Paul is fighting for the very soul of the church: to preach Christ crucified, not as a reward to be earned through the Law, but a gift given to each and every person – in joy.
When we listen today we begin to hear words written in a new key. Listen again:
My Beloved Ones – please do not be so foolish!
Who has bewitched you?
Until you are mature enough, to respond freely in faith, to the living God, you have been carefully surrounded and protected by the Law of Moses.
And that law has been like your babysitter, your tutor, the disciplinarian, who escorts you to school and protects you from danger.
But now, Christians, you have arrived at your destination, and no longer need a child sitter, for in your Lord, you have found your place in the world. [ii]
Christian maturity. If there’s anything that characterizes Christian maturity, it is the willingness to become a beginner again, for our Lord. [iii]
More than anything else, the issue we wrestle with is maturing in faith.
- Why can’t I get beyond this nagging feeling that I’m stuck, and my faith hasn’t grown for years?
- How do I even know when I’m living in faith?
- The last time I seriously considered my faith was in Confirmation Class.
- What’s the mature response of faith to the everyday and serious situations in my life?
A friend of mine recently had a really devastating work experience. She’s a teacher, and as the school year was ending, she applied for an internal job that would mean a promotion. She has 15 years of teaching experience in her district and was sure the promotion would be offered to her. The devastation came when the job was offered to a teacher with 2 years’ experience; 2 years to her 15.
“Why,” she asked her principle? “Please explain to me how this happened? It makes no sense.” Her principle laid it out before her: I’m so sorry, but the reality is, you really haven’t had 15 years of teaching experience – you’ve had one year’s experience – 15 times.
After days of upset and tears, she came to an understanding that her principle was correct. After the shock, she got really honest, and using this huge setback as a wake-up call, she admits,
“I’ve been too set in my ways, too eager to keep things the way they are. I’ve been too rigid and talked more than listened; was fearful more than free. I haven’t asked God to guide me for years; I’ve forgotten how to learn and grow.”
The ability to be teachable; the willingness to be teachable: these are the watchwords for growing in faith. For me, there are four phrases that mark the mature Christian. Things I have to learn to say over and over again:
“I need your help.” “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t know.” “I was wrong.” [iv]
I’ll say them again. And if you read Louise Penny, you will recognize these:
“I need your help.” “I’m so sorry.”
“I don’t know.” “I was wrong.”
For Paul and his beloved Galatians it’s all about maturity in Christ. Maturity at any age: as children, youth, adults – all belong, all can grow, all can progress.
This is one of the things I love most about Paul:
- his unrelenting quest for us to grow-up;
- his dogged way of kicking us in the pants;
- his overwhelming, in-your-face evangelism.
Paul tracks us down, haunts us until we listen, and rummages around in our hearts until we get it right. He’s a terrier for the gospel. Not an elegant Airedale, but a scruffy, muddy, growling Jack Russell. He’s a relentless evangelist, a doggedly unyielding presence that God puts in our lives:
- This Paul that puts Christ crucified front and center;
- Puts font and table right out there for all to see;
- Gifts from God for the people of God.
- Gifts of grace meant for each and every person.
- That God is the central most important part of life.
- Nothing will stop Paul from making us teachable.
And why? Because when we learn to grow-up in Jesus, we learn of a love, that does for us, what we cannot do for ourselves – and that love produces gratitude and compassion – the heart of authentic Christian maturity.
Hear the Good News:
Like a parent holding a child at the font, whispering all the dreams and possibilities for that child’s future, Paul picks us up, dusts us off, and sets us on the path to growth.
Like a family member and friend cheering a child on, Paul wakes us up, splashes us through the waters of baptism, as the Spirit of God makes us one in Christ.
Because we are heirs according to the promise.
And that is Good News.
What better news could there be? [v]
[i] Galatians 3: 23-29: Now before faith came; we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham and Sarah’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. [NRSV]
[ii] Adapted from Eugene Petersen’s The Message. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1993, 394.
[iii] John Richard Wimber. Christian Quotations. Compiled by Martin H. Manser. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, 244.
[iv] Phrases inspired by Louise Penny.
[v] Billy D. Strayhorn. “Heirs According to the Promise,” found in A Hope That Does Not Disappoint: Second Lesson Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost (First Third) Cycle C. Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing Co., 2000.