Galatians 1-11
Lauren J. McFeaters
August 28, 2016

Having read to you from Paul’s Letter I’d say that was a very calm and steady reading. I interpreted it for your hearing. I read it for meaning. I used evocative pauses and expressive pacing. It’s how I’ve been trained in the art of Oral Interpretation. My teaching degree is in Oral Interpretation. My acting background is in classical stage and voice. The scripture was read for you in the way I have been taught and in the way I uphold.

However. However. There is a more fitting way to begin Paul’s Letter; a more suitable way and it goes like this:

Paul, and my companions in faith here,
send greetings to the Galatian churches.
My authority for writing to you does not come from any popular vote of the people, nor does it come through the appointment of some human higher-up.
It comes directly from Jesus the Messiah
and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
Glory to God forever!

[Huge gulp of air…]

Now! I can’t believe your fickleness—
how easily you have turned traitor by believing some idiots who say you need to become Jews to be Christian. Males do not need to be circumcised;
no one need keep kosher,
or follow the Laws of Moses
to belong to the family of Jesus.
You pervert the Gospel!

I am so enraged!
Flummoxed – twisted in my gut –
that you are forsaking the grace of Christ!

If even one of us — regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you originally received let them be cursed and go straight to hell. [1]

Whew. Welcome to Sunday.

Paul’s sound and the fury is a tsunami of Biblical proportions. Can’t you see him in some far off region; perhaps from prison feverishly pacing with a fist in the air? He doesn’t stop for the niceties, or blessings. There’s no “Peace be with you,” or, “O how I love you Galatians!” “How I give thanks for you!” He doesn’t give thanks. He’s infuriated because news has reached him that the Galatians have succumbed to an exclusive gospel – meant only for those who follow Moses. [2][3]

The man is a tidal wave of vehemence. And I love him for that because sometimes we need to be shocked and shaken out of our Greeting-Card faith; our soft-indulgent faith; our cheap-grace faith, our passive faith; and plopped back into the faith of the tumult and whirlwind where Christ crucified is not a reward to be earned, but a gift given. For Paul, all authority in heaven and on earth has never been in the hands of a group of people. All authority in heaven and on earth belongs to God.

Before I was a pastor, I was a pastoral counselor, and I served at a counseling center here in Princeton called the Northeast Career and Pastoral Counseling Center. This Counseling Center was founded by our General Assembly in 1965 as a place for people, often clergy, seminarians, and church folks to go and do the work of vocational discernment and psychological assessment.

Through a series of evaluations, assessments, and conversations, we guided people to evaluate their work and life and to ask the central questions: Who is God calling you to be? Where is God calling you to serve?

It’s really meaningful work to take stock of your life and to prayerfully discern what’s coming next. Everyone should have a chance to do this. It’s not easy. It takes willingness, honesty, and risk to lay our lives before God, and to change the things that keep us from maturing in Christ.

What I found, and I include myself, is the number one thing that that holds people back from full maturity in Christ is having issues with authority. And what I mean is:

  • Our struggle to claim our own authority as Christians: to use our voices to speak, our bodies to act, our spirits to thrive, our willingness to serve;
  • But also I mean our profound struggle to be obedient when others are in authority: Authority over us. On behalf of us. Above us.
  • In the counseling world we put it like this:
    • “She’s got significant issues with authority.”
    • “He’s got major problems with authority.”
  • In the church world we put it like this:
    • “All authority on heaven and earth have been
      given to me,” says the Lord.
    • “Will you be obedient to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?”
    • “Will you be governed by our church’s polity; and will you abide by its discipline?

The Galatians have issues with authority and so do we. For an ancient church it’s new teachers who’ve swept in after Paul to begin scorning his authority.

Scott Hoezee puts it this way: Galatians you are Gentiles, not Jews, and Paul’s authority in saying ‘salvation is by grace alone’ should be abandoned. Grace, these new teachers claim, gets you a good ways down Salvation Road, but if you really want to be saved, you have to do a lot of other stuff yourself to get across the Finish Line. Get circumcised, keep kosher, watch your step, and follow the rules. No doubt about it: Jesus got the salvation ball rolling but you have to keep it rolling yourselves. Jesus did his best and as to the rest… that’s up to you.

Well, Paul will have none of it. The Salvation Road is life and death so he curses and damns those who are pedaling this false message that humans have anything whatsoever to do with their own salvation.

He says that if he wanted to be a people-pleaser, he’d preach a message like that too. No one likes to be told they are totally helpless, completely lost, and disobedient. No one wants to feel inadequate and upset. That’s off-putting. That offends. Someone might get anxious. Far better to tell people “Well now don’t change a thing. You’ve gotten this far on your own. Total self-reliance is a virtue and God loves virtue, so go ahead and make your own rules. Be obedient to yourself and by your own authority.”

But for Paul, when we rely on our own way, the effects on our lives are beyond devastating. You know what I mean:

  • When our willfulness destroys trust.
  • When our immaturity leads to stupidity.
  • When our self-indulgence puts an end to friendships.
  • When our disobedience puts an end to hope.

Paul’s level of flummox (twisted from the gut) and rage at the corrupting of the Gospel is an instructive thing for us; especially in a country where we are regarded as successful and morally intact when we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and need no assistance.

We want to believe in ourselves and be proud and optimistic and embody a can-do spirit of opportunity and achievement.

  • So what if downplay our total reliance upon our Lord;
  • Or our complete need for obedience to the Gospel;
  • Or our utter dependence upon Jesus’ authority in our lives?
  • It’s only a way to stay positive in a broken world. What’s the harm?

The harm, Paul believes is fatal. And if there is anything to Paul’s warnings about being cursed if we water down the centrality of Christ’s cross, then those of us in the pews have more than a little cause to sit up straight,[4] offer our obedience, and come to terms with the One:

  • Who is all Authority in our lives;
  • Who is all Authority in Heaven and on Earth;
  • The One in whom we live and move and have our being.

Thanks be to God.

[1] Adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1993.

[2] Margaret Whyte. “Sermon: Galatians 1.” www.churchofscotland.org, June 2013.

[3] Jaime Clark-Soles. “Commentary on Galatians 1.” Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, workingpreacher.org, June 2010.

[4] Scott Hoezee. “Galatians 1:1-12, Proper 4C.” www.calvinseminary.edu, May 23, 2016

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