Finding Rest in the No

Give it a Rest

July 9, 2017

Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

What is the two-letter word that no one ever likes to hear? NO!

We learn as children that no is usually associated with something we can’t do. When our parents want us to stop doing something, we hear the word no. Yet, we can see the looks in a child’s eyes when he hears the words no, and we realize that he is going to attempt it anyway. He may even say no right along with you while he continues to do it!

Paul reflects upon his own life for the first time in our lesson from Romans. He uses the first person and admits that he does the very thing that he knows he should not do. How many of us can relate with Paul in this issue? We know what is right and we know what is wrong, yet for some reason or the other we are still compelled to do the wrong. Perhaps it is peer pressure that drives us to do it, or perhaps it is an addiction. It may even be possible that we are doing something wrong to get ahead, even at work. I know that my job as a sales representative for a beer distributor required me to step around the law from time to time so that I could help the company’s bottom line and even the bottom line of my own paycheck. I knew it was wrong, yet I did it anyway.

Quite often in the business world, we learn that it is not a good thing to say no. At least if you are not the one in authority. If you want your job or even to move up within the company, you better do what they ask of you. We may feel like Peter from Office Space, feeling that we do not really have a say in the matter, we just better go along with it.

Doing the very things that we know draws us away from grace and experiencing life where God has intended, can bring about a heightened level of anxiety and burden. We get weighed down by the things in our lives that should not have a bearing on it, yet we allow them to. This can manifest itself in unhealthy ways in which our body negatively responds.

When we want to make the right decisions in our lives, what is laying right close at hand? Temptation. As Paul says, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” This is when we then face that inner struggle between our heart and our mind. It is here that the anxiety and burden escalates. It is here that we see some people struggle with addictions.

It is a good thing that we are not left to our own doings. If it were completely up to us, we would most likely do those things that satisfied us in the moment. Not those things that have long lasting rewards, both here and now, and in the time to come. As a society, when left to our own doings, we have experienced what will happen. We go to war. We forget about those that need help. We look more inward than we focus outward.

This is not new to us, and Paul saw it happening in his time. Paul knows where to find hope and the promise revealed. This is the reason he is traveling and preaching the good news to the people. He knows that it is in Jesus Christ that we should give thanks. He knows that through the grace of God we experience an unending love that never fails.

Our sinning does not come to an end. We are still tempted to do those things that we know that we ought not to do. Our anxieties and burdens do not always subside. It is in the words of Paul and the gospel writer that we can find our hope.

Our lesson from the gospel of Matthew is a wonderful compliment to Paul’s letter. Jesus knows what Paul will encounter in life. Jesus knows what we will encounter in life. It is in his promise that he brings for all people that we are surrounded by God’s great love. It is in this that we are welcomed into the fold. “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

We could all use a little rest. Some rest from our daily tasks. Some rest to take time out and just be with friends and family. Some rest to take time out to be with God. Jesus knows that our lives are not easy. Remember, he was human too! Because of this, he knows the importance of rest. Rest from our anxieties and burdens. While we don’t like to hear the word, no, maybe we need to learn to say it ourselves at times when confronted with something that does not get us closer to the kingdom of God. In this we will find rest.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

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A Grace Filled Summer

OneDrivea Grace filled

June 18, 2017

Romans 5:1-8

Most of us can probably point to some reading that we have done throughout our lives that have really helped shape us as individuals. It is in these readings that we find direction and even redirection. It may have been a teacher that impacted our life through the encouragement to read. Reading is important. To continue to grow as people, reading is essential. Ask almost any person that has grown significantly in what they do, and they will be able to tell you what is on their reading lists.

Some of the early books that shaped me were The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway. I remember my eighth-grade teacher telling me to revisit it as an adult because it would connect at an even different level. The poetry of Walt Whitman was also one of my favorites. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton was essential as my faith and spiritual life began to take shape.

While the ability and availability to read has increased in humanity over the last several centuries, we must remember that at one time it was only the well-to-do that had access and could afford books. Also, they were the few that were literate.

What is it about Paul’s writing that grasped the attention of the canonical councils to include many of his letters in the New Testament?

Paul had a storied history as a Pharisee. Yet, this meant he was well-trained and very educated. He was a persecutor of those that followed Jesus and did what he thought at the time was necessary to preserve the Jewish faith. However, it was in his conversion that he came to truly know Christ and was able to truly experience the gospel for the first time. He became a teacher for Christ. His letters helped shape the early Christian church.

His letters communicated the gospel to the communities he wrote. This was their first true teaching. The four gospels we are familiar with had not even been written yet. Paul was their connection to the Lord and Messiah, Jesus Christ. His letters brought hope and direction.

Somewhere along the timeline of the Christian church, this message had been lost amidst the hierarchy of the church. That is until Martin Luther recovered it in the early sixteenth century. As we each have our own readings that shape and give us direction in life, Martin Luther recovered something in Paul’s letters, and specifically Romans, that would change the course of Christianity forever.

Reflecting on Romans, Martin Luther wrote that, “this epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel…. It is a bright light, almost efficient to illuminate the entire Holy Scriptures.”

Our four gospels in the Bible help share the story of Jesus Christ from different viewpoints. They share his birth, ministry and miracles, and death and resurrection. In these alone we are given hope for tomorrow. It is in Paul’s letters that we see that gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, at work in the world.

As we enter into Paul’s world this summer, through his letter to the Romans, we encounter the power that is in the Gospel that Jesus lived out for each and every one of us. In his study of the letter to the Romans, Martin Luther uncovered the good news of grace. A grace of God that is unmerited and shows the love of God for all of creation.

This is the foundation of our Lutheran faith. It is in this revelation, that Luther would eventually help be drawn to write his Ninety-Five Thesis. This Word of God was with us all along, yet got buried under the orthodoxy of the church and simple human sinfulness.

The grace of God can be found throughout our Bible. In our gospel lesson, Matthew writes that, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). This is pure grace that is shown through compassion and love for those that would not receive it from anyone else. It is this grace that Paul was given when Christ reached out to him and asked why he was persecuting him.

Prior to our lesson this morning in Romans, Paul has been discerning the righteousness of God for the last couple of chapters. It is a conclusion to his discussion on God’s righteousness that he writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

As Lutherans, we have come to understand that the forgiveness of sins is not on account of our merit, but by the grace of God.

There is a rift between humanity and God because of our sin. It is Christ that brings us peace and in this we are reminded through Luther that we are both saint and sinner. It is not our goodness that merits the grace, but God’s goodness that washed over us. There is nothing that we can do to merit this grace, for what would Christ have accomplished on the cross if we were able to do it all on our own.

Martin Luther was called to ministry and the study of the Bible. In his reading, he found a hope and grace that shapes us today. What have you read or who have you encountered that reflects the grace of God?

The grace of God fills our lives on a daily basis. It is this grace that we will encounter this summer in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is this grace that fills our days and promises us life everlasting in Jesus Christ.

 

Freedom in Christ

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Galatians 6:1-16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

For the past six weeks we have been walking with Paul as he shares his concerns with the people of Galatia. His concerns for the miss-direction they have taken in their journey of faith and their willingness to so easily drop the truth that Paul had shared with them when he first visited. Once again he shares his story with them on how he was on the wrong path and does not start following Jesus until Jesus actually appears to him.

If you recall, the main struggle that Paul is confronting is the fact that the Galatians have started following a different teaching that put an emphasis on the works of the law. the law does have a purpose as it leads and guides us in our lives, however, it is in our faith that we turn to God. Grace comes to us as a free gift. There is nothing required of us and nothing that we must do to receive that grace. Thus Paul’s argument arises against those that believe to be a follower of Christ you must also be circumcised; of course, this goes back to Judaic law. Remember, the Galatians are Gentiles, and would not have followed through on this Jewish practice shortly after they were born.

Paul’s hope is to turn them away from the works of the flesh, which steers people in the wrong direction, and he reminds them of the fruits of the Spirit which should pervade their life. It is in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that they will grow closer to Christ and learn to experience the Christ that is within them. It is in the fruit of the Spirit that we should all be striving. If the Galatians were to follow in these instructions that Paul has set-forth, then they too will truly experience what it means to live into a new creation.

Many of the people that first immigrated to the America’s were looking for something different, escaping from tyranny, and hoping for a new beginning. Isn’t that what we are looking for in a new creation? They sought a freedom that they were not experiencing in their home countries and had the vision to establish that in a new country. Independence Day is our opportunity as Americans to celebrate the freedoms that we have in this country and to recognize those freedoms that we are still working towards. While we are Americans, we also must remember that we are Christians as well and everything that we do should be coming from our lives as Christians. We have already experienced a new creation in Christ through our baptism and it is this that comes first. God does not care what country we are from.

The freedom that we have as Christians exists in our faith and the grace that we receive from God. Remember, nothing is required of us for this to be true. As we conclude our series on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians this morning, we are reminded that we live in the same freedom that he shares with them. The trouble that ensued in Galatia is more times than not the same issue we have in our world today. Those in authority attempting to use their position to control others. This is what happens in Galatia as the teachers that came in after Paul tried to convince them of something other than the true gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul preached.

The freedom that we seek is not always at hand and sometimes we live in opposition to the majority as we follow our Christian faith. For many of us this may be a foreign concept. We did not grow up in struggle and have therefore forgot what it means to be longing for the freedom that comes to us in this country. The same freedom that slaves in America desired. The same freedom that our ancestors longed for when they first immigrated to this land. The same freedom that our ancestors in the bible longed for when they met opposition and struggled against those that persecuted. The same freedom that many people around the world still long for today.

A new creation is everything! It is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we experience a new creation and it is in this new creation that the grace of God is revealed to all of God’s children. In this new creation the fruit of the Spirit flows for all to absorb and to learn from. By living in the Spirit, we experience the Christ that is within us and should be compelled to share that with our sisters and brothers.

I encouraged you six weeks ago to read all of Galatians to get a deeper sense of Paul’s passion for the people of Galatia. While chapter 6 concludes Paul’s letter and summarizes his preaching, it is not the end. Instead it should be the beginning of conversation for the people of Galatia and us as well. What does it mean to live into our faith and the true gospel of Jesus Christ? I encourage you again to go back and read it and listen to where you hear God calling and speaking into your life.

As you celebrate with friends and family this weekend, give thanks for the freedoms you have in this country. More importantly, remember the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ and celebrate the new creation that he promises and gives. Now as Paul concludes, “may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (6:18)

 

Nothing More, Nothing Less

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Galatians 2:15-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

After an introduction and a defense of his position as a preacher and proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul gets to his thesis in this mornings passage from Galatians. His concern for the people of Galatia is that they are looking to be justified in the law and not by grace, as the gospel of Jesus proclaims. It is this thesis that supports the basis of Martin Luther’s argument against the Roman Catholic Church and is discussed in length in Article 4 of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.

So, what does it mean to be justified? Thank about what it means when you use the justification setting in a word-processing program on your computer. What does it do? It straightens up the words so that they are aligned on each side of the page. The majority of magazines and newsprint use justification so that you have a nice block of material to read. It looks neat and tidy!

The struggle that Paul and Peter both have as they are preaching throughout their territories is what does justification look like. Does it come to us in the form of the law that the Israelite people received from Moses in the Ten Commandments, food codes, and the hundred other instructions listed throughout the text? Or does it perhaps change when Jesus came to the world, walked with the outcast, healed the sick, ate with sinners, and died on the cross and was resurrected?

There appears to be a power struggle between Paul and Peter as to whose message carries the most weight. Paul could have easily given in, but I believe it is because of his passion that he defends the gospel of truth given to him through Jesus Christ. Exclusionary tactics are used to determine who is in and who is out of the kingdom. There are ecclesial face-offs within the church body and accusations of others caving in to public opinion and hypocrisy.

Does this sound familiar? This is human tendency and part of the public and the church life, whether we like it or not. To think that these struggles only happen today would be wrong. These struggles have been ongoing for thousands of years. It is in the letter to the Galatians that part of this conflict is brought to a head and addressed. They may be trying to justify their actions and Paul does not want any part of it. He is called to bring them back into the fold and make sure that they are hearing the gospel of truth that comes in the form of Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not Jewish believers versus the Gentile sinners, for the works of the law mean nothing when it comes to being justified.

As people today we attempt to justify the things that we do so that it makes sense in our own minds and the minds of others. We separate ourselves in many ways. We put labels on people and decide to pick one side or the other, whether it be race, sex, class, sexual orientation. You do not have to go back too far in history to see how we attempt to justify those things that in our hearts we know are terribly wrong. We justified slavery by stating that it was okay because there was mention of slavery in the Bible, or it was okay because those that were enslaved ended up living a better life here than they would have in their own country where there was famine and death. This is just to name a couple. The sad thing is that we continue many practices of segregation still today and fail to recognize it.

The problem that occurred in Galatia was that people were finding it hard to believe in the idea of “Christ in us” as Paul describes this morning. 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 (2:19-20a).  That same problem is still a stumbling block for us today. We want our facts neat and orderly like the law. We want to know what is the right and proper thing to do and make laws so that we can justify ourselves, making it in our minds seem right and appropriate.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians brings an attitude of knocking down any barriers or walls that we may self-construct. Those familiar with Robert Frost may have read and heard his poem “Mending Wall,” which is about repairing breaks in the New England stone walls. He makes us think about the barriers we erect as humans in self-defeating attempts at protection and purity. In one stanza it reads:

Before I built a wall                                                                                                                                   I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out,                                                                   and to whom I was like to give offence.

It is with this questioning that Paul writes to the people of Galatia. It is in grace that they have been given new life, not any works, and thus the saving grace of Jesus Christ is for all people. Let us live our lives fully following Paul’s words, the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing (2:20b-21).

This message of grace is the powerful gift that we have to proclaim to everyone. Where have you experienced grace in your life? Be bold and share that with those that need to experience the same grace through Jesus Christ.

So, what good is the law? We will find out next week!

 

God Calls Through Grace

Grace_wordle

Galatians 1:11-24

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

You may or may not be aware of the that we have a group from Alcoholics Anonymous that meets here once a week. They call themselves Saturday Night Live. The fellowship consists of wonderful people that have realized that the addiction they have cannot be handled on its own. The twelve step program that they follow has probably been one of America’s greatest gifts to spirituality. It connects God with people that are broken, like all of humanity, with the realization that it takes a higher power to give us strength and see us through the challenges in our lives.

While I do not have much experience with the AA group, I am a little more familiar with a group that was called together in my last call. It was the Meth Diversion Task Force that sought to steer people from their past lives of addiction and possibly other illegal behavior. It was the task force’s responsibility to interview and select inmates within the county correctional facility that would be eligible for an early release program and work through a process that involved three different levels, as well as incorporating meeting involvement in Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. Some of the stories that I heard at these task force interviews were heart-wrenching. For example, at one time their were three generations from one family in the correctional facility at the same time under meth related charges. I heard stories of lives that were broken and thought to be beyond repair.

You may wonder why I bring this up today as we venture into our second week with Galatians. If you recall from last week, we were made aware of Paul’s unhappiness with the practices that they were now following after others came in, teaching them a gospel that was counter to his preaching. Yet, in spite of his condemnation of their current actions, he still blesses them with God’s grace and peace.

In today’s passage Paul continues to build up his case for the gospel he proclaimed to the Galatians earlier in his ministry. Part of his defense of the gospel comes in the reminding of the Galatians of his background. At this point, Paul may not be our best example of humbleness. He points out that he was a star pupil, beyond many of the same age and he was far more zealous for the traditions of his ancestors than others. He grew up living and breathing the law that was brought to the Jewish people by Moses and knew little of God’s grace.  While Paul may not of had an addiction to alcohol or meth, he lived for the law and felt called before Christ came to him to persecute those that were not following it. He did not see another way, much like someone that is addicted to something.

Luke shares with us in Acts the full conversion story of Paul, also known as Saul. Paul was the source of great violence and attempting to destroy the church that Jesus had became the foundation for. It is in this persecution and violence that Jesus comes to him and calls him to stop, for he now has a new calling for him. As Jesus is revealed to him, he is made blind for three days and neither ate nor drank. He learns what it is like to live in the darkness and it is through Jesus Christ that his sight is restored by Ananias. It is in this that Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and is baptized.

In baptism Paul is washed clean of his sins and called to serve Jesus Christ and proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. “But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles…” (v.15-16). It is through the Grace of God that Paul’s path in life got on a different track.

Regardless of our sins, those we know we have committed and those we do not know, we are given the gift of God’s grace. In our brokenness we should be reminded of the new life that we were given in our baptisms and remember it on a daily basis.

Paul finds community with those that he proclaims the gospel to and it breaks his heart to see the Galatians turn away from the true gospel of Christ. It is through him that the grace of God is shared for all people. It is the grace of God that works in the AA meetings that are held here every Saturday evening. It is through the grace of God that those seeking to dig themselves out of their meth addiction find those that can help and a group to support them. It is the grace of God that supports all of us throughout the week when we may need it most.

In baptism we are made new, like Paul, and join the community of Christ. Through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection we are reminded of the grace of God and are called to live into it on a daily basis. May you go out this week experiencing that grace and share it with others when you are called to do so.

To the People of Galatia

Book-of-Galatians

Galatians 1:1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom to be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Beginning this Sunday we are going to start a six week journey with Paul in his letter to the Galatians. Almost half of the New Testament consists of letters that Paul has written to those places that he has either ministered to along his journey or to individuals working to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They usually contain a salutation and words of thanksgiving for the ministry that is being done at the current time.

Aren’t these words that you would like to hear from someone that brought the faith to you and being affirmed in the things that you are doing? It is nice to be acknowledged for those things that we do correctly and those times that we go above and beyond the expectations. We like to be greeted with kind words and acknowledged by those that we encounter throughout the day. We like to be welcomed with a warm smile and a friendly hello. While Paul usually does not do this in person, his letters usually speak for him.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians seems to start out like any of his other letters. There is one thing missing that I am sure the listeners of the letter as it is read to them are shocked by. They are greeted with a salutation, but where is their word for thanksgiving? Instead, he goes right into his purpose of writing to them and does not hold back. It may even appear that he goes on the defense of the things that he has taught to the Galatians. He backs this up with his credentials and the point that the gospel he originally shared with the Galatians was the same that was revealed to him through Jesus Christ.

So, why does Paul seem to go on the attack right at the outset of his letter? Why is this letter to the Galatians different from all of the other letters that he had written or would write? He is concerned that the people of Christ are following another teaching, different from the good news that was proclaimed to them by Paul when he was with them. The last time he left the Galatians they were probably full of the Spirit and ready to proclaim the same good news that he had shared with them to others in the area. He was probably satisfied to the point that he felt that it was time to carry the good news on to another community and they would be fine as there were probably some leaders that had been lifted up among them. He had spent a great deal of time with them and I am sure he put in a lot of hard work.

Of course, our plans always work out, right? In this case, Paul is shocked to hear that the Galatians have steered away from what Paul preached and were now following the instructions that spoke counter to the Word that Paul shared. He is astonished that they were so quick to step away from his teachings and fall so quickly for someone else that preached a false gospel. In my mind, I am picturing something like the guy that I saw before the Detroit Tiger’s game earlier this week that was walking around with a big cross and megaphone preaching anything but the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ.

Come to think of it, are we really much different from the Galatians? At times we are quick to follow what others say and do without really thinking for ourselves. Perhaps we find ourselves on a different path in life than what God had intended for us and it most likely is not a path that Jesus would have taken. We forget what has been taught to us in the past and we turn to the next best thing, that which is close by. This is what the Galatians have done. They probably got to the point after Paul left that they were not quite sure of themselves and someone else came in bearing another story. A story that did not line up with the story Paul shared, but they felt it was close enough to follow.

At this Paul gets upset. Personally, he does not care what the people think of him, because he is not trying to please them. His calling was to go and proclaim the good news and somewhere along the line, that good news was rearranged.

Doesn’t this sound like a great letter for us to spend six weeks with? Honestly it is. It speaks to the freedom that we have in Christ and the inclusion that the church has the utmost desire for. Grace abounds in the letter to the Galatians and we will unwrap it in the coming weeks. The grace this week comes to us in the fact that even though Paul is upset with the Galatians, he is still willing to teach and share the grace and peace of God as he opens up the letter. Yes he is upset. The grace can be found in the word of God that he continues to share and the hope that he has in Jesus Christ. That hope he now shares with the people in Galatia with a little corrective love.

Yes, we may at times follow a false witness, like the Galatians. However, may we always know that through Jesus Christ we have received the grace of God, which is always present in our lives and ready for us to return at anytime.

As we spend these next six weeks with Paul, may you get to know the people of Galatia through his letter, and be open to the revelation of Jesus Christ in your own life.