This is the day to which we date the birth of the church. Imagine such a thing. These two passages from Galatians illustrate what a change happens when the Spirit gets involved. We go from slaves to free, we go from minors to adults. We go from friends to brothers and sisters, to be children who are heirs of the covenant.
To some extent, that’s what we do in confirmation as well. We look at these who are no longer children, who will speak the words of their faith to us, and the words of our faith with us, and we realize, that they are heirs as well. We look to them to see what the Spirit has given to them as gifts, and to how they will use those gifts.
However, we shouldn’t only look forward with days like this. We can look back as well. What are your gifts? How you have used them? What are our gifts? How do we use them? How has it changed, since we first knew we were children of God?
We got a message of thanks and mission from the GVD family in worship yesterday. They thanked us, shared some of their wonder over the last year, and what the months and year ahead look like for them. Listen and hear what they had to share with us.
Faith and law have been held in tension in our theology since, well, since Christ. We heard the tension in the Jerusalem Council, and in the readings from last week. We have struggled with the law given, the law broken, and the place of justice, grace, and forgiveness. We have struggled with Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace, as well as with the rigidity of law.
Paul sets up law as a precursor to faith, and also pulls on the faith of Abraham who believed God. Hear the difference here – not Abraham who believed in God, but Abraham who believed God. Paul asserts that the relationship has changed once Christ came. Now, Paul says, we are children of God through faith.
How is our lived faith, our belief, our theology, our practice of Christianity, different, if we are responding out of faith, and not out of the threat of the law? If we are one in Christ, have put on Christ, then how are we to be in the world? Or are we still playing by the rules of the law?
Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 Paul’s former life, conflict with Peter at Antioch, by faith
Insider and Outsiders
This is the oldest, or earliest text in the New Testament. Galatians is at the beginning of what we have – ~54 AD, a mere 21 years after the crucifixion and resurrection. As such, it sheds some light on how the church was working or not working in those days, those very early days.
We have Paul, and his transforming conversion experience, converted from Pharisaic Judaism, a Roman citizen. And we have Cephas (Peter), and James, and John, those chosen by Christ as his companions in life, death, and resurrection, to whom he entrusted the Gospel and gave the Spirit. These two groups come at things differently, as we hear in this passage.
The church is skeptical of Paul. After all, he persecuted them. Here we are, reading his writings, nearly 2000 years later. Paul’s writings are now the basis for much of our faith and theology. What does the outsider bring? What does the insider bring? How are those still true today?
This is a turning point in the life of faith. Without this conversation, we’re probably all keeping kosher, circumcising, and worshipping on Saturday. This is a really big deal.
One group of believers says that one set of rules must be followed. That unless one is circumcised according to the rule of Moses, one cannot be saved. Another group of believers, Paul and Barnabus among them, disagrees. So Paul and Barnabus decide to head to Jerusalem to have a conversation with the elders and apostles, you know, the Session.
So we have a ruckus in the church, the early church. Peter testifies what God has done, and that the mission to the Gentiles had been handed over to him. Peter tells what God has done, and that God makes no distinction between ‘us and them.’ And then Peter asks why the church would hold new believers to a standard that they had not been able to meet. Instead, Peter asserts that they were saved by grace as we were…
And then Paul and Barnabus speak about what God has done with the Gentiles that they have witnessed, and that God chose the people from among the Gentiles once, so why not again.
We still have these conversations – what must we do to be saved? How much must we be transformed? What must we do? And what must God do, or have done? What conversations are we having now about these things?
This is a challenging story. For those of us who struggle to tell the story of God’s love and grace, even the idea of going up to a complete and total stranger to talk to them about their faith and our faith may be a show stopper. For others, approaching an official may be a struggle, and for others someone who speaks a different language, or has a different skin color may be the barrier. On top of that, we may feel unqualified to talk
And then there’s the next part of the story. According to the laws of the Torah, the Ethiopian eunuch isn’t qualified to be a part of the people of God, or admitted to the kingdom of God. (Deut 23:1) So there’s another challenge to this story. Beyond our issues even starting the conversation, there’s the issue with what we do when the eunuch, ancient or modern, asks us the question, “There is water, what is to stop me from being baptized?” How do we answer now? Or are we not even in the conversation? Which is more important to us, the law, or…