Reaping and Sowing (The Gospel Lived…)


Text: Galatians 6:1-18
Full Sermon Draft

This was the final installment of the series on Galatians. In chapter 6 of Galatians Paul does two things. In the sermon I reversed the order in the sermon because it makes more sense for a congregation or someone listening for the first time. First Paul gives a concrete glimpse of what living the Gospel looks like. He does that using three images:
1) The image of confession and absolution. We all fall and all need to be restored.
2) The contrasting of images of the burden of the labor of day and the load of a ship’s cargo. One we are to help carry for each other. The other we carry ourselves into the final port. The quick summary of this contrast would seem to be: Be quick to take part with the people of God in the work of the Kingdom, while watching and maintaining your personal spiritual life regardless of the work of others.
3) The image he dwells on the most is sowing and reaping.

Paul applies sowing and reaping to three places:
1) Ministry – What does this gospel look like? A shared ministry where the teaching of the word is supported and respected.
2) Personal Holiness – The harvest starts with what you sow. Sow to yourself, and you will reap destruction. Sow to virtue and you will reap eternal life.
3) Good Works (the outgrowth of personal holiness) – If you are well taught and active in the word, if you are sowing to the Spirit through virtue, we do not tire of doing good – first at home with the family of faith and then to others.

After his concrete statement on the gospel lived, Paul returns to his major points: Apostleship, grace and Walking in the Spirit.

I started the sermon with some personal pondering. I probably should have cut it out as not really on point, but Paul’s swift conclusion got me pondering those things. Paul gets to the end and what do you say? How do you end an address on the Christian life. (Galatians may very well have been the first such letter ever written). Elsewhere Paul collapses into greet so-and-so and laundry lists of good wishes. Here, he concludes simply with what we know as the apostolic greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Gal 6:18 ESV)” Which in the context I take as a sending. Go live the Gospel. God live by grace through the spirit. In that faith and in that Spirit, brothers and sisters. We want so much tied up neatly. But so much of the Christian life – the freedom of the Gospel – is untidy. Go live it. Fail at it. Come back for repentance and absolution. And try again. But in the midst of that struggle we have peace. The Lord Jesus Christ bought it on the cross and now lives and reigns to all eternity. What are our struggles compared to that?

Virtues & A Better Way to Live

sowericonDr. Jacobs writes a post that resonates with Galatians 5 and the sermon last week. Plus he adds a great little story.

These problems are, I think, fairly easy to identify, but tremendously difficult to address — especially when, as if often the case, people enjoy conflict and delight in heaping contempt on their ideological opponents. I might have some ready thoughts for someone who wants to be more charitable, kind, and patient — but how many people really desire those virtues?

A friend recently passed along to me an email from a young Christian who teaches in a public high school and is, perhaps naïvely, trying to smuggle some aspects of the Christian account of the world into her teaching — with decidedly unsatisfactory results:

In an effort to get the kids in my class to do something, I taught the cardinal virtues today and asked them to choose one that they believe they possess and write an essay about it. I had two students approach me and say that they do not possess a single virtue. I asked, “You don’t have anything about yourself that you’re proud of?” Both of them responded (I’m not kidding) that they are bad people and are proud that they don’t have any of the cardinal virtues. One boy asked if he could write about his vices.

I leave this as an exercise for the reader: Where would you start if you were trying to show such young people that “there’s got to be some better way for people to live”?

I think there are two answers that you have to explore. First, but not complete, is that the path of vice (the desires of the flesh) lead to slavery and death. Slavery in the fact that you do them naturally. Slavery in the fact that you can’t really stop the desires of the flesh. The addict always needs a bigger dose. Sometimes you can’t get that bigger dose and you end up a pathetic loser looking for that next hit or doing small time stuff – like interdepartmental wars over pencils to fulfill dissension. Death comes from examining those who best display those desires of the flesh. But that is not a complete path. The law alone would just lead to despair, either of the “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” type or just straight up “why bother, the game is rigged”. The second answer then is Hope. Where and why do I find hope in the midst of that despair? The fruits of the Spirit, the Spirit is opposed to the flesh. And in these is life.

They wanted to write about his vices. I’d say fine, but you need to include a mini-biography of a person from the past who embodied the vice you want to write about. Examine that life and tell me how yours would be different and why you want to emulate that life.

Here is the central problem with the church in America today. The soil is either hard packed (Luke 8:5) or rocky (Luke 8:6). Following the explanation of the parable, the spiritual attitudes of many in America today are either nil (hard packed) such that they won’t even consider the Spiritual realm as a possibility or that they might receive the gospel, but only a gospel like the prosperity gospel or happy-clappy spirituality. The gospel of Jesus Christ which includes the cross before the glory is just not even possible. There are no roots, just fast growing fast withering plant (Luke 8:13).

Sometimes the soil needs to be prepared and that (I think, though I am open to debate) is the purpose of the law. And the first part of the law is simply natural revelation. Force the student to ponder and find the natural end of the road of vice and come to a conclusion for themselves of that road.

Theologies of the Law – How to Think About Pluralism


Biblical Text: Galatians 3:23-4:7
Full Sermon Draft

One admission, this probably moved too much from a sermon proclamation into a paper. That is probably a result of the second admission.

Second admission, as the word cloud probably tells you, it might be more about the law than the gospel. For a sermon on Galatians, that is saying something. The Law comes through a lecture; the gospel by proclamation.

Those admissions aside, thinking in Law & Gospel terms about the world around us, the biggest problem in the church today is not in regard to the Gospel side of the theology. The concept of the Gospel is grasped if not always the heart faith. (In my head what you see when that happens is cheap grace.) What is missing or out of kilter is a full appreciation of the law and its purposes.

Following Paul’s argument in the text there is one Gospel. The good news of the God-man Jesus, the Christ, who gave himself for us on the cross. He bore the law so that we could be the sons and heirs. He exchanged places.

There is one perfect law (the revealed law of God through Moses), but there are many “laws” which mimic and discern the elementary principles. The law was given, to all peoples in various forms, as a guardian. Some of those laws are better than others. A law built rigorously around Confucius would be a good one. It is still a law that we can’t keep. One of the things that is was designed to teach, but the law is still good and wise, and Confucius was both.

When pondering or working our way through a pluralistic world, keeping the Gospel pure meaning that it is only by faith through Jesus Christ is the first priority. It is deadly muddled headed thinking to import Buddha or any other figure into the gospel. But, the Christian can admit and admire nobility and wisdom in other cultures as a matter of the law. An alien culture or law might have captured something clearer or better than our own guardians. But they are all guardians. As a baptized Christian who has put on Christ, you are no longer under a guardian. The kingdom is yours. The only question is do you apply the lessons of the law with the grace of the mature heir, or so you squander the inheritance?

Through (the) Faith in/of Christ


Biblical Text: Galatians 2:11-21, Galatians 3:10-14
Full Sermon Draft

We are continuing our reading through Galatians and have come to the raw heart of the letter. Contextually a snub. Peter stops eating with gentile Christians. But Peter’s actions put into question the very heart of the gospel. Is it “Christ and {fill in the blank}” or pure grace? Even if Peter would say grace, his actions say “and”.

What this sermon encourages is three things:
1) the THE Faith, the doctrine of the church, is important. Paul’s argument with Peter is over a doctrine – by Faith alone or faith and. The doctrine is important enough for apostles to argue about face to face. (Although more in a law way of reminding us what we actually believe so that our actions may come in line.) Through THE FAITH in Christ; or Christ is the truth.

2) Faith itself, that which believes, is more important because that is what changes hearts. Through faith in Christ; or Christ is the life.

3) Both of those things can become works. The deeper importance is the we rest not on THE Faith, nor faith itself, but on the faith of Christ. When we waver, Christ does not. Through the faith of Jesus Christ; or Christ is the Way.

Kingdoms, Thrones and Broken Vocations


Biblical Text: Galatians 1:11-24
Full Draft of Sermon

We continue our reading and preaching from Galatians this week.

I can be fairly accused of being a grammar geek, at least with the Scriptures. For most writers, or speakers, the syntax of how they write gives you insight and information into how they are thinking. Now some texts don’t deserve such parsing because they are just stream of consciousness. But other texts, texts that border on art whatever their genre, scream for a close read. The author wants to get something across and has taken care to write it in the way thought best. Great authors are famous for being fastidious over words. In a 1000 page novel they will argue with an editor about a single word on page 251 as if the entire work depended on it. The scriptures might be written by the most fastidious of authors ever – the Spirit.

What stood out to me about Paul’s autobiographical section of Galatians was the pronouns and the switch of pronouns. When Paul describes his life before the Damascus Road, the pronouns are all I and my. They are all first person. Even though on the surface his was zealous for Judaism, the way he expresses it tells the truth. He was zealous for himself expressed through Judaism. Like we can be zealous for ourselves expressed through owning an Apple or a Samsung cell phone. But when he turns to his current life, the pronouns are now mostly third person – he or him. The primary focus of Paul’s life shifted from me to Christ. Put in different terms which this sermon explores, Paul puts the Kingdom first.

He still has his place. Paul has a vocation, a calling. He is an apostle. But the living of that vocation is not about expressing my will, but about glorifying God. With a side trip through George Martin’s Game of Thrones, art can help us see truth that we don’t want to see, the Realm comes first and then all these things (our vocations) are added.

The Apostle & The Gospel (or the false Gospel of ‘Christ and’)


Biblical Text: Galatians 1:1-12
Full Sermon Draft

This week was the 2nd week after Pentecost otherwise known as the first week of ordinary time or the first of many Sundays with green altar cloths. The lectionary during these times is something called a lectio continua or a continuous reading of two books. The gospel reading, which is normally the sermon text is from Luke this year. But for the next six weeks we are reading Galatians from the pulpit for the Epistle lesson. I’ll be preaching through Galatians for that time. This sermon starts that series.

In my reading of Galatians there are three main themes. Those themes are being an Apostle, the Gospel of grace and our delivery from this present evil age. Paul’s opening words, Gal 1:1-5, touch on all three.

What this sermon concentrates on is “Christ and…”. The devil is always trying to pervert the Gospel by sneaking in one small word, and. Galatians is all about pushing back on the and, in all possible ways. Pushing back such that it is clear that “there is no other gospel other than Christ alone”. False teachers may come and trouble the church, but the sure answer is always the apostolic word which is nothing less than the Word of God.