Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Putting on Christ - June 19, 2016 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 07) - Text: Galatians 3:23-4:7
This morning we again have an opportunity to join in with the secular world and celebrate the social holiday of Father’s Day. To that end, certainly we rejoice in God’s gift of fatherhood and pray God’s guidance to all fathers so that not only are they good fathers who care for the physical, mental and social needs of their children but most especially that the care for their greatest need, their spiritual well-being. As we can bear witness in our world today, when the father’s fail to care for the spiritual upbringing of their children we may indeed lose that generation for time and eternity. So, we say happy Father’s Day to our dads and pray that God would work in and through you so that you might raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Now, getting to our text for this morning, we continue in our reading through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In the past two weeks we have been hearing the words of Paul as he worked to establish his apostleship. He is an apostle and the letters that he writes are not just his words written only to the churches to whom they are addressed, but his letters are God’s Words written, even, for us today. This morning our text is one that is often quoted with the addition of words something like, “See, we are all equal in God’s eyes, so women and men should be able to serve in all roles equally.” The question we might ask of our text this morning is this, “Is Paul talking about the roles given to men and women, especially those roles given in the Garden of Eden, or is Paul speaking about something different?”
Paul begins by talking about the role of the Law. When we attended confirmation we talked about the threefold purpose of the Law. Maybe you remember that the Law serves as a curb, a rule and a mirror. The Law serves as a curb. Have you ever noticed the curbs on streets? I grew up out in the country and our streets did not have curbs. There was nothing to keep you on the road, except for the fact that you really did not want to drive off the road into the ditch. Thus the ditch somewhat served the same purpose as a curb, but in a different manner. In the city we have curbs. Curbs keep us off the sidewalk, or at least they attempt to keep us off the side walk, and instead keep us on the road. In much the same way, the Law serves as a curb to keep us from sinning. The word Paul uses in our text is not the actual word curb, but is the word “supervision.” A supervisor would be the same as someone today we might call them a care giver or guardian, except that a supervisor specifically had the job of watching over a child to keep the child from sinning. Unfortunately, a supervisor can only do so much to keep a child from sinning. We all have our ways of getting around the Law and sinning.
A second purpose of the Law is that it shows us right from wrong, in this way the Law is often described as a rule. If you ever play games you know that there are rules to follow to make the game fair. The rules tell you what you can and cannot do. Often the rules even tell you the penalty for doing something you are not supposed to do. Very much like the curb, the rule is used to keep us from sinning, but also, very much like the curb, we can break the rules as easily as we can jump the curb. And very often we can, at least we think we can, justify our breaking of the rules so that we really did not do anything really wrong, at least in our own minds. It is called justifying our actions.
The third purpose of the Law is to show us our sins, in this way the Law is described as a mirror. If you have ever looked into a mirror you know that a mirror does not lie. I do not think you need to say, “Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . ” The mirror simply reflects what is before it. The Law tells us what we are to do and not do and in so doing it shows us what we have done and not done, how we have sinned and what that sin looks like in our lives. Why do we use a mirror? We use a mirror in order to check our appearance and perhaps to improve our looks. The Law is used to check our lives for sin and to help us rid ourselves of that sin. As we can see then, the first thing in our text is that Paul reminds us of that purpose of the Law is to show us our sins.
Paul then moves to explain the role of faith and the first thing you will notice is that faith is simply an instrument. Faith must have an object. The object of saving faith is Christ Jesus, and Christ Jesus alone. Certainly we can have faith in many other gods or other things than in Christ Jesus, but those gods and things will not save us. I can believe with my whole heart and be very sincere in my faith that some stone image or statue will save me and all it will do is condemn me. I can believe and be very sincere in my faith that my good works and deeds will earn for me a spot in heaven, but that is not what will save me. I can look deep within myself and have faith in myself, but that too will not save me. The object of faith is important and the only object of saving faith is only Christ Jesus. This exclusive claim by God is why Christians are so hated by the world.
Paul reminds us that faith is a gift. Faith is given to each one of us through conversion or through baptism. Faith is given to each one of us by the Holy Spirit. Faith is given through the means of grace, the Word, the Bible and the Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Faith is not something we get for ourselves. Faith is not something we claim. On Trinity Sunday I read the book to the children comparing an apple and its parts to the Holy Trinity. You might remember that we said, just as an apple cannot plant itself, so we cannot plant faith in our own hearts. Faith must come from outside of us and it must be given to us.
And yet, again, not only is faith important, but the object of faith is important. Paul reiterates his point that the object of faith is important. In verse twenty-five he literally says, “now that the faith has come.” “The faith” of which Paul is speaking, is faith in Christ Jesus and that is “the” thing that saves. So, Paul reminds us of the role of that Gospel is to give faith in Jesus and to bring salvation.
Getting back to our question, is Paul talking about being equal in the roles in which we live in this world or is there some other way in which he is saying that we are all equal? We have talked about this in Bible class and I know I have talked about this in sermons before, but we need to talk about it again. We are all equal as human beings in God’s eyes. That is, we are all sinners. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Of course, that is not the way in which we like to think about that we are all equal in God’s eyes. We live in a world in which we like to make everything a power struggle. If that were not the case, then the question of equality would not come up. This power struggle shows the truth of the statement that we are all equally condemned sinners in God’s eyes.
The good news is that even though we are all sinners in God’s eyes, equal sinners, we are also all forgiven by God’s grace through faith, earned by Jesus’ death on the cross. However, although forgiveness has been earned for all, we have the option that we can refuse God’s forgiveness. When we deny our own sinfulness we are refusing the gift of forgiveness. When we deny that Christ is the one who earns forgiveness we are refusing forgiveness. When we deny the validity of the cross we are refusing forgiveness. Our only option is to refuse forgiveness, because it is given whether we refuse it or not.
So, as we look at this text we can see that Paul is not talking about the roles, our vocations that God gives to us. He is talking about our spiritual nature. Paul does not take away our roles, the vocations God has given in the Garden of Eden, what we call the order of creation. As a matter of fact, there are other places in Paul’s writings in which he carefully delineates the order of creation, the roles, the vocations that God gives to men and women. As Lutherans we talk about our standing before God as “at the same time sinner and saint,” and that is what Paul is talking about in our text for today.
So what do we take from our text for today? We take from our text the fact that we need to hear the Law. We need to know our standing before God. We need to be reminded of what God expects of us, which is perfection. We need to be reminded of what we are to do and not do. We need to be reminded that we have sinned so that we might confess our sins and be given forgiveness. As Paul reminds us, “I would not have know what sin was except through the law” (Rom. 7:7b).
Even more, we need to hear the Gospel. We need to hear the good news that Jesus died for you and me. He died for your sins and for my sins. Jesus does not save our sins as I have heard little children say, but He saves us from our sins. We need to be reminded of our Baptism, that at our Baptism we are given faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. Daily we remember our Baptism and know that we are forgiven. It is much like the person who prayed (and this is not exactly the way the prayer went) Lord, I have not thought evil of anyone today. I have not misused Your name. I have not told a lie or gossiped about anyone. I have not stolen anything. I have not lusted after anyone. I have not coveted. But, Lord, I will need Your help today, because in a few minutes I will be getting up.
Our text reminds us that we need Jesus. The object of faith is important. I can sincerely believe that my empty tank of gas will get me twenty more miles down the road, but if my tank is empty no amount of sincere faith will move me. It does matter what we believe. It does matter in whom we believe. We need Jesus. Our faith must have as its object, Jesus Christ our Lord. This morning we take from our text that we need to hear both the Law and the Gospel and we need Jesus.
Paul uses the imagery of being locked up in prison. The Law is like a prison. While we wallow in our sins, we have no hope, we are like being in a prison. The Law puts us in a place where we can think about our sins. Christ comes to offer the pardon for our sins. Christ comes as the key to unlock the prison door. Certainly, we can refuse His unlocking the door. We can refuse Him because we do not believe that He is there to help, only to get us deeper in trouble. We can refuse because we think that His forgiveness will endebt us to Him. Or we can thank and praise Him for His love for us. Paul is speaking to us as men and women, as sinful, forgiven persons. My prayer is that the Lord will fill you with His Holy Spirit. That He will stir in your heart to hear this Word and be given His forgiveness. And that He will move you to respond in faith by your actions of love toward one another. Then we will say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.