Sunday, June 5, 2016, 11 AM, UBC Digby
J G White (Isaiah 55:1-2, 6-8; Galatians 1:1-12)
I stood on a glacier once… the Athabasca glacier in Alberta. Likely some of you have done the same. Seen and touched a giant river of ice, creeping down from the high mountains. And we’ve read stories of the perilous journeys explorers made upon the incredible icefields around the globe.
‘Galatians’ is a name for a little letter in the Bible, and refers to the people of a region bordering the Mediterranean Ocean. Some early Churches were formed in the towns there. I play on this word, and preach a Glacial Gospel this morning, using a text from the book of Galatians. Not that this message is slow and barely moving, nor deadly cold and chilling, nor very old and shrinking. The Christian Gospel is huge and relentless and unstoppable.
When a church service was over, a visitor in the pews asked: “Do you preach the whole Gospel?”
The preacher replied: “Not every Sunday.”
In a book about the Gospel, written by a friend of mine, the preface says: You see, while the gospel is so simple that a child can understand it, it is also so complex that a theologian can study it all his life and never fully plumb its depths. (Sean Crowe in the gospel & giving answer, Grant Fawcett, 2014, p. 7)
I plan for us to explore this New Testament text – the Book of Galatians – for several weeks. At issue here is how Christians go astray with the gospel. We may see what happened to them, and what the Apostle Paul does to set them on the right track again. In our day, we can discover the ways we are on the right track with Jesus’ Good News, or not.
There are plenty of ways we go astray – as believers. I don’t even mean how we humans go astray when we are not saved. After we have joined Christ we still get disjointed!
This past week I ran into some of you, and was told more than once, “We missed you.” I was away for four days, last weekend, including Sunday morning and evening. Thank-you for your fond words of welcome and appreciation. But now I wonder, do the rest of you experience this? Or am I favoured? If you were away from here last Sunday, from your pew, would anyone fawn all over you, telling you how much your absence was noticed, and how good it is to have you back?
There is such danger in a local church being too focused upon the Pastor, being too ‘pastor centric,’ I call it. Sunday mornings and weekday activities depend upon the Pastor, and what he or she leads. People invite friends to services saying good things about the Pastor, or about the music, or the Pastor’s good music, instead of saying good things about the Saviour.
I for one easily fall into this habit of clinging to a gospel of good times, rather than of Christ, and Him crucified. I want hymns and music I like. I evaluate the preaching, and prayers, and scripture reading. I start to believe that my congregation is just right when it is stable, happy, and peaceful, with no conflict. Some brave preacher said this about churches being stable: Stable? Corpses are stable!
Turning to a ‘different gospel’ can be a matter of turning to comfort, looking for prosperity, seeking to get what we want from God, and God’s Church. And if we don’t get it, there is another congregation just down the road where we might get what we want.
I think I saw this Facebook post the other day: “Share and God will take care of all your bills.” The Good News of Christ is gigantic and blessed, but I don’t think it is financial magic for middle-class Canadians. A ‘gospel’ that is all blessings and prosperity for us is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul starts off not with the customary prayer for the recipients, but with this!
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ also gets watered down by grasping at one or two elements of it, and making that the whole thing. But the Good News is glacial, as I say, it is gigantic and through history is always on the move.
The message of salvation we have to share is not simply believe in Jesus if you want to go to heaven when you die.
My friend, Grant, is a missionary of sorts, working from a Christian Camp on Grand Lake, NB. A couple years ago he had this experience: …I had a teenager tell me she had “become a Christian” every summer for nine summers at bible [sic] camp, but she couldn’t tell me the first thing about the gospel other than she “prayed the prayer” every year. (Grant Fawcett, the gospel & giving answer, 2014, p. 45) To know what is right and true about the Good News of Jesus – and how to be saved – we start to notice the ways we go astray: the false teachings and false conversions.
Then again, as some have claimed, bank tellers do not study counterfeit in order to pick it out. They study real currency, in detail – the paper and fibers and inks and holograms and such – and then a counterfeit is easily noticed when it comes along. So too in our faith. As we know our Saviour better and better through the years, and study the Word of truth, what is false shows up more easily before our eyes.
As Paul begins his scathing letter to the churches in Galatia, his words of greeting point out some essentials of the gospel. The gospel which, we will see, was such an issue for these new Christians. They’d gotten mixed up about it.
To the churches in Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins…
That tiny word, so burdened with meaning and feeling: SIN – it reminds us what we know so well. All is not well in this life. There is wrong. There is evil. There is hurt and harm. There is pain. There is failure. There is unfairness.
All this – the whole constellation of what’s wrong in the world – is handled by God in Christ, dying by execution. …to deliver us from the present evil age… Paul says. To be set free where we are, even in the middle of things, is possible, by God’s amazing actions.
In my bare feet the other day I stood on a hornet; so, naturally, it stung me. If I had stood on a whole bees nest, you would have seen my flying fast! But a beekeeper, with know- how and proper equipment, can go among the bees and work in their hive with freedom.
The Good News of Jesus is how we can be set free in this evil, unfair world. While we are still here. We enter the heavenly, eternal Kingdom Life now. We can take steps farther into it, week by week.
And Paul says this is …According to the will of our God and Father; to whom be the glory for ever and ever. The whole Gospel starts with God, actually. To talk about the Good News is to talk, first of all, about who this God is.
So, we will continue to explore this, with Paul’s challenging letter to the Galatians, Christians of long ago. We shall hear our Master speak again, from these pages.
The Christian Gospel is huge and relentless and unstoppable.