Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
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Missing the Point
(Galatians 3:1-9; 23-29)
Facebook. Facebook. Like most of life it has its positive side and it has its challenges…Like much of life it has its own vocabulary and special words that are used - which make great sense to the regulars and confound/confuse those that are not in “the club”. It is a forum that allows people to connect with one another with the posting of stories, articles, photos, upcoming events of things that matter to them. It is a medium for making connections. It is a tool available to humans. It is a tool experiences by humans. And humans? We are packed with emotions and they can get stirred reading facebook. Oh there is much that could be said about that but that needs to be a sermon for a different day…
Focusing on what matters for here and now does take me back to Facebook. I want to share excerpts from something I posted on facebook last week (that’s the inside language for facebook users - posted, that means I wrote something and made it available for people to see). It was in the wake of the bombing at the Manchester Arena. I wrote some words about that terror and also spoke about the number of hospice volunteers that were spending time with the dying, medical staff that were prepared to care for the sick, people preparing and serving food at soup kitchens. I ended my words talking about relentless acts of love. Many of you know I don’t always take the time to proof read. Often I send an e-mail with typos in it. When I hand write it is illegible. I don’t offer well edited and produced work. That post however? It wasn’t so bad. All the words were spelled properly and were the actual words I had chosen at the moment (not words that auto correct decided I wanted and which veered far from my thoughts). It was something written to reflect that range of emotion that I was feeling and to help me remember that though the headlines are focused on the bombing, repeating, repeating, investigating, repeating - that is not the only thing going on in the world. There is horror and violence. There is love and compassion.
Those of you who are facebook users will not be surprised by what I say next. I began something that caused quite a stir and a flurry of comments. I began it because I wrote the first words. My words were not that amazing and my ideas not particularly profound. It was a post that normally would generate little to no response in the facebook world. Except. Except the facebook world is a community of people and people are endlessly fascinating, confusing and have a tendency to miss the point. Which is what happened. Someone I don’t know read and responded to my words. He took issue with my using the word relentless to describe acts of love. He carefully provided me with a dictionary definition of relentless that (for him) illustrated how wrong my choice of word was. And, apparently very concerned about my mental capacity, he went on to state clearly and distinctly “Joan MacPherson you are not the brightest bulb on the tree”.
Facebook is a community of people, all kinds, all persuasions, all over the charts. They read and respond to what people share. This man’s assessment of my lack of intellect generated a lot of discussion. I could go on about that, but that would be missing the point of why I am sharing this story. This story is about missing the point. We could debate until the cows come home about the word relentless and if it was the best or appropriate choice and totally miss the point of what was written. Many of the responses shared captured that truth. The man continued to argue with folks about words and his comments were met with people who said wait a minute, lets talk about what is being said and how that might matter in the world. Let’s talk about how we respond to terror. Let’s talk about the complexity, challenge and wonder of being human in 2017. Lets talk about the things of life with the hope of becoming more alive, more compassionate, more caring. This man’s effort to challenge backfired and created conversation about what really mattered even though he missed the point.
Carefully now I put this man and the apostle Paul in the same sentence as I transition back to the part of our sacred story from Galatians. Paul, passionate, faithful, active Paul is addressing a community of Jesus followers and he is telling him that they are missing the point. I find his words challenging to sort through and understand. I had to read and reread and reread this passage. It is still hard to understand I think. Maybe my facebook commenter could have helped Paul pick better words for his letter. Now I take the liberty of condensing what generations of theologians have discussed and written about into my own words - words that come from not the brightest bulb on the tree.
Paul, passionate faithful Paul, is telling that community that they are missing the point. These people care deeply. They want to be a faithful church whose way of being brings healing, peace, justice to the world. They want to live God values and Jesus hope but they are getting stuck on the way and missing the point. They keep focusing on the rules that faithful Jews followed as an expression and commitment to God. They keep looking back instead of ahead. They cling on to a former understanding that if you followed the rules you earned God’s favor. They are telling new comers that they need to adopt the practices of Jews from former generations. Paul says stop! Stop! You are a community called together and held together by the grace of God who is creating something new. Don’t spend your time looking back and trying to recreate the old ways. God is calling you forward into something amazing and life giving. Don’t spend time working on how to earn God’s love - you don’t earn it, you just get it. That’s what God does. Unmerited, unconditional love - we call it grace. Paul says you are spending your time debating how to get that love and missing the point that you already have it. Wake up. Know you are loved by God and then refocus. Stop spending time discussing how to get God’s love - you already have it. Spend time living and acting and speaking and spending differently because God loves you and that truth changes you. Spend time living and acting and speaking and spending differently because God loves this whole world and is committed to bring healing and wholeness to it Spend time living and acting and speaking and spending differently because God is present, active, transforming, enabling and will not be stopped. Paul says don’t miss out on what God is doing and how God is present. Stay focused. Something amazing and life giving is underway. Don’t miss that truth.
They struggled those early Christians. They weren’t sure how to be church. They didn’t know how to be love in the very real challenges of every day life in a violent, oppressive, harsh world. They were diligent in trying to figure it out. Paul refocuses them. God is active. God is present. God has created something new through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God is continuing to facilitate transformation and new life. God is relentless. Relentless in compassion. Relentless in reconciliation. Relentless in transformation. Relentless in hope. Relentless in love. What a gift that is to us. What need there is for the church to be swept up into and living out our God’s relentless love. Amen.
Main Street Congregational UCC
May 28, 2017
Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
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3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (ESV)
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (ESV)