Posted on Thu, Jul 8, 2010
Sermon for June 6, 2010
Rev. Jim Merritt
Trinity MCC Gainesville
June 6, 2010
This biographical information about the writer Paul has been of significant interest to biblical scholars for a very long time. It is the most detail we are given any place in the Bible about the background and history of the Apostle Paul. He was a mysterious man, you know. We still wonder about that “thorn in his flesh” and just exactly what it might have been. For us today, perhaps the most important aspect of the Apostle Paul is that he made a complete, drastic, impressive “turn around” in his life. He went from assassinating the followers of Christ to one of the most prolific preachers and teachers of the message of Christ, in a flash; literally. Paul turned his old ways into new ways, and I want to suggest to us that we can follow Paul’s example in our own lives and turn our old ways into new ways, too.
Many of us wonder why Paul included such an extensive autobiography at the beginning of this Epistle or letter to the Galatians. There are several possible answers to that question. Frank J. Matera tells us that one of those is that Paul is defending a charge against him that he gets his version of the gospel from Jerusalem. In other words that he gets it from other people’s stories and experiences. Another possibility is that Paul is responding to a charge that he presents a “watered down” gospel in an attempt to make it and himself more pleasing to the people who hear his preaching. However, more recent scholarship has shown the weakness of this approach. G. Lyons, in his Pauline Autobiography, suggests that Paul uses his own autobiography to demonstrate the consistency between his own behavior and what he preaches, and to highlight the differences between his own daily practice and that of his rivals. When we study Paul’s letter with that information in mind, it is easier for us to recognize an organizational structure. Our reading is only part of this section, and still I would like to share with you the structural support system for the entire section. Here it is:
Chapter 1: 11 – 12 The theme is announced – The gospel is not of human origin
13 – 17 First Proof: Paul received his gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
18 – 20 Second Proof – The Jerusalem Church did not commission Paul.
21 – 24 Third Proof – Those in Judea glorified God through Paul.
Chapter 2 1 – 10 Fourth Proof: Paul defended the truth of the gospel in Jerusalem
11 – 14 Fifth Proof: Paul defended the truth of the gospel at Antioch
15 – 21 Paul’s gospel: We are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ.
Having heard all of that, let us shift gears for just a few minutes and about what this letter to the Galatian church has to say to us today; and here it is. This reading and all the lectionary readings for today emphasize the importance of direct experience of the saving and restorative power of God in one's journey of faith. For Paul this happened through his direct experience of Jesus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9), which he alludes to in Galatians: "I did not receive it [the Gospel] from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:12). And this morning the Spirit is saying to us that we can receive that same gospel through that same Jesus who brought it to Paul. Not from some authority on high. Not from a church or denominational hierarchy, but direct from the one who is the revelation, direct from Jesus, the Son of God.
I’m reminded of the time when I was Associate Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Port Allen Louisiana. We made an arrangement with two or three other churches to do backyard bible clubs in the Desire housing project in New Orleans. I don’t know what you know about the Desire neighborhood, but it was rough then and I’m sure it still is. There was drug paraphernalia all over the streets and sidewalks and even in the grass. Somebody slashed the tire in our van the first day we were there. The New Orleans Police Department tried really hard to convince us to leave. However, the other leaders and I were convinced that we were in the right place. Many amazing things happened during that week. And I want to share with you one of them that represents leaving Old Ways behind and turning to New Ways. On the last day we were there we had our final “Club” meeting. Then our young people paired off with local kids to pray. I have pictures of a field of grass covered with kids we brought with us joined with kids we met there, praying. Every time I look at it, it brings tears to my life. Here’s why; part of it was for the kids in Desire that experienced a new way of living based on love and concern rather than on fear. They met a group of people who didn’t want anything from them and just wanted to be a blessing to them. But, the most important change that happened that week was in the lives of OUR kids. They saw the way people right in there home state lived. They saw the way children much younger than themselves struggled. And when they compared the lives of those kids to their own lives in the light of the gospel we’d been teaching that week, they found a new perspective. That perspective challenged their old ways and cause them to consider new ways. For years after that many of them would call or write to me to discuss that week and the way it changed their lives. They told me how it led them to give up old ways of thinking for new ways. They told me how they had given up old behaviors for new and improved ones. They told me that they gave up old prejudices and made new places in their hearts and minds for people whose color was different from theirs, for people whose economic level was much different from theirs, for people who lived in places they didn’t even want to enter. They gave up their old ways for new ways in the light of the revelation of a God that loved those little poor children the same way that God loved them. And that, my sisters and brothers is the message of God for us together this morning. It is time for many of us to give up some of our old ways and trade them in for new ways. It’s time for some of us to move off the one way street that’s headed in our direction and make some room. It’s time for us to give up some of what we want to make room for some of what the world needs, for some of what our families need, for some of what our church needs. It’s time to trade in some of our old ways for new ways that line up with the revelation of this Jesus that we’re always talking about. Maybe it’s time for us to talk less about him and start living with and for him in new ways.
I’m convinced, my brothers and sisters, that we are on the brink of an important time in the life of this church and in our own personal lives with Jesus. God is calling us to give up some of our old ways and to build upon some of the others. God wants to take old ways and turn them into new ways in our hearts and in our minds and in our lives and in our church. The Apostle Paul was at least as far out on a limb as any of us has ever been and he gave up some serious old ways for some amazingly wonderful new ways.
And let me assure you those kids in the Desire project in New Orleans, all of whom are adults by now, had a long way to go to learn some new ways; and they did it. And those solidly middle class that we took down there had their lives changed in ways that caused them to really consider their old ways in light of the Gospel.
Old ways; New ways, lives lived according to a revelation from God to us. God bless you today. AMEN.
1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
5Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
7who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
9The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!
11For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.