Faithlife Sermons

“Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 "Lives of Faith”

Sixth Sunday of Easter  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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It’s difficult to break free of life based on works to a life based on faith. Paul confronts Peter and the Galatians.

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INTRODUCTION

Last week I had the opportunity to sit at a “Sage Table” with members of the LGBTQ Community. At a “Sage Table” members of the community share their stories—stories that are intended to educate, encourage and inspire. I was moved by the testimony of a seventy-three year-old lesbian who came out in the 60’s. She told of prejudice, hatred and the constant threat of losing her home or her job. As a nurse in the early 80’s she was one of a few who were willing to care for men dying of AIDS. I was shocked when a young girl shared how she came out to her conservative Roman Catholic parents and was sent to a “Re-Education Camp” in order to make her normal. Their stories were difficult for me to comprehend, but they were important for me to hear.
In a few weeks, I will be visiting my granddaughters. They will also have stories to tell me. I’ll be able to share some stories with them, too. I hope I’m not too boring when I talk about, “when I was your age.”
We all have stories to share—stories that are important for us to speak and important for others to hear. The first and second chapters of Galatians contains Paul’s story. It is a story of grace and of faith. We can learn a great deal from Paul about how we are to live out our lives of faith.

GRACE-FULLY SAVED

Paul is under attack. Members of the Circumcision Party have followed Paul to Galatia. They have argued against Paul’s gospel of grace and have hinted that Paul really isn’t an apostle—after all he never followed Jesus like the other apostles did.
In his defense, Paul shares a story full of grace. In today’s terminology, Paul was a religious extremist. He terrorized the early Christians imprisoning some and executing others. If anyone was outside the reach of God’s love and grace, it would have been Paul. When Paul writes to his protege, Timothy, he dictates:

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.

In his super-religiosity Paul had wandered from God. He had worked so hard to please God and he had failed miserably. Yet God reached out to Paul and had brought Paul into God’s family and commissioned Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul writes:
The New Revised Standard Version Paul’s Vindication of His Apostleship

But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles,

We might not classify ourselves as religious extremists, but we do all wander—sometimes we even travel far from God. We are, however, never far from God’s reach. When the Lord lays God’s hand upon us, we may, while awash in our sinfulness, be amazed the God would want to associate with someone like us. We are not worthy. Or, we might simply be overwhelmed by the personalized nature of God’s love--that the God of all creation would touch us with God’s grace. Either way, at the beginning of our renewed relationship with God we are aware of the immeasurable greatness of God’s grace.
In humility was walk in God’s grace.

DEATH AND RESURRECTION

Paul continues his story talking about his confrontation with Peter in Antioch. He consistently accentuates God’s grace apart from the law as the basis of God’s relationship with us. Paul then makes a strange and startling statement. He writes:
The New Revised Standard Version Jews and Gentiles Are Saved by Faith

I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live,

Paul characterizes his encounter with Jesus as a life, death, resurrection experience. The religious extremist who persecuted Christians died. In that man’s place arose a follower of The Way, and an apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul’s experience is not an isolated one. It is the experience of everyone who was baptised into Christ. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:
The New Revised Standard Version Dying and Rising with Christ

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Now, it is important to note that crucifixion is not a method of suicide. We do not nail our hand to the cross by denying ourselves. Nor are we able to nail our other hand to the cross by “cleaning up our act” and living like “good people” Crucifixion is an execution and our crucifixion is by the hand of God. Like Jesus, on the cross we yield ourselves to God and cry out “Into your hands we commend our spirits.”

ENTHUSED BY THE SPIRIT

Paul continues to make wild claims. He writes:
The New Revised Standard Version Jews and Gentiles Are Saved by Faith

but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul is not talking about a life limited to attending worship services, participating in a small group Bible study and serving on a congregational committee. It is not a life that can bask in comfort and worry about our weight while others suffer and die from hunger.
Paul sees himself (and us) as having been filled with the Holy Spirit. Not only has the Holy Spirit breathed into us the breath of life, but Holy Spirit has also empowered us for service and uses us as conduits of God’s love and grace.
St. Francis of Assisi captured this concept in his prayer,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;
Filled with the Holy Spirit our eyes turn away from ourselves and focus on the needs of others.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
The Holy Spirit inspires us and makes it possible for us to live sacrificial lives.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

CONCLUSION

Paul’s story reminds us of the centrality of grace in our lives. Touched by God’s grace, made new by the cross of Christ and enlivened and empowered by the Holy Spirit we live our lives of faith.
Amen
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