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Sermon for Memorial Day Weekend, 2017

Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

Galatians 3:1-9, 23-29      (New Revised Standard Version)                  

Galatians 3:1-9

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing, if it really was for nothing? Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore, the law was our disciplinarian (custodian) until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The Cost of Unity

The world grows more ragged day by day. Watching the news, we sometimes can’t get through the day without weeping. We’ve got enough stuff going on in our lives without watching other people’s children die on television. And yet there it is. Another act of terror somewhere in the world, another mother’s child doesn’t make curfew, or breakfast the following day. Don’t we have enough burdens of our own without watching the world as we knew it spiral away to a place we don’t recognize?

And yet we can’t tear our eyes away from it. We watch the news with devotion, or catch it on the daily news feed of our phone or hear of it at the parking lot of the dentists office, where other people like us try to make sense of the increasingly senseless world in which we increasingly live.

We imagine that this is the worst of times. Some days it’s just plain depressing. And then we remember. We recall this Memorial Day weekend that well over a thousand mostly men rest in peace in our cemetery who gave their lives to war on land or sea. And we can’t not know that though the times and circumstances and battles over different things that seem at stake have changed, man’s inhumanity to man and indifference to suffering remain.

It is into such a world as this that God’s good news was born. That’s why we’re here. Of all the places the 150 or so of us could be on any given Sunday morning, we take an hour and change to come here first thing. The little vehicle that is our life runs low on fuel about now and as the needle dips towards empty, we stop by to fill up on the only news good enough to sustain us through another day, let alone another week. We know from experience that whatever we’re up against or whatever is up against us, God’s good news will be sufficient.

God knows how to set things right when we wander away from God and mess things up. As surely as we know how to mend a fence or weed our overgrown garden so that it might flourish, God tends God’s creation and all creatures therein. When the deer have trampled the lettuce and the woodchucks have snacked their way through our seedlings, God enters our world in human form to remind us that at God’s table of plenty all will be fed regardless. That’s everybody.

The two parts of today’s message is profoundly simple. First, we worship and praise an eternally good news God who embraces all people through unmerited, extravagant and radically inclusive love. Secondly, God calls us to live as good news people in a sometimes bad-news world with openhearted humility and extraordinary kindness towards all.

Paul is our teacher today about this so let’s take a moment to recall his story. Paul teaches that at first he didn’t believe it that God was bringing good news to the world through Jesus or for all people. He thought the early followers of the way of Jesus were merely making things up and disturbing the peace. He made a way of life adhering to the ancient laws of his Hebrew faith, and he locked up in jail anybody to tried to say or do otherwise.

Then God knocked Paul off his horse. Blind for days, Paul woke up seeing through eyes of faith. God revealed a new story to Paul. God so loved the world that God gave us God’s own self through Christ, whom death could not contain, who lives to restore all that seems broken, lost, shattered, gone to ashes by our hands. No matter what the news commentators tell us, God’s good news flourishes all over the place. Paul then devoted his life to bringing this joyful good news to those for whom he had previously intended harm.

Not only did Paul’s world-view shift, his whole life purpose converted from the persecutor of Jews who followed Jesus, to that of tireless ambassador for God’s good news through Christ for all. Getting the Jews to understand this “for all” part was difficult. Arguments broke out in the early communities about whether you had to first join the Jews and then follow Jesus, or whether anybody could come on board who was willing to follow him.

Now this is the crux of the first part of our message this morning. Since the earliest Christian Church, when Paul was teaching the Galatians that God’s new thing in Christ expanded the circle of inclusion, beyond the Jews, people have had this struggle. Once we’re in, we want to get comfortable and close the gate behind us.

Boston had the Irish to consider. Outsiders before they BECAME Boston. Settlers out west had the Native Americans, Native Americans had the settlers, a unity between people that never has been successfully resolved. The north had the south and what to do with the slaves. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were considered complementary to men, but not equal, a conversation I had with a rural pastor as recently as last summer for why there were no women in leadership in his church.

In farm communities that rely on migrant workers, invitations by well meaning church groups hold luncheons for undocumented workers and feel dismayed when no one comes. It would not occur to them to pack up lunches and take them to the fields where the workers live.

The Jews were tolerant enough of the Gentiles in the early Christian church, but most insisted that the Gentiles become Jewish in practice like them. They replaced the old law for new law, making up rules for who was in and who was out and how they demonstrated that.

Paul calls the Galatians fools for insisting that everyone worship the way they worshipped as Jews. “You think this story of God’s good news is just personally for you? You foolish Galatians,” he says. “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?

He goes on to remind them that Abraham, the Father of their faith, like the Gentiles, never knew Jesus personally. He posed this argument: “Just as Abraham believed God, (long before there was a Jesus) and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, (all) those who believe are the descendants of Abraham (through faith.)”

What Paul wants us to understand in our bad news circumstances, is that God enters our spiraling out of control world, and through God’s grace, that is God’s unmerited, unearned love for humanity, unites us as one human family through faith.

We witnessed just such a thing as this after the Manchester bombings this week. The world united in shared suffering and grief. The lights of the coliseum in Rome and the Empire State building went dark in solidarity. The Eiffel tower in Paris and a famous skyscraper in the Middle East were lit with the brilliant colors of the British flag in mutual defiance against this darkest night. God’s good news was there.

The taxi driver of middle-eastern descent carried survivors again and again away from the site of the bombing as a homeless man helped pull shrapnel from the wounds of the survivors because he had been wounded as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. God’s good news was there.

The residents of Manchester gathered at the site of the bombing with clear resolve. Flowers were laid in memory of loved ones, and tears of mutual grief were shared. The Brits expressed a renewed commitment to love and care for one another without fear. God’s good news was there too.

More than ninety times in the New Testament we hear this word gospel, God’s good news for us and for our world through Christ. We hear the part about good news for us and forget the part that God came to redeem the whole world.

God is at work in every circumstance through all people in ways we cannot see and which clearly are not up to us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ affirms that God’s good news is at work in the world through the ongoing power of Christ, God-with-us. The gospel of the grace of God affirms that God’s good news is a free gift, unearned rather than through some system of merit for what we do. And the gospel of peace affirms that God’s peace beyond human understanding has already been accomplished. We have only to bring our lives into alignment with God’s peace, made known to us in Christ who taught us how to live in relationship to all.

The gospel is good news because it is a gift of God, not something that must be earned by penance or can be achieved through self-improvement .

This means we can stop wringing our hands and biting our nails and laying awake at night worrying about the world. God’s got this, as clearly we do not.

As Paul said, we’re not saved by our works, that is by what we do or fail to do in such a time as this.

Here’s the paradox of the second part of Paul’s message for us today. Though OUR actions alone can’t rescue us, or save our world, our actions do matter. God loved all creatures into being and cherishes our individual lives, and God unites us as a garden of humanity through Christ because clearly we cannot. Then God says, “I’ve got this. Now you do your part. I have confidence in you.”

When we recall that God’s good news is at work unearned, unmerited in our own life and the world, we can’t help but fall all over ourselves to do the right thing. This second part of today’s message is equally as important as the first. God counts on our response to God’s good news by acting as if all people are included and united by God’s grace and through God’s love. We treat one another with humility and kindness because through Christ there is no longer stranger or other. There’s no longer immigrant nor native, gay nor straight, male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. This isn’t an intellectual exercise. This now becomes our way of life.

Musicians and artists often lead the way, helping us remember when we forget. This morning we take our lead from songwriter Lori McKenna recorded by Tim McGraw shares an invitation to respond to God’s good news of in this particular way. When you feel overwhelmed by circumstances around you, respond with simple humility and kindness to God’s unmerited grace that unites us all.

Humble and Kind

“You know there's a lot that goes by the front door

Don't forget the keys under the mat

Childhood stars shine, always stay humble and kind

Go to church 'cause your momma says to

Visit grandpa every chance that you can

It won't be a waste of time

Always stay humble and kind

Hold the door say please say thank you

Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie

I know you got mountains to climb but

Always stay humble and kind

When the dreams you're dreamin' come to you

When the work you put in is realized

Let yourself feel the pride but

Always stay humble and kind

Don't expect a free ride from no one

Don't hold a grudge or a chip and here's why

Bitterness keeps you from flying

Always stay humble and kind

When it's hot, eat a root beer, a Popsicle

Shut off the AC and roll the windows down

Let that summer sun shine

Always stay humble and kind.

Don't take for granted the love this life gives you

When you get where you're goin'

Don't forget turn back around

Help the next one in line

Always stay humble and kind

Written by Lori Mckenna • Video and complete lyrics available on-line

Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

Biblical Commentary by J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M. was a 1966 graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a former pastor of 28 years. In August of 2001 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and on August 29th, 2002 he went home to be with the Lord.