May 29th, 2016: "Worthiness!"

Text: 1 Kings 18:20-21(22-29)30-39; Psalm 96;          2nd Sunday after Pentecost                Sandy Nuernberg

Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10                                            9th Sunday in Ordinary Time             Pastor

Title: “Worthiness!”                                                            Memorial Holiday Week-end

First Presbyterian Church                                                  Sunday, May 29th, 2016                     Pardeeville, WI

 

Please pray with me, Loving God, as Jesus found faith in a Roman officer of Capernaum, give us such faith in you today, as we hear your words to us. Help us to hear what you speak to us and receive your gift of healing, love, and freedom. We pray through Christ, the Living God and Father of us all.   AMEN.

 

            We hear God’s word to us in different situations this post-Pentecost season. Were it not because this was our assigned lectionary series in Galatians and Luke these next few weeks (actually, the next six weeks!) it would be so easy to ignore these texts for, shall we say, more comfortable readings. Today’s are controversial, argumentative; Paul is challenging Jewish law: Sabbath, circumcision, kosher food laws, to say the least. Many churches will not go where we are going in trying to understand the spiritual health of ourselves and in our congregations---what is our attitude about where God’s Spirit is leading us in today’s churches?

 

            Yet the Holy Spirit in Pentecost reminds us where God is leading us—as a church as well as individually. I find it to be a kind of reflection process over this time; who we are. What are we Christians about? It’s no secret that many churches are in situations of apathy, decreased membership, financial reassessments, and stressed lives over what’s happening now, and where we are going in our future. Our General Assembly (the PC (USA) is meeting in Portland, OR. just a few weeks to discuss/propose our church passion of growth in ‘our reformed and always being reformed’ tradition, along with our mission.

 

We come to hear the apostle Paul giving his Galatian community (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe), mostly of Jewish tradition, an ear full of ‘the gospel according to Paul’! Paul has a definite passion about his faith, it seems, and he expresses it often in his travels in the eastern Mediterranean—after all, he’s had a transformation in his faith. As a Jew he is moving in his ministry; missionary activities on journeys to the new world as it is known (towards Rome) in the early first century when Christianity was in new growth. Along with this, Paul was assuredly defining his own identity.

 

            For those of you who crave what’s happenin’ in our discussion today, early on, Paul thinks it’s all about authority; who has it, and who does not. Who sets us free?  He is writing his message to Galatia, a people of Celtic origin, but he starts out differently from his other letters---and we, as readers are honing in on a letter we probably don’t have any business reading—it’s between them and him, huh? The good part is it is God’s Word to us, so we listen; the not so good part is that his listeners are offended, as well as many of us, in his defense—he’s antagonistic throughout his letter (six chapters). Paul can be snarly and sarcastic when he wants to be; he calls the Galatians ‘foolish’ (‘fickleness’, The Message, v.6) in this letter and is very defensive of the truth of the gospel as he sees it; we will find out as time passes, huh?

 

            Here’s what I think is happening here; Paul definitely relates to his listeners, and us, that faith is related to authority and practice, actually freedom. These are interesting texts for Memorial Day week-end. Paul wants those listening to know that his teachings are not what they have remembered and practiced; they, his Jewish and Jewish Christian hearers, were into the tradition of law and not the good news of the Gospel (the gentiles). Paul reminds them that Christianity includes the gospel of Jesus Christ, of all things! We receive this freely, not earning it!

 

I asked myself all this week, and I even asked our Session members on Tuesday at our meeting, “Who do you have faith in?” Or, specifically, “Who do you give authority and trust?” We shared some very interesting responses; it could have been persons (heroes), places, intangibles, tangibles. I do think our beliefs help us to make decisions about our behaviors, and Paul is asking this as well. Think of it, in who(m) do you have faith?

 

We, at Session, included special neighbors we look up to; spouses, siblings,  people we share our life with everyday, intangibles like having patience in tough times, and wisdom in making everyday wise choices. Paul is ‘rattling the cage’ so-to-speak of the Galatians in why they fell-apart from their gospel notion of God’s grace/love to them (and everyone) in Christ and their floundering into accepting other’s (agitators) opinions concerning values, practices and authorities. Probably the most important, maybe radical, exclamation Paul tells us is that in Christian community, long-held Jewish traditional practices aren’t necessary; many thought he was a heretic!

 

As we grapple with our own thoughts of the meaning of the gospel for us, Christ in our lives, the fact that the centurion in Luke’s gospel demonstrates the compassion and love in the tradition of the ‘law’ is intriguing in itself. We see how these texts are similar and connect in who is that authority in our daily lives? In Luke this Roman captain is abound with gospel love; for his faith in loving others, in his slave servant, his neighbors, and in his wanting to ask for help towards freedom for others. His amazing trust in Jesus’ authority is even more ‘amazing’ to Jesus, ‘..not even in Israel have I found such faith.’ None of this was initiated by Jesus! The slave was healed and freed.

 

You and I are challenged today by our faith. We need to ask questions; we must not be misled, and at the same time we must not make a fool of God. Right now, as Christians practicing the gospel truth, let us work through the Spirit in us for all; maybe even beginning with the people closest to us in the community of faith. It is all about what God is doing inside of us, nurturing us in our actions, creating something entirely new in us, allowing us a freedom of new life in Christ!

 

I have a little parable I’d like to share: it’s called, “Two Wolves”

‘One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One, is evil; it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false-pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good; it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

 

            The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed!” (from my niece, Jennifer, at Taycheedah Correctional Institution, Fond du Lac, WI, April, 2016).

 

            Let us feed our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, our authority in God’s Name.

 

 

                                                                        Thanks be to God!                AMEN.              

           

 

 

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