Grace in the Seed of Faith

This week’s Scripture: Galatians 3:15- 4:11

Ben Patterson was so influential in my understanding of  the special moment of history that came together with the birth of Christ. He pointed out that in Galatians 4:4 the phrase, “fulness of time” projected the image of a pregnant woman about to give birth. As the nexus of political, historical, geographical and spiritual interests came together in Bethlehem, who was in the midst? The seed of Abraham.  The nexus was not what, but who. As Cornel West has said, “all the fluids of life come together during the birth of new life.”  It is gritty and beautiful, chaotic and yet sublime. It’s about a baby.The king of the universe was born a baby!

This is Paul’s central theme regarding personal, corporate and universal freedom. That, in Christ Jesus, there is no barrier based on gender,economic or spiritual heritage.  God crossed the boundaries of time and space and gave us, not a moral code with which to reach Him but a Seed of faith. THE SEED that was promised to Abraham.

This Seed gives us freedom to move from slave to child and then to heir.


Grace in His Spirit

Scripture verses this week: Galatians 3:1-14

“Life in the Spirit” is a phrase and construct which has been hijacked to account for any strange behavior that emotionally troubled Christians wish to exonerate. While in college, I went away for a weekend spiritual retreat only to find that my then girlfriend had received a ‘spiritual vision’ to marry another guy she had met on Friday night! Imagine my surprise (and later my relief) to see her packing on Sunday evening to leave with her new husband to the mission field!

In the world of psychological differentiation there is a cottage industry devoted to shattering the human condition into a thousand single ‘brands.’ Pop psychologists emphasize self-actualization, gurus proclaim self-renunciation, secular humanists espouse privatization and charismatics can be guilty of spiritual decapitation.

Reducing the human experience into a single formula belies the complexity of integration that makes us wonderfully and fearfully made. This is the message that Paul emphasizes in the verses looked at in this week’s message.However, Paul is not shy about warning the Galatians regarding the implications of such a complex message and grace.

Preoccupation with a codified religious experience will lead the believer into a ‘head-centered’ doom loop that will strip away the very vitality of communal living. Paul actually begins his teaching on the “Life in the Spirit,” a theological underpinning of the Christian experience that he will extrapolate in other epistles, as a way of unifying believers of all ilks and brands. At the same time, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the follower of Jesus produces a freedom from flat-sided living.

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, that great day God gave us the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us live and breathe the righteousness he has for us.  Like good wine, the presence of the Holy Spirit produces a wonderfully complex human experience of love and grace, communalism and individual identity.

Do Good People Really Want to Go to Heaven?

This week’s sermon: Galatians 2:15-21

So much noise goes around about whether Ghandi is going to be in hell or more provocatively; will Hitler be in heaven?(see Ross Douhat, NYT). The question came to me this week; which heaven?

Is it a heaven that is the same as earth only better? No death, no wealth or poverty, no ignorance? Or is it a paradise akin to the early Edenic picture? In that picture we regularly see God showing up asking for an account of the day. If it’s the former, where is God’s place in that construct? Will it be like here on this earthly plain insofar as we don’t see Him but for some of us we can ‘feel’ His presence?

Paul’s Galatian missive points out that being good really isn’t really the ticket for the train to heaven. Or even the point once we get there.And even, for that matter, the basis for being in this life.The basis for all three is a life lived in communion. A communion with humankind, nature and God, as well as harmony within our own heart and being.

Here in Oakmont the speed limit is 25 mph.I can rarely keep my speed down to this limit unless I’m hopelessly trapped behind someone who is creeping along at 18 mph. While following one of these snails, it occurred to me one day that keeping the speed limit is only a general precursor to living in communion. The law only points out when you are breaking the civil code. It might keep things safer, but it is only the starting point for getting along with others. In all the funerals I ever led, I never saw anyone receive a ribbon at their funeral for keeping traffic laws.

The question I will ask this Sunday will be; “If good, moral people get to heaven and see Jesus face to face, will they be satisfied to honor Him as their Lord and King?” If they are not, then why would they want to be a citizen of His Kingdom?  If they want to be a citizen of a holy, honorable and peaceful kingdom why wouldn’t they want that now?

Paul’s central crux is that pride is keeping this from happening. A trust in the law means trust in your own prideful moral code.  Like me cursing the driver who is going 18 mph, I might be living up to the law but I’ve lived short of the love that I’m to have.

The net on this is that there will only be bad people in heaven. People who have received forgiveness from the King.