Gospel

Invasion of Grace – No Other Gospel

Galatians 1:3-9

Pastoral Prayer: Loving and Gracious Lord of All, influences in our lives lure us to be observers and consumers. In order to live that way and claim to follow your Son we must de-form the Gospel, the Good News. Remind us today that our Amen is not a verbal affirmation but our response to the call to participate in the invasion of Grace you began in Jesus our Lord. By whose faith we are saved and in whose name we pray . . And All God’s people say . . . Amen.

There seems to be great concern about an invasion. Estimates are that it will cost some $200 million dollars to stop the perceived threat. Too often we are distracted away from the invasion of Grace rooted in the sovereign Love of God. Just listen to the anger that spews in our partisan politics.

Anger is big business. In 2014 Cory noticed his comments on what he termed Liberal political sites got him banned. Whether he was responding to articles about ISIS, police violence, Black Lives Matter or the Hobby Lobby decision he was met with pushback. It was then he decided to create his own website. Stirred by the Tea Party movement, the reaction to President Obama and the rise of social media he began posting his own stuff. He would take articles and rework them, turning up the rhetoric.

He admitted that his early stuff was not well written. Even then, the response was such that he hit a nerve. Maybe it was his desire to stop working at the factory. Could be he really was interested in countering what he was reading. Taking his queue from what people wanted Cory added advertisements to his website. He learned that if he could make a good story sound bad it would go viral. More clicks meant more money. He wrote highly opinionated pieces. He saw that people wanted gossip and bad news more than good news. People wanted to read what would make them angry. In a recent interview he said,

“I would love to write about good news all day but that is not what they want.” 

Cory, and then his wife and a group of contract writers, began to write about race, extremism and Muslims. The result was he quit his job after making more in one week from his website than a month at his previous job. He persuaded his wife to quit her nursing job. They said,

“We had a month where we made more than we did in our previous jobs for a whole year.”

For a period of time they made $120,000 a month. People they said,

“Love to hate.”

Anger is big business. The Greatest Showman gave people what they wanted – a circus.

It is not hard to see from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches in Asia Minor, Galatians specifically, that anger and hostility ruled the day. Why else would Paul  counter the climate with, 

There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, since you all are one in Christ Jesus?

The apparent hostilities associated with these groups illustrate the current animosities at work in our Country. The young man in Tallahassee that shot and killed two women and wounded four others before taking his life was part of a self-identified group, Involuntary Celibates, In Cels for short. The group hates women because they cannot persuade them to go out with them or get them into bed. 

It is clear what a world captive to the Powers of Sin and Death, what Paul calls, “this present evil age”, looks like. 

Everyone, in every era, looks for good news.

When Caesar Augustus came to power, the term good tidings, good news, applied to his birth, his coming of age, his rise to power and his victories. Everyone knew that this son of god would bring a new world, a new day. The word good news, glad tidings, used by the Greeks was plural. That little distinction is important. It meant that each future emperor would follow that same pattern. The good tidings, plural, referred to every benchmark moment in the life of the one in whom everyone put their trust and hoped for enough food, better roads, better sanitation, fewer wars. 

When the Apostle Paul used that same word, he used the singular. When he described the Good News of God he was making a statement. Everyone puts their trust in a king: the Israelites in Samuel’s day, the emperors in Rome’s day and Presidents, Governors and Legislators in our day. Luke gives us the announcement of the glad tiding to the shepherds. He too uses the singular form. In fact, his announcement is a direct counter to the way emperors were celebrated. He and Paul both present the coming of Jesus, the event of his coming, as God’s Good News for the world – an invasion of grace.

Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia runs counter to every human attempt to provide what only comes in Jesus Christ. There is no other Good News – no other Gospel.

However, as in Paul’s day, so in ours. People desert, defect from, the Good News of God in Christ for good tidings at the ballot box. What King David could not provide, what no Roman Emperor could provide and what no President can provide or create is a community of grace. When the Gospel of Grace is absent from the Church, from churches, they cease to be, well, churches.

Listen to the way Paul begins other letters,

To the saints in Christ at Colossae.

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Phillippi.

To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus.

Absent in his letter to the churches in Galatia is any reference to saints. What could that mean?

Reading clue: when Paul changes his normal pattern, look for a reason. Rather than tip his hat at their faithfulness, as with the Christians in Ephesus, he jumps right into his argument. We do not want to miss this.

First, the new disciples started well. We find this noted in Paul’s remark,

I am surprised, astonished, amazed that you are so quickly turning away.

From what did they turn? What drew their first allegiance?

They like others in Collossae, Phillippi, Ephesus and Rome heard the good tiding that in Christ God had invaded the world with grace. Using the military imagery of invasion made sense in a day when the Roman army was the measure of power. They had the best weapons and the largest army. And at the same time, the people suffered lack. Poverty and hunger was the norm for most. Allegiance to the emperor came with a cost. Listen to what kings cost Israel,

He will take your sons and put them to his use in his chariots, on his horses, or running in front of his chariots. He can appoint them for his use as commanders of thousands or commanders of fifties, to plow his group and reap his harvest, or to make his weapons of war and the equipment for his chariots. He can take your daughters to become perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He can take your best fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give then to his servants. He can take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give them to his officials and his servants. He can take your male servants, your female servants, your best young men, and your donkeys, and use them for his work. He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants. 

Whether kings or emperors or any of the branches in a Democratic Republic, human beings will use human beings, all the while leading them to believe they will do better than anyone else to give you what you want.

When Paul came with the good tiding of God’s invasion of grace in Jesus Christ, that God gave himself for them rather thantake from them, those in Galatia turned toward God. The startling part of the story was that this invasion came via the death of Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead. This Jesus Christ,

gave himself for our sins to rescue, to snatch, us from, the grasp, of this present evil age

They started out well.

Second, the new disciples added something to the glad tiding. Not long after Paul left another group of Teachers came along. They came with the same language of good tiding. Likely they too had heard the news of God in Christ Jesus. Their zeal had made them good evangelists. The one problem: they had added to the good tiding. In fact, Paul actually writes to the Galatian Christians that when we add anything to the good tiding, it becomes something other than the Gospel. 

For the Teachers, the addition was the Law of Moses. They taught that Moses received the Law from an angel. Given such an act, these Teachers persuaded the Christians in Galatia that there was more to the story. Their good news was that Jesus and the Law would bring about the peace for which they longed. What was once only grace was now grace plus something. Paul described the work of these Teachers as, troubling you.

In the heightened rhetoric of our political climate, some have decided that to be real Christians requires the proper party affiliation, a particular position on health care, immigration and the use of force around the world. Anything less that what these new Teachers tell you means that somehow we are not Christian enough. Listen to the language games that are played. Quickly you find that prominent Evangelicals have created a new law to add to the work of grace.

These folks are keeping records of pastors and churches that support their vision. This database is used to shame and create division in churches that don’t fall in line. 

We Baptist pastors may have not done such a good job. Our history is one influenced by Separatists and Anabaptists. In England the Separatists took opposition to political power as a means to further the Gospel. Feeling the brunt of persecution that came if you were not a part of the approved church was a very real experience. Even further back, our history includes the Anabaptists. These were Christians committed to peace, non-violence. They believed that to participate in the political system actually undermined their commitment to Jesus as Lord. They too suffered persecution at the hands of others for not being considered part of the “right church.”

Somewhere along the way the form of discipleship in Western churches has looked more like grooming us to be good citizens of the Nation-State than citizens of the Kingdom of God. We forget the words in Hebrews,

By faith Abraham when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise, for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Rather than living as Exiles in Babylon, we have decided Babylon is home.

There is no other Gospel. There is no Gospel plus the Law. There is no Gospel plus the proper political affiliation. Adding to the Gospel of Jesus Christ strips the Good News of anything good and eliminates the Gospel of Grace. There is only the good tiding that God invaded the world in Jesus Christ to snatch us from the grasp of the Powers at work in this present evil age.

There is neither Democrat nor Republican nor Independent  – there is a community of grace.

Finally, they forgot the Amen.

To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The Amen that Paul has in mind is not the Amen that listens and observes a good point made in a sermon. Paul’s Amen is the Amen of participation. It is the response to the Good News that says, Truly! Let it be so. 

Paul’s Amen calls us to take up the event of Christ’s death and resurrection as Good News for the world. An Amen whose response is, “Yes,” and “Finally.” 

We may wonder how it is that this Good News has not seemed to change much in our world. Maybe it is the hard work of the Powers of this age that convince us that there has to be more to Grace, that God’s Love is somehow insufficient to save us. Maybe it plays to our need to do something, to contribute something else we feel that we are taking charity. And we are. Subject to the Powers of the world and often influenced to add to the Gospel, we are always on the verge of deserting, of turning away, from the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. 

Rather than offer a new Law in response, maybe we would hear that Good News again and give with Paul a hearty Amen.

To him be the glory forever and ever.

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

Audio

Voices of Hope

Some of us grew up acquainted with choirs. Recently I saw the Voices of Hope Choir on American’s Got Talent. I could not help but think there was a metaphor that would help explicate something Paul was aiming for in what I think is his four-part harmony at work.

Voices of Hope

Ephesians 4:1-16

Pastoral Prayer – Lord God, in a world of competing voices, may your church be a choir of grace full of voices of hope. So this morning – may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight. And all God’s people say. Amen.

Beware, I am thinking of embracing heresy. Rather than urge you to join me with cunning and deceit, I am simply going to offer an open invitation to follow me. I will be direct. Before you stop listening and consider leaving this morning, know that I am talking about a musical heresy. Are you ready for it? Here it is, “Choirs sound better than solo artists.

Now you know. 

Simon Cowell, who created the Got Talent franchise, remarked to the founder of the Angel City Choir, “No choir has every won America’s Got Talent.” The show debuted in 2006. Asked why she thought no choir had ever won, founder Sue Fink replied, “They weren’t us.” After they were passed through with four, “Yes,” votes, Cowell commented,

“I just felt there was something magical about hearing you all sing together. When a song works and the vocals work, it just washes all over you and you feel amazing. That’s what great choirs can do and you’ve got a fantastic combined energy. This is a great audition. I’m gonna remember this for a long time. I’m thrilled.”

Cowell has said they are the best choir they have ever had audition for the show. However, the final decision will be difficult because there is not just one great choir, there are two. More than half the size of the 160-member Angel City Choir, the Voices of Hope Choir is made up of children ages 5-17. Founded as a tuition-free choir to make music accessible to all children, the Choir won the coveted Golden Buzzer in the second round of auditions. Let’s see what you think.

Take a look.

https://

Sarah Grandpre’s story may well have inspired my new heresy. In an interview for the show she shared,

“If you had told me when I was 21 that my biggest passion project was going to be directing a children’s choir, I would have been so surprised. I graduated from college, and I was going to pursue a solo singing career.”

After facing rejection in her own singing career, she felt lost until presented with the opportunity to start Voices of Hope. 

“My calling found me in the form of this children’s choir,” Grandpre said.

Cowell admits that this season will be as difficult for any choir to win as there are many good individual talents. But, for me, I am determined to choose the winner from the two choirs no matter what the judges say. If you are going to be a musical heretic, you might as well go all in. They have my Golden Buzzer. 

Maybe it all started with that 1970’s rock-n-roll band, Foreigner, that was joined by the New Jersey Mass Choir in their 1984 hit, “I Want to Know What Love Is,” that planted the seed deep all those years ago. Goosebumps when the lone voice in the setting of an abandoned music hall is joined with the harmonies offered by multiple voices.

Likely it was growing up singing in children’s choirs, youth choirs, and adult choirs. In those settings the sense of accomplishment is shared. It undermines the temptation to think, “I sure make that choir sound good!” The shift to individual talents is expressive of our cultural soup. The rather thin type that leaves you always wanting more. For churches and Christians, it is the subtle undermining of the “we” of Church. 

Then again maybe the current influence is working through how Paul’s calling found him. Making a name for himself he received the loud no. Here he reminds his readers in Philippi of his solo career.

If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.

He then let’s them know that his solo career got swept up in the calling that found him.

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ.

Paul frequently includes snippets of early Christian hymns in his letters. Here in Ephesians 4:8 he calls back to the Hebrew Song Book , Psalms,

When he ascended on high

he took the captives captive

he gave gifts to people (Ps. 68:18)

Maybe he is teaching the Gentile Christians some of the oldies. Something like hearing, To God Be the Glory among the more current songs we sing. Don’t proof text this verse as a way of pressing that we should only sing old songs. Paul included a Jesus song in Philippians 2. Those would have been centuries apart. 

Remember, if we want Cohen to learn Amazing Grace then it might be good to go ahead and give in to Reckless Love. If we want Emerson to belt out, To God Be the Glory, we may need to learn Sound of Adoration. And if you are inspired by Great Is Thy Faithfulness, you may need to join Max with lifted hands as he belts out Bigger Than.

Paul’s plea for unity in the church is not a call for uniformity. It is not the call to always sing in 4:4 time. We need to mix it up with a little 6:8 from time to time. It is not a call to be exactly alike but to know that it is exactly the same grace you receive as the person sitting next to you. Together our understanding of grace is what issues our calling.

Paul is not begging for unity in the church by listing a series of new laws to keep. Instead, he points out that our grasp of grace calls attention to the life of Jesus. From there we find the calling that finds us. The natural response to grace is grace. It, grace, is something we find hard to give for we wrestle with thoughts of what we do not deserve

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that save a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Enemies would attempt to divide a people. They would come for a people with cunning and deceit. Their attempts would be to divide and conquer. Paul lays out that the life to which we have been called is the very life of Jesus. If we stay with an emphasis on choirs as a means to draw out the

unity of the Spirit through the blond of peace – one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above and through all and in all, 

we may liken the formation of our unity as learning four part harmony.

Paul’s Four part harmony is found in the stacked nouns of verse 2. We think of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. Paul stacks these nouns as representative of the four part harmony lived by the church as it expresses God’s wisdom to the world. The four parts of Paul’s harmony are:

Humility

Gentleness

Patience

Bearing

The enthronement song, the song of victory referenced in Psalm 68 in verse 7, came through the very exercise of this four part harmony in Jesus’ own life. Rather than archive victory by means of brute force, in Jesus Christ God claims victory through the weakness of death, even death on a Cross. This shameful experience became the victory for us. If we think through the life of Jesus, these four ways describe the life of Jesus, and Paul’s own pattern of living that left him comfortable that as a prisoner *in* the Lord.

Humility – lowliness – Not my will but yours. He humbled himself to death, death on a Cross. The natural tendency then and today is not to view humility as a virtue. It is rather a weakness. No one gets ahead unless they grab what the want, even take it. But for those grasped by grace, the gift of Christ is the unity brought by humility.

Gentleness – meekness – Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your for my yoke is gentle. Here we witness the discipline and control of God’s love for all.

Patience – He who is without sin cast the first stone. But while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly. Grace and mercy present themselves in love that is slow to avenge wrong, slow to retaliate. The word is often used to describe God’s disposition toward people.

Bearing – Bearing with one another is not ceasing to love one’s neighbors because of their faults. Peter who challenged. Thomas who doubted. James and John who wanted first place.

These are gifts given to all in Christ. Practicing the life of Jesus in our own prompts Paul to write,

Rather by speaking the truth in love we shall grow in every way toward him who is the head, the Messiah. He is at work fitting and joining the whole body together. He provides sustenance to it through every contact according to the needs of each single part. He enables the body to make its own growth so that it builds itself up in love. (Markus Barth translation)

The Church by the Gospel presents a godly harmony through lives of hope for the love of the world. You are God’s Choir of Hope, of Peace. In Christ, the Golden Buzzer has passed you through to declare the Gospel of Peace.

Let’s Sing!

*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.

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Material Reality and Inerrancy or, What About Jesus’ Vision of This Life?

Could it be decades, or more, of talking only about that for which we look for after this life cheapens the gift of life itself? I think so.

Yesterday I noted how Phyllis Tickle viewed the Christian handling of slavery, and segregation, to be its own assault on Inerrancy. I have been cogitating on her analysis.

Reading the Gospel passage for the Third Sunday after Epiphany left me wondering if the assaults on Inerrancy are more a matter of practice that betrays belief. Even more I considered the possibility that we impose our practice back onto the text in something of a violent move against its Sacredness. When we champion our belief that is betrayed by our action, we simply become ideologues.

Luke 4 gives us the episode of Jesus in the Temple reading from the Isaiah scroll. Reading Jesus’ assertion that the portion read was fulfilled in their hearing invites us to ask just what was itself fulfilled. Is the reference to Jesus’ declaration of Good News or to the reality that would come to the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed through Jesus the promised anointed One?

Framed another way, is Jesus pointing to a future immaterial reality where the categories in the text will no longer define people in the salvation to come as a result of his announcement? Or, is Jesus asserting a change in the order of material reality, life now, that promotes the hope that the categories may be transcended by a new way of being in the world – and abundant life – forged by his very own life?

Socially conscious Christians point to this text as the inspiration for work among people who are described by the text explicitly and implicitly. This would represent an insistence on the material reality, the lived experience, of the life Jesus claims to bring. The one that wells up within us, that quenches thirst, which overflows the limited experiences often fraught with life’s perils. Certainly there have been those who pushed so hard in this direction it seemed the aim was to eradicate the social ills without addressing the need for human discipleship to do in the world the things that Jesus does. Is this a reference to disciples making disciples who would do greater things than these?

Another vision dependent on an eschatology of demise considers any material efforts a waste of time since the life Jesus describes could never overtake the darkness of a world whose vision is so marred it could not possibly bring about the sort that would bring and end to the way humans treat each other producing the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed. Or, Jesus offers a great message but it will only be realized in the life to come so we ought only point people there. Those who inhabit this side, of my admittedly risky binary, point to Luke 19 as the end to which we ought pursue.

Many would rightly assert we should overtake the binary with a both/and. Except the current vocabulary appears so narrowly defined that it sets up the two resultant camps. For instance, Gospel is now an adjective assigning orthodoxy to everything from preaching to parenting. The question begged is orthodox what? If somehow the human action does not explicitly speak of or promote a particular view of the work of Jesus then it is not Gospel? Are we to make what we preach or say about parenting, church planting, spousal relationships, etc., more important than the fruit produced by the disciples’ life that unquestionably points to the Way of Jesus? The way the matter is written and spoken of insists you cannot get the cart before the horse. We must say the right things before we do the right things. Or so it seems.

One attempt to clarify has been to talk about the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel. So, Jesus’ acceptance as the vision of the anointed One to come is the Gospel and the implications of the Gospel come to the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed? Except that had Jesus not tied the two inexorably, he could have easily only quoted the portion that identified himself as the anointed One, only. He often practices quoting bits and not long texts. The sorts of implications described cannot somehow, by our straining, be removed from what is indeed described as Good News out of fear of human agency. We cannot separate the person and the work, correct?

Jesus did not seem to fear human means. In fact, unless we do something interesting with our Christology, we have to recognize the very way Jesus shows us how human agency comes under the influence and power of the Spirit so that what we do may be construed to be the very will of God. I realize that is fine for many when we look to Jesus. But, what is insisted today is that a proper verbiage is needed to verify the same in our own lives. Forget that our lives do not produce the material vision cast by Luke 4 so long as we speak what we should.

The culprit seems to be an eschatology of demise. It is very simple. This material reality holds no hope. Our aim is to get as many people looking to the next life so we should not spend our time creating the atmosphere for improved lives here and now. Jesus seems to undermine that very thing when the focus of his teaching, the majority of words uttered, pertain to this life and not the next.

I like what Shane Hipps does to make this point. He writes,

Not only that [Jesus did not talk much about what happens when we die.], Jesus got to peak behind the curtain. He actually died. We’re talking three days dead. He spent a long weekend in the afterlife and lived to tell the story. People in our culture die for a few minutes on an operating table and go on to write entire bestselling books about the experience. But Jesus? He spent three whole days in that place and when he returned here’s what he had to say about it.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

What did he talk about when he came back after death? Here is just a sampling: He tells his disciples to make students of him (see Matthew 28:16); . . .. (Selling Water,p.186-7)

Our calls to value life appear hollow when we look on the gift of this life as little more than that to be endured until the next. It really seems to actually rob God of his glory that we would prefer the next while not appreciating this one – the very one Jesus said he came to fill up. And, more, when we witness the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed to not do much at all but tell them about a future life seems vacuous of the compassion of Jesus, an affront to his work, and a resistance to his teaching – a denial of the Gospel.

All of which is duly noted in the Sacred Text.

 

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