May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013

May 5, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Reading from the Epistle: Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21
Title: “Freedom-Lovin’ Christians: Journey Inward”

Today we enter the world of Paul’s letters for a couple of weeks…the GodStory has brought us through Creation/Fall…the story of Israel…the story of Jesus…and now the story (or stories!) about the NPoG….the New People of God….a “new people” who have been made & re-made NEW in the Spirit for over 2000 years! That’s what I LOVE about the Christian life…because we believe in a living God, who speaks to us through a living Word…and encounters us through a living Saviour…. Our faith journey ought not be a boring one…

I was listening to an interview last week to a Christian theologian who was being asked why he still believed in the bodily resurrection of Christ VS some of the alternative versions that have gained popularity over the past decade (Jesus has resurrected, but do you really need a body to prove it?).
His answer was frank: “If you take away the physical, historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus then Christianity is super boring! I want Christianity to be interesting… difficult!”

That’s one thing for sure about Saul-Paul…his life was not boring…3 weeks ago we lived in the story of Stephen… he blasted the religious rulers for being stiff-necked and hard-hearted…he delivered one of the first speeches of the early church by a layleader of the church…and it led to his death. And who was the Jewish Religious High-Honcho leader giving his approval? Saul (who became Paul). And then we read that Saul is dragging men and women to prison, getting letters from the religious leaders so that he can make sure the YHWH’s reputation stays respectable and untainted by this riff-raff group of renegades.

But then Saul encounters the living Jesus on the road to Damascus. His life is changed. He will never be the same. Saul the Christian Killer becomes Paul the Jesus proclaimer. It’s the biggest turnaround story of the early church!

Now lest we forget…Paul’s letters, like today’s letter to Galatia were written BEFORE the gospels. This is probably written in 45 AD. Paul is writing to a Church that he planted in the province of Galatia probably 5-10 years earlier.

He’s heard rumours that Peter (Cephas) who he was working with at the Jerusalem Council (remember last week’s sermon from Acts 15) was turning into a rule-keeper again after supposedly being reformed to be welcoming and gracious to non-Jewish (gentile) Christians.

We pick up today’s story in 2:11 – –

When (Cephas) Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him face to face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles…

This is classic high school cafeteria drama! The cool kid trying to be nice to the nerdy new kid in school by sitting with him during 10-minute break but when all his cool buddies come by…he shuts the conversation down and walks away…sending a clear signal that there are limits and boundaries to his version of generosity….

But after they (the James Clan) came, PETER drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined Peter in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy!
But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation of this question:
“If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”

Does this question poke & prod at your life?
Does this question poke & prod at us as a community of faith, seeking to follow Jesus for the good of the world in North America in the 21st century?

Let’s reframe the question so that we can better “feel” the vibe/tone of what Paul is writing to us (by the way…he is!) – –

Last week Tana asked us to reflect on what our “line in the sand” is.
If Paul was writing to us, how might he pose this question of rebuke!?!

I was reflecting on this and one example that came to me was an experience I had after I graduated from seminary and was in the midst of “narrower than I was brought up in” Christian culture in California….now remember…I grew up CBWC and thus grew up in a culture of women leading in ministry…at FBC Lethbridge we had women deacons, women church moderators, women ministers…in fact, one of my first youth pastor (CE pastor) memories was Myrna Sears who is now the Director of the William Carey Institute at Carey Theological College.

But when I went to seminary, I was naïve…and assumed that all seminaries were the same. And I ended up in a seminary that believed in “complimentarianism” VS “egalitarianism.” In simple terms, this means that men & women are not equally gifted for ministry (egalitarianism) but instead they “compliment” each other in ministry. This means that in matters of church leadership, marriage, senior leadership of a church…it’s only the men who get to lead.

So in my first semester of seminary…in my final hermeneutic (Bible Interpretation) paper the final project was to use our hermeneutic skills…look at the 4 “problem passages” in the Bible and then decide whether women should be in positions of “lead” or “head” ministry in the church. And like an impressionable, first-semester seminarian who wanted to get A’s in all his classes, I went through these passages and came to the biblical conclusion that women were gifted for ministry but because of a “continuing aorist” verb tense in one of the scriptures, it was clear that women should not be the “top leaders” in a church because Paul had clearly said women should not be in “continuing positions of leadership/teaching” in the church, hence, they could be named as any kind of pastor, but not a continuing pastor, which must mean something like a “lead pastor” or a “senior minister”… seemed like an open & shut case to me at the time.

And it wasn’t until after graduation, having ended up in a Church where there were no women in positions of leadership [women didn’t even serve communion!]
…that I finally “came to my senses” and started looking around the landscape of my churchland life and saying… “hey, where are all the gifted women?” “How come women only lead women’s bible studies or run children’s program during the summer?”

And I can remember during this era of my life being in a long-distance phone call conversation with a friend in Canada who said… “So, now it’s ok for women to not be in positions of leadership in the church when you grew up in a church culture where women were in positions of leadership all the time?”
And I would say something like… “Yeah, it’s the continuing aorist greek tense for the word ‘teach’ (didaskolos) …women can do lots of things in the church…but they shouldn’t be in positions of continual teaching in the church….they shouldn’t be Senior Ministers!”

If Paul had framed this question/rebuke for me… I think it would have sounded like:

“If you, a Talbot Seminary-educated Complimentarian, lived like an Egalitarian when you weren’t influenced by the hermeneutical rules of your seminary, what right do you have to require Egalitarians to conform to Talbot Seminary rules just to make a favourable impression on your Talbot Seminary professors?”

Crazy huh? My line in the sand was being rubbed away….

What’s your line in the sand? What BIBLICAL “house of cards” have you built that is still standing strong in the midst of the blowing winds of the Holy Spirit?
Is the Holy Spirit, in this season of Easter, blowing with innovation upon your heart?

Or how about us as a local church? What are our lines in the sand? Who are the outsiders and misfits who are looking in on us wondering why they aren’t good enough, clean enough, or behaving rightly enough to get in?
Is the Holy Spirit, in this season of Easter, blowing with innovation upon our hearts?

Paul writes in 2:18… “Why should I build up again the very things that I once tore down?….I’ve have died to the rule-keeping ways of the law so that I might live to God.”

People of God! Freedom-lovin’ Christians!
Christianity is not boring! Exciting and difficult challenges lay before us!
God is on the move….as we have sung already in our opening hymn…God is here!
So let us “live to God!”

And God is not only here….as in…in this place….but Paul writes in the famous and wondrous sentences in vv. 19-21…perhaps you grew up with these in your VBS memory verses or put on posters in the youth room of your local church…

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

God is not just here….and out there….God lives in me…God lives in us.

Christ lives IN us.

For freedom-lovin’ Christians, this is a freedom that is “within.”

See the Peterson quote that is on the back of the bulletin this morning:

GALATIANS: Free from Within
When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious….
Paul of Tarsus was doing his diligent best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was converted by Jesus to something radically and entirely different – a free life in God. Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Saviour who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within.

Here at FBC, we often talk of Spiritual Formation…Spiritual Growth in Christ… we talk of a journey inward and a journey outward.

In the last 2 weeks of the season of Easter, let’s continue to encounter the living Christ…as Christ breathes on us…as Christ forms us from the inside out… as Christ speaks to our hearts and let us be a people who are SET FREE FROM WITHIN!
What is the Spirit of Christ saying to us?
What is the Spirit of Christ urging us to do?
My hunch is that as Christ “proclaimers” we are called to rub out lines rather than draw them.

The table of the Lord is a great example of a place to start rubbing the lines out of the sand…and since we are making our way to the table, let’s take some cues from Jesus’ long and generous table…

Has our spiritual formation shaped us to disallow people from the table?
Or disallow ourselves from the table because we haven’t examined our hearts closely enough or long enough as we prepare for this “holy moment” of eating of Jesus’ bread and drinking of Jesus’ cup?

Ridiculous! Foolishness! (That’s what Paul would say…see Gal. 3:1). What did Jesus constantly gets chastised for when he was at the table with people? For eating with sinners. Are you more sinful than a sinner?

The good news of the Jesus story is echoed in the last part of 2:20: “The Son of God loves me and gave himself for me.”

That’s our merit, that’s our hope, that’s our ticket into the club…that’s our ticket to come to the table of the Lord this morning. That’s why we can rub away any lines that have been drawn in the sand for us! The Son of God loves US…and gave himself for US.
So come sinner, come saint…come success story, come loser story….
come to the table of the Lord and feast on the bread of heaven and the cup of grace…our living Lord welcomes you this morning.
You and I don’t get to the table because we are good enough, or righteous enough, or clean enough…we get to the table because the SON OF GOD loves us and gave himself FOR us!

We have been set free from within because Christ lives within us.
Meet him again this morning, allow his body and his life to be given to you,
poured into you… filling you this morning.

It’s mystical and practical all at the same time! Christ’s life in us…animating us, motivating us by the power of God’s Spirit.

Freedom-lovin’ Christians….Christ is the gift of God, for the new people of God.
Thanks be to God!