A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Pentecost 4 ~ Galatians 6:7-18
I really want to skip to the part where I get all indignant, and preachy, and throw down some truth bombs, and then do a mic drop and storm off. That would feel SO great! Of course I’d lose most of you as I did it. Because you can’t start there. You can’t start by shouting. You have to build it to a crescendo and maximize the impact of your message. That’s kind of what Paul does here in today’s reading from Galatians 6. The first four verses, 7-10, have the plain, simple, solid, spiritual teaching. “Here’s the theory of it.” Then, having drawn you in, Paul switches to ‘all caps’ and hits the audience right between the eyes.
Do you know what that ‘all caps’ reference means? It comes from social media, and electronic communication. Basically, it means that if you type something in all capital letters it’s like you’re ‘shouting’ at the reader. A single ‘all caps’ word is effective for emphasis in online talk – but a whole sentence is considered shouting. What’s Paul shouting about? We’ll see in a minute. First the teaching.
Galatians 6:7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, they will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God! – harvests a crop of weeds. All they’ll have to show for their life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in them, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
Yes. Absolutely. That’s great teaching! Sounds exactly like Jesus! You reap what you sow. Sow bad stuff and eventually bad stuff will overwhelm you. Sow good stuff and in time (because all seeds need time to grow) you’ll reap good stuff. Let God’s Spirit do the growing in you and you’ll produce a bumper crop of growing ever deeper in God’s love. Awesome!
Then a warning. Galatians 6:9-10
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Don’t get complacent. Don’t give up because your results aren’t coming fast enough. Don’t let it phase you that it may seem like the people who sow bad stuff are getting rewarded. Work for the benefit of all, and the community will grow in love. Sow love, sow goodness, sow community, and you will reap an entirely different kind of reward – the kingdom of God, shalom, peace, friendship, community, blessing, abundant life.
Sensible, hopeful, meaningful teaching – hits home, inspires, draws you in. Now Paul’s got you.
Galatians 6:11 Paul says, Now, in these last sentences, I want to emphasize in the bold scrawls of my personal handwriting the immense importance of what I have written to you.
“In the bold scrawls of my personal handwriting.” Friends, that is literally the 1st century equivalent to typing in all caps! He’s hand-writing a letter to them, and to emphasize his point he literally starts scrawling in giant letters to make it. I just love that!
What’s his point? Hold onto your hats!
Galatians 6:12-13 These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas (today we might say gas-lighting). They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the (religious) laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!
Today that’s called throwing down! Let’s dive in. Remember that in the early years the People of the Way of Jesus were all Jewish. It began as a Jewish reform movement. There was no intention to start a new religion. That emerged over time. Jesus, and all his earliest followers, all followed the practices of Judaism – and included as one of the big ones was circumcision. Now, as the Way of Jesus began to spread into Gentile, non-Jewish, communities the argument arose about whether one had to convert to Judaism to follow Jesus. And if you were an adult male, well, that was a pretty serious conversation, if you follow my meaning.
Listen to those verses again.
These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live (themselves) by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas-lighting. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the religious laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!
Nowadays we call this ‘performative Christianity’. It means you perform certain outward acts, say certain things, post certain memes, argue certain theological (and political) points, but none of those things actually require anything of you personally. So you’re performing for the benefit of others in your group to make yourself look good – but what you’re performing about doesn’t do a single thing to deepen your own faith, or require you to alter your behaviours. In fact, it tends to make you turn against and ignore the teaching of Jesus in order to claim that you’re a good follower of Jesus. It’s the worst kind of paradox.
(Warning. I’m going to get very political here and make some of you very uncomfortable. So be it.) Christianity these days is broadly known primarily for two significant stances: one is being anti-gay, and the other is being anti-abortion. You may be thinking that our version of Christianity is neither of those things (God, I hope that’s true!), but I’m talking about Christianity in the popular consciousness, and the loudest version of it is North American evangelicalism.
Think about it. I’m a straight, white, cis-gender man. As such, I could rail on for day after day against LGBTQ+ persons, saying all manner of terrible (and false) things about sinfulness and evil, and it would never challenge my own being one bit. I’m not gay, so championing gayness as the so-called worst thing makes for an easy target that costs me nothing.
Let me pause here, just in case anyone is unclear, that I do not for a millisecond think those things are true. We are an Affirming congregation. I believe love is love, and identity is identity, and I champion that. I’m just trying to explain the state of the loudest version of Christianity these days.
The second ‘great Satan’ of so-called Christians has been abortion. Again, as a male person who can no longer create pregnancies, I could hold the view that abortion is always evil and yet never have it affect me and my body, or my life.
And again, let me be crystal clear. I am pro-choice. That doesn’t mean I think abortions are a great idea, necessarily, but it does mean that I believe fundamentally that it is a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Body autonomy is a human right.
Do you know who else said that? Paul. We just heard him say it – in ALL CAPS – in Galatians 6
These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive: They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death.
You can bet the abortion debate would sound a lot different if something like circumcision (or maybe vasectomy) was required of those doing most of the yelling.
All their talk about the law is gas-lighting. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the religious laws they do observe. They only want you to be ‘circumcised’ so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!
So what should we do instead? Paul says this: Galatians 6:13-14
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Teacher, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, [I have died to what was, and experienced renewed life in God’s love. I’ve been] set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate.
Paul continues – Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do—submit to circumcision, reject circumcision [have this or that view on this or that issue.]
(Remember, this is in all caps here!) It is what God is doing, and God is creating something totally new, a free life! In You! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God—God’s chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!
It’s not the stuff you perform to look good in others’ eyes. It’s the stuff God is doing in and through you. And there is really only one measure, one standard against which to judge any of this – love. If it doesn’t result in ‘the other’ experiencing loving-kindness it isn’t of God. If it doesn’t help you to live, and move, and respond, and speak, and act, and interact, and argue on Twitter, and post memes on Facebook, that are loving – then it isn’t of God. You’ll know it’s love when you do it and anyone who looks at it says, “That’s love!” You’ll know it’s love when the person you do it to, or with, looks at you and says, “I feel loved.”
LOVE IS THE STANDARD! (That was in all caps, by the way!)
If your Christianity is causing you to be unloving, then you ain’t practicing the Way of Jesus.
Do I sound frazzled? Frustrated by what passes for Christianity in far too many circles these days? Yes. I am. And so was Paul. And after his all caps tirade, we get to Paul’s mic drop.
Quite frankly, I don’t want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do—the serious living of this faith. I bear in my body scars from my service to Jesus. May what our Teacher Jesus Christ gives freely be deeply and personally yours, my friends. Oh, yes!
The Christian faith is meant to be inward focused. The only person any one of us ever ought to be worried about changing in any way is the one we see in the mirror every day. And in humility we must acknowledge that that transformation is never, ever complete. However, we don’t stay only inward focused. As we are transformed in love we turn outward to the world, encountering ‘the other’ in myriad form – and we engage with them. Not to change them – to love them.
It’s true that sometimes that loving may involve truth-telling, or naming injustices, and things like that. But be very, very careful as you do. Think hard about what Paul is saying about performative Christianity that points fingers but costs the follower nothing. To return to the abortion debate – If one holds a strict anti-abortion stance, but does not then also offer extensive maternal support, free health care, affordable child care, and affordable housing, create extensive parental leave supports, flexible work arrangements, and invest in education for all – all of which will actually cost you something other than self-righteous indignation – well, if you’re not willing to go there then that ain’t love. That’s moralism. And its hypocrisy. Love doesn’t blame a person – love strives to change an unjust, unloving system.
Look, it comes down to this. If following Jesus makes you unloving – PLEASE STOP! (That was in all caps).
(And so is this) LOVE IS THE STANDARD! [mic drop]