Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sermon for 23 June 2013, Proper 7C

Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-7
By Faith, or Under Law?
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7C, 23 June 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)

It is becoming a familiar list; important things St. Paul has written to safeguard our faith. Paul has told us that there is no other Gospel—no other saving faith. Any preaching but Christ is dangerous to faith. Giving in to those who deny the truth of the faith and demand things in addition to Christ is dangerous to faith. When Paul confronted Peter last week, we saw the beginning of the dangers of living under the law. In Chapter three of Galatians, St. Paul faces us up to the question, “Do Christians live by Faith or under the Law?” It is a good question. One way leads to certainty and life—the other to uncertainty and death.

23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 
Now we live in the freedom of Christ’s Holy Gospel. This Gospel doctrine has changed our lives. The Truth of the Gospel has set us free. All humanity lived under a curse—we could not keep the law. We could not do everything that is written in the Book of the Law. Christ redeemed us from this curse.
10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”  11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”  12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”  13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”  14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
By becoming a curse for us, by taking our cursed place so that we wouldn’t have to, He gives us all the blessings and promises of the Gospel. We have life! That is something the law could never do.
21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
When the Spirit created faith in you through the Word, through Holy Baptism, the Lord began giving you His Gifts. They are received. Faith receives them. Note that it’s not an active thing we do. It’s passive. God gives His Gifts. We receive them. We are no longer prisoners, no longer under the supervision of the law. We are heirs of an astonishingly rich treasure—all the promises of the Gospel!

No Longer under the Supervision of the Law
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
 On verse 24, F. E. Mayer wrote, “The doctrine of justification is, as it were, the string on which all the pearls of Christian revelation are strung.”
All of Christianity hangs together or falls apart based on justification by faith. It is the scarlet thread that ties the Bible together. As Lutherans, you’ve heard this before. We are Lutherans because we are Christians. If the most important thing in Christianity is the Gift of salvation won on the cross by Christ for us and our receiving of that Gift by faith, then we should keep our focus and our message always centered on Christ and His message of justification by faith. We would want to be actively involved in a church that teaches this way—a truly Lutheran one. It wouldn’t make sense to make as our focus anything else. We have to reject churches that waste their time focusing upon less important things. We need to call our fellow Christians to repentance on that point.
The Law is no longer our supervisor, our custodian, our tutor, our pedagogue. Christ, the Great Teacher has come. He has taught us, has given us the Gospel.
19 What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed (capital S, Jesus) to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  20 A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.
Without the law, people would have had free consciences to do whatever they felt like doing, and would have been unaware of the consequences. We have the law as a curb, to keep sin in check—to keep it from going out of control, as a mirror, to show us how dirty with sin we are, and as Christians, the law is a guide. We need the law to show us that we cannot keep the law. The law shows us our sin so that we would despair of ourselves and yearn for a Savior. The Gospel shows us our savior, crucified.
The Galatians seemed to be convinced that Christ crucified and risen wasn’t enough. They wanted to keep living by observing the law. Paul doesn’t mince words.
3 1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?  3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?  4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?  5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
Is salvation by faith or under the law? The answer is obvious to us based upon Paul’s teaching in Galatians. Do we always live by faith, or do we feel more comfortable under the law?
          A decade ago, bracelets, t-shirts, and other Christian products with the letters WWJD were popular. The initials, as you may know, stand for the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”
It’s not a bad idea. Our Lord is a magnificent example of how to live. It can be dangerous however, if Jesus as example becomes more important Jesus crucified for you. Anybody can be an example. Only Christ could die and rise for you.
          It can be a good thing to think about what Jesus would do in a particular situation. Sometimes, the question can get ridiculous. What would Jesus do if he just drove his old uninsured Toyota into a Mercedes-Benz? Jesus didn’t drive. He walked or rode pack animals. We can’t answer, with certainty from the Word, the WWJD question in every situation. And, we’re dangerously close to putting ourselves in God’s place. “If I were God, I would have done this…”
          Yes, the focus is on Jesus. So far, so good. But what kind of Jesus is the focus upon? A Law Jesus. WWJD is not the best thing to follow because it turns our lives into a set of legalized actions and turns the New Testament and life-giving ministry and work of Jesus into a set of rules and laws to follow.
Instead, consider wearing a cross or a cross with Jesus’ body upon it, a crucifix. There you can see Jesus crucified for you, instant, visual, 3D Gospel!
          We can witness in a better, Gospel-centered way. We, like St. Paul should be presenting Christ as Crucified, chapter 3, verse 1. That’s what our Christian message is: We preach Christ Crucified! WWJD isn’t the worst idea, it’s just an incomplete, law-based, and insufficient one. It just doesn’t present the full Gospel-centered Christian message, faith in Christ Jesus.

Sons of God
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,  27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 
Years ago, in the wide open spaces of our West, a little girl was baptized. The next day at school her friends asked her why. She said, “I was a little maverick out on the prairie. When I was baptized, the Jesus’ mark was put on me, and now everyone knows that I belong to Jesus.” The word maverick was originally a man’s name. Samuel Maverick was a Texas cattleman who for some reason did not brand his cattle. Because of that, an unbranded animal, especially a lost calf, came to be known as a maverick, and such a maverick could then become the legal property of anybody who would catch and brand it.
We are all spiritual mavericks as we come on this human scene. We are lost as far as God is concerned, straying outside the boundaries of His ranch, far from the Father’s house and home. But in His seeking love and mighty Word, the Spirit finds us and creates and implants within us the precious life that we call faith. When the Spirit has branded us with this mark of faith, we are no longer mavericks but children in the family and household of God.
But sometimes, a Christian will wander away from the Church and from a loving shepherd. Sadly, there are consequences.
During the memorable retreat of Napoleon’s French forces from Moscow, the soldiers froze to death by the hundreds. It is said that at night they gathered together such combustible material as they could find and made a fire. Then, gathering around it as closely as possible, they lay down to sleep. In the morning, after a bitter night, those in the outer circles would be found frozen to death. They were too far away from the source of the heat. So the Christian’s strength in the warfare of life lies in close and constant communion with Christ by the means of grace. To withdraw from them may—and will eventually—prove fatal to faith. [To remain close to them is life.]
Do you know people who are sleeping too far away from the source of the heat? I know for a fact there are members of this congregation who have been inactive for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years! How can you and I reach out to them together? If they’ve been in the outer circles long enough, it’s likely their hearts are frozen. When you see them, invite them to church. Or, grab a bulletin and intentionally go out of your way to run into them and tell them of the warmth and life that Christ offers them in the means of grace.
As we gather around Word and Sacrament, in close and constant communion with Christ by the means of grace, the Lord strengthens our faith and makes us all one in Christ Jesus.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The last portion of our text, seven verses from Galatians 4, explain the promise of our inheritance:
4 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
About the Cover: With so many demands on our time and tasks to occupy our hands, we often do not center our lives on God but just try to fit Him in around our plans—wherever it is convenient. But, oh, the extravagant love of our Lord! We may run to and fro, enslaved to business, but our Father’s gaze never varies. Though we fail to seek Him, He seeks us and makes us His own. No longer slaves to our own passions, we are beloved children of God.
Salvation is ours by promise, by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, revealed in the Scripture alone. No other Gospel can give you the promises God has given in Christ. Live no longer under the law, but as heirs, sons, in the freedom of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, new life, true freedom. Amen.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Galatians 6:18)