Monday, July 8, 2013

The Law of Love and Grace: Sermon on Galatians 6:1-16

Sermon: “The Law of Love”
Text: Galatians 6:1-16
Preached at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Summer Worship
Monday, July 8, 2013

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. 2Bear one another's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. 4All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor's work, will become a cause for pride. 5For all must carry their own loads.
6Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
7Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
11See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised — only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16As for those who will follow this rule — peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:1-16, NRSV).

It’s been said, “Where love is implemented, there is the Church” (John Caputo). The purpose of the Apostle Paul’s message to the Galatian Christians is to establish the law of Christ, which is the law of love. He does this for a community deterred from the message of Christ – which is freedom by the means of grace. Law is the rule that grace fulfills. Grace is the question that love answers.

The law of Christ is the love of God and the love of others. Jesus said, the greatest commandment was love (Mt. 22:36-40). Paul reminds the Galatians of this because they’re being told by another sect of the church that the laws of old were not fulfilled by Christ. Whereas, the love of Christ put us before his life. The implementation of love is compassionate, merciful, and gracious. The law is in our nature because it makes sense, but grace is our freedom because it is given on account of Christ.

When we love, we put the needs of others before our own. This is what Paul is reminding the Galatians of, both the Jewish Christian sect and the Gentile Christian churches (which Paul started). Jesus laid his life down for us, not because we are righteous, but because we are arrogant. The more we have it, “figured out,” the more grace is foreign to us. The law of love is humble and gentle.

We all break the law of God and correction is better heard with compassion. If a child cries, do they stop crying if one screams at them or do they stop crying through gentle correction? Paul is reminding the Galatian Christians that the law is not our freedom, but the cross of Christ is.

In order to understand what Paul means by his parallels of flesh and Spirit, we have to remember that reading the book of Galatians is like listing to one half of a conversation, or reading the texts of only one sender, it’s easy to misunderstand what Paul is saying to the people.

The churches addressed in Galatians were Gentile Christian churches, started by Paul, confused by Jewish Christians who glorified the law (Bruce Longenecker). On one hand, you have Paul telling these new Christians, who likely didn’t know the torah, that out of mercy, Christ died for us, and we have new life in the Spirit of God. On the other hand, you have a reputable group of Jewish Christians presenting the new Christians with a different gospel message, claiming that if the new believers do as they do, and live by their laws, only then will they be justified.

In contrast, by Paul’s understanding, the law means nothing, especially when it is for show. However, the law of Christ is humble and merciful. The Jewish Christians are elevating themselves above others, forgetting that none of us are without sin or flaw. Our text today, turns the mirror on our own lives and asks, do you think you’re better than others? This is not an easy text to read and it’s not an easy text to preach because it lives in tension with truth and mercy. Jesus came for the sinner, not the righteous (Lk. 5:31-32; Mk. 2:16-17). But, it’s not up to us to decide who’s righteous and who is not.

Martin Luther said, “Our conscience must be trained to fall back on the freedom purchased for us by Christ.” In other words, it is not in our nature to rely on grace nor is it to be gracious. If you’ve ever had to retrain a muscle to move a certain way, it’s kind of like that. A muscle that needs correction naturally moves in the way that it is accustomed to moving. Training the muscle to do something different from its nature cannot be done with force; the training has to meet the muscle where it is at.

Paul and Luther deal in paradox a lot: flesh and Spirit, Law and Gospel, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, sinner and saint. The reason for this is human beings are always challenged by the nature of grace and the nature of law. The Galatians aren’t the only ones confused by the law of love and grace. This is why the Gospel defies our understanding of reality.

This passage reminds me of another story form the 1980’s cult comedy Spaceballs. The hero’s sidekick says, “When you’re right, you’re right; and, well, you, you’re always right.” To borrow from Paul, believing one is always right is in our flesh, it’s natural and easy for a lot of us to do. Knowing when we’re wrong is like the work of the Spirit, it’s outside of our nature.

As I thought about Spaceballs and Galatians, I was reminded of my childhood. I have two older sisters, being the youngest, I often said what I wanted, did what I wanted, and got away with a lot of it. I still do. One of my sisters used to regularly remind me, “Timmy, you think you’re always right.” Naturally, being my older sister she didn’t say this to commend any wisdom I might possess. Rather, she reminded me that I thought I was always right, when in fact I wasn’t and am not. Usually, as with many siblings, this was not the means of gentle correction, but an attempt to put me in my place.

Like Lonestar, in Spaceballs, whenever I “think I’m always right,” I’m usually in for a few surprises.  You see, the people of planet Spaceballs ruled over all the other planets in the galaxy and they ruled with an iron fist. Debts were unfair and if you didn’t play by their rules it was going to be a rough life. It was kind of the wild west of outer space.

In this story, The king of the Drews (yes, you heard me correctly) paid the unreasonable debts of a Spaceballs tyrant, by sending Lonestar to save the day for the captured princess. Initially, Lonestar does this because it’s in his nature to want to get paid and free from his debt. I relate to that every time I pay the bills.

Eventually, the Spaceball law makers were defied because they lacked mercy and their own arrogance toppled the empire. The natural stubbornness of Lonestar nearly cost him his life. The natural selfishness of the Spaceball government caused them to fall. Both the hero and the villain, here, do what is natural to them, and find themselves in a whole heap of trouble. In Galatians, the Jewish Christians obsess over their interpretation of the law and fail to see that it condemns them along with the Gentile Christians. The Gentile Christians are deceived by the law because they don’t know any better. Both parties fail. Both parties need mercy.

 Following the law or not following the law got both groups nowhere. The Jewish Christian sect wanted the Gentile Christians to do as they did, but Paul’s declaration of the Gospel, defied their understanding of reality, by telling them to be Christ-like, and humble themselves in the loving aide of others. Whether we’re the Galatians, the Spaceballs, siblings, friends, husbands, wives, rich, poor, arguing nations, political parties, and so on, we’re always going to live in tension with Law and Gospel. The law fits our natural world; the Gospel crucifies it in the name of love.

In Spaceballs, it didn’t matter if Lonestar was right. Ultimately, what mattered was his love for the princess he came to rescue from captivity. Love is the defining principle for us too. If I think others are wrong all the time and I am always right, then I’m forgetting to love them. If I love people like Christ did, what will matter is how I can love them for who they are and where they are because I’m not always right. No one had to yell at me or remind me that I was wrong according to their criticisms. Instead, I’m reminded of how wrong I can be the more people demonstrate love and compassion.

For the Galatians and us, Luther says, “The Law of Christ is the law of love.” When I started writing this sermon, I was half tempted to just say, “Jesus loves you this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” remind you that Christ died, even, for you, and call it a day. Because the one thing that will always be challenging, that will always be conflicting, that will always be confusing, and the only thing that has ever been redeeming is the law of love and grace.

The Gospel, according to Paul in Galatians, defies our understanding of reality; not for self-fulfilling purposes or for condemnation, but for love and the grace of Christ.

For us, the law is concrete and easy to rationalize because it’s systemic, and built on a logical understanding of cause and effect. The Gospel, on the other hand, is like outer space, so vast in its function and purpose that it leaves us in awe. It’s okay if grace doesn’t make sense to us sometimes, or all the time, as the case may be. Grace isn’t there to make sense. Grace is there for us because Christ gave it to us.

For the Jewish Christian in Galatia, the law is all they knew. For the Gentile Christian in Galatia, the law was not there’s. The law condemns them both justly because its purpose is correction. The Gospel redeems them both equally because its correction is the loving fulfillment of the law.

Everyone gets it wrong sometimes; everyone gets it right sometimes. We’re human and it’s easy to only see half the story; the part we understand, not the part we don’t. Christ died for us out of love and mercy. The law of love is just that, love and grace. It’s the most transformative thing we’ll ever know, but because it is God’s nature, not ours, it defies our understanding of reality.

“Christ’s liberty is given us not by the law, or for our own righteousness, but freely for Christ’s sake” (Luther).

For, it is the grace of the cross that defines the Gospel. Why the son of God would willingly die for the very people that condemned him, is beyond the fullness of my comprehension. Love changes the story for everyone. In Galatians, love for the people of the church is Christ-like and humble. In Spaceballs, love makes Lonestar realize he’s been looking for the wrong thing and gives him new purpose. In my life, the love of God made this the hardest message I’ve ever preached because it doesn’t matter if I’m right; what matters, is that love wins every time, all the time.

“The Law of Christ is the law of love.” Law is the rule that grace fulfills. Grace is the question that love answers.


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