Homily 20160612 Proper 6C: Faith Of Christ
Good morning: I shall speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You may be seated.
I do not mean this morning, to bear startling news, much less bad news (because it is not “bad news”), but our Reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, our English translation differs grammatically from Saint Paul’s Greek letter in a way that intrigues me. The purpose of my homily is to teach about Galatians and about this morning’s reading, and Paul’s own “soteriology,” which is a seminary term for his theology of salvation, of being “saved.”
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is terse, full of anger and disgust. He is raging. In some English renderings the epithet “stupid” appears, as in “just how stupid are you Galatians anyway?” The letter is meant to be read start to finish to an attentive audience, not in little bits and snippets as we do on Sunday mornings, our lectionary framers attending to political correctness, and cutting out unseemly language so no one is offended. But like everything we have from Paul, this is an “occasional” letter, written because of an issue, a problem, and this letter is upbraiding Galatian Christians for foolhardiness.
Paul had traveled around Galatia, a large area of what is now Turkey, proclaiming Christ and establishing churches with his gospel of salvation by faith in the One true God, the God of Jesus Christ. Paul’s modus is to preach, establish house churches of folks who will worship together and convert friends and neighbors to the God of Jesus Christ; then Paul moves on to the next province or town. Everywhere he goes, he stays awhile, days, months, or even years; and while he’s there he is careful to earn his own living, and not be a moocher living off the generosity of friends. Paul is proud of that and does not hesitate to remind folks that he paid his own way.
In each town, Paul may begin at the synagogue, as Luke reports in Acts of the Apostles. But his ministry turns to pagans, the gentiles, to convert them to the God of Jesus Christ, of Jesus, who is coming again to judge and to rule in God’s name.
Paul is an apocalypticist, especially evident in First Thessalonians, his earliest writing that we have, Paul believes that time is short because Christ is returning soon, and when that happens the dead will be raised and He will confront living and dead to judge them on how they lived their lives. Those who lived well will be saved into the new kingdom of God on earth, ruled by Christ.
But for salvation, to be “eligible” at all, you must in this life be under the - - “umbrella” is the metaphor I like to use, under the umbrella of the God of Israel, the one, true, Creating God.
Kindly do not bother asking about those not under the umbrella, and do not ask about those who fail at judgment day: the church later acquired a theology of hellfire for them, I don’t know, I have a hard time with other men’s dogma.
Paul believes, at least during this early part of his ministry, that the eschaton (the end of time), the apocalypse is imminent, immediate, dawning, Jesus is the “first fruits” of those raised from the dead. And Paul’s mission, his preaching ministry, his goal, is to bring as many gentile pagans as possible under the umbrella of the One true God before the End Time comes.
Unlike some other Christians of the day, and this is the specific issue in Galatians, Paul believes, teaches and preaches, that to come to the God of Jesus, the God of Israel, you do not have to first become a Jew. Paul says everyone is invited and welcome. No circumcision to make the men Jews, and you do not have to follow the Law of Moses, Jewish dietary law and Jewish cultic practices, you do not have to do that. What you have to do is accept the God of Christ, and you enter under the umbrella. Saved by grace, the lovingkindness of God, through your own faith, the faith of Jesus who died for you.
Paul preaches and teaches this, and sets up the little house churches everywhere he goes. In the house churches, people meet regularly and worship Jewish synagogue style — which is the foundation of the worship liturgy we still use to this day: cleansing for purity to come into God’s presence, prayer and praise, read from the Law and the Prophets, and eventually they started circulating and reading from the Gospels as we do today, and from Paul’s letters — and adding Eucharist, Holy Communion, a sacred meal of praise and thanksgiving with bread and wine emulating the Last Supper as the sacrificial Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Paul taught his followers they are acceptable to God just as they are. Again, they do not have to become Jews. In fact, he did not want them to become Jews, because the Law of Moses is impossible to keep, and as he said to the church leaders in Jerusalem even most Jews do not keep it faithfully, and it is not “saving” at any event: it’s Jewish tradition required of Jewish life, but salvation comes by the lovingkindness of the one true God.
So Paul preaches, converts, sets up his church town by town, village by village, and moves on to the next place. He does this all across Galatia.
But then word comes to Paul, who by this time has moved on to, perhaps Philippi, or Corinth, or Thessaloniki, that along behind him have come other Jewish Christians preaching that Paul was wrong, that to become Christians, gentile pagans do have to become Jews, circumcision for the males, and abide by Jewish dietary and cultic laws. And the Galatians are accepting this perverse teaching. Paul is furious. Enraged. Hurt. Disappointed. Appalled and horrified that the good news he has preached is being rubbished by these — we call them “Judaizers” because they are requiring gentile Christians to become Jews — and the people in Paul’s churches in Galatia are swallowing their garbage.
So he dashes off a letter, this excellent and very clear letter — he writes the letter and sends it around by messenger, to the Galatian churches to be read, so the people understand they’ve been led astray and must return to Paul’s teaching. Paul does not name the Galatian churches, and we do not know what happened in response to the letter, but some of Paul’s “straying” churches may be among the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation, I don’t know. I like to imagine that, but we really do not know!
Now, when I started, I said our English translation conveys a thought that is a theological issue. It shows up clearly in today’s Galatians reading.
In the reading, three verses in today’s reading, Paul is translated saying we must have faith in Jesus Christ. Whether I, or you, or the church, or the translators like it or not, that is not what Paul’s Greek says. Here in Galatians, Paul does not say “faith in Jesus Christ.” Paul’s Greek phrase is not Dative case (indirect object, if you are into that grammatical nicety)— Paul’s Greek phrase is Genitive (possessive). Paul says we must have Christ’s faith, Jesuses faith, the faith of Jesus Christ, the faith of Christ —- Christ Jesus, whose faith is in the One true creating God of Israel.
Not “faith in Jesus Christ,” but the faith that Jesus had. Jesus the Jew, faith in his God, faith in the God of Jesus, the God of Israel. That’s different from what we read.
I have not looked in Luther’s Bibel to see how he renders Paul’s Greek into 16th Century German, nor have I looked at the Latin Vulgate. I yet may, but I do not need to, because I’m looking at Paul’s Greek and telling you what Paul said: we must have the faith of Jesus Christ.
What does this do for our theology? Or to our theology? Paul says that salvation comes by the grace of God through the faith of Christ. I’m working with that, I’m working with it for myself. I’m just as intelligent as the Nicene Fathers, and so are you. Steve Jobs, late founder of Apple computers, once told a college graduating class, “Your time is limited, don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. - - - have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Agreeing with him, I’m practicing that (trying to). It’s a precept of my Tuesday morning Bible Seminars and of my Sunday School classes: read, study, examine, discuss, explore, discover, argue. In my theological studies I went to two seminaries, Lutheran seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the Episcopal seminary, Alexandria, Virginia. Both places for deeper study, thinking and exploration than I had ever known. And challenging. Challenging: in the lintel over the door of the library at Virginia Episcopal seminary was a proverb: “Seek The Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.” Seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Living this has taught me that truth is always a step ahead of me, around the corner, over the next hill, enticing me to keep thinking, searching, seeking.
The faith of Jesus Christ is sure and certain confidence in the power of God to love, and to heal, and to forgive, and to save, and to raise. Agape: faith in the lovingkindness of God the Father.
I do know and believe that when I think and search and seek, God is there, the Holy Spirit leading me, us, on, to find him — Seeking me Seeking God, Seeking me. This is my call as a Christian. Seek.
I offer it to you. It may also be your call: seek.
Galatians 2:15-21We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith Χριστοῦ (N-GMS) Ἰησοῦ (N-GMS) of Christ Jesus. And we in Christ Jesus believed that we might be justified by faith Χριστοῦ (N-GMS) of Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified ἐν Χριστῷ (N-DNS) in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 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 through faith I live that τοῦ (Art-GMS) of the Υἱοῦ (N-GMS) Son τοῦ (Art-GMS) Θεοῦ (N-GMS) of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Source: BibleGateway and BibleHub
20160612, Proper 6C, homily in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, the Rev. Tom Weller. Galatians 2:15-21. I never publish my rubbish pridefully, but only in keeping a promise to a dear and faithful friend of many years. And they are not online as a forum for discussion, they are just here!