This is the message I preached on Sunday, 7/3 at St.Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church. The text is Galatians 6:7-16..
I'm not a big fan of a lot of jewelry, but I love the variety of
crosses that people wear. The Jerusalem
Cross is near the top of the
list. What's unique about the Jerusalem Cross is the four smaller
crosses that are part of it. The smaller crosses stand for Jesus' wounds
in his head, hands, feet and side.
And of course, being
Irish, I feel a special affinity for the Celtic cross with all its
interconnected knots. And in the middle is the symbol of the Holy
Trinity, which is a triangle of inter-connected rings. These crosses are
not only beautiful, but tell the salvation story.
we have the cross our Lord Jesus Christ died upon. There is nothing
attractive about it. It isn't pretty like our jewelry. The wood was not
smooth and clean. At times, so many were crucified by the Romans, thatthere wasn't time to cut the trees down, meaning some were crucified on live trees.
suffered the least admirable, the most ugly, the least classy way to
death, showing that he is unimpressed by any kind of boast.
we want to better understand the Apostle Paul and his passion for the
gospel, it can be summed up in this truth--Jesus died on a cross. It was
the most humiliating thing imaginable. It is not an achievement,
quality or possession. It is not beautiful or stylish. It is not even
something about Paul himself. It is however, all that Paul wants us to
know about him. It is all that matters.
Doesn't it seem
strange to boast of a cross, the symbol of death and defeat? After all,
kings sit on thrones. They are not nailed to crosses. Kings hold a
scepter, not a reed. Kings drink wine from silver goblets, not vinegar
from a sponge. No wonder they taunted this so-called king who was
suffering a humiliating death.
The Galatian believers
struggled with Jewish teachers who taught that the Galatians had to do
more than accept God's gracious offer of faith through grace to become
God's children. They taught that non-Jews had to be circumcised, like
the Jewish people, in order to please God. What they were promoting was
grace AND something else. God's work in Christ on the cross and faith in
that was not enough. Earlier in Galatians, Paul states vehemently that
those Jewish teachers were wrong, to the point where he wrote, "I wish
those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12).
said, such proselytizers wanted to "boast about [the Galatians']
flesh," meaning to boast about their success in proselytizing. They also
wanted to avoid being "persecuted for the cross of Christ (v. 12).
Paul's attitude was of course, the polar opposite, not wanting to
"boast of anything except the cross of... Christ, by which the world
has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (v. 14).
"world" Paul speaks of is not the created world, but the "present evil
age" (1:4). Paul still had to fight with the evil age, but lived in a
"crucified" relationship to it. He recognized that this order is passing
away, for in the death and resurrection of Christ, a new creation has
shattered the old order.
With all that Paul had done in
teaching, preaching and bringing people to Christ, he did not seek
praise or boast about all he had done. Paul warns here against spiritual
pride. We can make the cross or faith in it, a matter of our own doing
by turning faith into works instead of a gift. The only thing Paul
wanted to boast about is the cross and its transformative power in his
Paul applies crucifixion language to himself almost
as often as he uses it of Christ. In Paul's understanding of the world,
we not only look back to Christ's death to find our identity, but we
somehow also share in Christ's death in the present. Earlier in
Galatians, Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no
longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (2:19-20).
Paul, "Three deaths have occurred: Christ died, the world died, [and]
Paul died" (Craig Koester). "All of the old antagonisms and their
bitterness stored up for generations: [are now] dead. All of the old
ways of measuring ourselves and one another: [are now] dead. All of the
fleshly definitions of who is in and who is out: [are now] dead" (Doug
The new creation is the evidence of the
transforming power of the cross--the changed lives of people who have
met the Christ of the cross, who by grace have submitted in repentance
and faith.The new creation is the new community in Christ. It is a
community that does good works--not in order to be saved, but to respond
in love to the Lord who saved us. Living in the new creation in Christ
is living the live of love.
Paul writes that works like
circumcision, are nothing! "...but a new creation is everything!" Saul
of Tarsus, enemy of the church, became Paul, the servant of Jesus and
author of much of the New Testament. Augustine the intellectual skeptic
and pleasure seeker, became a devout theologian and leader of the church
through meeting the Christ of the cross. Francis of Assisi who was a
wealthy playboy, soldier and merchant, became a pious monk and reformer
of the church. The list goes on: Martin Luther, John Calvin, John
Wesley, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
All were transformed by the power of the cross.
does this apply to St.Timothy today? Do we realize that God transforms
our lives by the power of the cross? Martin Luther wrote in his
commentary on Galatians, "A new [creation] is one in whom the
image of God has been renewed. Such a creature cannot be brought into
life by good works, but by Christ alone."
Do we realize that in
our baptism, we have been made new creations? Are we comfortable
describing and sharing our personal transformative experience of Christ?
If not, why not? Paul and the other apostles and Christians throughout
the centuries have suffered and died for this faith. We do not suffer in
such a way here in our land.
Do we have to know a lot to
share God's love? No. As we live our lives in Christ, God will give us
opportunities to share our faith. If we love our neighbors, they may
just wonder why we are the way we are. That gives us the opportunity to
testify about what God has done in our lives.
church, we are sometimes distracted by results. We wonder, what more do
we need to do to bring people into our church? This is one way of
reading what Paul means by "sowing to the flesh." Some churches today
have become obsessed with their own efforts at creating an image that
will produce success. If they are not growing into a mega-church, then
they think they are doing something wrong. One could say that they are
obsessed with quantity not quality. We should always focus on quality
first. If we are doing the right thing, the numbers will come. And if
they don't, so be it. It's God's will that controls the growth of our
church, not ours. We are to continue to "sow to the Spirit" in faith and
hope which is the only way to maintain a life of self-giving love over
the long haul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote, "With all this going for
us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw
yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do
for him is a waste of time or effort" (1 Cor.15:58, The Message version).
That is the message for today!