The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Thank you for visiting our blog for Red Valley UMC. If you would like to listen to the worship from this past week, please click here: 6-2-13 The Gospel of Jesus Christ

Epistle Lesson: Galatians 1:1-12

Paul an apostle—sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the members of God’s family who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Sermon

             This past week, I had the pleasure of listening to last week’s sermon. I did not speak to Joy about what she would be speaking on, but certainly by the work of the Spirit she has led us right into a new sermon series that we will be looking at throughout this summer. I recall from listening to her message from last week that she began speaking about what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. And this is precisely what I hope to continue reflecting on throughout July and August. Beginning in July, we will be faithfully studying through a sermon series that is being shaped around an article that was written by Scot McKnight called “The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel” that was printed in Christianity Today back in 2008.

However, before we get to McKnight’s article, I would like to spend this week and next week discussing this article written to the Galatia Church from the apostle Paul. These opening lines from Paul are a bit uncharacteristic of Paul as we have quite a few letters from him to congregations that he had founded. Let me show you what I mean…in his letter to the Romans he writes a Salutation and then a Prayer of Thanksgiving. In both 1st and 2nd Corinthians Paul begins his letter with a Salutation and a prayer of Thanksgiving. In Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus, a Salutation, Spiritual Blessings in Christ, and a prayer of Thanksgiving. To the Church of Philippi: a salutation and a prayer of thanksgiving for the Philippians. To the Church of Colossae, a salutation and a prayer of Thanksgiving…and so on and so forth. We can continue if you like. To the Church of Thessalonica, guess how he began his letter. A Salutation and a prayer of Thanksgiving.

This seems to be the model of his typical letter to the churches that he wrote. Except, not so, in this letter to the Church of Galatia. Paul, to say the least, is quite irritated with the follower’s of Christ in Galatia. We as the Church today often feel as though we would like to skip over this reading and think to ourselves: This letter is not for us, apparently this one is specifically for this church that apparently has really messed up. But…this letter IS for us today.

Paul sends his Salutation and immediately delves into the issue that he wants to address with the followers of Galatia. Paul immediately reminds his readers of the gospel that was proclaimed to them by Paul through Jesus Christ. This gospel is that Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to SET US FREE from the present evil age. That present evil age that Paul is referring to is that one must live as a Jew, circumcised, to be a follower of Christ. And apparently since Paul had come through, some other teachers called Judaizers came through proclaiming that in order to follow Christ, you must be circumcised and be under the Jewish Law. And Paul wants to boldly and clearly proclaim to these people that this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. One does not need to be circumcised and under the law in order to follow Christ. Not only have they fallen back under this rule, but also later in this letter we find that they have even returned back to worshipping the gods of nature such as the seasons.(Galatians 4:8) And it is here that this letter from Paul to the Galatians intersects with our need of hearing this message in our world today.

Do you mean to say to us Pastor Josh that we are in need of hearing that we are guilty of worshipping the seasons? No, not necessarily, unless of course you are like myself and I long for hunting season to come again. But that is not what I am talking about in our relation to us worshipping the seasons. Where I do see this passage have meaning in our lives is the gospel that we claim to be central part of our lives is at stake when we are tempted with the other worldly gospels around us. Some of you may remember that when I first came to Red Valley, about two years ago, I gave a sermon about who I am. I talked about all the things I was interested in, and a little bit about my past. But underneath all of that, was the cross. I told you all of you that I am a slave to Christ and to his cross. And that as slaves, we are to make decisions not based upon what is best for us, or best for the church, or whatever makes us most comfortable, but based upon God’s will and approval. In our world today we are surrounded by the temptations of worldly gospels each day. A gospel, broken down literally is good news. There are many gospels that the world may call the essence and purpose of life, but that God does not approve.

For instance, we have the consumer’s gospel. This gospel says, “The purpose of life is own as many things as possible for our own benefit.” I believe this gospel is often dangerous because we begin to place our hopes, our dreams, in the items that we place in our life. It is easy in a very consumeristic world to find yourself attracted to this gospel. In this false gospel, we believe that if only we had that new car, new house, new (fill in the blank of whatever it is your interested in) I would finally be happy. In this false gospel, we wrongfully place our hope of joy in the items that we desire. Now this is not to say that we are irresponsible in saving up for something we desire. But let share with you some statistics about how as a people we are changing due to this consumerist gospel. Jeffery Kaplan writes in an article about consumption,

Our modern predicament is a case in point. By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929, while per capita spending for durable goods—the big stuff such as cars and appliances—was thirty-two times higher. Meanwhile, by 2000 the average married couple with children was working almost five hundred hours a year more than in 1979. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce.

I believe Kaplan shares with us the truth of a consumer’s gospel. That one thing more is never enough. It will always be in the consumer’s gospel that one thing more to make me happy. One can easily see how this gospel is easy to base one’s life on and many people have. It is one of the many false gospel’s that fall prey on even the best of Christians.

So is this the only gospel contrary to that of Jesus Christ that continues to beg for our attention? Absolutely not. There are many gospels of our day that are so widely accepted that we as Christians should recognize quite quickly as false gospels. To name a few, you have the “feel good” gospel or Emotivism. That is if it feels right, it must be right. Under this gospel it means would mean that if it felt right to kill my enemy then certainly it must be right. Or if it feels good to go and wreck my body by smoking all the crack I want, as long as it feels good then it is ok.

Or you have the pluralism gospel that says, “all religions are equally valid paths and that as such we should coexist”. I do not remember Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth and the light, and oh yeah if you want to go and worship money, that’s cool too.” The gospel of Jesus Christ calls for full devotion to loving God and loving neighbor. This does not mean that we should “hate” those who have different beliefs from us, but it certainly does not mean that we say that they are right in that their faith is equally valid to that of the revelation of God coming to us through the bodily life of Jesus.

This list of false gospels continues, and I could be here all day continuing to describe them. But that, I believe would be counter intuitive. Instead of talking about all the gospels that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus, let us be reminded as Paul had done with the Church of Galatia what the gospel of Jesus Christ is.

The robust Gospel of Jesus Christ that we will be looking at in the coming months is:  a story, it is personal interactions, it deals with a robust problem, it includes life and Resurrection of Jesus, it demands all that we are, it involves an inbreaking of the Spirit of God, and it is a gospel that emerges from and leads others to the church. To keep it simple, and we will see how this weaves itself throughout this entire series, the gospel of Jesus Christ is Love. It is “unbearably good news that divine love anticipates us, surrounds us, precedes us” and there is nothing that can become an obstacle of that love.

And because of that love for God and for others, it means that you are going have others who do not like you. It is impossible to serve God and please people. Paul clearly tells them that the gospel of Jesus Christ is impossible to keep if you want to please people. You cannot be a servant of Christ is your desire is to please everyone. If you have never heard this before, let me be the first to tell you. Every pastor, if they are being honest, will tell you that they have been susceptible to not bearing the gospel as they should because of fear of what others will think. In a world where religion itself has become a consumerable item, if people do not like what one church is saying, then they can easily get up, leave and find a church that will. Or better yet, they will simply make the pastor move and hire one that will them everything they want to hear rather than what needs to be heard. The danger in this is, just as a body grows from suffering, such as a workout where muscles get worked and stretched and breaks and then is rebuilt stronger, our faiths are going to be made stronger when our faiths are challenged. The problem is, two fold. Churches often don’t want to exercise because it’s tough work and it’s hard. And 2, the pastor is afraid to bear witness to the gospel in fear they may lose their memberships or budget.

It is interesting though, as I prepare for my commissioning later this month, each pastor coming into the UMC as a licensed local pastor, Provisional Elder, and even the Orders of Elder as an ordained clergy are examined as are asked in one form or another will they preach the gospel to all people. And then, by the Bishop and the church are charged to do so. Which leads me to my conclusion. During this summer series, learning about the robust gospel and how to talk to others about the gospel in which we believe in is going to be the easy part. The tough part that I charge each of you with is the same charge that is given to each minister as we are all ministers in Christ is to live out that gospel. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. To love without thought to your own well being. To love sacrificially as Christ loved us on the cross. May we with the grace of God be the new society God has called us to be, a society that is known by its love.

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