Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Sermon for June 5, 2016: TO KNOW and TO GROW; Visions from God.

The following sermon was preached by Rev. Mark T. Peterson, on May 29, 2016, at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA. It is the second sermon in a 6 week series on Galatians, entitled TO KNOW, and TO GROW. I will be making references to a document I produced, of the same name, and that is pictured within this post. 
Galatians 1:11-24 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
  13You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
  18Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; 19but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. 20In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, 22and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me.

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ,
When I was younger, maybe late high school, perhaps college, I feel as if I was given a vision from God. Mind you, this was not a vision to go and become a pastor. Rather, it was a vision of riding a motorcycle. Not one of the big choppers that people like to cruise around on, but the kind commonly referred to as "crotch-rcokets." The kind that Tom Cruise so awesomely drove in the movie, Top Gun. In my vision, I was thinking about how cool that would be to have one, and how fast I could go. In my vision, I saw myself speeding up and down the road, and then God interrupted, and I, a young man who felt pretty invincible as many young people do, saw myself, flying off of that motorcycle and a long way into the air. I realized then and there, that God was telling me that a motorcycle would not be a good purchase for your life. God was saying "DO NOT BUY A MOTORCYCLE. EVER!"

There I was, a bold, invulnerable young man, and God interrupted, and gave me a better path, a different way of doing things. 

Today, we read once again from Paul's letter to the Galatians. In reading it, we remember that Paul, wasn't always Paul. In his earlier life, he had been Saul, a bold and zealous young man, a very religious young man, an important figure in the realm of Judaism. In his religious life, Saul had certainly known all the rules and was a stern protector and defender of the faith. So much so, that when a new expression of it started popping up, when churches, centered around this guy named Jesus Christ, a man who had been crucified and then was raised...Saul, a zealous person of faith sought to put an end to that church. Saul even held everyone's coats when one of the members of this new faith, Stephen, was being stoned to death. Saul new where he was headed in life, he had it all figured out and his religion, would take him to the top, both in terms of importance and righteousness. 
It was this person named Saul, who had a vision from God, who in fact had more than just a vision, but a revelation. The leader of this church that Saul was so zealously persecuting, a guy buy the name of Jesus, came to Saul, knocked him off of his horse, and blinded Saul with his great light. This revelation must have been amazing to Saul, as it was Jesus, who had been raised from the dead who had encountered him. But the most amazing thing about this whole encounter, this whole revelation, was that Jesus gave to Saul his grace and love, and transformed his life. Saul went from someone who had had it all figured out, to someone who realized what it was he was doing by persecuting the church and it's followers, and who saw how empty, even sinful his own self-perceived merit before God was. Because of Jesus' revelation to him, Saul, the one who lived with pride in his own works, was transformed into Paul, the one who lived by trust in the grace of someone else towards him. 

Paul, this person so dramatically transformed by Jesus, is a unique case. We don't have a lot of folks with similar experiences running around. It seems Jesus worked in this sort of way about once, and that was it. Yet, Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior, continues to reveal himself today. Jesus continues to reveal himself through Paul, as Paul went around starting to build up the same church that he had once tried to destroy, including the church in Galatia. In Paul's work, in his transformation and building up of the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit we see the work of Jesus revealed. 

Quite a few years after helping to start this church, Paul wrote a letter to them, a letter that still speaks to us today. Paul wrote to those Galatians as one who had been transformed by Christ, and as one seeking to reveal Christ to them once again. 

Indeed, Paul wrote to the Galatians so that they could KNOW about how it is that they had come to be this church, this people of God in Christ. Paul wrote to them so they could KNOW about Jesus' love which did this work. 

Paul wrote to these Galatians so that they could GROW in what this identity means. So that they could GROW in being free from this evil age. So that they could GROW in the life of Jesus Christ, who gave himself for their sins. 

In Galatians, we hear Paul writing to us as well; to KNOW and to GROW:
TO KNOW: That the Gospel is from Jesus Christ, it is about Christ, and it reveals to us Christ. 
TO KNOW: That Jesus Christ came to do something. He came to give himself for our sins and free us from this evil age. 
TO GROW: We join with Paul in asking: "Am I seeking human approval? Or the approval of God? Am I hear to please people?"

Because of God working through people like Paul, we KNOW and we GROW. 

We KNOW that Jesus reveals himself today, the same Jesus that was revealed to the Galatians; the same Jesus that revealed himself to Paul. Jesus comes to us and is revealed in baptismal waters. Waters that promise us that we are children of God; waters that tell us that just as Jesus is God's son, we have been made God's children, that God's favor is upon not only us, but upon all of creation and upon all people. 

We KNOW that Jesus reveals himself to us today, as we gather in worship. We KNOW that he is full of grace and mercy as he reveals himself to us by giving us his life to us in the midst of our sin. He gives us his body and blood for us so that we may share it with each other. 

We KNOW that Jesus reveals himself to us here in worship, through the Word of God that has been handed on through the generations to us. We KNOW that Jesus reveals himself to us here, so that we may see our risen Lord Jesus' presence wherever we may look; his grace, his mercy, his love, his unending life. 

In our Year of Prayer, here in 2016, we pray to this Jesus. This Jesus who comes to us, not only when we are riding horses or motorcycles, and knocks us off of our old way of being. And he gives to us a new message, a new way of life; the way of grace and mercy. 

This week, we are to KNOW, we are to KNOW that Jesus comes and frees us from this evil age to transform sinners, to transform us. Jesus came to Saul for a reason, to transform him, to turn him into Paul by revealing to him his grace and mercy. Jesus' revelation to us today does the same. Truly, Jesus is here, transforming us.

TO KNOW: Jesus reveals himself to us, to transform sinners by his grace and mercy.

In knowing this, WE GROW. WE GROW in our trust. Just like Paul, this person who was taken from a life where the rules,  the way of being, how to get along in society, and how to be faithful and religious were all clear, and following them was what brought upon God's favor, and had it all shattered by grace, the grace of Jesus Christ. After this, Paul was left with only trust, trust in Jesus. In fact, in Paul's letters, it's never about what he is doing, but about revealing what Jesus is doing. Paul's letters are about revealing the One who he now follows, and revealing the Life that has been given to him. 

To the transformation of Paul, and our own transformation another way, I offer this quote which I recently read, from H. William Gregory, "Trust, not rigidity, is what marks the will of one who has been converted by grace." Paul was converted by grace. We have been converted by this same grace. May we learn:

TO GROW in our trust of that grace, and let go of our own human visions and human ways so that we may seek the way of life we have been given, the way of Jesus Christ. 

And, as we grow in our trust of this grace we have been given, it's abundant life will spring forth in us, and by the work of God, we will share it with each other, and all of creation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


TO KNOW and TO GROW, Galatians Chapter One Summary:
TO KNOW: That the Gospel is from Jesus Christ, it is about Christ, and it reveals to us Christ. 
TO KNOW: That Jesus Christ came to do something. He came to give himself for our sins and free us from this evil age. 
TO KNOW: Jesus reveals himself to us, to transform sinners by his grace and mercy.
TO GROW: We join with Paul in asking: "Am I seeking human approval? Or the approval of God? Am I hear to please people?"

TO GROW in our trust of that grace, and let go of our own human visions and human ways so that we may seek the way of life we have been given, the way of Jesus Christ. 

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