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 to be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Beginning this Sunday we are going to start a six week journey with Paul in his letter to the Galatians. Almost half of the New Testament consists of letters that Paul has written to those places that he has either ministered to along his journey or to individuals working to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. They usually contain a salutation and words of thanksgiving for the ministry that is being done at the current time.
Aren’t these words that you would like to hear from someone that brought the faith to you and being affirmed in the things that you are doing? It is nice to be acknowledged for those things that we do correctly and those times that we go above and beyond the expectations. We like to be greeted with kind words and acknowledged by those that we encounter throughout the day. We like to be welcomed with a warm smile and a friendly hello. While Paul usually does not do this in person, his letters usually speak for him.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians seems to start out like any of his other letters. There is one thing missing that I am sure the listeners of the letter as it is read to them are shocked by. They are greeted with a salutation, but where is their word for thanksgiving? Instead, he goes right into his purpose of writing to them and does not hold back. It may even appear that he goes on the defense of the things that he has taught to the Galatians. He backs this up with his credentials and the point that the gospel he originally shared with the Galatians was the same that was revealed to him through Jesus Christ.
So, why does Paul seem to go on the attack right at the outset of his letter? Why is this letter to the Galatians different from all of the other letters that he had written or would write? He is concerned that the people of Christ are following another teaching, different from the good news that was proclaimed to them by Paul when he was with them. The last time he left the Galatians they were probably full of the Spirit and ready to proclaim the same good news that he had shared with them to others in the area. He was probably satisfied to the point that he felt that it was time to carry the good news on to another community and they would be fine as there were probably some leaders that had been lifted up among them. He had spent a great deal of time with them and I am sure he put in a lot of hard work.
Of course, our plans always work out, right? In this case, Paul is shocked to hear that the Galatians have steered away from what Paul preached and were now following the instructions that spoke counter to the Word that Paul shared. He is astonished that they were so quick to step away from his teachings and fall so quickly for someone else that preached a false gospel. In my mind, I am picturing something like the guy that I saw before the Detroit Tiger’s game earlier this week that was walking around with a big cross and megaphone preaching anything but the grace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ.
Come to think of it, are we really much different from the Galatians? At times we are quick to follow what others say and do without really thinking for ourselves. Perhaps we find ourselves on a different path in life than what God had intended for us and it most likely is not a path that Jesus would have taken. We forget what has been taught to us in the past and we turn to the next best thing, that which is close by. This is what the Galatians have done. They probably got to the point after Paul left that they were not quite sure of themselves and someone else came in bearing another story. A story that did not line up with the story Paul shared, but they felt it was close enough to follow.
At this Paul gets upset. Personally, he does not care what the people think of him, because he is not trying to please them. His calling was to go and proclaim the good news and somewhere along the line, that good news was rearranged.
Doesn’t this sound like a great letter for us to spend six weeks with? Honestly it is. It speaks to the freedom that we have in Christ and the inclusion that the church has the utmost desire for. Grace abounds in the letter to the Galatians and we will unwrap it in the coming weeks. The grace this week comes to us in the fact that even though Paul is upset with the Galatians, he is still willing to teach and share the grace and peace of God as he opens up the letter. Yes he is upset. The grace can be found in the word of God that he continues to share and the hope that he has in Jesus Christ. That hope he now shares with the people in Galatia with a little corrective love.
Yes, we may at times follow a false witness, like the Galatians. However, may we always know that through Jesus Christ we have received the grace of God, which is always present in our lives and ready for us to return at anytime.
As we spend these next six weeks with Paul, may you get to know the people of Galatia through his letter, and be open to the revelation of Jesus Christ in your own life.