Sermon Archives

A Promise Given ~ Galatians 3:1-18

For some things you need a “How To” guide, a step-by-step instruction book, like a book of laws, of what to do and what not to do.

A couple of weeks ago one of the Lentzes discovered that our washing machine was on the blink. The tank would fill with water, the agitation cycle would commence, and it would “wash” the clothes. But then the machine would stop: it would not empty, it would not spin, it would not rinse or spin again.

I opened up the lid and looked into the wet mass of clothes submerged in dirty water wondering what to do. We don’t have $750 to $1,200 for a new washing machine.

Thankfully, Deanne keeps all the appliance manuals, and so we found the one for our Kenmore washer. I read it, but didn’t have a clue what it was telling me. I really don’t do instructions really well. Thankfully, there was a “trouble-shooting” guide on the last page…. If your washer is not doing this, then try this – and it helped. I figured I had a lid-switch problem. I just didn’t know what to do next!

For washing machines and many other things you need a book – saves you from electrocution! You also need someone who has the experience to fix the darn machine – so I had a friend come over and together we fixed it…saved me at least $75!

Some folks read the Bible like it’s an instruction manual and think of religion as a “if you follow all the rules” you get into heaven. Some folks mistrust experience – because it leads to a lot of different interpretations. But without experience, we have nothing!

I see the Bible more like a collection of experiences – re-collections of people who have had experiences of a living God and have interpreted them in many and different ways.

Because for some things rules and rule books don’t apply, you can’t how-to your way to contentedness; you don’t fall in love in three easy steps – it is more like falling over a cliff. Sometimes you have to trust your own experience.

In fact, when I think about it – most of the really important, fundamental, life-changing realities happen only through experience, and trusting – taking that risk and going for it. For example: love, hope, justice, joy, contentment, faith, freedom, identity, community, power–these are the things Christian faith is all about and what Paul was trying to talk about in this passage.

You can only feel your way into these things – your mind follows your heart – not the other way around. Your experience interprets reality.

In a way, this is what Paul was up against with the Galatians who were caught in the agitation cycle of discernment – which way to go – Paul said, “Don’t you trust the experience you had?” They had experienced the Spirit but some were telling them that their experience didn’t count and that they had to go back to a rule book to find their faith; there is only one way to get it right.

In many ways, Christianity today is still split along this line.

I am with you, this passage sort of makes my head spin (you like the way I keep bringing in the washing machine images? Cycles, agitation, spin… all we need is a baptism for the rinse!) law, curse, justification, transgression, angels, mediator – what?

The bottom line is this: Paul recognizes that the story of Abraham is the story of an experience that came before the law, an experience that came before rules, an experience that came before obligations and an experience that came before guilt.

Abraham had an experience and he was asked to trust his experience – and it was “reckoned to him as righteousness!” Before the law, before Moses – there was an experience!

Paul loved that story because he too had experienced something life changing.

Paul has given his heart to that experience, and his magnificent mind follows – to the marvelous promise that God loves everyone – not just a certain group. God has shown in Jesus that every barrier is broken down. God has revealed in Jesus that Gentiles are in – that’s you and me, you know. Not something you can prove, something you trust, no longer an abstraction but a relationship.

It is a promise that God is “All In” and invites you and me to be all in too. Yes, as individuals, but really the promise of God is for us and for all.

It’s interesting. I was driving along the other day, thinking about these verses, and John Legend’s song came to mind:

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
‘Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you.

My head’s under water
But I’m breathing fine
Cards on the table, we’re both showing hearts
Risking it all, though it’s hard

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning
‘Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you

That is the kind of love that your Creator God has for you. Makes you blush!

This is the kind of love that was expressed on that Cross long ago – Jesus Christ gave his heart to you and to me. And that kind of love can’t be received through a rule-book, or a how-to manual, or by following laws, and guilt, and obligation.

And once you experience it – nothing is the same again. It makes me fascinated by the experiences of others, makes me want to listen to the voices of those long silenced, makes me want to liberate myself and everyone else who’s bound by convention.

The elements of our communion this morning are God’s cards laid on the table – showing hearts.

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is news that the world still needs to hear; It is the news that many in the church of today need to hear. Young women in Afghanistan and young men in prison are longing for this experience of liberation and love. Men in poverty and women escaping abuse yearn for a real experience of love, of hope, of identity.

This is the experience of Christ that is ours for the taking, no longer an abstraction – and it is why and I think it’s important for a progressive, liberal church to hear this because we want to get so involved in all the issues of the world—but this is why we go into the world and are called to involve ourselves in all the messiness, and we speak out against unfairness, and the growing disparities. This is why we work for justice and we give of ourselves, give of our wealth– generously, prodigally, cheerfully.

You can’t get to God through a rule book, or an instruction manual, because it’s not because of the law – someone or some institution telling you that you had better do this or else…. I might not welcome you, or demonize you, or even, in some cases today, behead you. No, this is a matter of the heart, a matter of experience – a matter of trusting that there is something far greater than what we can see.

Only poems, songs, and stories of people who have been touched by a power so deep, and wide and rich and wonderful that you simply cannot NOT respond.

This is Christian faith – not a have to, but a want to, I-am-really-not-whole unless I give my all – I am laying all my cards on the table.

Not through the law – but through the promise – the promise that in Christ Jesus all is made new and all things are possible. Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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