by Rev. Doug Gray
Have any of you ever been part of the preparations for a baby to be born? What are some of the things people do to get ready for a baby to come into the world?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Sure. Some people do more. Some people do less. But everyone gets ready in one way or another, right? Now not everyone has children, but isn’t it interesting that many of the same kinds of things people do to prepare for a baby have similarities to what people do to get ready for the birth of a new company or a new idea. Instead of painting and furnishing a bedroom, for a company we look for a site and get equipment, or for an idea we add details and structure to the idea before we share it. Whenever we are beginning something new, it feels like there are a huge number of details that we have to get just right. And we really, really want to get them right because we love our child or company or idea, and we want them to grow and become all they are meant to be. Right? So how do you feel when someone comes in and tells you you’re doing it all wrong? Sometimes they’re not doing it to be mean, but it’s upsetting, isn’t it? And it could go something like this. “What are you doing?” You tell them. “Oh. (dramatic pause) Have you ever thought about it doing it this way?” And then they launch into a long explanation of whatever it is they think you should be doing to be a better parent, executive or author. Anyone have that happen? It can just steal your joy away. So maybe you’ve had something like that happen where your faith is concerned, and it can be very upsetting. It can just steal away any joy you have with God. That’s what happened to the Christians in the churches in Galatia, and it’s why Paul writes a very strongly worded letter to them, and it’s why I believe God has brought us here today: to hear that faith just got easier!
First, you are loved for you, not what you do. A group of missionaries had come to the churches in Galatia and told them that “real Christians” keep the Jewish Law—guys have to be circumcised, and everyone has to keep the Jewish Laws, and observe the Jewish holidays. The missionaries say God will love you if you do these things. But Paul writes, “Jesus Christ…gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil world.” Jesus went to the cross and was willing to die there because God had a plan, a plan to show us we were loved not for what we do, but because we are. When I was first getting ready to be a dad, I thought babies would be boring. I wouldn’t be able to run and play with them. I wouldn’t be able to shoot hoop or throw the frisbee with them. It was all about me and what would be fun for me. And then Morgan came along, and she was wonderful—she still is! She pooped and that was exciting! I get to change her diaper! Feeding her, caring for her—it was joy! We loved her simply because she was. Grace is like that. God loves you for you—and that’s Good News!
Second, we are all children of God. When you were a kid, did anyone ever try to start a club? The girls down the street from me did. “No boys allowed,” they told me. I was confused, but what could I say? I was definitely a boy. I felt really left out, and had trouble understanding. Didn’t we all play together all the time? What was different now? The girls had set up a club—and there were insiders and outsiders. This group of missionaries took folks who worshiped together, helped each other, and served together and fenced them off from each other—insiders look and act this way, and then there’s everyone else. Paul writes, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father…” and we are reminded that God is our heavenly parent. God doesn’t have cousins or grandchildren, in-laws or out-laws. Instead of insiders and outsiders, we are all God’s children and we are all loved.
Paul is so upset with these nice “Christians” who have been teaching in the churches of Galatia because they have taken the Good News—that Jesus died for them, that they are loved, that they are all children of God—and have made it awful news. And it happens to us all the time. Maybe something bad happens in your life—and some nice “Christian” person comes along who tells you how you should think about God. Or maybe you’re going along and some nice “Christian” person asks you “Are you saved?” and you’re not really sure what to make of that, but they make it sound like your experience of God isn’t right. Or maybe you have been told that God’s love isn’t for you…you’re not the right kind of person, not the right gender, not the right sexual orientation, not wearing the right clothes, not doing the right things, not talking the right language. It’s a kind of religious version of “keeping up with the Joneses”—they have to measure everybody else’s spiritual life and commitment in order to feel good about their own. So they create a Christianity that is hard enough to keep out the riff raff, and anyone else that’s not as good as them. But Jesus came for the riff raff—and we are all riff raff next to the holiness of God.
For all the people who have been told that following Jesus about keeping the rules, I ask your forgiveness. Jesus came to be Good News. Humans use rules as tools of oppression and self-interest. Jesus died so that we could know we are loved. That love frees us from having to find our value in playing by the world’s rules. We are not measured by what we do, but we find success in being loved and loving in return. Life is not about the rule. Love is not something we earn. And because of Jesus, knowing we are loved is not something we have to be anxious about. Jesus says, “Won’t you come to me and find rest for your souls?” Faith just got easier!
For all the who have been told that following Jesus something only certain people can do, I ask your forgiveness. Jesus came to be Good News. Turns out the Son of God died, so we could all be children of God. Who’s left out of that? Nobody! Faith just got easier!
At the end of the day, let us simply love God. When we worship, let us not think about the clothes someone is wearing, or wonder if we have done enough for coffee hour, or whether our kids are dressed right—no, when we worship let us focus on how amazing and beautiful the grace of God is! When we are learning, let us come to God’s Word, hoping to be challenged and stretched, and that God will change us through God’s Word. If we heard God’s “I love you!” loud and clear this morning, what about our lives could be different? God never wanted faith to be hard, just Good News. That’s why Jesus came, that’s why Jesus teaches, that’s why Jesus died, and that’s why Jesus rose again. The Good News is that God loves us and that faith just got easier!