Friday, June 7, 2013

So How Do We Know What to Trust? (Galatians part 2, June 9 2013)

Homily:  Yr C Proper 10, June 9 2013, St. Albans
Readings:  1 Kings 17.8-24; Ps 146; Gal 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

So How Do We Know What to Trust?

Ok Galatians, you’ve got a choice now.  You’ve got two gospels, let’s call them, as we did last week, the gospel of exchange, and the gospel of grace.  Which one are you going to believe?  The gospel of exchange was preached by the guys from Jerusalem who came after Paul, and they said “I’ve got good news for you.  God is ready to love you and make you one of his people, and all you have to do is be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws and you’re good.”  Then there is the gospel of grace which Paul proclaimed when he first met the Galatians.  “I’ve got good news for you.  You’re good with God.  Now, just as you are.  Everything that needed to be done has already been done by Jesus.  God loves you and cares for you and has adopted you as a child of God, and nothing you or anyone else can do will ever separate you from the love of God.”

So which gospel are you going to believe?  Who are you going to trust, Paul or the other guys?

Now this isn’t just something that the Galatians had to deal with in the first century.  Let’s throw a couple of 21st century gospels into the mix.  How about the Atheist Gospel which says “Hey I’ve got good news for you.  There is no God.  We live in a material universe that came together by accident and all there is is stuff like atoms and molecules that follow the laws of science.  Humans are just a particular bundle of atoms that evolved out of random processes and there is no meaning or purpose to our lives.  So stop worrying, and enjoy your life, cause when it’s over, it’s over.”  You’ve heard that gospel, in fact it was even on ads on the side of OC Transpo buses a few years ago.

Or there’s another one you might call the “Consumption Gospel” and it goes like this:  “Hey, I’ve got good news for you.  If you get an education and work hard, you can get a good job and earn lots of money, and then you can buy everything you want for yourself and your family and you’ll be happy.”  Anyone ever heard that one?

You see there are lots of gospels floating around out there.  The question for us is, which one will we believe?  How do we know which gospel to trust?  Which one are you going to build your life on?  Are we willing to put our faith in one of these gospels and make it our foundation, guiding our every decision and giving shape and meaning to our lives?

I want to look at the question of trust with you this morning.  Today’s text from Paul’s letter to the Galatians is all about trust.  We know which gospel Paul believes, which one he really wants us to believe, he’s pretty clear about that.  Today’s text is all about Paul saying, “this is why you should trust me and have faith in the gospel that I’m proclaiming”   

Our lives are based on trust, or to use another word, faith.  We trust in certain relationships, we trust in experts like doctors and scientists, we trust that we have free will and that our choices matter, we trust in certain values, we trust in particular ways of seeing and understanding the world.

How do we know what to trust?  That’s my question for you this morning.  I’d like you to turn to the people sitting near you, form groups of about 5 or 6 people and figure out what it takes for you to trust or believe something or someone.  How do we know, how do we decide what to trust?

So what did you come up with?  

Well, I want to turn back to Paul’s argument in Galatians, and let’s see how well it lines up with the sort of things we’ve been saying.  Here’s what I get from Paul about why the Galatians should trust what he’s saying and believe in the gospel of grace.

When it comes to matters of trust, the first thing that Paul lays out is that the source matters.  The gospel that he proclaims comes straight from the source, it was received by Paul as a direct revelation of Jesus Christ.  He’s not making it up, he didn’t get it from another person, it isn’t something that was invented by humans, it’s straight from God.  That’s important.  The source matters.  We as Christians believe in revelation, that God reveals Godself to us in a whole variety of ways, we believe that we can be in relationship with God, and so the most trustworthy source about God and about the gospel is God, as opposed to some human theory about God.

However that doesn’t in and of itself end the discussion, does it?  Because immediately our attention turns from the claim about the source to the credibility of the messenger.  Do we trust the messenger, the one bringing us the gospel, Paul in this case?  On what basis do you trust someone?  Do you trust them because they’re your parents?  Do you trust them based on their position?  Their education?  Their experience?  Their passion?  Their authenticity?  Their authority?  Whether they care about you or not?

Paul appeals to all of the above by telling his story.  And he puts a lot of emphasis on his own experience.  His before and after story.  You see, one of the reasons that I think Paul is credible when he talks about both the gospel of exchange and the gospel of grace is because he’s lived both of them.  He was brought up in the gospel of exchange, in fact he was a shining example of it, learned in the Law, zealous for the traditions of his ancestors, advanced beyond others his age.  The result?  Paul’s understanding led him to violently persecute the church of God.  Doesn’t sound too good!  But then he had his revelation.  He embraced the gospel of Jesus, the gospel of grace and he started living this new gospel.  And in this new life, this new gospel, he experienced new creation, he found his salvation and his calling.  And because of Paul’s experience, because he lived one gospel before and a new one after, Paul’s life testifies to the truth of the new gospel he is proclaiming and when he speaks, he speaks with authenticity because he has really lived the things he’s talking about.

That’s what we’re looking for in a messenger – someone who is authentic, someone whose message is lived out in their life, someone whose authenticity is derived from experience.  I think that’s particularly relevant to our situation in the 21st century, when for a whole variety of reasons traditional notions of authority are being questioned and to a large extent are being replaced by the value of authenticity.  Paul, called by God to proclaim the gospel, and with real-life experience of the power of the gospel to transform lives, including his own, Paul had both authority and authenticity.

But Paul appeals not only to his own experience but also to the lived experience of the Galatians.  “Don’t you remember,” he tells them, “how when you first believed the gospel, God sent his Spirit into your hearts; how you who had been enslaved to all sorts of beliefs experienced the joy of redemption and freedom?”

Our experience matters because we tend to trust things when they help us make sense of our own experience.  We are better able to trust the gospel when it rings true, because we experience it as true in our own life.

One of my favourite theologians, Karl Rahner, a leading voice in the church in the 20th century, once said that `unless all Christians become mystics there will be no Christianity.`  I think that what he meant is that unless we enter into a relationship with God and learn to experience God as a real presence in our own lives, Christian faith and belief will be difficult to sustain in an age where there are many voices, many gospels, and we no longer believe things just because somebody else tells us we should.  And because God is a mystery, God is something we’ll never fully comprehend, then entering into relationship with God makes all of us mystics.  Not mystics in the sense of some sort of elite or people gifted with special visions like Paul, but mystics in the sense of what Rahner calls everyday mysticism, the growing awareness and experience of God`s Spirit in the ordinary, everyday stuff of our lives.

The question of what, who and how to trust may well be the most important one that each of us faces in our lives.  Paul makes his case for the gospel of grace revealed to him through Jesus Christ.  What do you think?


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