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Trinity 3: Galatians 2:15-end
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Oh, the wonders of the internet. When I started to prepare for today’s sermon, I did what I usually do and started trawling the internet. And the gist of what I’m going to tell you now came from a website that’s somewhere way across the other side of Canada, in British Columbia.
So, to place today’s Epistle in context. We’re about half-way through Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. In the context of the writing of Paul’s the letter, there’s a single reference to the situation he was facing in Acts. It’s at the beginning of chapter 15, and it says that “some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ ”
Now, in today’s Epistle, there’s a word your may have noticed, that’s repeated over and over. It’s the word justified. Paul uses it 5 times. 5 times in 7 verses. 5 times in around 200 words. What’s more, in each case in the version that we usually hear, the NRSV, it has a footnote. The footnote tells us it means “reckoned as righteous”.
Sounds important., so I looked it up. I have it here. justify: Hebrew: sadaq; Greek: dikaiou. A legal term meaning acquit, declare, righteous. The opposite to condemn. Justifying is the judge’s act. From the standpoint of the prisoner in the dock, therefore, to be justified means to get the verdict. To walk out of the court. Free to go. No Charge. End of definition.
This gives us a real sense of what was involved in becoming a Jew. Of taking on the burden of the Law of Moses, and of what those men who came down from Judea were insisting must be done. That those Galatians must be circumcised and initiated at the synagogue and then observe the Law of the Old Testament – all those rules about Feast Days and Diet and Ritual Cleanliness and so on and so forth.
In short, they were being taught that the grace and love of Jesus Christ wasn’t enough. To be a follower of Christ, to be fully acceptable to God, they had to do something special. They had to earn their way. They had to follow rules and regulations to prove themselves worthy of God.
This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that says, as we’ve just heard, that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. None of us needs to earn our way. None of us has to follow the traditions and rules of others to be loved and accepted by God.
That is the first lesson of our scripture reading today and the second lesson is like it.
Our grand-daughter Megan went through a phase a while back. And come to think of it, so did her dad at one stage. As soon as she was delivered to us, she was keen to be given jobs to do. But there was a price and it was time for some hard bargaining. And if I just looked at the innocent and expectant look on her face I knew I was lost. Anyway, when I read what I’m going to tell you now, Megan came to mind.
A woman, a mother, related this story about her young son and herself. She said: My little boy came into the kitchen one evening while I was fixing supper and he handed me a piece of paper he'd been writing on. After wiping my hands on my apron, I read it, and this is what it said:
Sound familiar? Having them come to us and charge us for doing things and looking after themselves? (And for all of you with young families - be warned. You’ve got it all to come!)
This mother continued: I looked at my son, standing there expectantly, and a thousand memories flashed through my mind. So, I picked up the paper he had given me, and turning it over, this is what I wrote: For the nine months I carried you, growing inside me. No Charge. For the nights I sat up with you, doctored you, prayed for you. No Charge. For the toys, food and clothes, and for wiping your nose. No Charge. For the time and the tears, and the cost through the years. No Charge. For the nights filled with dread, and the worries ahead. No Charge. When you add it all up, the full cost of my love. No Charge.
That is what God's love is all about. There’s no charge. Just a lot of hope - God hoping for us, God praying for us, God feeding us, God watching over us.
The mother who related the story finished it like this: When my son finished reading, he had big tears in his eyes. He looked up at me and he said, "I love you, Mum." Then he took the pen and in big letters he wrote on his bill: Paid In Full.
This is what that word Justified – reckoned as righteous - really means, and this is what Paul was driving home to those Christians in Galatia.
God owes us nothing for what we do for him, nor do we owe him - for he has written No Charge upon our bill, he has written it in the sign of the cross.
We need only do the Christian thing – the loving thing – day by day, and love as he loves us, unconditionally, as a gift, without ties or conditions, with only the hope that those whom we love will in turn love others in the same way.
Based loosely upon a homily at http://www.rockies.net/~spirit/sermons/c-or11sn.php copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004.