Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
I want to start a mini-series today on
Galatians. We'll go through the month of June. So I would invite
you, in the weeks ahead, to read the letter -- not just once,
but several times. And not just the passage for Sunday. It's not
a very long letter, so it's not a difficult assignment.
As a brief word of introduction, this is one of seven letters
that pretty much all biblical scholars agree is one of the
authentic letters of the Apostle Paul. Written in the mid-50s,
probably at least a decade before the first Gospel was written.
And unlike most of the other letters of Paul that are sent to
specific communities or an individual (in the case of Philemon),
this letter is sent to a collection of churches in the area
Galatia which roughly correlates to modern-day Turkey.
The occasion for writing this letter is a dispute. There are
some within this new community of all the followers of Jesus who
insist that to be a follower of Jesus, you must adhere to Jewish
customs and practices just as Jesus did. And for Paul, this
challenges the very basis of the Gospel that he has proclaimed,
and his authority as an Apostle. And so the principles that he
articulates in this letter become the basis for the emergence of
Christianity as a world-wide religion. It is, therefore, a
hugely significant letter that has a tremendous impact on
Christian faith. So let's dig-in, beginning with the first ten
an apostleósent neither by
human commission nor from
human authorities, but
through Jesus Christ and God
the Father, who raised him
from the deadó 2and all the
members of Godís family who
are with me,
churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave
himself for our sins to set
us free from the present
evil age, according to the
will of our God and Father,
5to whom be the glory for
ever and ever. Amen.
am astonished that you are
so quickly deserting the one
who called you in the grace
of Christ and are turning to
a different gospeló 7not
that there is another
gospel, but there are some
who are confusing you and
want to pervert the gospel
of Christ. 8But even if we
or an angel from heaven
should proclaim to you a
gospel contrary to what we
proclaimed to you, let that
one be accursed! 9As we have
said before, so now I
repeat, if anyone proclaims
to you a gospel contrary to
what you received, let that
one be accursed!
10 Am I now seeking human
approval, or Godís approval?
Or am I trying to please
people? If I were still
pleasing people, I would not
be a servant of Christ.
This letter starts kind of like a
Kentucky Derby. You know, the gate opens and Paul is out of the
chute at full speed. Making his argument from the very get-go.
"Paul an Apostle sent neither by human commission nor from human
authorities but through Jesus Christ and God the Father". So
Paul's first line of defense is to assert its credentials as an
apostle selected not by a nominating committee, voted on not by
a popular vote, selected like American Idol, appointed not by
some high authority, but called by God and therefore accountable
only to God.
And I wonder -- does such a claim still work today? Martin
Luther King made similar kinds of claims, but so did David
Koresh, or Jim Jones, or even Osama Bin Laden. How do we know
which claims are valid and which are not? The graveyards of
history are literally filled with the millions of victims from
those certain that they knew and were following God's will. Be
it by drowning witches, or flying planes into buildings.
So we're a little suspicious of those who make such claims, even
when it is for lesser things. Save, of course, for the divine
favor of our favorite sports team :). I've been participating in
a retreat series at Menucha, the retreat center on the Columbia
Gorge, that is following the work of Parker Palmer, who is
heavily influenced by Quaker spirituality. And Palmer believes
that we each have an inner teacher that is known in our faith
traditions by various names. We might call it the soul. I think
of it as the lure of God. This teacher, Palmer says, is rather
shy. It takes some effort, some intentional work of listening
and learning to hear the voice, of coaxing it out, so to speak.
One of the techniques that we are learning and using is called
the 'clearness committee'. Which is simply a very intense
discernment process similar to what Eric described that the
faith leaders have used. In which one person shares an issue, a
problem, a question they are struggling with in their life. And
then the four or five members of their clearness committee ask
open and honest questions after listening to their story.
Now, that's harder than you might think.
An open and honest question is a question to which you do not
know the answer, and you have no idea what the answer may be.
Better yet, you do not intend a certain answer. You know, those
leading questions that we ask that you try to get our children
to make a decision for themselves, but we really know what that
decision should be? We try to lead them that way. It's not that
kind of question at all -- indeed, that's probably the worst
kind of question you can ask, because that's using your spirit
to director theirs, rather than to allow that inner teacher to
come out so they can find their own soul.
As time time wears on, and in this process that took the 90
minutes, the teacher comes out through the answers given by that
focus person. And when that happens, that person finds their
soul in the process. And sometimes hears that voice for the very
first time. It is an incredibly powerful thing to witness.
I cannot share the content of those committees because of the
confidentiality, but I can share with you that if you've ever
had doubts about the existence of the soul, an experience of a
clearness committee will shatter any such doubt to pieces.
Paul has no doubt of his calling by God. Because he's had that
kind of overpowering experience that erased all doubt from his
mind. And so he is quite bold in his claim, and certain of his
His second line of defense is to assert that the only gospel is
the one the Galatians first heard from him, and that there is no
other requirement, save faith in Christ. We sometimes call this
'justification by faith'. And it is often falsely portrayed as
faith vs works. But as the letter of James so brilliantly shows,
such is a false dichotomy. A better way to portray it 'faith
works' vs 'law works'. For if faith is not revealed in some
outward action, it is not true faith.
I think we saw a wonderful illustration of
that this morning, of that faith in action, when, in our
breakfast -- we had how many, roughly 40 guests -- went
incredibly well and smooth, it was just a wonderful sharing.
Several of those folks stayed for our first service, as we
created that kind of welcoming environment. Putting our faith
into action in very concrete ways. Thank you Phyllis and all of
those volunteers are stepping forward to do that.
As we'll see in the weeks ahead, Paul
pulls out all the stops in his defense of his understanding of
the gospel as it relates to this particular issue. And had he
not succeeded in that task our faith today would look vastly
different. We might think, then, of Galatians as the Declaration
of Independence for Christian faith. It lays out the basic
principles upon which our faith is built. And therefore it is
important for us to not only read but to spend some with it.
Seeking to understand it at a deeper level, listening to what
God may be saying through it, to us, today.
As I spent time sitting with his text this week, pondering its
meaning for us, it struck me that instead of trying to
differentiate ourselves from the Jewish tradition (as those
first century Christians were trying to do) we've come full
circle -- and now look more and more for our common bonds that
unite us rather than that which separate us. And not just with
our Jewish brothers and sisters, but also brothers and sisters
of other faiths.
Friday I had an opportunity to participate in an interfaith
panel at Spencer Butte Middle School. It was their human rights
day, and Principal B.J. Blake was promoting interfaith dialogue.
We had a Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh, an atheist, and a Christian on
this panel. In the first session, Wally Berman represented the
Christian faith (one of our elders from the first service) and I
did it in the second session. And it just so happened that the
room that we were using was Chris Turner's room (our music
leader from our first service). So all three of the Christians
that were present were from this congregation. But as we like to
say, were not the only Christians, just Christians only :).
It was a wonderful experience, and all five
of us, from our different faith traditions, spoke the importance
of respecting each other's tradition. After all, it was called
'The Day of Respect'. We received some great questions from
these kids, and the one that really struck me was one of the
young men asked if I had always known that you were of this
particular faith, and especially when you were like 12 years
old. In other words, their age. And of the five, the Jewish
person said that she grew up Christian, and the Sikh person said
she grew up Jewish! And it struck me how our culture has changed
from the time when I was that age (one or two decades ago :).
Growing up here in Oregon in comparison to today. In my public
school education, just North of here, about the only faith
encounter I had outside of my own tradition was Catholic. And of
course that's part of the Christian tradition. Whereas these
kids are getting all kinds of experiences. Our culture is vastly
And here we are hosting the interfaith service for our community
each month with all of these religious traditions coming
Now, I have to honestly say I don't know
what Paul might say in this context. What is clear is that
Paul's issue is not a disagreement with people of a different
religious tradition, rather the dispute was among those of the
same tradition--Jewish Christians, as was Paul, as well as those
opposed to his gospel message.
Given the many divisions and disputes within Christianity over
the centuries, we might take heart in knowing it has never been
otherwise. And that is perhaps why Jesus prays repeatedly in
John 17 that his followers may all be one. We have been striving
for that kind of unity from the very first day. Given the
reality we face of the competing claims for the correct
interpretation of the gospel, I take my clue from Paul. Who, in
the face of similar competing claims, but different, asserted
the understanding he was given not by any person but by God.
And so while teachers like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg,
John Cobb, Rosemary Radford-Reuther, Diana Butler-Bass, and
other leaders like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson
Mandela, and Sojourner Truth, and St. Francis, those names that
I have mentioned on many occasions have all had their influence
on me. Ultimately, the one who has had the greatest influence is
none other than God. All those other voices are important to me
only in that something stirs within me that I can only call my
soul, or the lure of God, when I hear and read their words.
I take that to be that voice, like the voice that Jesus heard at
his baptism, that says to me 'this is the voice of your Lord,
listen to it'. And this is what I hear that voice saying to me
over and over again in a thousand different ways: this is the
only gospel you need.
My love, as revealed through the life, the teachings, and the
death of Jesus for all humanity. This is the only gospel you
Respect for all my people, and the great traditions of faith
that have withstood the test of time and also reveal and
practice my love. This is the only gospel you need.
Respect for all creation and the earth, as taught in the native
traditions and the stories of creation and the Psalms, and the
wisdom traditions, and revealed through the natural sciences and
evolution. This is the only gospel you need.
Feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, clothe the
naked, heal the sick, visit those in prison. And in doing so,
not only do you do so for Me, but you show your faith in Me.
This is the only gospel you need.
The way of nonviolence and the life of peace as shown by Mahatma
Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., for only by living in peace
can you live without war. This is the only gospel you
The power of forgiveness to transform
lives and overcome sin as taught by Jesus and demonstrated by
the Bishop Tutu in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in
South Africa. This is the only gospel you need.
Acceptance of each person as a child of God regardless of race,
creed, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical ability,
political affiliation, or even your favorite college team (and
you know how difficult that is for me :).
As it regards all these, your fellow human beings, the other
faith traditions, the environment, war and peace, sin and
forgiveness, diversity, others may proclaim a different gospel.
And will tell you they know the truth. Do not be discouraged,
and do not disparage them. They too are children of God seeking
to be faithful to God's call as they understand it. So share
with them you know, in your heart, to be true.
And listen to the truth they share from their heart. In your
common ground, you will find me rejoicing. In your
disagreements, you will find me working towards reconciliation.
In your heart, and theirs, you will find me.
This is the only gospel you need.
Our Church | Services
Music Programs |
a Group | Interfaith
Ministry | Sermons
| Pastor's Page
Questions or comments about this web site? Contact