SERMON No Gospel But Christ’s

I didn’t preach this Sunday, but if I had, it would have gone something like this.

Third Sunday After Pentecost (Year C)

  • 1 Kings 17:17–24
  • Psalm 30
  • Galatians 1:11–24
  • Luke 7:11–17

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:11–24 ESV)

Who is this Paul character, and why should we listen to him?

After all, he’s new at this, just started preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and he doesn’t possess the proper pedigree. He didn’t hang out with Jesus, or Christ’s followers, he wasn’t there when Jesus preached, or healed, or raised anyone from the dead, or when Jesus had that last supper with his followers in that rented room, and he certainly wasn’t threatened later that night he was betrayed, handed over, tired and tortured and put to death.

He didn’t stand there at the foot of the cross, linger as darkness descended upon the land, stare up in uncomprehending anguish as Jesus breathed his last, painfully exhaling “it is finished” as the nails ripped his flesh.

This Paul wasn’t there to take Jesus down, wrap him in a shroud, didn’t donate his own tomb for Jesus’ burial. He didn’t weep and mourn that sabbath, wasn’t with the women or Peter or the other disciples when they eagerly and strangely told us the tomb was empty.

He certainly wasn’t with us in the days following, when we were scared, and locked the doors, when we wondered if that horrible that thing that happened to him … could happen to us? Did he break bread with us when we were frightened, when we were lost?

No, he did not.

In fact, this Paul was one of the reasons we were cowering in the darkness, behind locked doors, frightened and uncertain and wondering what happens next.

And now here he is, preaching Jesus!

I’m certain some of us are glad, and are, in fact, glorifying God. He did persecute the church. Persecute us. I’m certain some of us lost loved ones and friends because of him. We all lost brothers and sisters in the faith. This is truly the grace of God!

But I suspect others of us are sitting angry and silent. Who does he think he is, this upstart, this convert, who didn’t take any of the risks we took, who didn’t share anything with those of us who were there from the beginning, who didn’t learn what he needed to know from those of us who were with Jesus — who knew Jesus — but claims, rather strangely, to have received this gospel “through a revelation” directly from Jesus Christ.

Who spent some time in the desert meditating and considering this revelation.

Uh-huh, sure he did. Yeah, right, as if he was struck blind on the road to Damascus. Look, there’s only one gospel, and it’s ours. We possess it, we curate it, we preach it, we teach it. We control who, and how, the Son reveals himself to anyone. It’s ours, and it doesn’t belong to any upstarts who come wandering in from just anywhere — but especially those who’ve spent serious time persecuting and killing us, breathing threats and murder against us, terrorizing us.

This gospel, it’s ours. Ours.

I don’t know what we’re going to do with this man Paul, especially as he claims authority to preach and teach to the gentiles — gentiles! If God had intended to call them to follow, chosen them to be part of his people, God would have! Yes, God has occasionally reached out, fed and healed and even raised the dead of faithful non-Israelites, but including them as the people of God? Really?

We’ve not licensed Paul. We’ve not endorsed or approved him. And we need to reign him in, somehow.

We’re going to have a lot of work to undo, a lot of letters to write, a lot of pastoral visits to make, a lot of wrongs to right. Because this guy Paul, he’s been busy. Scribbling and scribbling, keeping the Roman Imperial Postal Service quite occupied with his correspondence. I mean, we have to do this, right? We’ve got to make sure the correct gospel is preached by the right people to the right people.

What gospel am I talking about? Well, I mean what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How we met God in Jesus, and how his dying and rising has defeated death and sin, and given us new life, risen life, eternal life, to love our neighbor as Jesus loves us, to care for the poor, to welcome strangers, to heal the sick and even raise the dead! That’s the gospel we’ve been given, and the gospel we’ve got to protect and defend!

Does Paul preach that gospel? Does he teach it to the churches he writes to? Does he now live for Jesus the way we live for Jesus?

… He does? Really? Really? Are you sure? REALLY?!?

Well, then I guess maybe we can live with him. Maybe. Praise be to God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, who delivers us from the present evil age, and to whom belongs the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Wait… those are his words too? Damn…

One thought on “SERMON No Gospel But Christ’s

  1. Like us, Paul was not a disciple learning directly from a human Jesus. There is no question here that he is simply passing on the wisdom of a human teacher. He is the archetype of the wretch saved by amazing grace. He knows it was not by his own power. He was transformed by an encounter with the risen Christ. That experience comes flooding out of his letters into our own souls, especially in passages like the text above. His transformation reinforces our own. I never cease to be encouraged by it.

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