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August 24 -- Galatians 1:1-5

Today, we are starting at the very beginning of Paul's letter to the Galatians. Did you know that's what we'll be reading: a letter? Almost two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul traveled all over the places we now know as Turkey, Greece, Syria, and Israel. He went into towns, told people that Jesus had died and rose again, and helped gather people together to follow and worship Jesus as their king. As he traveled from place to place, he stayed in touch with these new Jesus-followers by writing them letters.

This letter was written to a group of churches in an area called Galatia. It's inside the country we call Turkey today. Something was happening in those churches, and Paul was worried. He needed to get in touch with them, and explain again what he had told them about Jesus. But even though this letter was written to people a long time ago, in a far away place, it is for us too. God gave Paul these words to the people in Galatia, and the Holy Spirit made sure they were saved and passed down to us. And so, can we make our hearts quiet and listen to God's good words together?

Today's reading is Galatians chapter 1, verses 1 through 5 (NIRV)

1 I, Paul, am writing this letter. I am an apostle. People have not sent me. No human authority has sent me. I have been sent by Jesus Christ and by God the Father. God raised Jesus from the dead. 2 All the brothers and sisters who are with me join me in writing. We are sending this letter to you, the members of the churches in Galatia.
3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 4 Jesus gave his life for our sins. He set us free from this evil age. That was what our God and Father wanted. 5 Give glory to God forever and ever. Amen.

What an interesting beginning to a letter! How do you usually begin a letter? Almost all the time, we start with a greeting: "Dear Grandma," or "Dear friend." But Paul just jumps right in! I wonder why he started his letter this way?

Sometimes, when we're reading the Bible, it helps to know about what was happening when it was written. So maybe we can try to understand a little bit about what was going on with PauI and his friends in the Galatian churches.

Paul knows the Jesus-followers in Galatia, because he is the one who taught them about Jesus. And most of the people in these new churches were Gentiles. Do you know what that word means? It means that they were not Jewish. They were born outside of Abraham's family. But Paul had come to tell them that because of Jesus, now they could be included in God's people. Now all of God's good promises to Abraham's family were for them, too.

And so he starts his letter by reminding them of that good news! Did you hear his words:

"Jesus gave his life for our sins. He set us free. And that was what God — who is your Father now, too — wanted."

I wonder: do you remember any other stories where God sets people free, and brings them into a new life? Have you heard the story of Exodus? God's people were slaves in Egypt, and then God sent Moses to lead them through the Red Sea into freedom, and on in to a new life with him in the Promised Land. It sounds like Paul can't wait to remind his friends in Galatia that in the same way, Jesus has delivered them out of an old world and old ways and into freedom and new life. Maybe he wants his friends to know that even though they are Gentiles, the God who rescued Israel has come to rescue them too.

I think we'll have to keep reading to find out why it is so important for Paul to remind them of this good news. But right now, we can remember that those words, scribbled down quickly in a letter so long ago, are for us too. The same God who led Israel out of Egypt, and who brought Gentiles from Galatia into his family so long ago, is our deliverer, too. No matter who you are, what you look like, what you are good at, or what your family is like: this is your story too. Jesus gave his life for you. You, too, are a child of God. That is what God, your Father, wants.

Let's get ready to wonder about God's good words together:

Loving God: make our minds curious, our hearts open, and our bodies at peace. Thank you for inviting us to wonder about your words. Amen.

Do you know what the word "apostle" means? It means "someone who has been sent on a mission." God has sent Paul on a mission to tell people the good news about what Jesus has done for them. I wonder how it felt to be trusted with such important work?

Did you hear the good news that Paul announces? He writes, "Jesus gave his life for our sins. He set us free from this evil world." Another way to hear those words is "when Jesus gave his life for our sins, he set us free from a world where sin is in charge." I wonder: can I hope and believe that is true?

Do you remember another story when God sets people free? God's people were slaves in Egypt, and then God sent Moses to lead them through the Red Sea into freedom and on to the Promised Land. I wonder how what Jesus did for us on the cross is like what happened for God's people in the Exodus?

Still, sometimes there are places in my own heart, or in the world around me, where it seems like sin and wrong things are still in charge. What do I want to say to God about that right now?

Loving God, thank you for Paul's words to the Galatians, and thank you that somehow by your Spirit, they are also your words to us. Give us the wisdom and understanding that come from your Holy Spirit so that we can know you better. Show us the faithfulness of Jesus, and help us to put our trust and hope in him alone. In his name, Amen.

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