August 31 -- Galatians 1:10-17
If you listened yesterday, maybe you remember that there was trouble in the churches in Galatia. Paul had come to this part of the world to tell people about Jesus, and people began to worship Jesus and follow him. But now there were new teachers in town, and they were telling these new Christians that if you wanted to belong to God's family, simply worshiping Jesus and being baptized wasn't enough. You had to keep all of the laws that were written down in the book of Moses.
Paul is upset! In the passage we read yesterday, he told his friends in Galatia that if they started to follow Moses's laws, they were deserting Jesus! That's a strong thing to say. Today, we'll hear a little bit of Paul's own story, which might help us understand him a little more.
Today's reading is Galatians chapter 1, verses 10 through 17.
10 Am I now trying to get people to think well of me? Or do I want God to think well of me? Am I trying to please people? If I were, I would not be serving Christ. 11 Brothers and sisters, here is what I want you to know. The good news I preached does not come from human beings. 12 No one gave it to me. No one taught it to me. Instead, I received it from Jesus Christ. He showed it to me.
13 You have heard how I lived earlier in my Jewish way of life. With all my strength I attacked the church of God. I tried to destroy it. 14 I was moving ahead in my Jewish way of life. I went beyond many of my people who were my own age. I held firmly to the teachings passed down by my people. 15 But God set me apart from before the time I was born. He showed me his grace by appointing me. He was pleased 16 to show his Son in my life. He wanted me to preach about Jesus among the Gentiles. When God appointed me, I decided right away not to ask anyone for advice. 17 I didn't go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was. Instead I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
In this short passage, we get to know the apostle Paul a little bit better! And we get to learn a couple of very important things about him. I love to think about him writing these words down, giving us a peek inside his mind and heart across all of these years.
In the first place, Paul tells us his story. He was born in a town called Tarsus, and he was born a Jew. He knew that God had chosen Israel to be a special people, and that the way to honor and worship God was to follow all of Moses's laws. He studied those laws and lived by them.
In those days, Jews who wanted to honor God and keep his laws stayed away from Gentiles. Gentiles worshiped false gods — gods like Zeus, or Athena, or even the Roman emperor! — and Moses had warned them, long ago, to stay far away from idol worship. Paul says that he held firmly to this way of life, and even attacked Jesus-followers because he thought they were worshiping a person and not God.
But then one day, everything changed. Paul was traveling along the road to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light. He heard Jesus speaking to him. Somehow, on that road, Paul got a glimpse of Jesus as he really is: risen from the dead, and sitting at God's right hand. Paul suddenly saw that Jesus went through death and came out on the other side, and now he is God's king over God's new creation. And Jesus carries anyone who follows him into that new resurrection-life with him. That's the way in to God's family now, not keeping Moses's laws. Paul's entire world was changed.
The second thing Paul wants us to know is that once he met Jesus, God sent him as a messenger to the Gentiles. Someone needed to tell them that Jesus had died and risen again, and that was enough to bring them into God's family too. And Paul is so changed by meeting Jesus that he goes, right away. He doesn't stop to check with anyone else or ask for advice: he sets right out. Paul goes straight to the people he has spent his whole life trying to stay away from. He can't wait to tell them that now they can come into the family, too.
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 the story of how Paul became an apostle? You can read it in Acts chapter 9, if you want. Here, Paul tells us that Jesus is the one who taught him. He wants to make sure the Galatians know that his words come from God, not from other people. I wonder why that is so important?
I wonder what it was like for Paul to be taught by the Risen Christ? I wonder what it was like to hear Jesus himself proclaim all that he has come to do for us, and for the world?
I wonder Paul's his old teachers and friends were disappointed when he turned from following their ways? I wonder if they felt betrayed when he began to teach that Jesus was the Son of God, and that he had come for Jews and Gentiles alike? I wonder what that was like for Paul — to have God's approval, but the disapproval and anger of his family and friends?
Did you hear where Paul went, right after meeting Jesus? He went into Arabia. That is the name for the place where Mt. Sinai is. Paul has spent his whole life studying and following Moses's laws. I wonder why he went straight to the place where God gave Moses the law, right after meeting Jesus? I wonder what he talked about with God while he was there?
I wonder what it was like for Paul, the first time he sat down for a meal with a Gentile family? He doesn't say. But in this passage, at least, it sounds like he ran straight toward the job God gave him without looking back. I wonder if I can imagine being so deeply changed by Jesus?
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 beautiful name, Amen.