Yesterday we got to know Paul, who wrote the letter that we are reading, a little bit better. We heard about his early life, and how he loved God's Scripture and God's laws, and fought to defend them. We heard that one day, he met Jesus, and that changed everything he used to think about how to come close to God. And we also heard that Jesus gave him a special job: to go to the Gentiles, or people who are not Jewish, and to tell them that they have been called into God's family too. Today, he picks up that story and tells us more.
Today's reading is Galatians chapter 1 verse 18 through chapter 2 verse 5.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem. I went there to get to know Peter. I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 I didn't see any of the other apostles. I only saw James, the Lord's brother. 20 Here is what you can be sure of. What I am writing you is not a lie. 21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 The members of Christ's churches in Judea did not know me in a personal way. 23 They only heard others say, "The man who used to attack us has changed. He is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they praised God because of me.
1 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem. This time I went with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went because God showed me what he wanted me to do. I spoke in private to those who are respected as leaders. I told them the good news that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I wasn't running my race for no purpose. And I wanted to know that I had not been running my face for no purpose. 3 Titus was with me. He was a Greek. But even he was not forced to be circumcised. 4 This matter came up because some people had slipped in among us. They had pretended to be believers. They wanted to find out about the freedom we have because we belong to Jesus Christ. They wanted to make us slaves again. 5 We didn't give in to them for a moment. We did this so that the truth of the good news would be kept safe for you.
Can you imagine that first meeting between Peter and Paul? Peter, who jumped out of his fishing boat to follow Jesus all those years ago and Paul, the faithful Jew who until just a few years ago was attacking and arresting Jesus followers? I like to try to imagine the expressions on their faces, and what they might have said to each other as they sat down over a meal and told each other their stories. Each of these men had their lives completely turned upside down when they met Jesus. They must have had so much to share.
Why is Paul telling his friends in Galatia about all of this? I think he is trying to help them understand, again, that the good news he has come to tell them came straight from Jesus. It is true, and they can trust it. They don't have to add anything to it, like keeping Moses's laws about their food or their bodies. Jesus, not the old Law, is the one who brings them into God's family.
And to make sure they understand, he tells them the story of his visit to Jerusalem with Titus. Barnabas, Titus, and Paul went up to Jerusalem from Antioch. In Antioch, Jewish and Gentile Jesus-followers ate together, spent time together, and worshiped together. But in Jerusalem, where they went to visit, most of the Jesus-followers were Jewish. All of the men would have been circumcised when they were babies. Circumcision was the sign God gave Abraham long ago — a sign on men's bodies that showed they belonged to God's family.
But then Titus, the Greek Jesus-follower, came to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas. Was he, too, a part of God's family? Or would he need to be circumcised and follow Moses's laws, too, to come all the way in? No. No one in Jerusalem made Titus follow those laws. They saw that he had been baptized and was filled with God's Holy Spirit, just like they were.
Paul wants his friends in Galatia to hear this story. For him, it is the truth of the good news: he wants them to know that belonging to Jesus is enough. And that is the good news for us, too: Jesus, alone, makes us free.
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.
The apostles who had known Jesus personally — people like Peter, and Jesus's brother James — lived in Jerusalem. I wonder why Paul waited for three whole years before he went to meet them? I wonder why he went into areas where Gentiles lived right away, instead of traveling to Jerusalem?
Can I imagine that first meeting between Peter and Paul? Peter had known Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry; Paul met the Risen Jesus after chasing after and hurting his followers. I wonder how their conversation went? I wonder what stories they told, as they got to know one another?
People in the early churches had heard about Paul. They knew that he had tried to stop them from worshiping Jesus, and even to get them arrested. I wonder what it was like to hear that their enemy was now following Jesus, too?
Paul says that "they praised God because of me." Can I imagine praising God because someone who is my enemy has turned to Jesus? How does that make me feel? Can I talk with God about that right now?
I wonder what it was like to be Titus, among church leaders like Peter and James? I wonder what it was like to be one of Jesus's first followers who wasn't also Jewish? How might I have felt, if I were there?
Do you remember the story of Abraham? God called him and promised him a family that would outnumber the stars in the sky. And then as a sign of who would be a part of this family, Abraham and all of the boys born into his family were circumcised. That was the sign on their body that they were special to God. Can I believe that in Jesus, that promise has been opened to everyone: people with all kinds of bodies and shapes and colors? People like me?
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.