Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 21, 2017
Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 and Luke 18:9-14
Jill was raised to believe a lie. Her father told her that she was worthless and her mother agreed. In school, Jill’s teachers said that she was dumb and wouldn’t amount to much. Jill’s classmates ridiculed her and bullied her. Jill refused to believe all these voices. With an inner strength, one close friend, and her dog, Jill grew to adulthood. Countless counselling sessions enabled her to see herself as a person of worth, who was loved and who had much to offer the world.
The world surrounds us with lies. The world out there tells us that success is measured by net worth and that people who are not quite like us, are lower than us. Our peers attempt to convince us that we need to put ourselves first and ignore the needs of others. Advertisements lure us into believing that if we purchase one more thing we will be happy.
It’s as if we are deceived into believing that if I do this thing, and follow that trend, I will be seen as “okay.” I gain a sense of belonging. However, with the test of time and experience we tend to learn – or never learn – that this is not how we gain a sense of belonging.
The thing is that God wants us to return to our original purpose. God wants us to know that we belong to God, regardless. We were created with love and we are loved. God loves us, and that is it. There aren’t all these prerequisites for us in order to belong to God. This is one of the major reasons why God sent God’s Son, Jesus Christ to this world.
The bottom-line is that we are freed from so many of those tyrannies that we might succumb to.
Let’s return to our reading from Galatians. One of the words many people find very hard to wrap their heads around, is the word “justification.” In the second part of our reading the New Revised Standard Version of the English Bible uses this word “justification” or a derivative of it, no less than five times. Rather than clarifying anything, it tends to become less clear. Someone suggested replacing the word “justification” with “belong” or “belonging.” The statement found in chapter 2 verse 15 and 16, saying “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ”, would become “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person belongs to God not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” How liberating is that!
God wants us to be free…!
However, the things we do and the things we say, the ways we behave, all bring us back to some kind of slavery.
There was once a very poor orphan who wanted nothing more in the world than to belong to a family. Finally, his opportunity came. He was eight years old and a family wanted to adopt him! Introductions were made, papers were signed, and just six days after his eighth birthday he left for his new home. He took with him his hope and his possessions – the old worn and torn clothes he was wearing and a single soft toy. His new parents were excited to have him with them, and wanted him to feel like one of the family. A special celebration dinner was held, he was given his own room, and he was introduced to the other kids in the street. His new parents took those old clothes, threw them away and bought him beautiful new clothes. They bought him a bike and more toys, and pretty soon he began to feel just like all the other kids in the neighbourhood, loved and part of a family. One thing however was curious. The young boy’s old shoes, the ones with the big holes in them, weren’t tossed out with the rest of his clothes. His new father placed them on the mantelpiece. It wasn’t long before the newly adopted son found out why. Every time that boy did something wrong his father would go and get those shoes and say “Look at all we’ve done for you. We took you in when you had nothing, but look at how you’ve behaved.”
Unfortunately we do the same thing all too often in our relationships. We dredge up the past and throw it back in someone’s face, never letting them forget how much they’re in our debt. Forgiveness means throwing out the shoes as well as the clothes, refusing to dredge up the past and make it a reason for action in the present.
Isn’t this what God has already done with us? By replacing “justification” with “belong”, Galatians 2:21 would have the apostle Paul say “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if my belonging to God comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”
If there are all kinds of prerequisites for me to belong to God, and for me to feel safe with God, I am no longer free. Even if I need to believe harder, sing nicer, be a nicer person, have kindness in my heart, in order to belong to God, all of Jesus’ life would be in vain.
The bottom-line dear friends, is that once I know that I am free from all the tyrannies and that I do not earn the love that God has for me, I do not earn anything, it is a sheer gift, I can know that my “net worth” before God remains the same.
Then I am set free to do life with joy.
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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