Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Story from a Small Space ~ Galatians part two
Paul kept on pacing, words flowed fast from his lips, and he saw the scribe's hand fly across the parchment as the scribe tried to keep up. As Paul's expressed his disappointment and dismay at what he had heard, how the Galatians listened to another preacher who said all the Gentiles in the congregation had to get circumcised if they really wanted to follow Jesus. What is it about the human condition that wrestles so much with unconditional grace? Sure the cliches are as old as time that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Certainly living in Roman society where the Caesar demanded unwavering allegiance or the consequences were deadly. Yet, Paul suddenly realized that the Galatians were not that different from him. He had once lived a life where he thought in either/or categories. You were either Jewish or you were not, plain and simple. And then these people who had a teacher named Jesus, started showing up at synagogues, claiming that Jesus was God's son. You had to be careful with that kind of talk, because Son of God was Caesar's claim to fame and anyone who tried to take that title would be seen as competition or political adversary to dealt with swiftly and quickly. Slowly Paul's anger receded a bit after the initial flurry. Slowly Paul saw a bit of himself in the Galatians. He, too, had experienced a state of confusion, his life taking an unexpected, unwelcome, interrupting exit ramp.
No sooner had that thought appeared in his mind, Paul story started to fall from his lips. He had his life turned upside down and inside out. Paul had been in momentary states of confusion, and some would say it was his permanent residence. Paul had gone from seeing a violent stoning of a follower of Jesus named, "Stephen", to feel that hot hatred toward, "those people" grow, to even letting that rage fuel and feed his own life. He had hunted and hurt followers of Jesus, only to one day be struck blind by his own anger. It had taken time to process that moment. He had taken years away to reflect on the experience and continue to listen for God. It wasn't the instantaneous moment some might make it out to be. As a wise person would say, "Of course, we think our opinions are right. Otherwise, we would get new opinions." And when you are in that messy middle letting go of one way and the next, new way feels like a shirt two sizes too small, it is more than uncomfortable. No wonder people cling, white knuckle, their lives. No wonder people justify hatred of others, because it is easier when, "they" are the problem. That song is on repeat constantly in the human condition. But Paul also came to see a freedom in Christ. Not just believing in Jesus like some kind of magic pill that solves all that ales you. Rather, being in Christ, the faith of Jesus actually is what makes all the difference. Jesus' way is more than just information to be mentally processed or rules that had to be followed to get a ticket to God's grace. Jesus' way is grace upon grace.
Suddenly Paul realized that it wasn't just the circumcision that bothered him so much. Be circumcised or don't. The point was God's grace can never be earned. The Galatians had stumbled into that land where we cease to let God's love be unceasing and instead we start to control. We start to act like God is waiting around all day for us to do something....God is always doing something in our lives. The point is, do we notice?
Paul didn't for years. Maybe if he shared a bit of his story, the Galatians might hear their own story.
What are those regrets that we carry like rocks around in the backpacks of life? Moments, we so wish we had a rewind button to go back? Is there a way, like Paul, to re-frame the brokenness not as something to be explained away, but to shine a light on the cobweb corner?
May that light be one not of judgement or drenched with guilt, but with more than a trace of God's grace.