Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ who loves us and frees us from our sins, Amen.
Today I want to talk about three things.
My own inadequacies. Grammar. Beyonce and how the reformation messed things up a bit. Sound good?
At least once a week, most weeks, I get to do pastor-y kinds of things. I mean stereotypical pastor kinds of things. The stuff you imagine your pastor does, things like officiate at weddings, preside at funerals, have intense theological conversations with folks. The rest of the time I’m in meetings, working on organizational strategy, going to meetings, writing stuff for the website, the newsletter, a sermon, going to more meetings.
It’s all good stuff, essential stuff, but it’s not the stuff you imagine doing when you start training to be a pastor. So I always get excited when someone wants to meet with me to talk about questions they have about faith, when someone wants to talk theology with me.
I love these conversations. I’m just not sure I’m particularly good at them, because at the end of the day I don’t really have any answers. I mean I have responses, I have ways that I’ve been thinking about things in my own life. I can talk with people about the big questions – why does suffering happen, what is the meaning of life, what about heaven and hell? I have thoughts informed by my study, by my experiences in life thus far, but just as often I have my doubts too.
My faith feels shaky at times. There seems to be far too little that is certain. And while I appreciate mystery, there are times when I just want to know, like really know, you know?
At the same time, I’m always a little suspicious of those folks that act and talk like they’ve got it all figured out. Life is too complex, relationships are too complex, God is too complex to be 100 percent certain all the time. I’ve seen too much, I’ve done too much to believe for a second that anybody has it all together. None of us do.
Some days brushing my teeth for the appropriate length of time in the proper circular motion feels like a victory. Life is hard. Faith is hard.
Which is why we’re going to talk about grammar now.
Shoot, better transition needed there. Life is hard, faith is hard, and it’s for that reason that I love this passage from Galatians, but only when it employs the right greek grammar.
Grab you bulletins and find verse 16 of today’s reading from Galatians. Got it? Now find the phrase faith in Jesus Christ, it appears twice in this verse. If you have a pen and want to circle those, cool, but not necessary. The way the NRSV – the New Revised Standard version translates that phrase is one of two options. The other option is rendering the greek as the faith of Jesus Christ, or the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
Not to get too deep into the weeds here, but the greek for this phrase is pistis christou and it’s not clear if Paul meant it be an objective genitive, where Jesus is the object of our faith. Or the subjective genitive where Jesus is the subject of faith, the agent, the one doing faith.
Ok stay with me, because here’s why this matters. We’re talking about reconciliation here. We’re talking about salvation. We’re talking about God renewing our relationship through faith.
So the question is, upon whose faith do you want that to be contingent? Mine and yours or Jesus’?
Listen to how they sound in context.
…yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.
…yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
When the chips are down, I need the matters of the utmost significance to be in the faithful hands of our God who is so deeply committed to you and to me that he lived and died, rejoiced and cried as one of us. I don’t know about where you are at, but I need the promise of newness and life to come from the faithfulness of Jesus, not my own ability to trust that promise. I need this to be about what God has done and is doing, not me.
Last week Beyoncé was in town. Did you hear? Beyoncé Knowles is probably one of this generations most loved and celebrated singers and performers. She’s got a huge following, across a pretty wide spectrum of ages, and a group of extremely dedicated followers known as the Bey Hive where she is the Queen Bey. At any rate, she was here in Minneapolis on Monday night performing at TCF Bank stadium. After an hour and a half weather delay, Beyoncé unleashed on those gathered a spectacular event. Lights, sound, stage and screen were impressive.
Those I’ve talked to about the show consider it to be one of the best they’ve ever been to. A defining moment in their lives. A chunk of time where no matter where they came from, who they were, where their seats were they were drawn into something bigger, something new, something powerful. It was a communal experience that impacted each person who was there in profound ways.
All right but what does Beyoncé have to do with the reformation? I’m glad you asked!
The existential question that haunted Martin Luther for much of his life was, how can I, a sinful person, find acceptance in the eyes of a holy and righteous God? It was a profoundly personal struggle and in the words of Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia Luther found a profound sense of freedom and joy when he realized that God’s gracious act in Jesus was for him. This was as Luther called it, “The inward way” of justification, “when a person despairs of his former righteousness…casts himself down before God, sobs humbly, and confessions that he is a sinner, says…God be merciful to me a sinner!”
Here’s the thing, while I’m incredibly grateful for the faithful witness of the reformation, in the world we live in today, we don’t need to be just individually saved. We don’t just need a word that meets us in our isolation and loneliness and say your okay.
Instead we need to be drawn into the beating heart of a God that takes individuals from different zip codes and different tribes, from different social classes and different ethnicities, from different gender identities and political affiliations and says to us all, “I love you all.”
The power of the event, the power of the Jesus event, is that all people – all people regardless of whatever label we try to put on individuals have been wrapped up in, enfolded, drawn into the love of God.
You are not alone. You have been brought into God’s life. With people of every time and place we have been made a part of something bigger, something powerful, we live shaped by God’s great event that has fundamentally changed the fabric of this world. Together, we belong to God. No matter what.
No matter our doubts and our fears, no matter our political ideologies, no matter what happens today or tomorrow. We have a share with God, because our God is faithful to us, to all of us. Amen.
 Cousar p 57