Sermon by Anna Rice (2016 graduating Senior)

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law,or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

I have always been a rule follower. I also get incredibly embarrassed when my mom goes against any status quo. For example, in 5th grade my class received an assignment where we had to read to our parents out of a book of choice and afterwards they filled out a reflection describing what they believed, we, the students, got out of it. I came home, all ready to do my assignment like the studious little 5th grader I was. I explained the assignment to my mom and to my absolute horror she simply said, “I am not doing that.”

My 11 year old self was in complete awe- how could she do this? This is my grade. I have to turn this in. My mom, noticing I was about to have yet another meltdown about school, explained her reasoning, “I have already been through school. Your teacher doesn’t get to assign me homework.”

Whoah.

This was life changing. Revolutionary.

Just as I focused so heavily on my oh-so-important 5th grade report card, the Galatians in this passage are focused on the tedious aspects of life. They nitpick at each other- maybe it would’ve gone something like this: “So-and-so didn’t follow Old Law #457!” And that poor guy probably feels really bad he didn’t abide by Old Law #457.” But he doesn’t have to. Not anymore.

That is exactly what Paul is trying to get across when he writes, “For all those who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.” We are free from the Old Law! How could they not remember Jesus dying on the cross? It just happened.

I mean we are talking about Bible-time here. So putting this letter into a timeline, it was written about 50 years after the crucifixion, so about 1 generation later. But let’s be honest, we are still talking about Jesus today- and that’s 2000 years later. We would be lucky if people talked about us for the next 200 years. So in comparison, 50 years is not a long time.

But this happened, and within 50 years of the crucifixion, the Galatians forgot. They forgot that when Jesus died on the cross, when He took the blame for all human sin, that he said “It is finished.” The time of living by the Old Law is over. It is finished. No longer are we bound to following the Old Law. No longer do we have to analyze our every movement and make faith about what we do.

Instead, Jesus was sent to offer the opportunity to be justified by what we believe in Him. The great thing about Christianity and our Lutheran faith is that we don’t need actions. We are justified by faith alone.

We are not meant to live a life of rule following and nitpicking. We are not meant to live a life that is consumed in following the laws and holding our neighbors to them. God sent his only Son so that instead of putting our heads down and focusing on our actions, we hold our heads up and look to Him for the guidance that no earthly rules could ever give us.

That’s the purpose of rules and laws, right? To keep us in line. I mean we may sugar-coat it and call them “Class Expectations” or “Group Guidelines” But ultimately, they are a form of control meant to keep us safe: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

When we lose this control it can cause a wide range of emotions… most of all fear and anxiety. Maybe regarding our family, friends, our own futures, the future of our country, maybe of our world.

I’ve had my own experience with this throughout this past year, as I felt an overwhelming need to know what was coming up next. What next year will look like as I part ways with my very safe, well-known world. Deadline after deadline started to pile up- when this application is due, when I have to take this test, when I have to turn in this essay. We all have our own versions of deadlines piling up… maybe in the form of monthly payments while struggling financially, or having to go to a doctor’s’ appointment when you don’t want to know what they will say. My desire to follow the deadlines and expectations got the best of me.

But- I found a way out of this overwhelming anxiety.

I’ve never given anything up for Lent, but this year I thought I would do something a little different, maybe even radical. For the season of Lent I gave up social media, my precious time on Netflix, and any TV that wasn’t the news. I also delved deeper into my Bible and learning more about Jesus.

You would never believe the difference. For the first time all year I saw the bigger picture. I understood that it didn’t matter if I did everything absolutely correct. I no longer kept my head down doing what I was told to do and going where I was told to go. I took my focus off of the rules, laws, and expectations that usually guided my life, and put all that focus on God. By doing so, my anxiety and fear regarding family, friends, my future, the future of our country, of our world dissipated.

All it took was remembering the resurrection. Making that my daily life and not abiding by rules.

You see, Jesus came and when He died on the cross He made it so we no longer have to follow the Old Law. However, He also had his teachings of his own that we are expected to follow. There are a lot of them. It is impossible to follow them all. Therefore, if getting to heaven was based only on how well we abide by Jesus’ teachings we would all be doomed. It’s futile. No one can do that!

We all make mistakes, we all break our own version of Old Law #457. That’s what made Jesus so… for lack of a better word- COOL. He could do it all. He was the only human being who never sinned- was he tempted? Yes. But he was perfect. So not only was he healing the blind and raising the dead, he stopped at every stop sign on his way.

Anyone here want to admit they’ve run through stop sign? Made any other type of mistake or misstep? Here’s where it gets really amazing. Here’s where it gets-

Life changing. Revolutionary.

When we make those mistakes, when we break those rules, that’s when Jesus comes in, with all his Grace and says, “You know what, even when you mess up, I have you covered.” All we need is faith. Through this faith of believing in Jesus Christ, we are more closely drawn to do the actions that are asked of us, but not because we simply go through the motions.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christianity seems at first to be all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all of that, into something beyond.”

While reading our passage this week from Galatians, something struck me. The overwhelming sense of freedom. We are free from today’s laws and rules. Now free doesn’t equal exempt, we don’t get to run around breaking the law, but we are free from worrying about it. Because we have Someone who really is in control. When we see the bigger picture, we get something way beyond what we can ever imagine.

In 5th grade, I was extremely humiliated by being the only student in my class who did not do the assignment that was asked of us. It was worked out that instead of my mom doing the assignment, that I would write a book report of my own.  My mom saw the bigger picture; she recognized that the importance was not in the tedious action of her writing a reflection, but that the importance was in what I learned. I found out I had a thirst for knowledge I didn’t know I had, and I guess that can be seen in my desire to know more about my faith each and every day. But that never would’ve happened if I hadn’t trusted my mom and believed she knew what she was doing.

I know, it’s the phrase all parents want to hear as their kids go off into the world. “Mom, Dad, you were right.” But I would also like to end on the note that we will all forget. We will forget who really is in control of our lives. And it’s scary, it’s not easy realizing we don’t have that control. Parents, you may want to set up some rules or guidelines even if we don’t live under your roofs anymore. But here’s the thing, you never did have control. It’s always been in God’s hands. So when you’re worried about us getting into trouble or making mistakes, just remember that Jesus is right there beside us saying, “Even when you mess up, I have you covered.” And please, remind us of that too.