Oct. 2, 2011 – Grace in unexpected places


Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor

In the month of October, we are walking our way through the book of Galatians, to discern what meaning Paul has for us today through the church in Galatia.

Theme Background

The scene of Galatians takes place around 50 CE.  The location, known as Galatia at the time, is modern day Turkey.  Paul of Tarsus is in a bind.  Paul establishes these churches in Galatia and as he is prone to do he wanders to the next location to establish more churches and preach the gospel.  Not long after Paul leaves the area, his opponents arrive. They arrive to counteract Paul’s work because of a couple of things that they believe against Paul.

First of all, these folks arrive because they are upset that Paul tells all that it is not important to be circumcised.  This group
of people who have always been Jewish cannot fathom a form if Christianity that would be without circumcision.  Paul, on
the other hand, strongly preaches that you do not have to be Jewish and circumcised to be Christian.  You could be Gentile and Christian! Imagine that? Secondly, this group of opponents questions Paul’s authority because he had not actually known the earthly Jesus.

So what does Paul do when he hears of this discontent? He gets to work and writes a letter to the churches in Galatia!

This letter is full of wonderful lessons to our church today as well.  Often we preach on a few selected verses from this letter but there are so many wonderful pieces.  First of all, Paul is honest about his history.  Let’s face it: Paul never did get to meet and get to know the earthly Jesus and he claims that truth.  He did encounter, in his drastic conversion, the risen Christ which made all the difference. From this experience, which was so unexpected and bold, he went from persecuting Christians to preaching the central Christian message of love.

Secondly, in this particular piece of the letter, we see Paul refer to his experience as a “call” experience.  He does not call this
a mission, cause, or conversion.  He uses the Greek term “kaleo” or specifically, “call.” This is similar to the prophet Jeremiah’s call.  Paul knows that this does not come from human institutions but God’s grace.  If his call comes from God, then he works to please God, not his opponents.

From these points, we can learn that God’s grace is present already and surprises us at the most unexpected times, much like our Matthew story outlines a surprising conversation about the faith of one person. We can learn that when our call is strong from God, we are ready to move forward even if some either to not want to understand or it is not part of the current paradigm.  We can learn that God’s grace will appear in the most unlikely spaces, even in one who it didn’t seem possible like our letter writer today.

Quotes for the Week

“I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” —Anne Lamott

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” — Frederick Buechner

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” — Wendell Berry

Conversion for me was not a Damascus Road experience. I slowly moved into an intellectual acceptance of what my intuition
had always known.  –Madeleine L’Engle

 Galatians 1:10-24 (NRSV)

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

Matthew 8:5-13 (Message)

As Jesus entered the villageof Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, “Master, my servant is sick.
He can’t walk. He’s in terrible pain.”

Jesus said, “I’ll come and heal him.”

“Oh, no,” said the captain. “I don’t want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my
servant will be fine. I’m a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, ‘Go,’ and he goes; to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Taken aback, Jesus said, “I’ve yet toncome across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up ‘in the faith’ but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened.”

Then Jesus turned to the captain and said,”Go. What you believed could happen has happened.” At that moment his
servant became well.

Questions for the Week:

When has God gotten your attention unexpectedly?

Where do you see God’s grace?

When has your authority been challenged? What did you do?




About pastorcourt

Courtney McHill is the pastor at Rose City Park United Methodist Church in Northeast Portland where they love compassionately and inclusively!
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