We all have it. All of us. That desire for something more. That desire to not trust one source alone but to look to others. That desire to think that it is too good to be true. We all have the desire to believe in the unbelievable even when the unbelievable is nothing but fake news.
In all of this, we need to know one thing – the gospel, the good news, is not fake news being brought into this world, but our insatiable desire for some more means that all of us, at times, risk bringing fake news into the gospel. When we do this the good is lost in all of us.
And while the words “fake news” only really entered our vocabulary in the last seven years, the reality is, the desire to believe that there is more to the gospel story than the simplicity that is the gospel. A God who loved us so much he gave his only son to live amongst us, to die for us, to rise again and to ascend to Heaven to sit with the Father; all this, so that we could have a relationship with a Father God. It is a simple gospel – all you have to do is believe – but we want to think that we must have to do more, do something different. And this desire, the desire to find what is more to this story, has meant the good news has been tainted with fake news time and time again. And we are not immune from bringing our own fake news into the Gospel even today.
Paul wrestles with this throughout his letters. And often the fake news, Paul wrestles with are when the cultural views of the day or the cultural rituals of a group are pushed onto, and added to, the gospel story. In letters like Colossians, Paul is wrestling with wacky ideas about spiritualism, self-help, regimes and a Jesus who has been turned from human to a mystery that is beyond the physical. Paul is responding to a Greek culture of mystery and spiritualism being pushed onto, and added to, the gospel.
And in Galatians, he is dealing with a very different cultural influence on the gospel. The gospel has been tainted with the fake news of a ritualised Judaism which had moved beyond God’s intentions. For Paul, the Gospel he presented the Galatian church of a loving God, found through a simple faith in Christ, and followed by living in Christ had been lost; it had succumbed to the fake news of the only way to the Father was through the Torah.
And how did this Fake News enter the church. Well it came through the stumbling apostle we love so much – Peter. Let’ hear what Paul had to say. We are going to hear this very differently and while our focus for today is Galatians 2: 11-21, we are going to read from the beginning of Galatians finishing in Chapter 3: 5 to give context. We are going to read these verses in email form, from a paraphrase version of the Bible, Addy introduced to us years ago in his sermon about David and Goliath: The Street Paraphrase
Subject: Moses’ rules, and now?
I’m stunned! How come you wander off from God so quick? He personally picked you to be on the gift list for all the Saviour’s freebies, and now you’re into a different package, which is just bad fake news. It’s obvious someone’s messed with your heads by twisting the Saviour’s news – they’ve got your addled.
The guy who is doing the twisting should go get lost. I got the Good News direct from the Saviour when I was on the road to Damascus. The Good News is now being polluted, it is no longer liberating. And how did this all happen?
Pete shows up at Antioch and I stand up to him and give it to him straight – I wasn’t about to tiptoe around him; he was so far out of line he’d forgotten where the line was! Before James’s lot turned up, ol’ Pete was stuffing himself full of non-kosher food like there was no tomorrow. But when tomorrow came and brought James’s crew with it, Pete backtracked and went all strict kosher; ‘cos the Jews had him under surveillance, and he was scared stiff. Of course, all Pete’s Jewish mates followed suit, such a U-turn, such spin, so two-faced, it even had Barny caught up in it.
And soon as I spotted they were out of line with the good news, I said straight to Pete’s face, and loud enough for the whole crowd to hear, ‘You’re a Jew, but you normally live like you’ve never seen inside a Jewish HQ! How come now you’re trying to turn everyone else into a Jew? The Jesus Liberation Movement is completely different to Judaism. It’s not about working your way into God’s good books. It is about taking Jesus as, and at, his Word.
I’ve have been executed with the Saviour. I’m dead. Well, physically I’m still breathing, but it’s his breath filling my lungs. I’m ‘under new management’. My new life is run by God’s Son, who loved me so passionately he actually died for me. I’m not going to snub God and throw his free gift back in his face: if I could get a clean slate by keeping the old Rules, then the Saviour went through all that grief for nothing.
You Galatians, are you demented or what? Who’s hypnotized you? Who’s interfering with your brainwaves? You had the full works on how and why Jesus the Saviour died: I gave you the full presentation – live and interactive. So answer me this one thing: Did you get pumped full of God’s Spirit by keeping every single Rule in Moses’ book? No, you got it by taking God at his word. Are you really so daft that you’re going to start off with God’s Spirit running the show and then switch to manual and go for it on your own? After all you’ve gone through, don’t jack it all in for nothing. Again – why did God dole out his Spirit? Why did he do supernatural things though you? Was it ‘cose you had a perfect record and could tick off every Rule as ‘done and dusted’? No, it was because you took on what you heard.
If Paul was wanting to present a challenge, a message and teaching today, he would go straight to email, hitting his points as quickly as possible.
And what do we know. Well from last week, and the opening verses of this letter, or email, Paul is stunned, the Jesus Liberation Movement of Galatia had completely lost the point and direction of the Good News they originally received. Last week, we learnt how Paul himself was a testimony to this Good News. And now the Good News had something fake about it, Paul wanted to address it up front.
This is where we come into the message today. We learn in Chapter 2 from Verse 11 that Peter was the one to blame. I don’t know about you, but I really feel for the blunderer of this disciple and apostle. Peter, the one who Jesus praised as knowing deeper truth because he could see Jesus for who he is – the son of God. Peter the one that Jesus then turned to and said ‘Satan get away from me.’ Peter the one that guaranteed Jesus that he would never deny him, then later denies Jesus three times.
Peter the apostle in Acts 10 who received a dream in which God tells him that all animals are made clean by the creator and are therefore kosher to eat. Peter who church tradition tells us died a martyr for his faith on a cross that was upside down as Peter did not feel worthy enough to die like his saviour.
So let’s be Frank. Peter was a great man. Peter was a passionate man. And like most highly passionate people, Peter would run in guns blazing without thinking it through. So, like most of us highly passionate people, Peter was prone to stuff-ups.
And Paul points to a stuff-up. Peter, the apostle who knew all food given by the Father is clean, became in the eyes of Paul, a hypocrite because he was afraid of how his Jewish brothers would judge and receive him. Peter’s actions saw other Jews follow suit, the message that was given to the Gentiles here was direct – entry into the Jesus Liberation Movement came with its own rituals and if you want to get closer to God, follow the old ways of the disciples.
After all, Jesus was the son of Yahweh. Yahweh was the God of the Jews. Jesus was a Jew. So, for Gentiles to join the banquet table set before them by the God of the Jews and the God of Jesus, Gentiles would have to enter into the same rituals. Peter in a moment of pear pressure demonstrated this first-hand. As soon as James’s lot showed up and made evident the difference between Jew and Gentile and reminded Peter who he was, Peter returned to the customs of his culture.
We shouldn’t knock Peter too much here. Yes, he mucked up. But I love the picture of Peter in the Bible, it is a picture of each of us and we know that Peter lived for Christ, and he died for Christ. We all engage in hypocrisy. All of us, especially when it involves the groups we were once a part of..
And we have to remember, Paul is not addressing Peter as the problem. Peter is the reason that the problem occurred – yes. But he is not the problem. The problem is the message that the Galatians accepted in their response to seeing and responding to the mistakes of Peter.
The churches in Galatia had obviously started to think that there must be more to the Gospel story that they were encouraged to just believe. The Gospel story that pointed to a God of Grace, who simply asked – have faith in my son; know that belief in my son will take you closer and closer to me because if you live in my Son, my Spirit will live in you.
The Galatian churches were young and fervent. They wanted more of God and they wanted to do more for God. And like many young Christians and churches they looked to those with more experience and who has more experience than the apostles and the Judaic faith. After all, at this time in history, Christianity was not a separate religion it was a sect of Judaism so it is only logical to look to the core rituals of Judaism to find the rituals and behaviours that will bring you closer to God.
And what would make this even more confusing is the pull that would have existed in Galatia at this time, and a pull that exists today even for us, what would make this even more confusing is the pull that we have to know that we are on the right path. That the journey that leads us to God, is in fact the way, the Truth and the life.
Recently I was listening to a Christian podcast called “Unbelievable.” The podcast featured a rabbi and a minister of the Church. The rabbi pointed out that in Hebrew, they do not refer to the Torah as the Law, they refer to it The Way. Jesus directly tips this all on its head in John 14:6, when he says “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one can get to the father except through me.”
And what really got me when I was listening to this podcast was listening to the rabbi who again and again kept saying – it is too simple, the Christian way, is too simple and therefore can’t be right. And then he hit the nail on the head when he turned to the Christian minister and said – I cannot believe that Jesus is the Messiah; Judaism is an exclusive faith. The story you are painting with your Messiah is of a universal faith – a faith for all.
At that point my heart and my spirit wept. Even my own simple reading of the Hebrew scriptures talks about the Hebrew people bringing God to all nations. Our creator God is not an exclusive God that we can learn more about and become closer to if we follow a set of rituals that keep as defined as separate to others.
And then I find myself reflecting even more on this simple passage – ten verses – that reference a table, a ritual and the actions of Peter and his crew and then I understood why Martin Luther King Jr. found the letter so important in his fight for Black rights in the USA. The man who is famous for the I have a Dream speech – a speech that also refers to a table “I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
And I realise that there is so much more to these verses. Especially when you know the place of the table in early Christian church history. In Alan Cole’s commentary on Galatians, he points out a startling and heart-pulling point – the piece of worship that these verses are pointing to is something called the “common meal”. Something called agape – the word for brotherly love – meal – Martin Luther King Jr’s Table of Brotherhood.
Alan Cole points out that if Peter refused, even under pressure, to join with his Gentile brothers and sisters in a common meal, he would also cease to join them at the Lord’s Table. At the communion table. Now, I want you to shut your eyes here.
Imagine this. You are a member of a Church in Galatia. Every Sunday, the Lord Table is a core part of your worship together – breaking bread and sharing wine. And, every Sunday, if Peter is in the building, he joins you at your table.
Then a wider group of Christians come, all have walked closely with God. Keep your eyes shut but your hearts open here. Imagine now what it would feel like if this group of esteemed people set themselves a table apart from you. You were not allowed at that table until you accepted the rituals of the group. Then Peter, the one that you thought would naturally sit with you, turns his back and sits at the other table.
Keep your eyes shut, your hearts open, and your ears ready to hear. Imagine how it would feel to have a divided Communion Table at church where each person did communion in their own way. Imagine how it would feel like to have someone refuse to take the Lord’s supper with you because of who you are.
“I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
“I have a dream that one day out in the green hills of Pukeatua, Wainuiomata, the sons and daughters of the lost and the sons and daughters of privilege will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Let this really sink in – because this is where the nails of fake news hammer Jesus back on the cross. He died for the unity of creation, for the unity of Jew and Gentile, for the unity of the lost and the privileged.
A couple of weeks ago, I stood here and challenged the concept of Togetherness. Not because I disagreed with it but that I could see another side of the coin. One thing I said was this “. Together, the culture we create, we can also use as a measuring stick to compare and disregard others to ourselves.”
You know the Law of the Torah is a beautiful thing. David speaks of meditating on it day and night. When Jesus asks a Lawyer what the heart of the Law is the Lawyer responds Love the Lord your God and Love your Neighbour as Yourself. This is the heart of the Torah, the heart of the Gospel and the heart of Grace extended to us. The problem was, in their togetherness, each fraction of Judaism had created a measuring stick to judge others – for the Pharisees, the rituals they created to ensure that they were on the way were that measuring stick. And it made them an exclusive club.
We know also from the first 15 chapters of Luke, Jesus didn’t come for this exclusive club. He came for the outsiders.
And let’s face it, universally as a church, we have created measuring sticks to exclude others. Even here in Aotearoa NZ. A clear fact in our history here is that we started with mission churches and settler churches. Two different communion tables with one culture applying a very cultural and western measuring stick against another. A divide that still exists today.
However, one of the most startling measuring sticks evident in countries like Aotearoa New Zealand, is the divide between conservative Christians and liberal Christians. The measuring sticks are real, and we use them against each other regularly right to the point of making judgements about a fellow Christian because who they voted for or what position they took on moral issues. Even I have been guilty of this.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for redress, repentance and forgiveness. But there is not a place exclusivity. But it is important to hear this – if you would never have a fellow Christian around to your common table for a meal, then how are you positioning that person at the Lord’s Table. Have you created a measuring stick for an exclusive Christianity which only involves people like you who follow your cultural traditions and rituals?
Martin Luther King Jr is famous for two other quotes: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” And “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
I feel like I have to apologise for delivering two hard messages. It’s a struggle. But at the same time, it is understanding what is bringing us together is not a tool to measure each other. And it is not just grace – it is the other side of the coin – mercy. To quote Andy, who probably got this from someone else “Grace is having something given to us that we did not deserve; mercy is having something taken from us that we did deserve.”
I want to finish this word with Paul and then I would love us to really sing into the Gospel Truth that joined us as together as one today at the Communion Table.
1 Cor 15: 10 “God treated me with undeserved grace! He made me what I am, and his grace wasn't wasted.” (CEV)