I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-9).
What is the Gospel? I am in an interesting situation. I am preaching June 2 at Hope Church in Holland MI. This is my home church. It is a great place! These are the people that have taken care of our family over the last two years during my often agonizing search process. It is my first time preaching there. It is also the 4 year anniversary of our family joining Hope and of my finally picking a denomination and coming under care for ordination in the Reformed Church in America (another long arduous process that took place during seminary). So this is also de facto my 4 year anniversary as a member of the RCA. Oh… I digress.
See I have a bit of a conundrum. For multiple reasons, I want to do a great job and knock their socks off. I also want to preach the gospel. I believe this is the first and most important task of any preaching event. But what is the gospel? I also have a knack for opening up the Lectionary and picking the most difficult text for my preaching text on any given week. I guess I like to push myself.
The week of June 2 the Lectionary passage I am focusing on is Galatians 2:1-12 where Paul says more than once: if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! ‘Even if it’s a flippin’ Angel,’ says Paul! (my paraphrase). This is not very nice stuff! Is this the same Paul who so eloquently described love as patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude and then concluded without love I am nothing? Perhaps a little historical critical insight will allow me to point out that Paul could be a bit of an old curmudgeon at times, when rebuking folks who disagreed with him. And perhaps in my sermon some historical context can help explain Paul’s seemingly excessively harsh tone. See some Jewish followers of Jesus were insisting that Gentile followers of Jesus had to be circumcised and observe Jewish feast days, holidays and other customs: essentially become Jewish. But drawing focus on such cultural distinctiveness – even if it was deeply religious in origin – did not dovetail to well with Paul’s message that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. While this might help explain Paul’s visceral response, no amount of politeness could get us around the exclusivity in Paul’s proclamation. And yet…
The Sunday that I will be preaching on this passage, Hope Church is also observing a community wide effort to bear witness to our unity in Christ called: One Lord. One Church. I am preaching on this exclusivity filled text on a Sunday intended to draw focus to the catholicity (or universality) of the church. This is a day to effectively say: ‘Despite our differences in belief and practices we are one in Christ.’ We will be participating with Christians from various denominations and non-denominational groups with different emphases and yes I would be willing to bet Christians who would sum up the Gospel differently than me or the staff or consistory at Hope church. In fact, I would even be willing to wager that if you took 10 people from Hope and 10 People from the church across the road that is participating we could probably come up with 20 different summations of the Gospel. Not that there is another Gospel, but…
What is the Gospel? Is trying to offer a brief summation futile? Is it even possible (wise or practical) to offer a brief summary when we are talking about a God communal in nature, dwelling among us, for our sake and for the sake of all things that God is pleased to be reconciling to God’s self in Christ?
What say you?