What Grows in the Garden

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Anyone who’s ever grown a garden knows that tilling the soil and sowing seeds is just the beginning. Those conditions which make it possible for vegetables and fruit to grow are also just the right conditions for weeds and unwelcome plants to thrive. So we find that a major element of successful gardening is cultivation of the garden. Between seedtime and harvest comes the weeding, pruning, and watering that produce an abundant crop.

As with growing a garden, so it is with the life in Christ.  Paul’s reminds the churches in Galatia the freedom we are given in Christ is just the beginning. There is a weed-choked part of each of us - what Paul calls the way of the flesh, which is contrary to the way of the Spirit of Christ. We are, in Paul’s view, like living gardens, and the Holy Spirit is the gardener. Giving in to natural, fleshly inclinations is likely to produce a harvest of weeds.

We are all like gardens, and all of us are producing some sort of crop or another. For those who who are guided by the Spirit, choosing Christ above all, the harvest will bring an abundance of love, joy, peace, and self-control.

We Are Already Made Free


Galatians 4:1-12

There may be nothing more frustrating in all the world than watching a person with every advantage and resource imaginable just take it all for granted.  Instead of rising up in strength and grace, they instead squander their gifts in a lifetime idleness, dissipation, and distraction. We ask “how could someone who is given so much toss it all aside and treat it with such scorn?” 

This is the passionate frustration with which Paul to write to the Galatians, urging them to take hold of the freedom and the life-giving Spirit God had given them through faith in Christ.  The old ways, the ways of slavery to the law and to the pagan idols, was broken. They are no longer slaves, but children of God, and heirs to the inheritance of Christ’s Kingdom.  

“Take hold of your freedom,” Paul urges us, “and do not return again to the old, lifeless ways.” 

Equal But Not the Same

Galatians 3:1-11, 19-29

On a Sunday when we are celebrating Christian baptism, we might be tempted to ask “who can belong to the Kingdom where Christ reigns?” 

God’s answer: All are welcomed, by the grace of God!  Those who swagger into his presence, brimming with pride of self-accomplishment, and those who stagger under the weightof guilt and frustration over continual failing (despite the best of intentions).  Those who are absolutely certain they “belong” and they “deserve,” and those who see themselves as lifelong
outsiders…who’ve constantly been asked to surrender their very sense of identity if they ever wanted to be included. 

Ever since God toppled the tower of Babel and scattered the nations, humans have viewed our many differences through suspicious and uncertain eyes.  Great wars and injustice and oppression have occurred - even geneocide - because we viewed our diversity as a curse.  But Christ reveals the story of how a curse is turned into a blessing.  Christ assumed all that divided us and carried it to the cross on our behalf.  In place of our old lives, he gives us a new fellowship that transcends our divisions.  Though our past are varied and strange to one another, in Christ we are all equal; equal in sharing full participation in the community of Christ and equal in receiving the life and
power of Jesus. 

We are equal, but not the same.

Spending or Defending Our Lives?

Galatians 2:11-21

There are many in the church today who are walking daily in close faith and fellowship with Christ. Taking no confidence in their own work or righteousness, they are nonetheless people of absolute peace because they trust solely in the grace of God...God's saving power. Day by day they receive "Christ's faith" in greater and greater measure, and we can recognize them by the way they are joyfully spending the life Christ has given them in gratitude, sacrifice, and service to others.

There are many in the church who run about constantly crying "Lord, Lord!" but are in fact strangers to the grace of God (Matthew 7:22). We recognize these latter persons by their busy, harried lives, their cluttered spirits, their temperamental nature, and their deep insecurities about God's love for them. Day after day they run out in pursuit of the path of peace...the right mixture of good deeds, proper words, and restrain from evil that will once and for all put them on the right side of God. They are more concerned with avoiding "troublemakers" than serving neighbors, and they are constantly in fear. These poor souls are consumed with defending their lives through their good conduct, but what they seek can never be attained.

To the world outside the church, the "works" done in Jesus' name all tend to look the same, whether those doing them belong to the first group or the latter (and most often, the recipients of the church's ministry and compassion don't really care what's in the heart of the givers). But for Paul, and for all who are being saved, what's in the heart of the Christian makes all the difference.

Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to capture an audio recording of this sermon.

A Revelation and A Call

Galatians 1:11-2:10

In order to establish the authority of the gospel that he preached, Paul found it necessary to tell the Galatians how he came to be a messenger of the gospel of Jesus. His journey was not as the other "apostles" had journeyed; he was late to the party. He underwent a powerful personal conversion, resulting in a 180 degree turnaround of his life, and he spend a number of solitary years quietly seeking to understand the depth of God’s grace.

The Galatian churches knew that Paul was Jewish, but he went out of his way to show them that his preaching and his message were not "products" of the Jerusalem church, or of any human organization. Paul is an apostle precisely because of God's revelation to him, and God's subsequent call to be Jesus' ambassador to the non-jewish world.

Paul's central message is that the progress of the gospel in the world is God's activity. It is not of human origin. Our understanding of salvation may be deepened and perfected as we learn and pray and have fellowship, but salvation isn't achieved through family inheritance, discovered in a library, validated with a diploma, or authenticated by traditions. It comes from God alone.

To The Churches in Galatia

Galatians 1:1-12

Many New Testament letters begin with a predictable pattern of greeting, offering grace and commending the addressees for being steadfast in their faith and commitment to Christ. Personal greetings, apostolic greetings, and courteous formalities are usually expressed before "getting down to business."

Galatians is not one of those letters. 

Right from the start Paul jumps in with a sharply worded warning: his readers are in danger of being seduced away from the Gospel by outside influencers. The Galatians congregations have come under the spell of "false teachers" trying to place undue religious burdens on his friends.  Paul believes they are nullifying the very freedom and salvation Paul preached to the Galatians and substituting a salvation based on burdensome religious works.

The letter to the churches in Galatia is passionate, urgent...sometimes almost angry in tone. 

The original recipients may even have found Pauls's words difficult to hear, but ultimately the passionate appeal and stern words reflect nothing more than a loving shepherd caring for his flock; Paul will not always be there for them and he longs to see them mature and prosper in the Christian faith.

An Enduring Love for God

Romans 5:1-5

Suffering is not a pleasant experience, nor much sought after. But it is nonetheless a universal human experience. People suffer for all kinds of reasons, and will spend countless hours looking for the reasons for all kinds of suffering. Why is this happening? What did you and I do wrong? Where is the fairness? I don't deserve to suffer like this...how can I keep it from happening again?

In Romans 5, Paul wades boldly into the depths of human suffering and offers to Christians no plan for avoiding suffering, nor pathway out - instead only the counterintuitive assurance that those who give their lives to Jesus can count on suffering, and when they do they will rejoice. 

Paul can say this with confidence because he knows Jesus himself his fulfilled the long-anticipate role of God's suffering servant, and that no servant is greater than his or her master, and that his followers will become like Jesus when they are faithful. Paul also knows that love for God has been poured into each believer's heart by grace and through the Holy Spirit...and all suffering becomes hope and endurance and strength in the refining fire of God's love.

Made Known to Us

Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17

From the dawn of time God was being revealed through creation (Psalm 19:1), through the scriptures (Psalm 1), through covenants (Genesis 9 and 17) and through generations of seers, sages, and prophets.  

Yet throughout history, God’s people continually struggled to know and be known by our creator in a more complete way.  The clear message of the gospel is that, in the end, God’s own self “went to the wall for his people.”  He sent Jesus to open a path for knowing God more fully by offering forgiveness of sins restoring our souls to righteousness through Jesus. So completely does Jesus reveal the heart of God that he was able to tell his disciples “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

Even so, there was a greater gift to be given to Jesus’ followers than knowing Jesus personally and glimpsing God through him.  Jesus promised that his followers would be clothed with “power from on high” through the Holy Spirit…so that we can have oneness with God as Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit are one.

On Pentecost, the church discovered that God is a God who keeps promises, and we are invited to respond by living in deeper communion with God through he Holy Spirit.