Sunday, June 26, 2016

“The Miseducation of Faith” (Galatians 5:1, 13-25)

I imagine that just about every person here is familiar with The Wizard of Oz . . . we’ve all seen it at least a couple of times in our lifetimes.  The actual title of the book, written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  In 1902 it was a popular Broadway musical that was later adapted in 1939 to the movie we all know. 

We all know the story about Dorothy and her dog, Toto, who are swept up in a tornado in Kansas and end up in the magical and mystical Land of Oz.  Her mode of transportation is her farmhouse that lands on the wicked witch of the east killing her instantly.  She is given the ruby red shoes of the witch as a gift of gratitude from the people of the Munchkin Country in the Land of Oz.  Confused, all Dorothy wants to do is to get back home . . . to get back to her family in Kansas.  After a big celebration, the Munchkins and the good witch of the north, Glenda, send Dorothy and Toto down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to find the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.

Of course, the death of the wicked witch of the east did not sit well for everyone.  Her sister, the wicked witch of the west, was quite upset about her sister’s death, but even more upset that Dorothy got the ruby red shoes . . . the power source of her sister’s magic.  So she proceeds to make life miserable for Dorothy and the companions she picks up along the way—the tin man, the scarecrow, and the cowardly lion.  It is an adventure filled with peril and scary things.  The ragtag group eventually makes it to the Emerald City and speak to the great and powerful Oz . . . who then sends them on a mission . . . to get the broom of the wicked witch of the west.

Doing as they are told, they set off to get the broom.

Forwarding ahead in the story, Dorothy succeeds in eliminating the wicked witch of the west and getting her broom.  Then she and her friends discover that the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is a mortal man . . . an itinerant magician from Kansas.  This was not a magical and powerful man who could grant Dorothy her wish to go home . . . but, he offers her a ride in his hot air balloon back to Kansas.  Of course, things get messed up and Dorothy misses this opportunity.

Grief-stricken that she is stuck in the Land of Oz, she begins to cry.  Glenda, the good witch of the north, attempts to console Dorothy.  She tells her that she can get home . . . in fact, she says, she has always had the ability to get home.  It was within her.  All she had to do is to close her eyes, click the heels of the ruby red slippers, and say, “There is no place like home, there is no place like.”  Well, we all know that it works . . . Dorothy makes it home.

Throughout the story, whatever Dorothy is told to do in order to get what she wants—which is to go home, Dorothy does.  But, in the end, it is not what Dorothy does that gets her home, it is what is in her heart.  In our reading this morning, the Apostle Paul tells the congregations in Galatia the same thing.

Galatia is a largely Gentile community in which the good news of Jesus spread quickly.  Lots of Gentiles were starting to follow Jesus and his ways.  Yet, despite the evangelistic zeal and success, there arose a conflict between those who considered themselves the original followers—meaning those who were Jews that started to follow Jesus, and those who were jumping on the bandwagon much later.  The original followers declared that these Gentile converts had to follow the ways of the Mosaic Law, after all, Jesus was a Jew.  In particular there were those who demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised.

Of course there were those who did exactly what they were told and got themselves circumcised; and, there were those who balked at the idea.  Circumcision beyond the first few weeks of life is not what any adult male wants to endure.  Yet, here were these original followers telling the new followers to either follow the rules or get out of the game.

The Apostle Paul did not agree with the original followers because it did not fit his understanding of grace and faith.  Grace and faith were a gift freely given to all who wished to receive it . . . nothing had to be done to be among the faithful.  There were no hoops to jump through, no brooms to steal . . . no, the grace of God was freely given.  No one had to do anything except to believe and receive the love of God into their hearts.  No one had to follow a yellow brick road . . . no one had to bow down to anyone else . . . or even take a broom from a wicked witch.  All one had to do is to believe and accept the gift of grace.

This past Friday I attended “boundaries training”.  Boundaries training is the information that clergy within our region must be taught every three years in order to keep their standing as clergy within the denomination and region.  It is basically a workshop on what clergy can and cannot do.  It is learning what lines not to cross.  Our regional minister, the Reverend Dr. Ruth Fletcher, did a good job of sharing that information.  And, the greatest piece of advice and information that she gave to those of us gathered was that we should always be asking the question, “Is this meeting my needs or the needs of the whole—the needs of the community—the needs of the congregation?”  All that we clergy are supposed to do as clergy is to meet the needs of the common good.

The answer to that question comes from within each minister . . . it comes from the heart.  That answer is always “love”.  In our reading this morning the Apostle Paul says it: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”    In Paul’s argument we love because we are loved . . . we love ourselves, we love God, and we love others.  It is doing what is good for all of God’s family . . . all of God’s creation.  We are to love.

Paul’s argument is that it is not following the rules to the letter that gets a person entrance into the home place.  Anyone can follow the rules whether he or she even believes in the purpose of the rules.  No, it is the intention . . . is life guided by rules or is it guided by intention?  Is it lived in love?  Paul argues that it is love that guides the individual.  Once a person has love in his or her life, then the rules have no power over them because they will do what is expected . . . they will love.

The apostle gives a hefty list of things that those who are not in the state of grace will do.  As you go through that list did you notice that those things are all based on what an individual wants for him or herself.  Consider that original question . . . is this for the good of the individual, or is it for good of all?

That is the “mark” of the faithful . . . a “spirit” that calls us to consider the good for all . . . to do God’s will for the whole family.  The Spirit calls the faithful out to love others . . . to serve others . . . and, to put the self second.  Quoting Jesus, it is simple . . . to love others as you would love yourself.  Instead of looking for what is in it for me, we look for what is in it for everyone.  Does everyone win?

Faith is not about what we are not supposed to do.  Yet, that is what most of us know about faith . . . what we are not supposed to do.  We know the “don’ts”.  Aren’t those the “thou shall nots” that we tell each other?  No, that is not faith.  Faith is about intention and where that intention comes from.  It comes from within us . . . it comes from our hearts.  Hearts that have been touched by the love and grace of God.  Hearts that fill so full of that love that it cannot be contained . . . that it must be shared.  It feels so good that we want others to feel it too.  It comes not from serving our needs, but the needs of others.

Miseducation is the teaching of something incorrectly.  For many of us we have been incorrectly instructed when it comes to matters of faith . . . we have been given the wrong information.  It is not what we do that matters, it is why we do it.  Are we doing it because we want to be saved as individuals, or are we doing it because we want all to be saved?  Love knows no boundaries . . . it reaches across the lines to bring everyone in.

Kris Kristofferson wrote the song, Me and Bobbie McGee, in which he throws out one of the most powerful theological statements every made.  He sings: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”  That is exactly what the Apostle Paul is saying.  Because God loves you, and you love God, you have it all.  Go forth and love deeply, wholly, and radically change the world in which you.  If you do, people will know . . . people will know by the love you give.  Amen.  

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