A church which cannot curse cannot bless
Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:1-12 ESV)
For various reasons, people want to change the Bible. Allegedly out of date, reflecting a different time and place, not agreeing with our sensibilities and sensitivities, primitive, uncultured, wrong in parts, people have attempted to change what they’ve heard or read. The debates, discussions and disagreements today regarding gender and sexuality in the church and in the world but particularly in the church are just the current versions. We’ve long ago accepted that the Christian Church teaches different things about Baptism and Holy Communion for example but as we go back in time we can envisage that there was unity on these matters. I think we imagine that the early church was one unified group – maybe a sort of hippy movement that shared resources and celebrated ‘love feasts’ – if you heard that as a description what sort of group would you think they are?! – but that wasn’t exactly the case. In the time before some of the New Testament writings were even written, the early church had to work out what was truth and what wasn’t as it related to Jesus.
I’m not talking about knowing about Jesus – that Jesus existed. I’m talking about trusting Jesus. I’m talking about knowing Jesus in a way that affects you. Knowledge by itself can be locked away and not part of our lives. The early church wanted the world to know Jesus as Lord, as God – to be loved and saved by him – rather than just knowing he existed. You could know he existed but regard him or believe him to be cursed by God – he was crucified after all – and hence he can’t be Lord and God. Same crucifixion gives you two results. Lord or definitely not Lord? Which is right? What is truth? Does it matter? I think it does because the stakes are life and death – and that tends to intensify things.
If Jesus is Lord, then we should follow him. Simple. If he’s not, then we need to find God and follow him. Simple. Paul write to the Corinthians about the resurrection of Jesus that if this wasn’t true then all Christians are fools – to be the most pitied on earth – because they’re still lost in their sins but now without a Saviour (1 Cor 15:12-19).
Jesus himself once said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21a ESV) and warned his disciples not to follow false Christs that would come claiming to be him and lead many people astray (Matthew 24:5).
Truth is critical whether it be mathematics, medicine, or Messiahs. Get it wrong and people can die. That’s the background to Paul’s response to hearing the news that just after he had visited the churches of Galatia, others had come after him, hot on his heels so to speak with an ‘update’ on the Gospel, an ‘addendum’, a ‘clarification’, another teaching of the Gospel that gets Paul so angry that he shocks many of today’s readers – But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:8 ESV) And just so he’s not misunderstood, he repeats it – As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.(Gal 1:9 ESV).
The issue – as you read in Galatians – was that a group we call Judaisers followed Paul and told the churches that the Gospel of Jesus for Jews was a good news and for Gentiles also but the process was that Gentiles had to become Jews first. Fulfil the law – receive the prize. Logical. You could find enough Old Testament texts to give it a run. It fitted with their worldview. But at heart it was anti-Gospel. Paul saw this Gospel by circumcision first – because that’s what it amounted to – as not a variation of the Gospel – not sin mucking up the Gospel’s power in our lives – but a direct attack at the cross – at God’s mercy and grace – at salvation – at justification – at the giving of the Holy Spirit. This wasn’t a spiritual opinion to him; it was spiritual poison.
What would you do if someone was feeding your children poison in the shape of candy? Nothing?! I don’t think so.
Religion is not just a mind game for affluent people to ponder with full bellies and warm houses what will happen when we die. Religion – all religions – are life and death matters. The damnamus – the ‘we condemn’ – the anathema – is the other side of the truth coin. In saying what we believe to be true, we are also saying what we believe to be false. A church that cannot curse cannot bless either. There’s no comfort in vagaries – we want foundations, security, stability. You don’t want me to say – not really – Baptism is a nice moment and God might do something but since we don’t see anything, we can’t be sure. Holy Communion is what you make it to be, I’ll just be the waiter for you. It isn’t important that Jesus’ grave is empty or not, what is important is that we remember him and try to be like him. Now some people might prefer such messages – and some churches teach them – but they are spiritually unfulfilling – like drinking salt water.
Instead I declare as fact and truth that God justifies the ungodly – that Jesus not Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, or me is Lord. That Baptism is dynamic for God kills and makes alive in the waters of Baptism by joining us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Holy Communion is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given with bread and wine for us to eat and drink. You decide each time you hear such things – and all other religious statements – what is true and what is not and act accordingly. The foundation is God’s Word which our confession articulates.
If Baptism doesn’t give the gifts from God as the Church teaches – then, VanDerwalkers, run from here – take your son and flee – for my lies will stop you from receiving those gifts because you mistakenly think Chase will receive them in Baptism. But if that isn’t true, then he hasn’t.
What is truth? Pilate didn’t get an answer to his question in John’s Gospel. The answer of course was standing in front of him. And that is the same for us – centred on Jesus – is he here? (Is his grave empty or not?) What does he say? I tell you that it is ‘I love you’. Is that the truth? What evidence do I have? I point to a cross and I tell you about an empty tomb and I use words, water, bread and wine – and people – it’s still a wonderful mystery to me – believe. Should I ever change that truth for poison, I hope someone will love me enough and shock me by saying ‘Damnamus!’.
PS. I think this sermon needs one. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies. That should remind us the damnamus is words about words. It is not a call to swords or to attack in any way other than words. We never stop physically caring and helping and doing no harm to all people – and maybe especially that applies should we ever find ourselves saying ‘we condemn’. The church’s history is often scandalous on this point. Let’s learn from it. A damnamus is not our final word – but a railway crossing flashing lights – it is a warning of danger as we see it. It is supposed to begin dialogue – as difficult as that might be – by alerting the others to how serious we view the issue at hand.
- Galatians 1:1 - 12