To lose the Gospel is to lose everything
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:1-10 ESV)
Today we observe one of the oldest saints’ days in the Christian calendar dating back to the early 4th century. Understandably ancient Rome regarded it highly as tradition had it that Peter and Paul were martyred on the same day but different years – not 29th June – but that on 29th June during the Valerian persecution of 258AD their remains were moved to the catacombs since one of the taunts of persecutors was, at times, to completely destroy the remains of deceased Christians in an attempt to mock the resurrection. How can your God resurrect him / her after we’ve destroyed the remains? Of course God can and will be able to do so but no one wants their loved ones’ remains – or those of venerated people – despoiled.
The combined recognition of these two apostles and indeed a good reason for remembering those from the past in the church is not to venerate the individuals but to give thanks to God for his faithfulness to all generations in making sure that the Good News of Jesus – that the story of our sin and our salvation – is lived out and presented in word and deed to each generation. In the apostles Peter and Paul we have a summary of the Church’s mission to the world – to the Jews and to the Gentiles – for Peter was regarded as the apostle to the Jews, while Paul to the Gentiles.
So today’s observance and festivities is our way of seeing ourselves as the Christian Church in a long line of people reaching out to the world with the one thing people really do need for life and life in all its fullness, ie., life that is more than three score and ten and a bit more – life with God having meaning and purpose that is grounded not in fear but grace, that still deals with the ups and downs of life but with a confidence and hope that nothing can separate us from God’s love. The focus of this life with God – of living with God – this is not just a Sunday ‘thing’ – is the Gospel – this unbelievable message that God has entered our world in the person of Jesus whose life’s goal was giving us his life since humanity by nature is dead in sin and he did this by defeating the power of sin, death, and the devil to hold us through the ‘absurdity’ of actually dying on the cross. His death however is our life. His death brings God’s forgiveness and mercy to us. Both Peter and Paul experienced that mercy in their lives and they wanted the world to know and experience it too for Jesus grave is empty!
t replace Judas; no, he in fact was a persecutor of but were words of condemnation and death.
It remains so today that the Gospel when it is turned into a law – a do-this to be right with God – and which strangely can tickle our ears and even inspire people – leaves people in the end either heading or in despair or insufferable pride. Of course twenty centuries later what is most changed is the structuring of the Christian church. Today the one holy Christian and apostolic Church is found gathered among the people who are gathered around Jesus, ie, where his Word is proclaimed as he wants it to be and his Sacraments administered as he instructed. We have denominations and independent groups, parachurches, missions, home groups with a wide variety of structures (comprising, in the main, two components – laity and clergy – and even these terms are under considerable dispute and disagreement!). The apostles are long dead and today’s followers of Jesus have different views of what apostolic tradition and succession is all about. Paul would have regarded all the Galatian communities as Christian – in danger of not being so but Christian and there would be no thought that his letter would only go to some of them. Today when Pope Francis speaks to Brandon/Coventry it is only the Roman Catholics who listen to obey and some Anglo Catholics. Us Lutherans would consider the words rather than the speaker. Similarly with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglicans though they have a culture allowing the possibility of a wide interpretation. And when ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers speaks, most Christians in Brandon / Coventry will say ‘Who?!’ (and I’m not talking about us!).
Paul did most of his missionary journeys himself. Yes, he had helpers and colleagues – Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Sosthenes, Titus, Luke – who came and went – sometimes directed by him – but in the first century it was, I think, very much if you saw the need, you attended to it. Today the ELCE is launching its Board for Overseas Missions appeal with a focus on Bible and Catechism translation in Africa because we’re not going there but we can support people who are there working. Again the mission story of the last 2,000 years is both a fascinating and, at times, an appalling history – but its success is best when the Gospel of Jesus is centre to the task.
Could you say the Gospel in a sentence? [Pause] There you go – another piece of ‘homework’! The question is a little cheeky because theology is rarely in a vacuum – just bald facts – but theology is ‘God words’ in a context – relationships, situations, curiosities, fears, and so on – and so we’re living in a sea of contexts with Jesus as our boat, our anchor, our refuge, our food, our water, our shepherd, and lots more. Which image and message is best suited to the moment is up to you! What message of law or Gospel is needed is determined by the context we face. We no longer face issues of Jew and Gentile as such – though we can learn from how the first Christians faced these contexts – but we now face different issues – secularism, atheism, social constraints or expectations, technology, and other Christians who are similar but different to us. And the one thing needful for us all – and especially for those who don’t know Jesus – is the Gospel – that amazing news of God’s love in Christ – of grace that is unbelievable – that God’s love for sinners is so great that Jesus on the cross is the best picture we could ever have. And that’s something Peter and Paul would keep pointing us to … too!
- Galatians 2:1 - 10