31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 21, 2017
Galatians 1:1-2, 13-17, 2: 11-21
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by works of the law.” (Galatians 2:16).
Faith. Works. Justified. Righteous. The phrase “It’s all Greek to me” could easily have come about from reading Paul’s letters. Biblical Greek, the language Paul wrote in, was a complex language. ONE sentence in Biblical Greek might be four sentences in English.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Paul was an articulate writer, an eloquent arguer, and most of all, extremely passionate in his devotion to Jesus Christ. It makes his writing impassioned, nuanced, and complex.
Too often, though, instead of understanding what Paul is trying to explain to us, we just throw up our arms and say, “It’s all Greek to me.”
Instead of trying to explain Paul’s logic and nuanced theological argument “For through the law I died to the law, so I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:19-20) Instead of trying to explain that, let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a person. She was a good person, a hard worker, kind and thoughtful. She tried to live her life by being fit and healthy, kind to others, aware of her carbon footprint, as well as generous with her time and money. She had a sense of the Holy, that there was something larger than herself that had created this world and her life, and she sought to be connected to this Higher Power.
Once upon a time, there was a person. She was a good person, but not perfect. She was human with all of the flaws that come with being human. Every day, though, she tried her best to be a considerate co-worker, a thoughtful friend, a loving family member, a contributing member of society. And most days, she thought she did pretty well.
Until one day…. When she was reading an article about a single mother who had been arrested for leaving her ten year old child at the library while she went to work down the street. She found herself judging the mother for her negligence and applauding the police for arresting her.
Judgment. It was not the first time the person had ever judged another. Remember, she was human with all of the flaws that come with being human.
It wasn’t the judgment that was different about this day. What was different was that as soon as that thought formed in her head, she felt a slight tug on her back.
‘What was that?’ she wondered. Perhaps she should make sure to not overdo it at the gym tomorrow.
But it happened again the next day. She was driving behind someone who threw their coffee cup out the window, and as soon as the outrage filled her heart, she felt that same tug on her back.
At work, out shopping, at a restaurant, with friends, over and over again, she felt that tug, until one day she was horrified to see that she was literally dragging the load of her judgments and “not niceness” behind her everywhere she went.
How could there be so much of it?! She was a good person, a hard worker, kind and thoughtful. Every day, she tried her best to be a considerate co-worker, a thoughtful friend, a loving family member, a contributing member of society.
That was it! She just needed to try harder to be “good”. She went organic and became a vegetarian. She bought an electric car. She gave money to every youth organization standing outside the grocery store. She stayed after work to help her co-workers on a big project. And every time, she did something “good”, she felt that load of not-niceness get a little lighter, but it was not enough. It never went away.
So she just tried even harder. She shoveled her elderly neighbor’s driveway in the winter and mowed over the property line in the summer. She baked cupcakes for her cousin’s neighbor’s niece’s school fundraiser.
Surely all of the good she was doing would outweigh the “not niceness”. Look at how generous and kind and loving she was – but she was also exhausted and resentful and incredibly frustrated because as hard as she “worked”, she did not feel one bit lighter nor one bit closer to God.
But still she tried – because it was all she could think to do to free herself.
The opposite was happening though. Every day, she was more and more aware of all of the ways she was failing, falling short of the life God wanted her to live. She could not turn off the judgment in her brain. She found it hard, especially in her exhaustion, to be truly loving all of the time.
That night, she fell into a restless slumber, and she dreamed about a man. She didn’t recognize him, but she knew she knew him, with that certainty that comes in dreams.
He reached out his hand for hers, and they walked. His peaceful nature was a balm to her soul. She trusted him immediately, and as they walked, she began to tell him about her exhaustion, about her frustration, about how she tried and tried and tried to be a good person, but it never seemed enough. How she wanted to be close to God, to be “right” with God, but she was failing.
He listened as she poured it all out, the good and the bad, the wheat and the chaff, her hopes and her disappointments. And then, when she was all done, they walked along in silence – with her hand still in his comforting one.
She felt his peace; she felt his love; and then she heard him say. “You already belong to God. You do not need to work at it. You simply need to receive it. God loves you unconditionally. You don’t have to carry that load around any longer. Give it to me and be free.”
In that moment, she was stunned to discover that the burden she was carrying wasn’t attached to her back, she had been voluntarily pulling it along.
She hesitated. Could she really give it to the man?
She wanted to be free of constantly trying to prove she was a decent, lovable, good person. She wanted to get off the incessant hamster wheel of counting her good deeds and bad.
She wanted to be free, but she was also afraid. How would she know where she stood? How would she know the score?
The man watched the conflict play across her face and seemed to hear the unspoken questions in her mind.
And he said, “Don’t be afraid. God loves you. God doesn’t keep score. Give your burdens to me and be free.”
So she did, and she was. It wasn’t like magic. She didn’t say any special words and discover that all of her judgmental thoughts were gone. She was still human after all, with all of the flaws that come with being human.
What did happen was that whenever she had a judgmental thought, she remembered that God loved her unconditionally and she released her “not niceness” to God.
What did happen was that moment by moment, day by day, she was transformed, filled more and more with Christ’s love. And she felt new. Like she had gotten a do-over on life, like she had died and been reborn, with a totally fresh start.
This is the life that Jesus Christ calls us to. To give our burdens to God, whether we are feeling like an uppity teacher of the law or an unworthy tax collector.
To stop working so hard to earn God’s love and simply receive it, soaking it up and soaking it in, until God’s love fills every space in our bodies, and we are reborn, transformed, made new.
God loves you. Unconditionally. Give everything to Jesus and be free.