“Ascribe to the Lord the Honor due his name; bring offerings and come into his courts." Amen Ps. 96.8
Good morning and welcome to this glorious preamble of hot summer Sundays in New England. I want to welcome anyone who might be visiting today, and especial Lynd Matt who is with us from The Episcopal Diocese and who will be helping to give out pledge cards for the Together/Now offering to come in just a few minutes.
First though, a few reflections on this morning’s lessons.
One of the things I dislike about human life is the experience of broken relationships. Broken relationship hurt. We all know of them and we all are probably in various stages of reconciliation (or not) in one or more relationships.
Not only that, as parents and grandparents and children of parents, we usually are dealing with several relationships that put us in different postures. Sometimes we are the wise parents, sometime we are being accused of being foolish parents.
Sometimes we are grandparents who know how to listen and sometimes we are overflowing with advice. Sometimes we are parents who are stumbling to teach their children values that go the distance; all the while, wrestling with our own brokenness at work or at home.
Sometimes we are children confused by the above!
Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians is struggling in his own relationships. He’s struggling with the Galatians, with the Jewish followers in Jerusalem, and with the Gentiles he’s converting. Paul admits to being a human being who is wrestling with being a servant of the Good News of God, on the one hand, and the temptation to be a “people pleaser,” on the other hand.
In verse 10, Paul exclaims: “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
“If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Somehow we have heard this message before, but from a different human being; from the One we call Messiah. Jesus, too, struggled in the desert with the reality of worshipping God only. God, not mammon, not other human brings, not family, not friendship, not good works.
I have a tendency to be a people pleaser. I have always been tempted to choose the path of least resistance which, at times, seemed like the people pleasing path. And then something happened.
In 1974, just after my first child was born and I was part of a post-Vatican II Catholic Charismatic Prayer Group, I had an experience of being grasped by God; of being taken over by the Holy Spirit in a way that changed my allegiances forever.
The best way I can describe this experience is to recall science class and the iron filings and the magnet, One minute the iron filings are going here and there and the next minute, they are completely oriented to the direction and pull of the magnet.
While I was amazed and thrilled by this new sense of direction, it has taken many years to realize just how strong that magnet called God’s Love really is. Being a people pleaser by nature often put me at odds with the God of my conversion. Often, like Paul, I struggled with whose approval I wanted- was it human approval or God’s approval?
And then Paul’s haunting self disclosure: “If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Our lessons today have themes of authority and faith running through them.
Whether it is Paul or the Centurion in his encounter with Jesus, both men had come to a point in their lives where they were absolutely clear about who Christ is, who the one authority is, and the dividing line between living the life of God or being cast hither and yon by this person or that person, this gospel or that gospel.
Wendy Farley, in her commentary of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, writes:
“The Gospel is the unbearably good news that divine love anticipates us, surrounds us, precedes us; anything that serves as an obstacle to our awareness of this love is ‘accursed.”
As the disciples would say to Jesus, “That’s a hard saying!” “Anything that serves as an obstacle to our awareness…of this love…is an accursed.” For any of us who are prone to be people pleasers, pleasing people can become an obstacle to our awareness of Divine love.
“Christians lived outside of the claims of empire, loyal and devoted to a completely different logic and power. The…shadow side of this love is that no authority, practice, or social hierarchy deserves our deepest loyalty.”
And there you have it. The ultimate message of Biblical theology: whether we like it or not, it all comes down to monotheism. There is but One God who created us and when we are called into a relationship with this one God we find ourselves operating in a spiritual system of “completely different logic and power.”
In a few minutes, we will all be faced with a decision: to pledge or not to pledge to the Diocesan Together/Now Campaign. The decision, really, is a spiritual one. It’s about who to please: The Diocese or God who surrounds us and precedes us?
We come to Church to set ourselves and our relationships right before God. We come to offer whatever we have, even if on any one day that is simply our stuckedness, or our resistance, or our joy.
No matter how illogical it seems to us, it is our gesture of offering that pleases God so much.
We come this morning to be set aright; to be re-ordered by God’s Word, God’s Sacraments, in fellowship with one another.
For those of us who are people pleasers, we come to exchange our desire for harmony with others for harmony with our God.
Our spiritual task this morning is to be aware of God’s love for us. If we can achieve this, then giving will be easy and not “accursed.”
To quote Farley one last time, “The great conversion of faith is to let this love live in us.”
As irrational, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar this new spiritual awakening may be, we are exactly like those iron filings sitting on a table top minding their own business until they are all pulled into a new allegiance that knows only one direction: “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; On God and Father of all.” (BCP. p299)