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The World or the Cross?
(From the Epistle, Galatians vi.11ff, Trinity XV)

Paul, throughout Galatians, has been warning believers not to take the easy road of mixing their faith in Christ with influences that will ultimately destroy their faith, if they persist.

The way of the Cross is not an easy one, if we stick to it without willingness to accept any of the “wine mingled with gall” that the world hurries to offer us to reduce the pain of its experience. When bearing the name of “Christian” costs us nothing, we can be sure that something vital is missing from our faith.

Paul opposed Galatian teachers who were trying to bring elements of the Jewish religion into Christian practice. They were advocating circumcision, for instance, for the Galatian Gentiles. Had these believers agreed to be circumcised, there would have been real, immediate advantages: acceptance from the Jewish community who would have tolerated the Christian aspects of their faith, perhaps, as long as the Law was preeminent.

Additionally, collision with the unbelieving Gentile world might have been avoided as well, since the incisive elements of Christian teaching --repentance, repudiation of idols, complete transformation, renunciation of all things worldly-- would have been absent from an easy form of believing in Christ that permitted conformity to all sorts of things that conversion, by its nature, would leave completely behind.

On the other hand, real disadvantages are the consequence of preaching the faith in all its glory and essence: rejection by the world, opprobrium, insult, ostracism, and persecution, none of which by any stretch of the imagination are pleasant or something to look forward to.

Those earlier believers were faced with this choice, and so are we, in other forms:

will we accept only as much as we are comfortable with when it comes to claiming the title“Christian”,

or will we bear the Cross, with all that that means?

Will we stay well within the realm of the manageable, the easy, the predictable, requiring very little of ourselves for Christ,

or will we join our Lord in His suffering, accepting that the only way that we can lead the world to salvation is to get away from it enough so that it can perceive us as something different, looking to us for standards, for hope that there really is something of eternal, enduring value left for them to follow?

Paul notes two purposes for the Judaizers who are trying to subvert the Galatians' faith: they are trying “to make a fair show in [lit. “put a good face on”] the flesh”, and also trying to avoid persecution. They wanted to “put a good face” on Christianity-- make it appealing to a public which might have cause to turn away at some of the more unseemly aspects of the faith.

Sound familiar? Anything to look good. Don't emphasize anything unattractive --like sin, its real nature, and consequence-- and the awful, dreadful price that the Son of God had to pay to cancel it. Don't speak too much about the cost of discipleship, of self-sacrifice, of charity, of self-denial, of renouncing what is past in order to gain the riches of Christ.

No, rather, present the faith in the most manageable of terms, minimizing or eliminating the demands, making entry into it as painless as possible, assuring potential converts that they can have “all this and Heaven, too”, giving folks just enough of the medicine of God's love that they can feel forgiven, maybe even wax a little self-righteous and count themselves a cut or two above their peers; in short, preach a gospel that is really a false one that proclaims that repentance and conversion are not necessary to claim the name of Christ ...just a little convenient adjustment, at most: church attendance and Christian duty on ones own terms, according to ones own schedule, with nary a twinge of conscience necessary!

This is a deceptive message that tries to put on a good face by displaying outward signs of religious belief on a big billboard for all the world to admire, but turns totally away from God whose priorities and expectations are completely, utterly different.

But Paul says, “No! God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ...”

What is implied in “the Cross”? Why, tears, suffering, blood, pain, rejection, and death, and everything in between. What else? Self-sacrifice, self-denial, patient service, humility, deferral of self-gratification, preoccupation with the welfare of others instead of self, trust and faith in God in spite of every circumstance seeming to speak against them, a determined gaze fixed firmly on eternal things and not on any of the host of other things that fills this world.

It is in such things alone that Paul intends to glory.

And what else, regarding the Cross?

Paul says that by the Cross “the world has been crucified to him, and he to the world”. What does this mean? This means that all that is in the world and of the world, from its best to its worst, its highest to its lowest, its noblest to its most wretched, from the splendor and grandeur of its greatest institutions with their legions of accomplishments and honors, with names, titles, positions, and appointments of the highest order, all the way down to the winding lanes and darkened streets of its dangerous, vice-ridden lower reaches, all that is of the world, has been thoroughly separated from Paul. The world's ability to master him, to influence him, to call him to its service, to make claims upon him, to own him, has been permanently annulled by the power of the Cross.

And Paul has been set free thereby to serve God unencumbered. Such is a world that is “crucified to Paul”.

And what of Paul “crucified to the world”? A crucified man is a dead man. If you prod a dead body, lift an arm, speak to it, nothing happens. This is Paul, who has “died with Christ” on the Cross. When the world, with all its persuasion and power and influence come to Paul, crying for response and allegiance, it gets nothing... not a peep, not a whimper.

And now, what of us? Does the crucified life characterize us? Are we claiming to be partly dead and partly alive --dead with Christ as we put on the name “Christian”, but alive to a lot of what the world offers to compromise our faith, put us to sleep, and render us ineffective?

How do I react if I begin to taste even the tiniest flavor of persecution or exclusion or rejection for my beliefs? Can I in good conscience say that I've given everything for my faith? I hope so.

Paul's commitment to the Lord was certified for all the world to see --not by an outward display of religious dressing-- but by the very scars he bore in his body. What is the Greek word for those scars, or “marks”, as our text puts it? Why, “stigma”? Where have we seen that word before. Stigma. The stigma of Christ. Are we willing to be thus stigmatized?

May our own lives also be certified for all to see by the choices we make and the way we live. God grant it --I assure you, they will make no mistake about what we are and what we believe.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Ed Kalish, Deacon

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