Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to
you in the name of God the Father, Son (X)
and Holy Spirit. Amen.
wonder about life’s meaning. Is it significant or just a jumble of
random bits? This is no esoteric matter. Burt Bacharach even addresses
this in his popular song, What’s
It All About, Alfie? (1966) – as did the 2004 movie based on it
starring Jude Law.
Now down through the ages a larger number than you
might think has lifted their voices to say that life’s actually of no
value. In ancient
among these Sophists was Protagoras of Abdera (490-420 BC). He spun webs of confusion and deceit to trick
people and delight himself in their gullibility – since there was no
meaningful existence anyway. These ploys were called sophistry. Plato
– that famous lover of truth – finally took on Protagoras, saying he
should stop “running before the wind, launching out on a sea of words
till he is out of sight of land” (Protagoras,
this sophistry didn’t end with Protagoras but went on to breed much
offspring. Toward the end of Samuel Beckett’s highly acclaimed play, Waiting
For Godot (1949), we hear: “Time flows again already. The sun will
set, and the moon rise, and we away… from here.” This same sort of
meaningless flatness crops up in Bret Easton Ellis’ 1985 nihilistic
novel, Less Than Zero, where we read: “People are afraid to merge. To
merge” (p. 183). So from Protagoras to Beckett to Ellis – with many
more in between – we hear voices saying that life doesn’t add up to
Against these voices Galatians 6:7 thunders with
absolute certainty. Here
So in Galatians 6:7 we have no mechanistic or impersonal karma from the philosophies of the ancient East – which many today
Being Like Gideon, Jerubba’al of Old
Like Gideon of old,
living finger never wrote
life should be an aimless mote,
death-ward drift from futile birth.
Word meant life triumphant hurled
splendor through your broken world;
light awoke and life began,
made for us a holy plan.
But even so we still cave in left and right. In Psalm 94:4-11 we learn about this. So it’s an old problem. There we read:
The evildoers crush your people, O Lord,…. and they say, “The Lord does not see”…. Understand, O dullest of the people! [רעבּ]... He who formed the eye, does he not see?.... The Lord who teaches you knowledge, he knows your thoughts…
In this passage we learn how silly our doubts are. We might be able to fool people into thinking we’re better than we are. But we can’t fool God. He who made our eyes, we’re told, surely can keep an eye on us. Nothing passes his notice. And he who made it possible for us to learn about life, surely he knows what we’re up to.
So don’t be dull. The Hebrew word here for dull is רעבּ or ba‛ar. It comes from the word “to graze,” like beasts of burden eating out in the fields. Psalm 73:22 translates this word that way, saying: “I was stupid and ignorant, I was like a beast toward you, O God.” So don’t be beastly and dull. Open your eyes to God’s constant surveillance. Don’t pretend that you’re covered over and safely hidden from his penetrating, omniscient eye. Remember Matthew 10:29 which tells us that not even the tiniest of sparrows falls to the ground without our heavenly Father willing and knowing it. So don’t be dull. God is not mocked. His challenges to you matter. And what you do counts. So quit living in a fog.
And yet we still resist.
We act as though God isn’t watching over us. We act as though he
doesn’t know who we are. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) exposed these
mistakes some 150 years ago in
it is an imperfection in earthly life that basically a person cannot…
thoroughly make himself understandable to others; [but] on closer
inspection one will surely be convinced that it is a perfection, since
it suggests that every individual is religiously structured and is to
strive to understand himself in confidentiality with God. Most people
probably do not notice either this imperfection or that it is a
perfection” [Kierkegaard’s Writings, 24:92].
Now Kierkegaard is right that we can hide from one another, for only God can see into our hearts and know what we’re really thinking (1 Samuel 16:7). But it’s also the case, as he says, that when we want to open up to a loved one we can’t even do that. And so Kierkegaard then goes on to make his most daring point. He says this isn’t a weakness on our part as we often suppose. But rather it is our strength. It’s even a perfection. For this inability means that we are “religiously structured” so that only God can know us as we are. This means we belong to him and that all we do and are is perfectly well known to him.
So do not be deceived, O dull ones [רעבּ]. All of us are connected intimately to God by virtue of him creating us (Psalm 139:1-16). So you can’t hide from him. This connection by way of creation will not save us from our sins, mind you. But it does explain why we can’t run away from God and his knowledge of us. That, by the way, is also the stirring message of Jonah 1:3-4.
Don’t Let Delays Trip You Up
And yet we still balk, as we stand before the warning in Galatians 6:7. This finally might most of all be due to the delays we see. For we frankly don’t see the wicked being cursed right on the heels of their wicked deeds, nor do we see the righteous being blessed the moment they obey. Maybe because of these delays – more than anything else – we don’t believe. So we suppose that blessing and punishment will never come if they don’t come right away.
Against these misgivings Luther tells a story in his Genesis commentary on Joseph. A robber was stealing a traveler’s cloak. “When the latter cried out that account would have to be rendered by the robber for his wrong at the Last Judgment, the robber replied: ‘Oh, if the time of vengeance is so far away, I grant myself your shirt too!’ This is how things go,” Luther concludes, “when the executioner is not at hand with his rope and sword” (Luther’s Works 7:83).
Luther explains further why God delays so. “God,” he writes, “does not let punishment follow immediately on the heels of sin but lets people go on long enough and restrains Himself to see if they will reform. However, in the end and when least expected He comes with real terror,…. [when the time] is ripe for punishment…. In the end… no one goes unpunished” (LW 28:159-160).
in That Moral
So heed God’s warning in Galatians 6:7. What you do matters. God rewards righteousness and punishes disobedience. God controls the moral nexus in the universe, and he will see to it that blessings and punishments are handed out. As Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) put it, “truth pressed to earth will rise again,” for although “the arm of the moral universe is long,… it bends toward justice” [A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. J. M. Washington (1986) p. 230]. Don’t you therefore become dismayed by the delays. Instead, be patient. “In silence,” wait for the Lord to act (Psalm 62:1-8). Trust in the Lord and do your work and wait for God to settle all accounts. Leave the outcome to him and his wrath and mercy (Romans 11:22).
Know full well what Luther knew, “that the impatient man is not yet a Christian” (LW 25:290). Know also that “Christians fight most effectively when they fight least,” and so it’s true that “everything would turn out alright, if you could only wait” (LW 16:90, 261). So jumping the gun, pushing the envelop, will only hurt you.
Boast Only in Christ Jesus
But don’t boast in any of your thoughts or deeds. Even though they matter, they’re not to be exalted in. Now why is this? Shouldn’t credit go where credit’s due?
Yes, indeed, but that’s just the problem. Who actually deserves the credit? In Philippians 2:12 we’re told to “work out” our own salvation in “fear and trembling.” That’s what we have been preaching by saying that what we feel and think, say and do, really matters to God. But the next verse explains why we are to work so diligently. “For God is at work in you,” it says, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Now that makes it sound like all the credit goes to God (1 Corinthians 3:7, 10:31). He is the one at work in us. He’s the one bringing us around. So by all means, do your work. Heed the Lord. But know to whom the glory goes.
Christ For Us
So 1 Peter 3:18 says that “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” This death enables us to work out our own salvation. Christ lifts the guilt that we have for the sins we have committed. He bears our shame in his own body. He is punished in our place. When we believe in this, new life is ours. No longer do we have to try to make God love us. Now all we have to do is receive the righteousness of Christ whereby God becomes a blessing to us. The curse and condemnation have ended (Galatians 3:13). So in Christ we have “the righteous for the unrighteous.” The Old Latin Bible translates it, iustus pro iniustis. They’re that close together: iustus for iniustis.
Without Jesus doing this for us all our work would be for nothing (John 15:5). And so we do not ever boast in ourselves. Instead we say with Luther (LW 23:55):
Do not search for God the Father outside or beside Christ, but remain with this person, and thus you will assuredly have the Father also. Do not give way to wild speculations; it is not advisable to discourse on this subject with too much subtlety. The maxim should be: Do not let your thoughts take flight, flutter, and climb. Simply cleave and cling to Christ. It is imperative to remain solely with the Person of Christ. If you have that, you have all; but if you lose that, you have lost all…. Remain with Christ…. Do not stray beyond, even though your eyes do not see and your reason does not comprehend. Look here, my dear man, this cannot be understood by reason; otherwise why should we be asked to believe?
Yes, indeed, remain with Christ. In him we have everything. Without him we have nothing. Without him we have lost all. He is so great. He is so good. To have him is to have everything.
Enemies of the Cross of Christ
Now we lose Christ by speaking against his cross. From the beginning of the church, Christians have spoken out against the cross of Christ, making them “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Don’t be like them! Don’t follow in their footsteps. Look instead to God for help. Call on him to open your mind and soften your heart so that you will boast only in the cross of Christ.
Pundits today are saying that Christ’s death doesn’t save us from the punishments of God. That would be, they say, as stupid as insisting that when a firefighter, for instance, dies to rescue a child from a burning building, he dies “in lieu of” the child dying, since “God wanted somebody dead that day” [Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem (2006) p. 38]. But this of course would only hold if God wasn’t massively offended by our sins, as he in fact is (John 3:36; Romans 1:18). Indeed, God is so offended by our sins that he killed us all but Noah and his family in the great Flood (Genesis 6:5-6, 17). He is so offended that he warns us of everlasting torment in hell if we don’t repent and believe in his dear Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 13:3, 16:26-28).
Christ is Truly Present with Us
So receive him this day. Hear his word and keep (Luke 11:28). And then receive Christ in the Lord’s Supper too. Eat and drink and receive him (Luke 22:7-22). He knows we need a double dose if we are to believe: the Word and the Sacrament. So come and eat and drink at the altar of the Lord this day.
Now I do not know how that works. I do not know how Christ Jesus
is truly present to us in this sacrament. He who rules from heaven as
King of creation (Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Timothy 6:14-16) is also here
with us in
Maxime for the Church
But when you leave this holy house of God today, refreshed by the Word and Sacrament, also be sure to do good works in Jesus’ name as a proof that you truly believe in him (Romans 8:17, 12:2).
For a good work this
day, Galatians 6:10 tells us to work for the good of all, caring
“especially for the family of faith.” So feed the poor and provide
shelter for them, by all means – but never at the expense of the
(printed as preached but with some changes)