This summer I will be focusing the sermons on Paul. Paul is the character of the New Testament responsible for spreading Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Paul is also the character credited with saying things we love in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) and at times cringe at the way he moralizes life (1 Corinthians 11:3). Paul is the character our faith community has identified with. It is my hope to take this summer to dig into the life of Paul, that we might see the pieces that carry into our own life, learn about his life, and how Christianity impacted the world in his time. In searching Paul I believe we will find some of the reasons we choose this Christian walk, and at the same time learn how we want to speak of our faith to the world.
Paul’s story should always be taken in context of his conversion experience in Acts 9:1-19.
For Paul this story would be the guiding experience in his life. It was a deep interaction with the love of Christ, a mystical experience that would give him the enthusiasm to carry Christ’s message throughout the Roman Empire. This experience of God’s love in a vision of the risen Christ was an incredible change for Paul, who was before this called Saul. He moved from seeing Christ followers as the enemy to being one himself. While we know this account of Paul’s experience was written down well after it happened, we can imagine Paul shared this experience throughout his ministry. He was blinded by Christ’s love, taken in by a Christ follower, and went to teach the world that faith with Christ created a vision he believed the world needed to know. Paul truly had a vision that the world could be a better place if people were to know Christ and the message of God’s love revealed in Christ.
Today is Father’s Day, so it seems we can’t forget to mention that today. There is a real challenge in highlighting a whole sermon for fathers in a large congregation. For some people the image of a father brings up challenging things in their lives, of not feeling they have been good fathers, or of having not had a good father. It also is important to bring up because we should recognize what good parenting is, and how it can impact the world. Since this year on Mother’s Day we had so much happening with it being our graduation Sunday, I want to take time to really share with you the idea of how parenting can impact the world and spread the great love that Paul saw in Christ. So today is for both Mother’s and Father’s, but also it is to remind us we are all parents in some way or at some point in our lives to someone.
Now parents are generally considered to be adults. By the very definition when we think of a parent we think of an adult with the responsibility to care for a child. The question is, “When do we become adults?” Our culture defines that as 18 for many things like voting, penalization under the law, or even when you should move out of your parents place. For some it is 21 because for some reason we associate alcohol with adulthood, probably not a great definition. For car rental companies and car insurance companies it is 25, until then you pay more because statistically you are a higher risk. Our culture really doesn’t have clear message of when you become an adult and most of the markers I just listed are strange measures of adulthood.
As I was growing up I always saw adults as people older than me and had more of the answers to life than I did. I especially assumed this when I was in college, because I was responsible for myself, and people older than me had more experience. Except I continually found myself working with people older than me, that really weren’t always that experienced in what they were doing. I began to notice that they made mistakes that many of my peers saw coming, and that in reality they were no more adult than some of my peers. The picture of an adult being just someone older than myself began to unravel. I began to realize that adults were just people doing the best they could, with what they had. Just like all of the youth, children and kids I had known.
Throughout college and even until recently I don’t really ever think I walked around considering myself an adult either. That was until the other day. I was riding in the car with Corinne, my 3 year old. She said, “Daddy, are you an adult?” I replied, “I don’t know am I?” She said, “Yes, you an adult, grandma is an adult, mommy is an adult, papa is an adult.” I realized that she was naming off all the people who care for her, love her and help her grow. I was on that list. I was an adult. She was identifying a select group of people as adults. I thought about her list, all people I know well and realized that I know these people never have all the answers to life. Especially me, I know for sure that I don’t have all the answers. And yet, in that moment a 3 year old identified that I was her adult, a trusted person with answers.
Well I have been thinking to myself about this for a few weeks now. The thing that keeps popping up in my head is this, “If I am an adult…why does it feel like I am still playing house?” By that I literally mean it feels like I am still making it up as I go along, this life thing. As I dig deeper into that thought I realized more, we are all still making it up as we go along. We are all people doing the best we can with what we have. We are all children in the playground, but someone thinks we are adults.
The beautiful gift in the 3 year old statement was that I saw we are all someone’s adult. Someone looks up to you for insight into the world. I can guarantee it. Even when we least expect it, someone is calling us an adult, someone thinks we are worth listening to.
And so as we turn back to Paul, we have to remember that he was an adult to many followers of this new way, the new way we now call Christianity. However, as an adult we know he was no expert, but instead a passionate person doing the best he could with the experiences he had. One experience in particular called him to learn and follow Christ and so he shared his passion for this in all he did. Today we hear from his letter to the Galatians:
The Message (MSG)  (Click Here for Scripture).
There is huge debate over sections of Paul’s writings exactly like this one. It is scriptures like this that have caused rifts in the church. His writings are complex and full of advice on how to live out the faith. In this section it is important to take notice of something he mentions several times “faith in Christ” and living like Christ. Scholars debate if the translation of the sections that say “faith in Christ” should say the faith “of” Christ or faith “in” Christ. Do you see the subtle difference? One is living with faith in Christ as the one who has the potential to right our lives. The other is faith of Christ in which we attempt to mimic Christ’s life of servant hood to the people around us. “Faith” in means we focus our energies onto Christ and rest that our lives will be better if we can lift up the image of Christ. “Faith of” means we go live in the world and attempt to change it into something like the vision Christ shared with us.
Because of this scripture we have Jesus worshippers running around converting people and we have Jesus mimickers trying to make everyone be perfect saints of work. And yet I think Paul like a parent meant both things in what he was trying to say. We respect Paul as an adult in this faith, but just like we as adults are doing, he is figuring it out as he goes along too. He is trying to figure out how to share how he understands this faith and the experience of Christ that he had. From this amazing experience he is attempting to delineate a new way to live. A new way of living that we now call faith.
How alike to parenting does this sound? Trying to figure out how to share a way to live with the people you have a responsibility to care for. Paul is simply doing the best he can with his experiences in life, all of it resting on the miraculous experience he had on the road to Damascus. He wants to be sure people know that the image of the world Christ shared is possible, and though none of us are perfect we can begin to work toward it.
Many times it is portrayed in our culture that parents are expected to be some kind of superhero. One mother named Glennon Melton shares this often in her blog momastery.com. Parents are asked to seemingly engage life with their children and enjoy every minute of it. Parenting is exhausting work though, and through all the tantrums, hard work, and struggles we are expected by the world around us to smile. Along with this we are to not have any faults as parents. Glennon proves this wrong just with her life. She started her parenting as a drug addict and realized she would have to make a change. Her turn around came when she realized she had a gift to share with her first child, the gift of showing up on the day they were born. She is not a perfect mom, but none of us are perfect parents. Consistently in her writing you see that parenting is about going out there each day and doing your best with what you have. I encourage you do go read her blog to see how a life can be an adult for so many.
Glennon is an example of a person who recognizes the two things Paul was trying to share.
Doing the best with what you have is what Paul was trying to say too. Paul was saying here are two more skills to do this. These two skills will help you live faithfully.
- Trust that your life is a gift to be shared….faith of Christ.
– By trusting that your life is a gift, you step out in trust that you have something to offer the world.
– By not hiding this away you provide for someone the guidance they may just need, you are an adult.
- Know that grace is what you need to live your life as a gift – faith in Christ.
– Know that mistakes are made by us all, but God’s love says I still love you.
Faith in Christ states that Christ is big enough to take mistakes or misgivings and help to absolve them, so that you might take the next step in life.
Glennon, the blogger I spoke about before, as an addict was told by society she could not be a good mother. To be honest this is an easy opinion to come by and sometimes it is true. However, she found grace big enough to feel she could be a gift in her kids’ lives.
Are you an adult? To someone you are. And living our lives with faith helps the next generation do the same. The song by John Mayer goes, “Father’s be good to your daughters, and daughters will love like you do.” All parenting is this way, and we are all parents. There is a lot of pressure there, but God loves us and believes we each have a gift to be shared. All we have to do is trust that this is true and know that we are loved.
Faith is trusting that our lives are a gift to be shared.  Not that we are perfect creatures that have it all right, but that there is something that we can each work to share of ourselves with the world. That by sharing those gifts we might bring ourselves closer to the vision that Christ shared with us. The question is not, faith “of” or faith “in” for Paul. Rather, can we let the grace of God convince us that we each have something to share as we live our lives? Paul seems to know full well that he is not the only parent of the faith, but that each follower will be looked up to by someone as if they are an adult. Someone out there thinks we are an adult, and let us also be honest, we each find someone else to be an adult in our lives. Sometimes our kids are even our adults. Adults are simply people living faithfully, attempting to share their life as a gift.
 From the Message version. This scripture can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+2%3A15-21&version=MSG
 Scroggs, R. (1977). Paul for a new day. (4th ed.). Fortress Press.