Pentecost 4, 2016, Bunker Hill, Galatians 2:19-21, 3:13
2:20, I have been crucified with Christ…the Life I now live in the flesh I live by faith. 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law becoming a curse for us.
Every Friday my mother got out a big pan, sifted cupful’s of flour into it, added water, mixed it all together and at some point added Fleischmann’s yeast. That small bit of yeast kneaded into the flour mixture would cause the dough to expand. When baked it resulted in enough loaves of bread to feed our family for a week. It is true that as Paul wrote to the Corinthians “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (I Cor. 5:6)
But in that case, Paul was writing of yeast in a negative way. Paul was pointing out something that was working its way among God’s people in a secret, silent way corrupting relationships with God and with one’s fellow believers. In his letter to the Galatians Paul relates a time when a yeast named, not Fleischmann’s, but the yeast of fear and disruption was spreading among the Christians in Antioch. The yeast of fear had been added to the batch of believers by none other than Peter. Yes, Peter, whom Jesus had named as the rock, the foundation of the church. However, the Rock had crumbled. The yeast of fear was overwhelming the yeast of faith in Jesus Christ who, through the cross, had cleared everything out the way which might hinder our salvation from sin, death and the devil. Through their trust in Jesus Christ the congregation was growing in numbers and strength of faith in God’s grace especially among the non-Jews. Faith in the good news of Jesus meant that no longer did you have to work your head off in a fruitless effort to try to get yourself in the clear of God’s judgment against your sin. Jesus Christ had done it all. So that we might with confidence draw near to our God and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need. In Christ, we receive only grace upon grace. That we may boldly pray, “Our Father in heaven forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
Peter knew that. Previously in a vision God had shown him that all people whether Jew or Gentile, African or Oriental, no longer had to observe dietary rules in which a person could order somethings on the menu were verbotten, because God had said so. At first Peter was taken aback, as many of would have been. He said, “Oh, no Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.” The voice said, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.” With that God-given insight in mind, Peter almost exploded with his good news, “God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from…the door is open to everyone.” That is in perfect agreement with what Paul later wrote to the Galatians: “In Christ’s family there can be no division, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.” That’s worth thinking about when differences among us threaten to divide God’s people. Christ has done away with all that. That yeast is dead and deserves only to be thrown into the garbage, not revived and allowed to work its corrupting influence. It’s been replaced by the yeast of faith powered by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So how did Peter get off on the wrong path? How did he get out of step with the Gospel? How did he allow fear to overcome faith? What led Peter to go to the cross and drag those things out which Jesus had carried there and set them up in the path of Christ’s people and take them on a detour down the wrong road?
Here’s what happened. Some people had come from Jerusalem from James, Jesus brother, down north to Antioch. When they showed up, Peter began to draw back from the Gentiles. We don’t quite know why. As we saw in the courtyard during Jesus trial, some years before, Peter did like to please people which during Jesus trial, led him to the embarrassing denial of Jesus. Maybe Peter thought that the folks from Jerusalem would be displeased with the way he associated with everyone, like being a Jew wasn’t special anymore. Before that everyone, Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles were sharing in a community fellowship meal. Nobody cared who ate what, and Peter joined in too. He put kosher Lamb and pulled pork together on his plate. But now his change of behavior, his withdrawal from the Gentiles, his backsliding in regard to the Gospel, this corrupting yeast was spreading throughout the whole congregation. The Jewish Christian starting play acting like Peter. That’s what hypocrisy is, play acting. When this occurs in a congregation it’s effects are corrosive. When Paul saw it he was livid He was mightily upset. Because Peter’s conduct was out of step with the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ who came to seek and save all who were lost, as we heard it in the Gospel lesson this morning. Peter was leading the people off the Gospel road and the people, suddenly confused and doubtful about their faith were following him.
In response to what the behavior he witnessed Paul makes one of the best known statements in the scriptures. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. I died to the law so that I might live to God.” Consider the Old Testament reading. David had been guilty of coveting another man’s wife, stealing her, committing adultery and planning her husband’s murder. That’s pretty serious stuff. He needed someone to tell him that God was not pleased and god chose the prophet Nathan to be that someone. When confronted, David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” As long as David tried to get away with his heinous crimes, God would hold him responsible. But once God forgave him, he was dead to those sins. God cleared all out of the way. He was clear of God’s judgement. When Jesus was crucified, there was David on the cross with him, even as you and I were there. That gives new meaning to the hymn which asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord.” “Yes I was there right on the cross with my Lord. In the Gospel lesson a woman, a sinner from the city broke in on Simon the Pharisees dinner party. Weeping she washed Jesus feet with her tears. Even though she committed a social faux pas and she a sinner touched Jesus thus making him unclean, Jesus forgave her sins. Her past life was dead to her. When Jesus was crucified, she was on the cross with him. However, Simon, was willing to place his life up against anyone else’s life, not only that of the woman but of Jesus as well. He was willing to stand before God on the basis of his life. He didn’t need Jesus and his cross. On the last day when Jesus returns as judge, he was willing to face God’s question, “What about this woman? How do you square your attitude and treatment of her with my command to love your neighbor as yourself? And what about the way you treated my son, Jesus? How do you square that with my commandment that you should love the Lord your God with your total being?” He was invited to be crucified with Jesus, but said, “No thanks, I’m good, just the way I am.”
What about you and me? Are we willing to allow the yeast of faith to grow and expand in our lives that we might put away the yeast of fear and say, “Thank you Lord for inviting me to be crucified with you? Thank you Jesus for becoming a curse for all the cursed things I’ve done in thought, word and deed against you and my fellow members of God’s congregation?” May we hear Jesus say to us as he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
God grant it for Jesus sake.