i have been under the weather, so i am late in posting this week. i have been much in thought about the sermon our minister preached last sunday, based on the first part of the first chapter of galatians. the gist of her sermon was that nothing must be added to the gospel as interpreted by st. paul, even if what is added is something good. among the "good" things she enumerated were care for the environment, concern for the poor, and work to end income inequality, in short, the so-called social gospel. i found her sermon disturbing, because these things flow from a reasonable reading of the gospel. later in the book of galatians (galatians 5:14), paul says, "for the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' ” if we conduct ourselves in love for our neighbors, we act in ways that show compassion for others, we act in ways that move the world toward justice, peace, and mutual respect.
still later in his letter (galatians 5:22-23), paul enumerates the "fruits of the spirit:" love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control and he urges the christians in galatia to "not become weary in doing good (galatians 6:9). it would seem to me that if those fruits that paul lists and the urge to do good to and for others doesn't flow from the gospel, the gospel is not "good news" at all. our minister's point was that the essence of the gospel was the death and resurrection of jesus, but i would argue that the gospel is the whole of jesus' teaching, not the end of his time spent on earth, that what is important is jesus' life.
throughout galatians, paul urges his readers to celebrate their freedom from rules and regulations, to enjoy life because of their faith rather than finding life a tedium of prescribed rituals and limitations. he cautioned them against dividing into factions, and i fear that is what is happening in our congregation and in so many other congregations in our country. we are limiting our freedom by saying "if you don't believe as i do, you are not a true christian." we are unwilling to consider that there may be other perspectives that our own, that no one has a monopoly on truth, that it is possible for two opposite points-of-view to contain elements that are valid. we are becoming increasingly intolerant and placing orthodoxy above the gospel we purport to follow.
it is by reducing the gospel to one narrow set of propositions that we pervert what jesus taught and what paul warns about in galations. may we be open to the truth where we find it. may we use our minds to seek what is reasonable rather than accepting unreasonable orthodoxy. may we be followers of the good even when that good is dangerous, recognizing the innate goodness of others even when they fail to share our beliefs. shalom.