Sermon for Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 5, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Galatians 1:11-24
Sermon Theme: “Impossible to Change? Not with God”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; original ideas and examples; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; The Parables of Peanuts by Robert L. Short; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 26, Part 3, Series C; Online ‘How Things Change,’ Online jokes; Online Peanuts Quotes)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not too long ago, the Dollar General Store in East Bernard changed the way you put your Master Card into the slot. Now, every time I use my card there, I do it wrong. The last time I did it wrong, I told the checker, “I’m sorry. Can you show me again? When you get old, it’s hard to change.”
“What you’re saying,” she replied, “is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
As I left the store, I thought to myself, ‘Well, that’s not always true, is it? I used to use a typewriter, but now I’ve learned to use a computer, a change making my work a lot easier.’ However, it did take a lot of getting used to.
In the old days, a keyboard was a piano, memory was something that you lost with age, a CD was a bank account, a “cursor” used profanity, “log on” was adding wood to the fire, “hard drive” was a long trip on the road, “a mouse pad” was where a mouse lived, “a backup” happened to your commode, “a web” was a spider’s home, and a “virus” was the flu. That called for change in my thinking.
Charlie Brown had issues with change. In a Peanuts strip, Charlie says to Lucy, “Next year I’m going to be a changed person.”
“That’s a laugh, Charlie Brown,” replies Lucy.
“I mean it,” insists Charlie, “I’m going to be strong and firm!”
“Forget it . . . you’ll always be wishy-washy!
As Lucy walks away, Charlie says, “Why can’t I change just a little bit?” Then he shouts to Lucy, “I’ll be wishy one day, and washy the next!”
Today’s sermon text from Paul’s letter to the Galatians is about change. Big-time change! Impossible to change? Not with God! Not only can God change you, but in an instant, and in an astounding way! Or He can change you gradually, little by little, over the years.
I think everyone would agree that Saul’s change from Saul to Paul is the most astonishing change in the Bible, one that changed the course of the Christian movement.
Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, was a well-educated Pharisee who was fluent in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, and even though he studied under Gamaliel ( ______ at Jerusalem, he became a fanatic Pharisee who aided those who stoned Stephen to death. Because of his extreme efforts to stop the spread of the Way (as the early Christian movement was called), he became a leader of those who persecuted Christians.
Being greatly admired by the High Priest in Jerusalem, he was sent out with endorsements to search for Christians in Damascus (the capital of Syria) and bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem. There was no greater persecutor of Christians among the Jews than Paul, then named Saul.
And look at what God does! Enough is enough! So while Paul is on the way to Damascus, on the sandy, sun-baked road to Damascus, God slams him with a blinding light that knocks him to the ground. This was a staggering physical, mental, moral, and spiritual experience for Saul whose name now becomes Paul. Not everybody’s conversion is as spectacular as Paul’s.
God does indeed work in strange and mysterious ways, doesn’t He? Up until this point, the Way is being led by Peter, James, and the other disciples of Jesus who were personal friends, who knew the Lord intimately, and who had worked closely with Him while He was still here on the earth. To add to that leadership, a man who was the main enemy of Christianity, — only God would be capable of doing that!
According to the Book of Acts, when Paul was getting involved in these vicious persecutions of Christians, he was going through some serious inner conflicts, — no doubt the workings of the Holy Spirit on him, as well as the teachings of Gamaliel ( ) in tug-of-war with the indoctrination of radical Pharisaic extremism. Just as all Muslims are not jihadists who kill Christians, not only Pharisees were extremist who killed Christians.
I wonder if Paul wasn’t feeling a little bit like Charlie Brown in his profound discussion with Linus, when Linus says to Charlie, “I feel kind of depressed today. Do you ever have the feeling that life has passed you by?”
“Worse than that!,” Charlie answers. “Sometimes I think life and I are going in opposite directions.”
No doubt Paul’s mind might have continued to go in opposite directions had God not sent him to Ananias, a very devout man of God, who, through God’s power, healed Paul of his blindness, and said to him, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One [Jesus] and to hear words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.” Although Paul had not been a friend and disciple of Jesus while He was on earth, he will now receive direct revelations from the Lord.
The message of today’s sermon text is threefold: ONE, we all need change; TWO, neither God’s Law nor man’s thoughts and strengths can bring about that change; and THREE, we can be changed by the Gospel of Christ.
First, the need for change. We are all born as enemies of God, thus inclined that way from the moment of conception. We see that in Saul, and we must recognize it in ourselves. Not only were we fully human already in the womb, but we shared the universal human agenda to be our own gods and to oppose anyone who got in our way. We are by nature sinful and unclean, and left to ourselves will continue the descent into sin. In ourselves, we are weak enough to latch on to any philosophy or ideology that comes our way.
Second, we need to change, but our own perverse thoughts and debilitated strength cannot change us; in fact, they cannot even help us see a need to change. As strange as it may seem, not even the Law of God can change us, — it can help us see our need, but it cannot change us. On our own, no matter how hard we try, we cannot truly obey any of God’s Laws. Worldly philosophies will pull us in the opposite direction, and God’s Law without the Gospel of Christ will leave us hanging by a thread above the flames of hell.
Third, the good news is that we can be changed by the Gospel of Christ. Because of his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul went from persecutor to preacher. Through Ananias, Paul was baptized and was redeemed by God, just as in baptism, we went from enemies of God to children of God. What we heard from the Gospel changed us.
We heard that Jesus’ death on the cross is ours! We heard that the forgiveness Jesus earned when He died is ours! We heard that the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb is ours! That changes everything!
According to our text, People marveled and glorified God because of the change in Paul. Paul’s change showed God’s glory by revealing the power of His Word to change hearts. Paul’s mission glorified God as he brought countless new souls to receive God’s gifts and worship Him for eternity.
Likewise, people will marvel and glorify God as He changes us. Our change brings God glory, — when we live and walk with Him.
When I went off to college to become a humanities and fine arts major and listened to man-made philosophies and ideologies, I rejected Christ and my Christian upbringing, and even left the church. It didn’t take long before I realized I needed to change, but I listened to the voices of the Lucys in my life, telling me, “You can’t change, Why should you change, You’re too far gone to change.”
“OK,” I said to myself, “I’ll just be wishy-washy, — like Charlie Brown, wishy one day and washy the next.” But God doesn’t take wishy-washy for an answer. To make a long story short, God intervened, and I went from “Don’t-Want-to-Change,” to “Need-to-Change,” to “Can’t Change,” to “Standing-Here-in-the-Pulpit-Preaching.”
God moves in His own way and on His own timetable. But nothing is impossible with God.
Most of you have undergone that change, and by your redemption you are serving and glorifying God. But today’s message is important for you, because it reassures you that nothing is impossible with God – whether it’s that son of yours who has wandered far from his Godly upbringing, or that brother who is near death and thumbs his nose at God, or your neighbors who think the Gospel is a fairytale, or the leaders of our Nation who lead us into sin! Impossible to change? Not with God. Not with God. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.