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6th Sunday after Pentecost

In the name of the Father who raised Jesus from the dead, and of the Son who gave Himself for our sins, and of the Holy Spirit who worked that miracle of faith in our hearts, dear friends in Christ: So where do you begin?  Where do you start?  What do you tackle first?  Have you ever asked questions like those?  Well, perhaps you’ve spoken words similar to that when you meet a friend or relative whom you haven’t seen in years- so much has changed; where do you begin?  Or perhaps you’ve thought those questions when you sit down to start a new endeavor or work on a large project- so much new information, where do you start?  Well as you might have guessed those questions also run through a young man’s mind and heart when he first becomes a pastor : ).  But thank the Lord that in spiritual matters, in eternal matters, in matters that matter the most, God’s given us the place to always begin and end.  The Word of God for our consideration this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the Galatians chapter 1.  (read text)

You see Paul first wrote the letter of Galatians to a group of Christians who were struggling.  They were being misled into believing that a.) Paul was not an apostle sent by Christ and b.) that you needed Jesus PLUS something that YOU have to do in order to be saved.  Paul certainly had a big task on his hands.  Perhaps he even asked, “Where do I begin?”  But these are the words which Holy Spirit inspired him to begin with.  “Paul, an apostle- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.“  The apostle Paul did not come up with a message on his own; rather, he was sent by God Himself.  So, if God wanted the people of Galatia to listen to God’s Words given through Paul, well then certainly today also God wants us to listen to the words He’s given through Paul as well.

Paul follows the basic set up of letters written in his day, first the sender is listed, “Paul…and all the brothers with me.”  Paul makes it clear that his ministry is a collective one; it includes more than just him.  After listing the sender the custom was to list the recipients of the letter, “to the churches in Galatia.”  God’s message is to churches, literally the word for “church” in the Greek means “those called out.”  The people in Galatia were “called out,” called out both from following their own sinful flesh and called out from following the sinful ways of the world they lived in.  And that’s also what St. Mark’s is, a group of believers who are special in God’s sight, who have been “called out” from the darkness of sin, from the darkness of the sinful ways of this present world and called into the light of truth.

And finally Paul gets to the greeting of his letter: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” Wow! What a beginning!  What a way to begin a message from God!  Grace- a favorite word of the NT which describes the love of God that we can’t earn and certainly don’t deserve but God freely gives it to us in abundance anyway, grace- the love that begins in the very heart of God and flows to His people.  Peace- a favorite of the OT (Shalom) which describes that condition or state that God established through Christ, peace- that state we are in right now whether we realize it or not, it’s our current relationship with God from which flows our realization of that peace, the rest, satisfaction, and joy that are ours because we are at peace with God, everything is just right between you and your God.

And why are grace and peace ours?  Because He “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  There was a price that needed to be paid.  Jesus paid that price by giving Himself for our sins.  And He did that to rescue us from this evil age, he plucked us from imminent death.  Maybe think of it kind of like an infant baby left in a burning house, helpless on his or her own, but is rescued by a fireman who carries that baby to safety.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection saved us from this present evil age.  You see, God has rescued you from a life that will one day end into a life that will never end.  If God hadn’t rescued us, then we would have no eternity in heaven to look forward to, no confidence in a life after death.  But, as God’s child the end of your life here on earth is simply the entrance into life eternal in heaven.  You and I are part of something eternal, not part of something that will one day pass away!  And this is all what God wanted from eternity!

But is that really how we live?    Do we live as ones who have been rescued from this present evil age, this temporary existence?  Is it always clear from our lives, our attitudes, our speech, that we are part of God’s eternal kingdom?  Is the way we spend our time a reflection of how we’ve been rescued from this present evil age?  I think it wouldn’t take any of us too long examining our own lives until we have to admit that there have been many times when we’ve failed to live as who we are, members of eternal life.  In fact there may be so many times that we must ask the question: Where do we begin?  Where do we start?

But it’s so easy isn’t it?  It’s so easy to lose our eternal focus on life, isn’t it?  I mean there are so many things pulling our attention to the here and now and causing us to forget the reality, the reality that this temporary existence isn’t the be all and end all of life.  I’ve got this event to go to, or this project to work on, or that t.v. show to watch, or _____________.  And before we know it we can’t remember how long it’s been since we let our Lord speak to us through His Word about the most important stuff, the spiritual stuff, the eternal stuff.  And you know the consequences as well as I do, soon we’re also riding the up and down waves of this changing world.  Thrilled and happy when the stock market goes up and devastated and bitter when the economy slumps, happy and kind to our spouse when he or she did something for ME, but angry and upset when he or she doesn’t want to do things MY way.  So do we really live as ones rescued from this present evil age?  Where do we begin?  Where do we start?

And the sad fact is that we know the danger.  When we don’t live as God’s citizens of eternal life we try to make ourselves part of the present evil age.  And it doesn’t make any sense, it’s like the baby kicking and screaming at the fireman and trying to get back into the burning house.  It doesn’t make any sense!  So where do we begin?  Where do we start?

God has the answer.  He gives us the answer in His Word.  Where do we start?  Where do we begin?  Right where He started: God so loved the world that He wanted to send His Son Jesus to live a perfect life in the place of every single sinful person and to suffer and die on a cross as the full and complete payment for all sins of all time, yours and mine included.  Then on Easter morning He proved His victory over sin, death, and the devil when He rose from the dead- and His victory is also your victory.  That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is grace!  And that incomprehensible grace is what gives you peace throughout this life and into your life in heaven!

Paul spoke these words of grace and peace to some of the first Christian churches.  Almost 2,000 years later these words are still being spoken and they are being spoken right here at St. Mark’s in Bemidji, MN.  Yes, many things change over time, even pastorates change, but one thing will never change and that’s God’s Word, God’s love letter to you, God’s message of grace and peace to you!  So where do we begin?  This is how we always begin all endeavors in Jesus’ name: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  Amen.