My father was my first grade basketball coach. While this provided additional time for me to be around my childhood hero, it also provided more of an opportunity to be admonished by my father who was somewhat of a disciplinarian. I’m sure many of you fathers and sons can relate…
(This is actually my kindergarten team. I am directly behind my father)
As I continue to reflect on my relationship with him, I am growing more and more aware that much of my early life was driven by my desire to please my dad. He was smart so I wanted to be smart. He was good looking so I wanted to be good looking. He was an athlete so I wanted to be an athlete.
I remember one day at the end of basketball practice he told the team to do the shuttle run. I did not do particularly well at practice that day do so I felt the need to redeem myself. I was going to win that shuttle run even though I knew I wasn’t the fastest player on the team.
Much to my surprise I got off to a quick start and held the lead for most of the run. By the time I made it to the final stretch, I was gassed. I couldn’t maintain the fast start and was overtaken by the point guard in the last few steps.
In a desperate attempt to prevent this from happening, I veered into his running path. We collided and neither of us finished the run. I can’t really remember another time in my life where my father was as upset as he was that day. And to add insult to injury I was disciplined in front of all my teammates.
When I remember that night, I can still feel the lingering feeling of shame in the pit of my stomach. There is not doubt that I wasn’t nearly as concerned about knocking my friend down as I was about disappointing my father. Not only had I failed to be the best athlete on the team, I had also let my dad down in my mindless attempt to be the best.
It wasn’t until many years after my father’s death when I learned that my dad’s love for me didn’t depend on how smart I was or how good looking I was or how good of an athlete I was. Even when I was about to be ordained as clergy in the church, almost seven years ago to the date, I remember wondering if my dad would be proud of me.
But as a father, I now understand fully that my dad’s love and acceptance of me was a simple as the truth that I am his son. If I won the shuttle run that day, my dad would have loved me just the same. I also know that his disciplining of me on that night was perhaps one of the most powerful displays of his love for me. He knew I was better than that and did what he could to tell me that I didn’t have to cheat to win.
On that night the main difference between me and my father was that he didn’t take it personally and I did. I didn’t really like my father for a few weeks because he humiliated me in front of my friends. But my father’s wasn’t concerned about that. He was concerned about shaping me into the person God created me to be even if that meant I wouldn’t like him at times.
One of the greatest false idols that human's worship is the desire to be liked. On some level, we all struggle with this desire to be liked and accepted, a desire that might get us what we want but more often this desire complicates things even more.
More often than not, our desire to be liked ends up putting us at odds with others in our life. Our desire to be liked causes our loyalties to be stretched. We set off a chain of events that run wildly out of control. Ultimately, this path leads us to isolation like I found myself isolated from my father and my teammates.
In today’s letter to the Galatians, St. Paul admonishes the churches there because of this desire to be liked and accepted. These Galatians, who were Gentiles, were trying to find approval from the Jews. Some Jews in this area were teaching that in order to be true followers of Jesus of Nazareth these Gentile converts must also conform to the Jewish culture and customs, they must conform their life to the law of Moses.
However, this led these Gentiles to proclaim a false gospel, a gospel that depends on following certain culture customs as opposed to a gospel that is defined by Jesus and the work of the kingdom that Christ completes in all of us.
Instead of proclaiming a gospel that believes that salvation in Christ can be worked out through any culture or custom or circumstance, they were proclaiming a narrow view that says there is a very specific way to God based on certain rules and observances.
For this reason, Paul says, “ Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In other words, the Galatians desire to be accepted by these Jews caused them to abandon the true gospel and pervert the gospel for their own sake.
Of course these Gentiles aren’t the only Christians who have compromised gospel beliefs in order to be liked or accepted by members of the community. At some point, every church and Christian has given into this temptation. More often than not this temptation is nuanced and less than obvious.
There are plenty of things that are done in the name of Christ that are contrary to the will of God. Some are born from ignorance. Some are born out of fear. Some are born out of malice. Some are born out of mere confusion.
So at the end of the day, this is why instead of proclaiming a certain way to live our life, the gospel proclaims a relationship with Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life, the One who shows us the Kingdom of God—and as you know there are plenty of avenues in which we find ourselves in relationship with God in Christ—just read your Bible!
One modern day pastor and theologian said, “When the preferences of the church members are greater than their passion for the gospel, the church is dying.” In other words, when we care more about how the church is run than we can about how the gospel runs the church, then we are in trouble. Put another way, when we care more about conforming to the customs of the local community than we care about how the gospel conforms us to the love of Christ, then we have missed the point entirely.
The gospel puts us in relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who fulfills the law, the one who loved us first, the one who calls us to consume his word and his work. And what happens after that is the fruit of the gospel—kindness, goodness, self-control, gentleness, joy, courage. What happens after belief in the gospel is a life that grows more rooted in the kingdom of God, not a life that just happens one day, but a life that we grow deeper into each and every day.
In the most recent article of the week, an atheist turned Christian says it like this, “My Christian conversion has granted me no simplicity. It has complicated all of my relationships, changed how I feel about money, messed up my public persona…” There is no doubt belief in the gospel will complicate how you view all tangible and personal relationships in your life.
However, as people who follow Jesus, we are seekers of truth. And as seekers of truth, we come to believe more and more that it is the knowledge of God’s love for us that makes us right. It is the knowledge that we are made in the image of God that reminds us of who we are.
Like I said last week, this Christian life isn’t about working to attain some perfected version of ourself. Instead, this Christian life is about remembering who we are—beloved children of God. This Christian life is about growing back into this name we are given at baptism.
This Christian life is about growing in grace, about growing into the full stature of Christ. And because we are a slow witted people we grow by living daily to the reminder that all of us are loved beyond measure no matter the things we have done or neglected to do. So I say to you again, God’s love for you is enough. In fact, belief in God’s love for you is the only way to break free from the insanity of trying to gain approval according the the impossible standards of this world. Amen.