Lunch with the Apostle Paul,
Pt. 2: Soup and Salad
A dramatized sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist
June 9, 2013
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
The Book of Galatians
Last week I sat at this very table and had
lunch with the apostle Paul. Actually, it wasn’t lunch, it was just appetizers.
And it wasn’t the apostle Paul, it was Dr. Scott Spencer, professor of New
Testament and Biblical Interpretation at the Baptist Theological Seminary at
Richmond. But he played the role of Paul beautifully. So beautifully that I
invited him back for the soup and salad course. So, join us as we continue lunch
with the apostle Paul.
Jim Somerville: [Seated at dining table.] Paul, did you find
everything you were looking for?
Scott Spencer: [Taking seat beside Jim.]
Well, almost everything.
JS: Oh, I forgot to tell you. You have to wave
your hand in front of that box and the paper towel comes right out. It’s a new
thing. Sorry, you can use that. Anyway, welcome…
Lynn Turner: [Running
toward table.] Paul? The Apostle Paul? I don’t usually chase men out of the
restroom, but I am such a fan of yours! Huge! Huge fan! I mean I have plaques in
my office with your sayings on them! Oh my goodness! I’m sorry to interrupt.
Could I, could I just get an autograph from you? Please? Right here where it
says “Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor”? Could you just sign right there?
SS: That’s you?
LT: Yes, that’s me! And could you maybe write
something Greek? You know, one of your favorite verses or something?
My eyesight is terrible.
LT: Well, anything. Anything will do.
LT: Big letters, big letters. That’s great, that’s great.
Oh, Paul. Can I call you Paul? I don’t think I know your last name.
LT: I’m so sorry to interrupt. But before I go, I thought
I’d have to get to heaven to ask this question, but now that you’re here: could
you please just tell me, why you said that women should not speak in church?
SS: You’re a fan, you said?
LT: Huge! Huge! Huge!
sort of picked up that those statements have created a few problems in your
days, is that right?
LT: A few.
SS: Oh my, oh my. I could take
all day, explaining those couple of statements, it’s not that many. But they
were particular statements to very particular congregations, not meant for
everybody in every place. You know, I could take a lot of time saying that, but
we don’t have that kind of time. So let me just say this. It’s kind of important
not only for this, but for everyday. It’s important to consider my whole body of
work. And my whole ministry. The whole picture. And on women, for example, I
mean, if I were to pick a statement that would be kind of the mission ideal
statement, it wouldn’t be one of those, it would be right here out of Galatians.
That in Christ, there’s no Jew, Greek, slave, free, male or female… we are one
in Christ Jesus! Women are as gifted as men, created in the image of God, saved
by Christ’s grace. Oh and my goodness, how what people tend to ignore is that
all scattered throughout my letters I mention women co-ministers all the time! I
couldn’t have done my ministry without them- Lydia, and Phoebe, and Nimpha, and
Juno was an apostle! Oh and my favorite, I shouldn’t have favorites, but…
Priscilla, also known as Prisca, but I called her Priscilla. You know, these
women that worked with me, some were single, some were widowed, some were
married, it didn’t matter. But Priscilla was married to Aquila. Man, I got real
close to this couple because apart from sharing a love for the Lord Jesus, we
had the same trade, that we worked with leather goods, we made tents, and it
just made for a great friendship. So I knew both of them very well, and Aquila,
the man, bless his heart. He was an incredible craftsman. That man could make a
tent like nobody else. But in ministry, he loved the Lord, but the man couldn’t
preach his way out of a paper bag. Priscilla though, oh ho ho, smart,
insightful, discerning, full of the spirit. I mean she could teach, and preach,
and prophesy. Whew, I mean I couldn’t have done what I did without her. She was
a great, well, associate minister just like you. So good for you!
Well, thank you! I’m an even bigger fan, and I can keep my job! Thank you.
[Walks off stage.]
SS: She better!
JS: Well, sorry for that
interruption. You all will understand if we run a little over, it’s because
we’ve been held up by that very good question. But anyway. Back to what we were
talking about before. And we were talking about you, actually, about your former
life and Judaism, and how you persecuted the church. Sorry to bring that up
again. But then there was this experience on the road to Damascus. You said it
was a kind of “apocalypse”?
SS: World shattering experience with Christ.
JS: Yes, and after that it took you years, really, to sort all that out,
to “work through the fog” as you said, and get to a place where you could
understand what all this meant. And eventually, I think you told us, you began
to put it into words, and to the words of the gospel that you preached wherever
you went in the ancient world. We talked about that and ended with that last
time. I want to talk to you today about something you mention here in Galatians,
chapter 2. And I know this was one of your early letters and it appears that you
are kind of working this out for the first time, but this whole complicated
doctrine of “justification”. It’s complicated. I mean, I have a PhD in New
Testament studies, I read many of your letters in the original language. I still
have trouble understanding what you were talking about when you talked about
being justified by faith through God’s grace. Something about being made right…
SS: Yes, that’s a very good way to put it.
JS: At any rate, it’s
complicated. And people have made it even more complicated. There are scholars
in our time who have written whole books on this one doctrine. So what I’m
hoping to do today is to keep it simple. I want to see if there’s any way we can
bring it back down to its essence: this idea of justification. And I think one
of the reasons I love what one scholar says is that it seems to have that
promise. He says that “justification is about how we become members of God’s
true family”. And I love that word. You like it?
SS: Oh, I do. It’s a
key, big idea. It’s God’s family.
JS: So here’s the question. How did
you become a member of God’s family?
SS: Well it was pretty easy for me.
I didn’t have to do much of anything. I was born into it. A tribe of Benjamin,
one of the twelve tribes. Hebrew of the Hebrews. My family were devout
Israelites, devout children of Abraham. I was circumcised on the eighth day. I
remember it very well. Hahaha, not really. But I have the certificate and
everything. I’ve got the pedigree. I was simply born into this, and you don’t
choose to be born, you just get born.
JS: Okay, okay, okay, you were born
into the family of God. But somewhere along the way, Paul, you came to the
conclusion that Gentiles too, and not just Jews, could be part of God’s true
family. I’ve been curious about that. Did you get that from Peter, because you
know he went and visited Cornelius and the Holy Spirit came on those… was that
SS: Yah I mean I heard that story, it’s a great story. And great for
Cephas, although we might talk later, he had a few problems later with that. But
if you remember I said last week, I really didn’t talk with the apostles. I went
and... (Watching Jim take a bite of soup) Not too good, huh?
wouldn’t recommend the soup.
SS: I went down and spent a couple of weeks
with Peter and such, but that’s not really where I got this. I had to work this
out for myself through studying the scriptures and through more communing with
this deep presence of Christ. And this whole thing about Gentiles or the fact
that the family of God includes all people made in God’s image. You know, that’s
not a new idea. And I and my people, we’ve always sort of known that. I mean,
God’s the creator of everyone and then, when God chose Abraham, the founder of
our people, the so-called “chosen” people, that was never to be: “Well, now
we’re chosen and everyone else can just take a hike”. No! From the beginning,
you read about this in Genesis, and I write about it in Galatians: God took
Abraham aside and said, “I’m going to work with you as a new people but through
you all families of the earth will be blessed!” God’s been the god of all and
always had everyone in mind. And the prophet Isaiah told us that we should be a
light to the nations. So this has been very much a part of our history. But the
problem is we haven’t been all that bright of a light sometimes. You know, and
also we’ve gotten this sense of , well… a sense of narrowness about who we are
and sort of “us and them” sort of thing. And also our timing’s been kind of out
of whack. We know that God’s going to get all the Gentiles in, but we sort of
had it in our idea that in the deep future, this sort of “great end of the age,
once God restores us and works everything out and everything is fine with us
then… ”, well sure… Gentiles, everybody else can come in. I mean at the end of
the age. But we kept sort of postponing that. Well, what happened when Christ
appeared to me in this big apocalyptic revelation that I talked about is that I
realized through what he said and what he did that there was not this future way
off. Then, the “then” was “now”! This was the new era! We were being rescued
from this old evil age into the new age, and that’s why Jesus said, “Paul, I’m
going to commission you to go to the Gentiles”. Well the only reason he would do
that is because the kingdom of God was here! So it got my timing right. It was
about now, and about the fact that all of these walls had been obliterated and
JS: I’ve been reading your stuff. It’s good! Some of it’s hard
to understand, but I’ve been reading it and I get that feeling that in Jesus
Christ, the kingdom came into the world like a rock through a plate glass
window. It shattered so much of we had understood before. And for you, I mean,
it was this incredible apocalypse, as you say, this understanding that in Jesus
Christ God was doing this new thing and bringing people into the family who had
been outside the family or maybe people we had kept outside the family. But when
you talk about this, when you say, “in Christ Jesus”, about being “in Christ”, I
just feel like, you know, you’re soaking yourself in Christ Jesus. You are in
Christ, and Christ is in you, and anyone who has gone through that experience is
a new creation. A new creation! And so that person now can sit down at the same
table with someone who was born into the family who has had a similar experience
and they become a part of God’s true family.
SS: Indeed. And you know
that phrase, “new creation”, I kind of pick up that you folks in the western
world here are pretty individualistic, sort of it’s “me” and “mine”. And I get
that. And we had some of that, this sort of “I in Christ and Christ in me”.
Which, that’s true. And then Christ in you. But it’s also this new creation.
That word “creation” is not just you individually and me individually, but we
are a part of this big cosmic universe thing that God is doing, remaking the
whole world and that’s going to include the whole family. So yes, individually,
we are new creatures. But I think the vision needs to be a little bigger.
JS: So that word, “justification”, which means to “make things right”- God
is not just making us right individually, even though that’s part of it, but
making everything right, right now. It’s a big big big picture.
as big as all of God’s world.
JS: So if you have that in your head, if
you have it in your heart, if you look out there and say, “God is making
everything right. God is making people right- the ones that are in Christ, the
one in whom Christ dwells”. That person is new and takes on a whole new status
and sits at the table with all those others. Here you were, thinking this,
you’re sitting at the table at Antioch, right, because this is in your letter to
the Galatians. And you, having a meal, just like this, rubbing elbows with
Gentiles, just like me. And Cephas comes down from Jerusalem and he sees all
this and he hears this is a new creation. We’ve got this whole new community of
Christ and everybody is equal and he sits down at the same table with you, with
me, until, well, you tell it…
SS: Well, we’re having a nice little sort
of cozy lunch, although with hundreds of people looking on. This is a little
odd, it’s a little odd. We really should have food for them, although you said
the soup’s not very good. So forget it. But, you need to understand that Antioch
was the fourth largest city in the empire. Big metropolitan area. And our church
was pretty big. Not unlike this, lots of folks. It wasn’t just a handful. And I
mean we had a big table. Because God loves a big family. And everybody’s there.
So it’s not just a handful of individuals we’ve gotten comfortable with. It’s
people we’ve known for years, but people from different backgrounds, Jews, and
Gentiles, yes the whole bit. It’s this wonderful, really, taste, of the great
Messianic banquet that’s going to take place at the end. And we were doing that
at Antioch. And Cephas came to be a part of that. And part of that was his
experience with Cornelius, he had eaten in the Roman centurion’s house. God had
said that’s clean. So he’d learned a good bit, so we were having a great time,
sharing stories and all of this, and enjoying these fellowship meals. But then,
you had this group of, well, I’ve called them a lot of things. Some of which I
can’t repeat here. Let’s just call them “agitators”. I don’t know what
translation you have. But let’s just call them that. They came from Jerusalem,
and these were more of those strict types. You’ve got to only eat certain things
with certain people. It’s not that they hated Gentiles but Gentiles had to do a
whole lot. Basically they had to become Jews in order to eat with. So what they
did- you won’t believe the audacity of this, brother James, although I guess you
will since you read it- they came and had the gall to set up a separate table in
our fellowship hall. And we had this great banquet, having a great time, but
they weren’t going to eat with us. So they made a big deal about “we have our
own, pure table over here”. Well, you know, some people, what are you going to
do? Well, it got worse. When those folks came from Jerusalem- where you know,
Cephas has some standing there- he sees them, he gets up, and goes over to the
separate table! And my buddy Barnabas, we traveled all over the place
ministering to Gentiles. He gets up and goes over there! Well, my jaw was just
dropped. And then it started moving. Because I had stuff to say. This was not
going to go unattended to. And I tell you what, I got up not to go eat at the
other table, but I went over to where Cephas was and I got right in his face,
brother James, and I told him, “what kind of message are you sending?” And to be
quite honest, I called him a hypocrite!
JS: He was!
SS: I think
the phrase I’ve heard around here, "flip flopping"? You know, kind of with one
group of folks, but then over here, so it’s sort of trying to you know… and what
kind of message is that sending to this fellowship of people? That somehow
they’re not good enough? That they’re second class? “Well I’ll eat with you as
long as, you know, whatever”. Well there the walls start going up again. There
the divisions start happening, there the suspicion comes in, and there the
family starts being ripped apart. And that’s a travesty of the gospel. That is,
brother James, another gospel. That’s not good news at all.
JS: Bad news.
You were there for all of that. And you were so convinced that in Christ these
Gentiles, these Jews, were part of God’s true family. They had come into the
family together. There they were having a meal, and to separate oneself from the
true family of God… to say those people aren’t good enough for us… that seems
like utter hypocrisy.
SS: It is, it is.
JS: See I think it was
not only then that that sort of thing was going on. I think it goes on now in
our world. I mean here you are saying, “If anyone is in Christ, that one is part
of this new creation”. I preached a few weeks ago, on Easter Sunday actually,
from the book of Acts. Your friend Luke did a good job with that book. But there
was a verse in there I was saying, “Anyone who has been worked upon by the right
making power of God is acceptable to him. Anyone, anyone”. And I think we do
still draw these lines. We say anyone who is like me, anyone who comes to my
church, anyone who has my same understanding of the scripture is acceptable. God
seems to be saying, “No, Jesus changes everything”. Suddenly, the doors have
been thrown open. God is welcoming people into the banquet hall who have never
been welcomed before, never thought they were welcome, or maybe someone was
there keeping them out. And now they’re coming in, and this is in Jesus!
SS: Oh absolutely. And it doesn’t mean that we all of a sudden become cookie
cutter copies of everyone. That we do think the same thing, that all of a sudden
now we look alike, dress alike. We don’t! One of the great gifts of humanity is
how different we are! And how rich that is. Different colors, different
backgrounds, different customs. All of that is wonderful and can be celebrated,
and I can disagree with you. But in Christ, it’s not that I have to agree with
you or you with me or we have to knock down, drag out until somebody wins.
Christ has already won. And that’s the victory that counts. And so in the midst
of our differences and special identities, we find that common bond in Christ
and we learn to celebrate that and come together as one rather than be
threatened by that.
JS: I’m looking at something you wrote here in
Galatians where you say, “You are all sons of God, daughters of God, through
faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ”- and there that
is again- “have clothed yourselves with Christ”. So I’m thinking about how we do
it here, right up there in the baptistery. When someone is baptized, they put on
this white robe, they step into the baptistery…
SS: The river?
Sometimes, actually. But here, we dip people down into the water, they come up
again, and we talk about that, about being buried with Christ in baptism and
rising to this whole new life. But I’m thinking about those baptismal robes.
Those white robes. You know? And I think if those doors were open and people
were coming in here and all of them wearing the white robes, you would say,
“Look, it doesn’t matter who you were before. You have been baptized into Christ
Jesus. You are part of God’s true family”. And all those other distinctions-
Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, freed, the ones you mention here, and
probably a lot more that we could mention. All of those fall away in this new
family, this true family of God that is being formed through what Christ has
done. Am I going too far with this?
SS: No, no, that’s a lovely image! I
come pretty close to that in Romans. But the clothing thing I love, which also
involves- and you said this too- it’s symbolically a disrobing first. It’s a
putting off. It’s a laying under. It’s the dying. And what we’re talking about
putting off, which you said just a moment ago, is putting off these distinctions
that we think are threatening. Not denying who we are, but putting aside those
family hostilities that we just think are so important. So it’s disrobing, being
washed, and then coming out, and the robe of Christ. I also talk about that
robing and clothing in some places being really a garment of love and
forgiveness. That’s how we get along in the family, in this big family around
JS: You know, I’m pastor to these people and I’ve heard some
of their stories, and some of their stories are heart breaking about rifts in
their own families where the relationships aren’t all they’re supposed to be.
Sons and daughters estranged from fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters
who can’t get along. It’s heart breaking. And I think about how it would be in
any of those families to know that the relationships aren’t what they ought to
be. But I think about this from God’s point of view. How he looks at the world
he made, the people he loves, how he would love for all of his children to be
gathered around the same table. And yet, so often, that we are pushing and
shoving and keeping people out and getting there first and making sure it’s us
and not them, and it must break God’s heart.
SS: I’m sure it does. It
breaks Christ’s heart. It’s Jesus’ own example. I don’t like to talk a lot about
Jesus in my letters. But he and I talked a lot and I know. And you all read, I’m
sure, you have part of the scriptures surely are the things that Jesus said and
did well. Jesus himself ate with all sorts of people. Jesus loved nothing like a
great banquet and he was willing to draw some eyebrows about “who were those tax
collectors?” Nobody seems to like tax collectors. Are they popular in your day?
JS: Not so much.
SS: Okay, I didn’t think so. But yah, Jesus ate with
them and with the so called sinners, and boy, that can be any type of person. A
sinner is just someone that you don’t like, that you don’t like what they’re
doing. But Jesus ate with them. And said, “Look, this is what it’s like”. And
told one of his greatest parables- was about a great banquet where everybody’s
invited. Go out to the highways and the hedges and the streets. And it’s not
just a little “let’s have a nice little cozy family dinner”. Or even what we
might call a family reunion, unless you view the family as as big as all
creation. Out in the lanes and highways, there’s a place for you here. Come on
in and share in the messianic banquet.
JS: So I’m thinking, Paul, and we
probably need to wrap things up. You know, because of Lynn. I’m thinking there
may be somebody in this room who feels like they don’t belong or maybe like they
don’t have a place at God’s table. And I wonder what you would say to them, to
SS: Yah, I would just boil it down I think in the words
we’ve already talked about from Galatians. And that is, just hear these words
again, friends. There is neither Jew, nor Greek, slave or free, male or female-
and fill in your own pair of opposites- there’s none of that. In Christ Jesus,
we have been baptized together as one people. And I go on a little bit there to
also say to bring father Abraham back into this… we’re all, whether we’re Jew or
Gentile, if by faith we have accepted our place in this family, we are all
children of Abraham and that doesn’t mean “okay, well, yah, we’ll sort of jot
you down as a child of Abraham”. We’re fully heirs, brother James and all of
you. We are heirs to the full blessedness of God, and joint heirs with the only
begotten son Jesus. And we’re adopted kids. Jesus is the natural kid, if you
will. But God has created such a family by his love that we are fully vested in
this. And that’s what I would say to everyone else: accept your place in the
family. Sit down at the table and enjoy the bounty of God’s goodness.
JS: Those are good words, Paul. In Christ Jesus, neither Jew nor Greek, slave
nor free, male nor female, everyone of us can find a place at God’s table. Would
you close with prayer?
SS: I’d be happy to. Let’s pray. Abba Father, who
art in heaven as we prayed even a moment ago. As you taught us Lord, to pray.
Jesus, as you call your own Father “Abba”, you say that’s who we call God too.
Our Father, in this one family, we are heirs together with you and with all of
God’s children, regardless of our backgrounds and colors and everything that we
often put up as barriers between us. Lord, as Jesus prayed one time, as Jesus
and the Father are one, I pray that my people will be one. Lord, I pray, that
all of your people in this place, in this community, in this city, and indeed in
this world, because this is all about new creation. Your plan is big. This is a
big family. Make us one in you. In Christ’s name. Amen.
JS: Thank you,
Paul. We’re going to sing together hymn 494 in just a moment. I want to invite
you to come today if you will, to come forward professing your faith in Christ.
It may be that this is the day when you say, "I’m ready. I’m ready to be
baptized into Christ Jesus and become a part of God’s true family." I invite you
to come forward if you would.
—Jim Somerville © 2013