6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
We are flocking creatures. I am sure there is some technical word for this, but I don’t know it. I just know that we are creatures of the herd. As much as modern Americans may celebrate the idea of the rugged individual, we are more like zebras and starlings than grizzly bears and snakes. Some creatures are pack animals and others are not. We are pack animals. We follow fashions. We follow fads. Whether it is hairstyles or political opinions, we are most at home in a community of shared values. Even where we reject the values of mainstream society, we do it as part of some group: bikers or goths or hippies in their time. I don’t know why a flock of starlings choose to take flight all at the same time or swerve left in flight rather than right. But when some bird in front takes a direction everyone follows.
Paul has brought the message of Christ to the communities in Galatia and lives have been changed. They have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. They have seen wonders performed in the name of Christ. (3:2-5). But now some other teacher has arrived and suddenly the flock is swerving off in some new direction. Paul was afraid to tell them the whole truth, they say, “You have to be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.”
Instead of a Gospel that announces the dawning of God’s new age that gathers all people from all nations to God in Christ, we now have a message of reform. Jesus no longer saves the world; he makes better, more religious people.
Moralism is the death of Christianity. Moralism in any form. The Christian message has a great and noble ethic. It anticipates lives of high moral character. But it is not a reform movement. It’s not trying to make us better. It is trying to bring us under the reign of God in Christ. Morality can make me say “thank you,” but it cannot make me mean it. I can learn to use the right fork and not take more than my share, but such moralism doesn’t create hospitality or generosity of spirit. Jesus was trying to get at something important when he told Nicodemus he must be born of the Spirit. It is the encounter with the radical love of God in Christ that creates a new me, not a more earnest commitment to the rule of law.
Moralism sees the centurion and says he has done good things; he is worthy of this favor. The Gospel says simply he is a child of God; he has a right to count on God’s love.
In moralism I get to be the hero of the story, little Jack Horner beaming “What a good boy am I!” In the Gospel, God is the hero of the story; God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s gift is the beginning and end of the tale.
Paul has a reason to be irate that the believers in Galatia have sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. There is no other Gospel. And those who preach it should do their cutting on themselves, Paul will say later.
The grave has been opened. The veil of tears lifted. The dominion of sorrow broken. The kingdom of God is dawning. If you want a polite little religion of morality go somewhere else. We are talking about the end of the world as we know it. The end of fear and sorrow and arrogance and all life’s ruling powers. The grave is empty. The spirit is here to reclaim the world.
Foreigners are being welcomed, not because a few of them happen to be “like us,” but because they are all God’s people. All the objects of god’s love and concern. All welcome at his table. All invited to the wedding feast that has no end.