JANUARY 25, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer


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Listen to a letter written to an advice columnist.  It reads as follows  


            I fractured my ankle a few weeks ago. Since I live away from my family, my main circle is my church "connect group." At first, I didn't go into detail about my injury so people didn't know how serious it was. But when they found out, I only received texts to say, "I will pray for you for a quick recovery" or "Hope you're well." No one (except for two people) came to visit me or thought about helping me with food, laundry or whatever. I felt so disappointed that I have decided to cut all contact with everyone. I never struggled this much in my life and had to go back to my home country to have my family take care of me. Now that I am back here, I do not want to hear from anyone. I am still struggling but managing to do a lot of things by myself. I know I have to forgive them, but I don't know how.


            The advice columnist gave this distraught woman wise counsel, even suggesting that the writer of the letter shared some of the blame for the relationship going south for not letting her disappointment be known, but we are left to wonder if she ever patched things up with her friends at church.

            Disappointments.  They happen all the time, and none quite so upsetting as those that involve a friend.  As we continue our Wintering in Galatia sermon series thats what we have before us.  Listen to Pauls words.  Galatians 2:11.


            But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcised faction.  And other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?


            As we unpack this passage, lets look at three things: first, the nature of the disappointment, second the severity of the disappointment, and third the handling of the disappointment.

            As to the nature of the disappointment our story begins in Antioch, a bustling, cosmopolitan center located north of Israel, in the province of Syria. It was a major city in the Roman Empire and an early Christian center. Although it had a large Jewish population, Antioch was predominantly Gentile. We know from Acts 13 that the first missionaries to the Gentiles were sent out from the church in Antioch. Evidently there were two sizable groups of converts in that one local church. There were the Jews who had been circumcised, raised under the Law, and had come to faith in Christ. Then there were the Gentiles who had not been circumcised, had been raised in pagan religions, and had come to Christ. Those two groups got along just fine. The Jews and Gentiles in the church loved each other and enjoyed each others company despite their very different backgrounds. They even ate their meals together, which for the Jewish converts was a huge step since that meant leaving the kosher laws of their childhood.

            One day the Apostle Peter came for a visit. Can you imagine what a scene that would have been? Peter who walked on the water. Peter who went with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Peter who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Peter who came to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. Peter who saw 3,000 people trust Christ after his mighty sermon on the Day of Pentecost. That Peter, the man whom Jesus named The Rock, had come to Antioch to visit them.

            Im sure they crowded around him and listened with rapt attention to his stories. And what Peter saw in Antioch amazed and pleased him. He saw Jews and Gentiles worshipping together in one church, singing the same songs, laughing together, working together, praying together, and yes, even eating together. Nothing like that had happened in Jerusalem yet. The Jerusalem church was still entirely Jewish, but here in Antioch things were very different. Peter loved it and he joined right in eating meals with fellow Gentiles in Christ. They loved him and he loved them. To him, this was what the body of Christ was supposed to be.

             Then some people came along who spoiled everything. They claimed to be sent from James, the brother of Jesus and the senior pastor in the Jerusalem church, and at this point things get a little murky as to what motivated Peter to stop dining with the Gentiles.  Some say Peter simply gave into peer pressure. They cite Paul's accusing Peter of hypocrisy, of saying one thing and doing another.  There was a song in the 50s from a group called the Platters.  Maybe you remember it The Great Pretender.  The lyrics go,


            Oh yes, I'm the great pretender, Pretending I'm doing well.

            My need is such, I pretend too much, I'm lonely but no one can tell.


            The apostle Peter could have sung that song with a couple of minor changes:


            Oh yes, Im the great pretender, Pretending Im just like a Gentile.

            My need is such, I pretend too much, Im a hypocrite and Paul can tell!


            That was Pauls charge against Peter. He was a pretender, a fake, a hypocrite. 

            Others say, it was a little more complicated than that.  Some believe that Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles as a favor to James.  You see, intense Jewish nationalism had risen in Judea at the time, and nationalistic Jews in Jerusalem were encouraging all Jews to refrain from associating with Gentiles, and Christianity was still a sect of Judaism at the time, and word had reached Jerusalem of Peters behavior at Antioch, and so James sent emissaries to inform Peter of the possible repercussions of his actions for his Christian brothers and sisters back home in Jerusalem.  In other words, Peters practice of eating with non-Jews in Antioch was making life more difficult for the Jerusalem church, which faced a local problem of coping with the increasing fervor of Jewish nationals. 

            Whatever motivated Peter to stop eating with the Gentiles, I picture it happening like this. When everyone came for the Wednesday night supper, the Jewish converts would go through the line together. Then they all took their plates upstairs to the Choir Room. They put a sign on the door that read, Jews Only. Kosher Only. That meant the Gentile Christians had to eat in a different room. Its not hard to see where this would lead. Pretty soon youve got two churches under one roof, and youve got two groups that dont have much to do with each other, and finally youve got two groups that dont even like each other. All because Peter decided to change his behavior in Antioch.

            Thats what disappointed Paul.  Whatever prompted Peter to stop eating with the brethren in Antioch, whether it was simply giving into peer pressure or whether it was out of concern for the health of the church in Jerusalem, Paul did not like it.

            That leads us to the severity of the disappointment, specifically did it linger?  Did it last?  A few biblical scholars think it did.  A few biblical scholars believe that there was a lasting conflict between Paul and Peter that began here.  In fact, an entire school of theology grew out of this squabble between Peter and Paul. The 19th century German scholar, F. C. Baur of the University of Tubingen, hypothesized a new method for interpreting the New Testament. It became known as the Tubingen School of Theology. Baur reasoned that there was a deep seated conflict between Peter, the apostle to the Jews, and Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. He determined the authenticity of the New Testament books in accordance with this theory. Any New Testament letter which exhibited tension between Paul and Peter, between law and grace, he considered to be authentic. 

            I dont believe that,  I believe this was a simple conflict that was short-lived, and Peter saw the error of his ways, but I cannot say that for sure, but given Peters behavior in the past, saying one thing and doing another, and then feeling awful about it, I believe that happened here as well.  Peter greatly disappointed Paul, but it was short lived.  It did not linger.

            Then, finally, note the handling of the disappointment. Paul let Peter know about it.  He confronted Peter face to face.  He didnt talk behind his back. 

            One of the things I appreciate about the bible is that disagreements and conflicts and foibles are not swept under the rug.  These are not super human beings to whom we are looking and listening, but people with weaknesses and fears and tempers and inconsistencies, that we ourselves know all too well. 

            Of course, recounting this confrontation is all part of Pauls defending his own apostleship. Here he is standing eyeball to eyeball with Peter, the leader of the original apostles, and Paul calls him out, showing that he did not cow-tow to such persons, that he was on equal footing with them, and in this case maybe a little superior to Peter. 

            But its more than that.  Its Paul living out what Jesus had outlined in Matthew 18.  Jesus had taught his disciples, If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. Thats what Paul does.  He goes directly to Peter.  In Pauls own words he opposed him to his face.

            I love Jesus' counsel.  If someone sins against you, go and point out the fault …”  One of the biggest mistakes we can make is not to voice our hurt. To just brood about it can be fatal. That can poison our whole life until we cant think of anything else but our own hurt. Our own personal injury becomes the whole center of our life. Another big mistake is talking about our hurt to others, and never with the offending party.

            Irving Stone, in his book Love is Eternal, concludes his account of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln with an interview between Mrs. Lincoln and John Parker, the Presidents guard who failed to protect at Ford's Theater.  To say Mrs. Lincoln was disappointed with John Parker would be a gross understatement. The interview went as follows


            Parker entered, a heavy-faced man with half-closed lips. He trembled.

            Why were you not at the door to keep the assassin out?she asked fiercely.                       Parker hung his head. I have bitterly repented it. But I did not believe that anyone would try to kill so good a man in such a public place. The belief made me careless. I was attracted by the play. I did not see the assassin enter the box.

            You should have seen him. You had no business to be careless. she fell back on the pillow, covered her face with her hands. Go now. Its not you I cant forgive, its the assassin.

            If Pa had lived, said the presidents sonTad, he would have forgiven the man who shot him. Pa forgave everyone.


            And I believe Paul forgave Peter.