After this sermon is finished, my plan is to hopefully do the relatively simple thing of walking from this lectern right here to that chair over there, from which I just came. In order to do that I am going to try to take a fairly straight course along the edge of the chancel here and direct my feet to that nice little blue chair which really isn’t all that far away. However, if I don’t keep my feet straight, that chair over there could end up seeming very far way, and I could end up in all kinds of danger, because if I don’t keep my feet straight, I could either walk right into some of those chairs in the first rows and end up hurting myself, or I could knock one or more of you over and cause a whole lot of needless pain… If I did start going off my simple, straight course, I would hope that someone would be kind enough to help me get back to where I should be walking, either by telling me nicely and gently, “Pastor, just move over a bit,” or, if necessary, with a loud voice to get my attention in case I was being oblivious to what was going on, “Pastor, watch out. You’re going to hurt yourself or somebody else.” In simple things like getting from one place to another, while we may not consciously think about it all that much, it is important to keep our feet straight.
In our Lesson for today from Galatians 2, the apostle Paul tells us in verse 14 of a time when “Cephas” – the apostle Peter — and some of his colleagues “were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” That expression “acting in line with” has the picture of keeping your feet straight. In some way these wonderful Christians were walking off course from their simple faith in the gospel, with the result that, as Paul says at the beginning of our Lesson, he “opposed Peter to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” The apostle Paul was not being mean to Peter; he was not insulting Peter; he was just telling Peter in Christian love that his feet were not straight, and he wanted to make sure he didn’t spiritually hurt himself or someone else by what he was saying and by what he was doing.
So, let’s take a few minutes to see what Peter was saying and doing that showed he wasn’t keeping his feet straight in connection with the gospel message of Jesus – and how that can help all of us as we are simply making our way from one chair of life to another day by day – a journey through life with our Savior Jesus that is all the easier for us and for others if we are all Keeping Our Feet Straight.
The way to keep our feet straight in the way God wants us to keep our feet straight means we need to keep our faith straight. We need to of course keep our faith in Jesus as our Savior from sin straight, but the Bible also sometimes uses the word “faith” to refer to the “faith” which we believe – all the teachings of the Bible that make up our faith, our beliefs. The reason that’s so important to remember is because if the devil can’t get us to stop believing in Jesus as our Savior — the main teaching of the Bible — he will try to get us not to believe some other teaching of the Bible, and the problem with not believing some other teaching of the Bible is that it might also hurt our faith in Jesus as our Savior, since all the Bible’s teachings are inter-connected. So, to keep our feet straight, we need to keep our faith straight.
An example of that sort of problem is what led the apostle Paul to confront Peter in our Lesson. There was a situation in which Peter was giving the impression of believing something that was wrong, which could have affected his faith and was certainly affecting the faith of the people who were observing him and who respected him. This situation may sound strange to us, but it was a big deal as the New Testament Christian church was getting started after Jesus returned to heaven. Jesus had told the apostles to preach the gospel to all the world, but the world was not just made up of Jewish people like themselves, but also non-Jews – Gentiles. However, there were some Jewish Christians, who were known as Judaizers, who started teaching that both Jews and Gentiles, in addition to believing in Jesus, also needed to still keep those Old Testament Jewish laws that God had given to Moses hundreds of years before, including especially the law that had to do with circumcision — which God had indeed commanded the Jews back before Jesus to keep – in order to know for sure they were true Christians – saved from their sins – “justified.” But now since Jesus had come to fulfill all those laws — since they all pointed to him — the need to keep those laws had been done away with. There was a freedom from all those regulations and decrees about sacrificing animals and observing festivals and not eating certain foods and things like that. Otherwise, we would still have to do all those things today. Paul noticed, though, that Peter had become afraid of this “circumcision group,” as he called it, and as Paul said in these words, Peter would not “eat with the Gentiles, but began to draw back from them,” giving them the impression they were second-class Christians. Peter didn’t go on in this way, thankfully, but at this particular moment he wasn’t keeping his feet straight, which meant it was harder for others to keep their faith straight, which is why Paul did not shrink back from telling this fellow apostle of Jesus Christ that he was in the wrong.
So, why is this such a big deal, and why does God give you and me the same encouragement to not be afraid to talk about it if one of us is not keeping the faith of Bible beliefs straight? First, though, we also need to remember that the spirit we are to have in our hearts, when we might have a chance to talk to people about things like that, is not one that thinks we are so great and that we are so perfect – just the opposite. We know that we aren’t so great and that we aren’t perfect at all, and that’s why we need Jesus and why we treasure Jesus — and why we don’t want anything to get in the way of somebody else knowing Jesus and treasuring Jesus, too. For example, years later when the apostle Peter wrote one of his letters in the Bible, I sometimes wonder if he had this event with the apostle Paul in mind, when he was talking about talking to people about the hope that we have in Christ Jesus and telling us to do that with what he called “gentleness and respect.”
That’s the attitude we are to have when talking about our faith in Jesus and the teachings of our Lutheran Church and the blessing of being part of our Christ the Lord congregation — and I am thankful to God to see that attitude so prevalent among us. The reason for the concern about false teachings is that when we add something to what the Bible says, like these Judaizers were doing, or when we take something away from what the Bible says, like so sadly is so common today, there are always going to be a few bad results or temptations that we have to deal with. In the case of what Paul was dealing with with these Galatians, he was righteously angry that they were falling for this teaching that Jesus wasn’t enough and that you had to add these old laws of Moses to be a true Christian. He said if you really believed that, Christ died for nothing, because either a person is tempted to think he’s good enough – righteous enough – because of all these extra things he or she is doing that he doesn’t really need Jesus like other people do — or a person falls into the opposite temptation of wondering whether he or she could ever do enough to make God happy, because deep down in their conscience they know they aren’t doing enough to make God happy. And the result of that is that it can become so easy to give up and not care about how you live or to give up because you feel that God cannot care about you. For you and me that can happen easily enough in everyday life, right, where we can go back and forth with thoughts like that: “I love God. I really try to show that I love God. How come God doesn’t treat me better if I love him? Or – I don’t love God enough. Why can’t I do enough to show I love God? How can God keep loving a person like me? … Either way, we can think what’s the use?” That’s why we need to keep ourselves in worship and Bible study and private devotion, because that’s how God keeps our feet straight by keeping our faith straight. In other words, we have to not be afraid to confront ourselves with gentleness and respect so that we can do the same with others, whenever God might give us that opportunity.
So when we talk to one another – or to others — about the danger of false teachings like God didn’t create the world the way he said he did or that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are things you do for God rather than things God does for you or that you yourself can make a decision to believe in Jesus or that you need the good works of others who are now in heaven to somehow be given to you so that you can maybe become a little more sure you will go to heaven or that it’s okay with God to engage in sexual lifestyles which the Bible calls perversion and still be a believer in the life and death of Jesus, or, as is the case with our church and school mission project called “Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons,” who believe you need to – and that you can – become a god like Jesus and in that way get to heaven – which you will keep hearing more about as the year goes on – or if we need to correct someone among us who is living in a sinful way and is not repenting of it, like Jesus talked about in our Gospel Lesson, it’s not being mean to say those things are wrong and it dare not be self-righteous — because we constantly need the same reminders — but it’s because we want to keep things as simple as God keeps them simple: Believe that you need Jesus. Believe that you have Jesus. And believe everything I have told you in the Bible, because everything I have told you in the Bible is meant to keep you close to Jesus so can keep showing your love for Jesus. For Jesus is the one who kept his feet straight, never deviating from the path that took him to the cross to pay for our sins, and out of the tomb to prove his payment price was accepted, and back to heaven where he watches over all of us every single day – and who promises us in his Word that, as we listen to his Word, he will keep our feet straight by keeping our faith straight every step of the way. Let’s all do everything we can to help ourselves — and others — keep it that way. Amen.