Pastor Karen Karpow
June 20, 2010
Baptism of Margaret Mary McAllister, Jodi Morales
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Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. Ephesians 6.19
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[Call up in front of the congregation: a black man, a white man, a white boy, and a white woman.]
Back when my kids were little, I loved Sesame Street, at least as much as the kids did. They used to play a game there, a logic game, figuring out how things are the same, and how they are different. I hear they have changed it now, because it’s politically incorrect to suggest that someone or something “doesn’t belong.” But bear with me—let’s play it the old school way.
One of these people is not like the others
One of these people just doesn’t belong (sorry!)
Can you guess which person is not like the others
Before I finish my song?
So, which one of these people is not like the others? Any ideas?
· The black man is the only black person
· The boy is the only child.
· The white woman is the only female
We could probably go on and on with this game. We are very good at figuring out what divides us, aren’t we?
This is the topic that occupies Paul in the letter he writes to the church at Galatia. They have been very concerned with who’s in and who’s out—taking great care to draw the lines to make sure that they are in. They are setting up hurdles that people have to clear before they can be allowed into the Christian fellowship. And this is driving Paul crazy.
In this passage Paul lists the biggest chasms between people that he can think of. There are no wider gaps in his society than that between men and women—because men have all the rights, and women have none, unless they are attached to men. Then there’s the gap between free men and slaves—people who own people, and the people who are their property. And for a well-brought-up Jew, there was no social gulf wider than that between Jews and gentiles—and the Greeks were all gentiles.
Paul makes the very radical statement that none of that matters—not any more—because everything has changed since Jesus died and was resurrected.
Paul divides history into three periods. First was the time before God chose the Jews to be God’s special people, set apart and guided by God. God made all of creation, and creation was definitely not living up to God’s hopes. So God chose a couple, Abraham and Sarah, and made a covenant with them and their descendents, who became the Jews. God loves everyone, but God was working with the Jews in a special way. When they were slaves in Egypt, God set them free and, through Moses, gave them the law—hundreds of rules and regulations about how people were to live, as individuals and as a community. There are laws about every facet of life: food, money, sex, marriage, children, clothes, animals, farmland, sacrifices, worship, charity, you name it.
But that is not the end of the story. The law could do a lot—it corrected a lot of bad behavior, and told people what God expects. But the law could not make people good—it simply exposed where people were bad. In God-talk, the law could not make people holy. The law is kind of like an x-ray: it can reveal what is broken, but it can’t heal it.
The cure for all those broken things comes only from one place. It takes God’s action on our behalf. It takes Jesus. Jesus died for us, and his resurrection proves that it worked. We are alive, truly alive, in Jesus! We are set free, healed, made right with God. All we have to do is accept that. And once we accept it, and move into a life of faith, says Paul, the law doesn’t matter any more. Here it is in Paul’s own words:
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Jesus does for us what we cannot do ourselves—he makes us holy. And once we are holy, we have God in us, and we become more like God all the time—if we cooperate. That’s what it means to grow in the faith, to become more mature as Christians. As we receive those Father’s Day gifts from God, like I talked about with the kids [gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control], we become more like God, and we don’t need the specifics of the law any more.
Paul thinks the church in Galatia is stuck in the old time period—the one where keeping the laws matters. What is at stake here is huge: they are arguing about what is required to be a Christian. The leaders of the church in Galatia, to whom Paul writes this letter, have decided that gentiles who want to be Christians need to keep certain provisions of the Jewish law—specifically, to be circumcised, and keep some of the purity laws.
But that undermines the foundational gospel claim the human righteousness is the result of divine action, not human obedience. To keep one part of the law opens the door to the idea that Christians must keep the whole thing.
It’s an odd paradox: it is when we accept the fact that we can’t make ourselves holy on our own, that we cannot stand before God on our own, that we begin to become grown-up in our faith.
When we realize that no matter how good we are, how many impressive sacrifices we make, or how well we follow the rules, we will never be holy enough for God—then we’re on the right path. We can let go and let God begin to work in us. That’s when we begin to make progress toward becoming more like God.
But if none of us can stand on our own, then we’re all the same, in a very essential way. All the divisions between us break down. Even basic distinctions of race, class, and gender—the ones that Paul lists:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
It’s not that we shed all our group identifiers—but we discover that being a member of the family of Christ is our true identifier. Distinctions do not disappear—but they cease to matter.
It was settled long ago that we don’t have to become Jews before we can become Christians. But there are other divisions among us that take up enormous amounts of time and energy.
· Immigration is an especially hot topic right now, both in the national news—thanks to Arizona—and in Danbury. Some of you will not like my saying this, but if we apply Paul’s reasoning to this controversy, there is neither native born nor illegal immigrant. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
· In a society dramatically divided by income, there is neither wealthy professional nor blue-collar worker nor working poor nor welfare mother. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
· In a society polarized by race, there are neither people of color nor people of no color. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
· As we prepare for the November mid-term elections, there are neither Democrats nor Republicans nor Tea Partiers. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
· In a church obsessed with other people’s sex lives, there is neither gay nor straight. We are all one in Christ Jesus, and we are all entitled to the same access to the church’s ministries, including marriage and ordination.
This is a struggle for the soul of the church. What are we about: how good we are, or how good God is? We need to come out as saved by grace, jubilantly filled with Christ, new creations from the inside out.
Today we’re baptizing and making new members, and that changes everything! Paul writes,
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
All of us who are baptized are clothed with Christ—not just the people we like, not just the people we approve of.
…[A]ll of you are one in Christ Jesus.
God’s act of grace through Jesus has broken through all the barriers that Paul—or we—can think of, barriers which foster inequality and injustice. God has done a new thing. Our lives and relationships cannot go on as before. God has created a new family where all of God’s children are at home.
May it be so in this church. Amen.
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.