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All are one in Christ

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace to you and peace from God the father and from our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen

There is no longer –

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.  (Gal. 3 NRSV)

If you want to study about the guy with the demons and the swineherd and all of that, I’m going to invite you to come to Bible study after church, and we can cook that one together, but today I want to talk about Galatians.  And its going to sound maybe more like a Bible study than a sermon for a while.  For those of you who studied Galatians with me last summer, you’re going to hear some things we’ve  talked about before, but this little book, six chapters, is so integral to a Lutheran understanding of the Gospel that every once in a while, we need to pause and open it up together and take it apart a little bit.

The Galatian church in Paul’s day was full of very new Christians; they were first generation people to hear the good news.  and they wanted to get it right  Because this good news was SO GOOD.  and they wanted to share it.  Many in that new Christian church we previously Jewish – just like Jesus and most of his disciples.  So They brought with them many, many, many generations of traditions – church traditions, cultural traditions, and of course, Old Testament law.

That was part of the package of what these people were when they first heard the good news.  They would say “I am This…. Plus I believe in Jesus.”  They would say “I believe in Jesus, PLUS I need to do X,Y, and Z.”  Galatians was Pauls’ response to that but it wasn’t easy for Paul.

For many, many, many generations, the Jewish people thought of themselves as special, as set apart, as uniquely chosen by almighty God to be God’s chose ones. That was their identity.  They were the chosen ones of the One True God.  And so they tried to follow the law as well as possible, and they held each other accountable to the law, to the traditions

(8:22) Now, in Jesus’s day, in Paul’s day, their promised land was occupied by the Roman Empire.  The chosen ones were in their promised land, but it was occupied by Rome. And so they followed God’s law and their Jewish traditions and also they had to follow Roman law.  But they held onto their culture.  They stuck together, glued together by their commonalities.  And Paul had been one of those law abiding Jews of that time.  They were all waiting for another king, a redeemer, someone who would set them free from their roman oppressor. To come, like King David, to remove their oppressor and their restore their religion to its central place in culture.

While they were waiting for a new king to come, waiting new messiah, a person to save and redeem and restore a Hebrew dominion. along came a new religious leader, He claimed that it was only by his grace, his grace, only by faith in HIM would people truly believe in God, truly see salvation.

He didn’t keep all the laws the way they did.  He healed on the Sabbath.  He healed the slave of a Roman centurian.  And when he did heal, they only noticed that he worked on the Sabbath – they did not care that he healed people.  He surrounded himself with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes.  And instead of seeing that he was changing their lives and bringing them wholeness and peace and joy, they only saw that he hung out with sinners.

The established religion came to hate him – because his welcome, his acceptance was so radical.  One of the last great things he did in his earthly ministry, was take a man who was several days dead, (you know the story of Lazarus) and brought him back to life.  If you read the Gospel of John, this so outraged the holier-than-thous, that they did not rejoice at the raising of Lazarus, but, plotted instead to kill Jesus.  And they did.  They even colluded with the hated Roman government to ensure that it happened. 

And Jesus was crucified. /////

Still, even after the crucifixion, Jesus had followers.  And people like Paul, whose name was Saul then, who represented the established religion and all good order, persecuted Christians, tortured them, even killed them.  All this, thinking he was doing God a favor. /////

But then Saul had a change of heart (Acts chapter 9) he had a conversion experience in which he was confronted by none other than the risen Christ.  And Jesus said “Saul, WHY are you persecuting me????”  Because Saul was persecuting Jesus’ followers.  Saul was persecuting the people who knew, and received and welcomed and shared the good news of Jesus.  “Saul, why are you persecuting ME?”  And the scales literally fell from his eyes, and Saul’s life was changed and his name was changed and he gave his life over  to ensuring that people of all stations and nations would understand the AMAZING grace, grace,  of our lord Jesus Christ.

And Galatians was one of Paul’s First writings.  Read Galatians if you haven’t  or even if its’ been awhile.  We even have audio copies.  A CD takes less than a half an hour to listen to.  it’s only 6 chapters long.  Understand Galatians. It’s not really a book, it’s just a letter.  It’s a letter to a church community that was messing up the concept of the grace of Jesus Christ.

They were new Christians. They didn’t have a model Constitution.  They just knew that the love of Jesus was amazing. (15:34)  But they thought there must be more it than this.  But Paul corrected them, because Paul had been corrected by Jesus himself.  And Paul said, “No, its not Jesus PLUS the rules.”  It’s not the rules plus the sinners prayer.  It is simply faith.  And faith is a gift.  It is simply turning our hearts toward Jesus and saying Yes.

But the Galatian church said, “Well, but there must be more.”  They said, “I know.  We’ll make sure the men have to be circumcised before they can become Christians.”  Now, if you’ve read the Old Testament, you understand that circumcision is the one, most physical mark of being Jewish.  But that it was also used destructively.   when Dinah was raped (by someone of another nation), her brothers said, “the only way to make this better is for the rapist’s entire nation to be circumcised.  And they said, “Yes, of course, we’ll do that for you.”  And the people of God slaughtered all of them while they were healing.  THIS is in the Bible.

And Paul said circumcision doesn’t make you a Christian.  Paul was angry.  Paul said, “I wish those who required circumcision in order to be a Christian would just go …hmmm… cut off more.  It’s in the Bible.

There is no longer Jew or Greek.  And in Paul’s day, those words were radical.  (18:24) So the Greeks don’t need to be circumcised but the Jewish Christians still felt unclean when they were around Greeks or roman or anyone of any other nationalities because they were a tight community.  So when they got the good news of Jesus they still said, OK we’ll share the good news, but they all have to be like us. 

Do you know that in this country, the Germans did the same thing when they immigrated with their Christianity, with their churches.  And Swedes and Norwegians built churches across the street – across the town from each other.  Because Yes, you can be a Christian, but you have to be like us.  And Paul said NO.  No. Jews and greeks together.  And that was radical

 

And paul said there is no longer slave or free.  And the free people said, slaves aren’t people.  Why should they get the good news?  It should be just for us.  They’re not even people.  And Paul said no.  Slave or free.  It was radical.  Radically inclusive.

And Paul said there is no longer male or female.  I think you all understand that one.  I was telling the council the other night.  I couldn’t imagine being a female pastor when I was a child.  I couldn’t imagine being a pastor’s wife.  Because the divisions were, and they still are.

But in ancient culture, in a time when women had to have their heads covered, in a place where they shouldn’t speak.  Paul says that is no longer a division.  You can’t claim that division.  Because  men and women are one in Christ Jesus.

And so, brothers and sisters, Paul went out on a limb and had to name the most possibly divisive things he could think of in that day and in that culture.  And he named them out loud.  He said those are no longer divisions.  Not under Christ.

You can have your political divisions, but in Christ, you are one.  And we need to act like that.  In order for the world to see the grace of Jesus.  In order for the world to hear the good news.  We, church, have to set aside the divisions.  And we have to name them out loud.

 

What are the divisions of our time?  I remember when I was a child.  I grew up in the most rural and remote part of ND.  The town was population 1200.  Even in that place and that time, the school kids were divided between farm kids and townies (did they do that here?)  So the farm kids were different, maybe a little lesser, little dirty, and I remember growing up, my best friend, who was also a second cousin, we were born a week apart and we were the only kids our age in like a 15 mile radius  She was my best friend, we hung around all the time.  Then her mom got a job in town.  And she started identifying as not a farm kid She’d go and play pinball after school and she made townie friends.  And while she was going to cheerleading camp, I was still going to Farmer’s Union camp.  And then her best friend was a townie and not me. 

And I was the outsider.  In a town of 1200 people.  We didn’t have enough people to have insiders and outsiders.  But human nature says – you have to divide yourselves.  There has to be an “us and them.”  I think that’s why we’re so crazy about sports.  There just has to be an “us and them.”  One of the first comments by our new bishop had to do with Cubs vs. White Sox.  By the way, we have a new bishop, it’s Jeff Clements.  He’ll do a fine job.

But what are the divisions we can name out loud?

How about there is neither  Republican or Democrat?  Guess what folks, in the kingdom of God, there isn’t.

There is neither teacher or administrator, for all are one in Christ

There is neither union or management

It’s hard for us to let go of our firmly held political beliefs, our firmly held personal beliefs in order to get to the point of the Gospel which is that, all are one in Christ.

Our inclusive faith committee has been working on a welcome statement and it’s going to be in our next newsletter and – its; still a draft, its still in draft form, but when you read it and think about it, I want you to think about Galatians.  I want to think about the things that divide us in earthly ways.  Because they don’t in the kingdom of God.  And we’re going to use the words out loud, we are going to use the words “Gay and straight” and I know that’s hard for some people to say out loud.  But it is no harder than the apostle Paulo saying Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free.

 

We had our synod assembly this past week and we were reminded that the ELCA has three ways of articulating itself.  One of the ways is the congregation. One of the ways is the synod and one of the ways is the national church.  And we were reminded that we can’t just say, “the synod this, or the national church that” but that we are all in this together in the ELCA.  And so there are a couple of resolutions that passed that I need to let you know about.  One of them was about our Muslim neighbors.  It passed unanimously.  In essence it said we repudiate hatred and hostility aimed at Muslims.  We commit ourselves to opposing, preventing and eliminating islamophobia.  It further goes on to say we are going to educate ourselves so that not everyone who is a Muslim is an enemy.  That we see them as fellow creation.  Men, women and children made in the image of God.  We don’t have to agree with their religion.  And we certainly don’t have to agree with things done in violence or hatred.  But those things don’t define all of them.

That passed unanimously.  That synod is our church.

Lutheran advocacy – our office for advocacy in Springfield was eliminated because of budget cuts at LSSI.  We want people in place who will advocate for the homeless, for orphans and widows, for the underrepresented.  That’s part of our heritage and we want to continue it.  That passed unanimously.

Racial Justice – you can go online to read these in their entirely –we’re Lutheran, we’re wordy but basically we said “our African America brothers and sisters are important to us and we notice when they are being singled out.  We notice when our Asian and Latino/Latina brothers and sisters are singled out for exclusion.  we notice because that’s not right.  And we want to learn about being anti-racist.  This too passed.

The old walls that used to divide people, and still do in other places, WE are trying to break them down in the ELCA.  This might be new for some of you. It might be uncomfortable for many.  But go back to Galatians.  If you can name a division.  The good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, can heal that division.

Last week a group of our members went to Allen Chapel, African Methodist Episcopal Church – and it was wonderful.  It was a little out of our comfortable perhaps.  And we clapped and swayed a whole lot more than we do here.  But we were one in Christ.  And it was a symbol to them.

You see it was just one year this week, since a white young man, who was a member of an ELCA church walked into an AME church in Charleston SC and opened fire in the church.  It was a blatantly racist act.

And so we worshiped together.  We came back here and had lunch together.  Little children and old people all together enjoying each other’s company and we didn’t see anything other than brothers and sisters in Christ.  And then we went out and walked and prayed together in the neighborhood, black and white, walking side by side. 

In God’s kingdom it’s not that there won’t be any colors but that there will be all colors.  All stations, all nations.

Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen

 

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