Readings for the day (Lectionary 12 – Sunday, June 19, 2016):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In the time period of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the Gentile Christians are confused by the Jewish Christians that have come in to Galatia. The Jewish Christians are telling them that there is a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles, even though they are all Christians. Really this isn’t any different than today. We too, like to name the differences between people. We make distinctions between “us” and “them”. Who is on the inside and who is on the outside? The Galena people and the Waverly people. Maybe you don’t refer to each other in this way. But when Stephanie and I moved to Trimont we did hear people refer to each other as the Triumph people and the Monterey people. We like making distinctions between each other. Most of the time it isn’t done in a mean way, but rather just simply noting our differences. But regardless, we are still drawing lines between each other.
And this is all quite common isn’t it. We get put into categories based on where we live, what our occupation is, how old we are, how much money we have, and what color tractor we drive. We name the differences that we have with each other, because how else will we be able to tell each other apart? We need some sort of parameters.
Except, these Jewish Christians that have come in are telling the Galatians that they aren’t really Christian unless they also fall under God’s covenant with Abraham. And according to God’s Law, you are not a descendant of Abraham unless you are circumcised and follow all of God’s Laws that were given to Israel. They are telling the Galatians, “You need to be just like us if you want to be Christian.” But Paul, a Jew, doesn’t see it that way. So he explains a little earlier in chapter 3:
“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.”
His point is that God’s Law is not the promise, the Law is still good in that is sets up boundaries for us on how we should live. But Paul’s point is very clear, the Law is the Law, and not the promise that was given to Abraham because God’s Law came after the promise and covenant that God made with Abraham. And the coming of the Law did not undo or nullify the promise that God made to Abraham. The promise still stands.
And what is that promise. All the way back in Genesis 12, God tells Abram (Abraham before his name was changed), that He will make of Abram a great nation, and to his offspring God will give this land that he sees. Paul’s argument here is that the word offspring does not mean “the Jews” or “the house of Israel” because the word offspring (or seed) is singular, meaning one offspring or seed – who is Jesus. So they don’t have to worry about doing the right things, praying the right way, or looking a particular way; because Jesus is the offspring of Abraham. And so if you are united with Jesus in faith, then you certainly should also be considered heirs of Abraham and heirs of the covenantal promise from God.
And Paul could have just left his argument with that – “don’t listen to the Jews who are trying to tell you that you aren’t Christian because you aren’t Jewish. You are Christian not because of God’s Law, but because of God’s grace that is found in Jesus. That would have been sufficient, but Paul takes it a step further. He says that if you were baptized into Christ, then you have been clothed with Christ. (That’s actually the reason why the baptismal gown is always white. That’s also why the pastors’ albs and acolyte albs are white, and when a funeral pall is used – the white cloth that is draped over the casket at a funeral); all of this is because in our baptisms we are clothed with Christ. And if in your baptism you have been clothed with Christ, Paul says, then “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.”
So for Paul, with the coming of Jesus, there is no longer any distinction among us, baptized Christians. Since we were clothed with Christ in our baptisms, which is what God sees in us – Jesus. He doesn’t see a difference between which side of the blacktop you live on, or what your occupation is, how old you are, or how much money you have. All what truly matters for God, is where you put your faith. Is your faith in what your occupation is or how much money you have? Or is your faith in the one that claimed you in baptism, clothed you with His Son, and made you righteous by freeing you from sin and making you part of the promise that was made to Abraham and his offspring?
We like to make distinctions between each other. Sometimes naming those differences can be helpful; and in this world the distinctions are at times necessary. But when it comes to how we treat each other, talk about each other, and work with each other; remember that we all are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus – including those of other Christian denominations as well as those in our own congregation and in our two sister congregations. We all belong to Christ. Rather than beginning with naming our differences as humans, let’s beginning with names what we all have in common as children of God. We all are one in Christ Jesus. And if we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Amen.
© 2016 Anthony Christoffels. Used with permission.