Pastor Linda Dolby
(NRSV) Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are nolonger subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Some background. Galatians was written by Paul to the churches in the Roman province of Galatia. Paul had a hand in establishing those churches, so he is writing to people he knows in places he has already been at least once. As always, Paul writes to address a problem. It seems that these churches are made up of different ethnic groups. Included in the churches are many Gentile converts to Christianity. There are also Jews.
Now Paul preached to them all a gospel of justification by faith in Christ Jesus. We are justified, made right, forgiven, by our faith in Christ Jesus, which leads us to live a life based on the way Jesus lived: ethical, moral, sacrificial. All we need is faith to enter into this new life of the Christian.
However, some people arriving later, taught otherwise. They taught that in order to become a Christian, you first had to become a Jew; with all of the requirements of the law that included.
Paul disagrees vehemently. The law never saved anyone, he claims. Only faith in Christ can do that. Why be slaves to a bunch of rules and traditions, which don't accomplish anything, when you can be free through the life of the Spirit which comes through faith in Jesus Christ? It's within the context of freedom vs. Law, that this passage comes.
The law acted as a disciplinarian. When I was a child I lived under the discipline of the law. Once, when I was in 1st grade, I broke a rule, and boy was I in trouble. Here’s what happened: I got to stay in from going outside for recess. 4 or 5 other students stayed in too. We were instructed to fold our arms on our desks and to lay our heads on our arms. Well, that didn’t last very long. Soon, all of us were up and running around, tossing an eraser back and forth.
Our classmates returned. At the head of the line was my best friend, Marie Murdock. Marie told the teacher that she found us, not sitting quietly at our desks, but running around and playing. The teacher went to her desk and began writing notes – notes for us to take home to our parents. Marie and I walked home together. Behind Marie’s house was a burn barrel. Marie said, “here, give me your note.” I gave it to her and she put it at the bottom of the barrel.
That evening I was alone with my father. I asked, “Can children go to hell?” “No,” he said, parents are responsible for their children’s actions, so the parents are punished instead of the children.”
Oh boy. I had really done it now. Not only had I hidden the note, I had sent my father to hell. And to make it worse, the next morning my teacher asked if I had given the note to my parents. I lied and said yes. It’s a sin I carried with me for years. That’s what it is like to live under the law.
People in Paul’s day lived under the law. In fact, An ancient Jewish daily prayer explains it well, saying: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has created me a human and not beast, a man and not a woman, an Israelite and not a gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not slave.” This prayer describes three major divisions and hierarchies: based on gender, social and economic status, and ethnicity.
Every morning Jewish men would have prayed this prayer, and Paul – who before he was converted to the Jesus movement was a Jewish Pharisee – would have been very familiar with it as he, himself, would have prayed it every morning, as well.
But, here in Galatians, Paul takes this prayer and he reverses it, saying to the Galatian Church: “There is now 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.”
This message to the Galatian Church would have been good news to the Gentiles. But it is also good news for each one of us today. It reminds us that all in Christ are equally united as one body and as children of God – no matter our differences. And it calls each one of us to reach out in love to include and care for all of God’s children.
And to those of us who identify with those first century Galatian Gentiles – those of us who have been excluded and bullied for our differences, those of us who are longing to find a place of belonging, where we will be accepted for who we truly are: Galatians 3 speaks to us. Paul’s message reminds us that we are God’s children – no matter what we look like, no matter where we live, and no matter where we come from. And it reminds us that we can and should hold onto our heritage, to our customs, and to our true identities: which only make us unique and beautiful individuals with a lot to give and share with the church and with the world.
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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Do you think Paul meant for this list to be complete, or just the beginning on an infinite list? Black/white, rich/poor, gay/straight, republican/democrat, on and on…?
You see, for Paul, all who are in Christ Jesus are children of God through faith – no matter who they are, no matter where they live, no matter how they dress, and no matter what their background. And all should be invited to and included – without any conditions – into this community through faith and cared for with love. All of us are better when we are loved.
A story to conclude: A father writes that his middle daughter had been previously adopted by another family. He sys, “I am sure this couplehad the best of intentions, but they never quite integrated the adopted child into their familyof biological children. After a couple of rough years, they dissolved the adoption, and we ended up welcoming
an eight-year-old girl into our home.
For one reason or another, whenever our daughter’s previous family vacationed at Disney World, they took their biological children with them, but they left their adopted daughter with a family friend. Usually — at least in the child’s mind — this happened because she did something wrong that precluded her presence on the trip.
And so, by the time we adopted our daughter, she had seen many pictures of Disney World and she had heard about the rides and the characters and the parades. But when it came to passing through the gates of the Magic Kingdom, she had always been the one left on the outside. Once I found out about this history, I made plans to take her to Disney World as soon as I could.
I thought I had mastered the Disney World drill. I knew from previous experiences that the prospect of seeing cast members in freakishly oversized mouse and duck costumes somehow turns children into squirming bundles of emotional instability. What I didn’t expect was that the prospect of visiting this dream world would produce a stream of downright devilish behavior in our newest daughter. In the month leading up to our trip to the Magic Kingdom, she stole food when a simple request would have gained her a snack. She lied when it would have been easier to tell the truth. She whispered insults that were carefully crafted to hurt her older sister as deeply as possible —and, as the days on the calendar moved closer to the trip, her mutinies multiplied.
A couple of days before our family headed to Florida, I pulled our daughter into my lap to talk through her latest escapade. “I know what you’re going to do,” she stated flatly. “You’re not going to take me to Disney World, are you?” The thought hadn’t actually crossed my mind, but her downward spiral suddenly started to make some sense. She knew she couldn’t earn her way into the Magic Kingdom — she had tried and failed that test several times before —so she was living in a way that placed her as far as possible from the most magical place on earth.
In retrospect, I’m embarrassed to admit that, in that moment, I was tempted to turn her fear to my own advantage. The easiest response would have been, “If you don’t start behaving better, you’re right, we won’t take you” — but, by God’s grace, I didn’t. Instead, I asked her, “Is this trip something we’re doing as a family?”
She nodded, brown eyes wide and tear-rimmed.
“Are you part of this family?”
She nodded again.
“Then you’re going with us. Sure, there may be some consequences to help you remember what’s right and what’s wrong — but you’re part of our family, and we’re not leaving you behind.”
I’d like to say that her behaviors grew better after that moment. They didn’t. Her choices pretty much spiraled out of control at every hotel and rest stop all the way to Lake Buena Vista. Still, we headed to Disney World on the day we had promised, and it was a typical Disney day.
In our hotel room that evening, a very different child emerged. She was exhausted, pensive, and a little weepy at times, but her month-long facade of rebellion had faded. When bedtime rolled around, I prayed with her, held her, and asked, “So how was your first day at Disney World?”
She closed her eyes and snuggled down into her stuffed unicorn. After a few moments, she opened her eyes ever so slightly.
“Daddy,” she said, “I finally got to go to Disney World. But it wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.”
It wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.
All Christians are "One in Christ." We are equals and more. The old distinctions are still there, but they don't matter. We don't dwell on them and get caught up by them. It's not "who's who" that matters, but "Christ in me and Christ in you." Now we can deal with each other on a new level, as "One in Christ." That implies, respect, listening, honesty, trust; real equality. The old has gone, everything is made new.
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