06.23.13 Paul’s Gospel: Baptism Galatians 3:23-29 Sermon Summary
The greatest threat to Christianity isn’t the surrounding culture, other religions, or physical vulnerability. The greatest threat is the church cannibalizing itself.
- Our primary identity and some things that distract us from it
- The challenge of living in faith and in baptism
- Some places to start
- A prayer for healing
- Questions for discussion and reflection
In his farewell discourse, Jesus told his disciples that their love for one another would let the world know about their relationship with God. I suspect he hoped this witness would be a positive one. . . In the church at Corinth, however, church members were suing one another. And in the Galatian churches, they were judging one another. In both cases, the apostle Paul recognized the threat to their witness, and to the church itself as the Body of Christ.
The Galatian churches consisted of Jewish Christians and Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. The question with which they were wrestling was, Can you experience God, that is, salvation by not being Jewish? Those who opposed Paul’s gospel answered “no.” They were “faith-and” people, and the things they required in addition to faith were their traditions, their credo, their nation, or in Paul’s word as inclusive of all of the above, the “Law.”
Not that Paul had a problem with traditions, doctrines, or nationalism. It is just that these are not fundamental. They do not constitute our primary identity. What constitutes our primary identity is relationships. At Faith we saw this during last week’s eighteenth annual youth workcamp. There were new leaders, new kids, and a new location. We retained many of the great traditions, and some had to change. But the most important thing remained through the changes, and that is the relationships.
Our primary identity according to Jesus and Paul is our relatedness, our right relationship, with God and with one another. The Bible’s word for this is “righteousness.” And Jesus made righteousness with God possible apart from the Law. His faithfulness fulfilled the law, and exemplified faithfulness. The New Testament message is, if you want to be righteous with God, then follow Christ’s example. It starts by believing, and then continues with transformation.
This is what baptism means for Paul. “We have been buried with Christ in his death, that we may raised to newness of life.” “I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is Christ living through me.” Baptism, that is, faith, leads to a new creation, a transformation, a new identity. This is what is fundamental to our identity, not our traditions, credo, nation, not the Law.
And so Paul can say that in baptism, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. We are one with one another, even with—especially with—those we don’t want to be. Recently at a neighborhood party we overheard someone say, “How can those people afford to live in our neighborhood?” We all have the “thems” or the “those people” in our lives. If you want to know who your “those people” are, take this test: When you hear the word “tolerance,” and it makes you uncomfortable, angry, resentful or dismissive, whom do you have in mind at that moment? Your answer is the “those people” in your life.
These are the “Jews or Greeks, slaves and free, males and females” Paul is writing about. And he calls us to stop thinking that way. Because we are right with God, we are right with one another. There is no division, there is only unity. We are one with God, therefore we are one with one another. So there is no longer native born or illegal immigrant, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Roman Catholic, evangelical or progressive—we are one in Christ.
You might be saying to yourself, “I can’t do that!” Here are some things to think about and some places to start. Remember this unity is a gift. You can’t freely give until you’ve freely received. This is the insight Jesus gave us when he said if you’re making an offering at the altar and remember a broken relationship, go mend that relationship. Freely receive, freely give. Ask God for the gift.
Paul also says because of our baptism we can reckon ourselves dead to sin. The elemental nature of sin is to corrode, to divide, and to separate. In baptism we are made one with Christ and one another. So the baptismal font is a place to start. Paul’s image is to take off our clothes and to put on Christ. Or as John the Baptist said, “Christ must increase in me, and I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Another place to start is with small acts. Pray for “those people.” Show them a small kindness. Offer them a small generosity. Extend a small hospitality. In the spiritual life, small things lead to larger things, and God will transform your life through these small actions.
Or perhaps where we all need to begin is to experience God’s healing in our own lives. So many of us have “those people” in our lives because we have been wounded by someone, maybe even one of “those people” in the past. Before we can truly love them, we need to experience healing.
Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who called himself “Legion” because he had so many demons. Surely one of those demons was the way his community treated him. For when he was healed, they saw him with Jesus and in his right mind and instead of rejoicing and welcoming him back, they were afraid and sent Jesus away. The community could not tolerate “that person, Legion.” They needed also to be healed.
Your healing may begin by praying with today’s Psalm passage. Or perhaps you could pray through the following list of affirmations, slowly, with time for the Spirit to examine you and raise to consciousness the ways these statements are true. “You have accepted me. . . You have reconciled me to God. . . You have done away with all that separates me from you. . . I receive this gift, and I thank you. . . I admit I hold prejudices, biases, and stereo-types. . . My thoughts are too simple, binary, either-or, faith-and. . . Your thoughts are not small like mine, they are higher than mine. . . I have judged others as unworthy of the grace I have received. . . I confess these attitudes as sin. . . They divide your body. . . They crucify you over and over again. . . I pray for healing, for healing of my “Legion” of sinful attitudes. . .And I pray for these people. . .You said pray for our enemies. . . These people are not my enemies, I just don’t like them. . . But I can pray for them. . .That you will bless them. . . And that I can love them. . .
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- If righteousness with God and others is the vision God has in Jesus Christ, how are you living into that vision? Is your relationship with God right? With others? How about with yourself?
- Who are the “those people” in your life? Who comes to mind when the word “tolerance” upsets you? In what small way can you begin to show and cultivate love for them?
- Were there some “those people” in your past who are no longer “those people” today? How did that happen? What can you learn about that process and apply to the “those people” in your life today?
- How wide a “pass through” channel of God’s grace, acceptance, and love are you? If you have received these from God, how quickly and widely do you pass them on to others?