Sunday, May 19
Scripture: Romans 4:13-25 & Galations 3:1-8, 23-29
Maddie Lambert, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries
Galatians 3:1-8 and 23-29
3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. 5 Well then, does God[a] supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.”
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,[k] heirs according to the promise.
Do you ever feel really bad for the early church? Being the first ANYTHING is hard but the first Christians? Identifying as a Christian did not make you popular: To be publically following someone who had been crucified was shameful. Crucifixion was the worst form of execution reserved for the most violent or heinous criminals. To acknowledge you not only know Jesus, but that you proclaimed him as Lord? This would have been completely unacceptable in the ancient world. You ran the risk of losing friends, family, status, your job, even your life. Additionally you now had to completely alter your everyday actions – love your enemies, give graciously the earnings you had worked for to the poor, don’t indulge in selfish or impure behaviors. Things that seem simple and meaningful to us but would have taken some adjusting for first timers. I can imagine this must have been exceptionally difficult for a church like the one Paul wrote to in Galatia that was made up primarily of Gentiles. Gentiles found themselves thrust from their old lives and identities and into this new community among the Jewish people. That could NOT have been easy. And then they receive this SCATHING letter from Paul. These poor Galatians who are likely just trying to do their best are being called fools and bewitched. Did you know that this is the only one of Paul’s letters that does not open with a section of Thanksgiving? This means Paul was so angry with the people of the church in Galatia that he did not even take the time to express his thankfulness for them. Ouch. And why is Paul SO angry? Because now that the Galatians are part of this new community they want to follow Jewish Law. They want to fit in! This included being circumcised.
I know some of you maybe cringed at that word, circumcised. And I understand, believe me I understand. But to be circumcised was a big deal. As a circumcised male you bore the physical markings of a Jewish person, one of God’s chosen people. The people the Lord had promised Abraham and Sarah. The people who wandered through the desert for 40 years. The people who had entered the promised land. The people who had longed and waited in silence for the coming of Christ. That is all a lot to become a part of for a non-Jew.
At a time when being put to sleep for surgery was not really a thing I think it’s safe to say you have to be pretty desperate to fit in, to want to be circumcised as an adult male. I am also sure that the Gentiles thought that what they were requesting was a perfectly admirable thing. They wanted it to be extremely clear who they now identified with in this new life among the Jewish people. But instead of Paul celebrating their willingness to fully embrace this new identity he writes them this really angry and kind of mean letter.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?
I am sure we have all been tempted to bear the marking of a specific group of people. For some of us sitting here today it may have been the months spent hoping a ring will be placed on your left finger sometime soon: displaying for all the world to see that someone loves you enough to be with you forever. For some of us sitting here today it may have been anxiously waiting to receive the uniform at a new job: because by putting on that uniform it meant you belonged there. And for some of us sitting here today it may be waiting with anticipation for the tassel on your graduation cap to be moved from one side to the other: so that everyone will see with absolute certainty that you successfully earned your degree and have entered into the next phase of life. For most of sitting here today, when we enter into a new community or phase of life there’s something that physically needs to happen in order for it to feel like what’s happened is real and that we are a true part of it.
For me, it was getting a pair of Chaco Sandals. When I arrived on Hope College’s campus as a freshman it honestly felt like I was the only student not wearing a pair. Chaco sandals were something my youth group and I had teased the other students we’d encountered on our summer trips to the South for wearing. We actually referred to the sandals as “air Jesus’,” because they were a shoe popular among southern Christians the same way Air Jordans remained popular at our high school in Chicago. I was surprised to find that not only was this shoe extremely popular among students at Hope College, but purchasing your first pair seemed to be a right of passage. During the first week of classes students flooded The Outdoor Store in downtown Holland to buy these sandals. And though I used to tease my friends in the South for wearing them, I now found myself absolutely obsessed with getting a pair. The students wearing these sandals had large groups of friends. They went on weekday hikes and adventures together. They ran around campus laughing and talking about their weekend plans. They worshipped loudly during chapel and were asked to help plan Campus Ministry events. I longed to be a part of that. But those shoes are so expensive! I had to save for weeks and wait until I could find a pair I deemed “acceptable” on sale. And when I did find that perfect purple pair I thought “wow, finally! I am going to put on these shoes and feel like a true Hope College student and everyone will know that I belong here.” Well, after one day of wearing them my feet blistered up pretty badly from the straps chafing against my skin, the pattern on the sole of my shoe that had looked so beautiful when I purchased them had already rubbed away, and wow, Chacos smell just awful. And I still did not feel like I belonged. Two months into school and I had not yet found the group of friends all the movies I’d watched had promised me, I was failing the Spanish course I had excitedly registered for and I felt even less like I belonged. I had lost sight of who I was. I had strayed so far from the core of my identity. I, like the Galatians had embraced the lie that in order to belong, to be worthy, to fully embrace who I am, I had to bear the markings of a Hope College student. I forgot that my identity, the core of who I am, is my faith in Christ.
You foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you? Why are you allowing yourself to fall back into prison when you are already set free in Christ?
Last week Pastor Troy introduced our series on Core Values. First Presbyterian Church has a mission statement, we say it together each week. But our mission statement expresses who we are called to be, what we are called to do, and how we are called to serve. Our Core Values are a little different; they tell us who we believe we already are. Our Core Values express our identity as a living breathing church. The members of our session came up with some really beautiful values to share with you all. The first one feels like it should be obvious:
We are Christ-centered.
We believe we see who God is and what God is doing in the world most clearly through Jesus. We center our ministry on knowing Jesus and serving others in his name.
We’re a church right? Of COURSE our main identifier is in Christ! But just because something seems obvious, does not mean it is easy to live into. It is so tempting to seek out ways to fit in with the rest of Christ-centered communities in town than to actually be the Christ-centered community we are. To worship to the same type of music. To host the same number of Bible studies. To throw the best and biggest events. To design the coolest youth room. To offer the most interesting and dynamic learning opportunities. To demonstrate by any means necessary that we are worthy of being called a “Christian church” in the town of Grand Haven. To put on First Presbyterian Church’s version of the Chaco Sandal.
And in all of our attempts to fit in, to be the best, to be worthy, we can forget the core of who we are. We become tired, overwhelmed, and even foolish. And when our attempts don’t end in success we might lose our faith. We may start to doubt who we are and become blind to God’s greater plans for us.
After expressing his disdain with the Galatians foolishness Paul goes on to write: 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.
The word “Disciplinarian” that Paul uses as a comparison for the law derives from the Greek word “παιδαγωγός”, or pedagogue. A person holding this role was to act as a guardian for a child before they came of age and were ready to go out into the world apart from their παιδαγωγος and live by the standards they’d grasped as a child. The law to the Jewish people was their παιδαγωγος and now that Christ has come, they, along with the newly baptised Gentiles, are free from the law, they’ve come of age and they are ready to live and be defined by faith in Christ alone.
Abraham lived by faith. He and his wife, Sarah, were well past child bearing age. But, as Paul wrote to the Romans, he had hope against all hope that he would become father of many nations just as God had promised him. Jewish law had not yet even been written when this promise was originally made! There was nothing Abraham could do to earn this promise.
Romans 4:20-25 reads:
20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith[c] “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Just as Abraham had faith and was rewarded with a fulfilled promise, so too will our faith in Christ be rewarded. Christ will work through us and we will continue to accomplish beautiful things in him.
No longer is who we are as individuals to be based on the physical markings we bear of the community we are in. Love is not suddenly earned because someone places a ring on your finger, you can be good at your job even before you put on your uniform, and graduates you can celebrate your accomplishment and whatever is to come even before the tassel on your cap is moved to the other side.
No longer is the worthiness or faithfulness of our church determined based on the things we do to fit into the mold of Grand Haven. If we remain firm in our Christ centeredness then our worship will continue to be pleasing to God, our Bible studies will remain impactful, our events will be successful and our youth room will feel safe and inviting for all who enter.
No longer are there Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, Chaco’s or Air Jordans, right or wrong worship music.
My prayer for us today is that we no longer remain foolish.That as a community of believers we continue to allow the Holy Spirit do its work in our midst; to begin to notice when we are contributing to the exclusion of others who don’t fit perfectly within the molds of our community; to take the opportunity to remove uncomfortable and smelly shoes; to fully embrace who we already are and will continue to be when we remain fully centered in Christ.