All Are One

A Sermon By Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Galatians 3:23-29

June 19, 2022

Main Idea:  Christ welcomes all.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

It seems to be human nature to notice differences and to categorize things and people accordingly.  In the Sesame Street of my youth, there was a song “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong…”  and the task was to pick out the one that was different and did not belong.  Now, pointing out the orange in a group of apples is one thing but our society seems fixated on what divides us and this fixation threatens the bonds that hold our society together.  Even among those who claim to be Christian, there are sharp divisions, not only in worship styles and traditions, but about who is truly worthy of God’s love. This division in particular, and the exclusion inherent in it, gives Christianity a bad name.   

This week we continue exploring the letters of Paul to the early church.  Last week we read a snippet from Paul’s letter to the Romans and this week and next we will be exploring Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  The letter to the Galatians was written during a time of dispute and division.  In today’s text Paul proclaims that we are all one in Christ Jesus.  Jesus welcomes all and calls us to do the same.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to a church that Paul had founded.  It was his practice to start home churches in the cities he visited and once they were established, he would move along to his next destination, leaving the leadership of the community in the hands of local leaders.  Most of the letters of Paul that we have in the New Testament are letters written back to those churches.  They deal with specific issues that arose in these new communities who were still learning how to live together as sisters and brothers in Christ.  In the case of the Galatians, a conflict arose after Paul had left Galatia when some other teachers began insisting that the Gentile (Non-Jewish) members of the community must follow all Jewish law, including circumcision.  They believed and taught that the Gentiles must first become Jewish before they could be part of the Christian community.  Paul insisted that not only was that not true but that it denigrated the gift Christ gave to all by making the Gentiles second-class citizens in the community of God.  Paul’s letter is an angry defense of his teachings and the unifying truth of the Gospel.  He writes “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel-  not that there is a different gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (1:6-7) At the beginning of chapter 3 he writes, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (3:1) 

Paul was Jewish, a rabbinic scholar, and he used his knowledge of Scripture to explain his point.  In the first few chapters of Galatians, Paul asserts that while the Law, the Torah, gives guidance, it cannot ultimately save anyone.   He points out that God’s promise to Abraham that he would be father to nations was given long before the law was given to Moses and the Israelites, and that the law given at Sinai did not negate that wider promise. Paul understood that the Gentiles who followed Christ were included in the promise to Abraham.    Unfortunately, our translation of the first few verses of today’s text casts a negative view of Jewish tradition and law and so we need to be careful about understanding Paul without falling into anti-semitism.  A better translation of verse 23 would be “Now before faith came, we were closely held and protected under the law until faith would be revealed.”, meaning that before Christ, the Law was crucial in ordering and sustaining the community.   The word translated as “disciplinarian”  in verses 24, 25 would be better translated as “tutor” or even “babysitter”.  The Law taught and cared for the community until the coming of Christ.  But once Christ came, the Law was not needed to become children of God.   Paul’s point is that, while the Law is useful as a guide, it is not required to know the love of God through Christ.

Rather than insisting on circumcision like the false teachers, Paul lifts up the tradition of baptism that was open to all.  The egalitarianism he espoused was radical and still is radical today.  Rather than some starting out closer to God, Paul affirms that all are welcomed by Christ.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Rather than holding Jews as superior to Gentiles, (as the other teachers seemed to be teaching) all are welcomed by Christ.  This negates any divisions based on ethnic backgrounds.  Rather than holding free people as superior to slaves, all are welcomed by Christ.  This negates divisions based on class and economics.  Rather than holding men as superior to women, all are welcomed by Christ.  This negates divisions based in sexism and patriarchy.    All are welcomed regardless of race, class, or gender.    

All are welcomed and loved as the unique individuals they are and each is invited to “clothe themselves with Christ”.  This means that while each retains what makes them unique, all are clothed with the love and power of Christ.  And it is this identity, clothed with Christ as children of God, that makes all one in unity in Christ, “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.  

This unity, as children of God, outweighs any differences of opinion or background that we might have. Just as we approach God all on equal footing, so we are called to care for each other equally, valuing each other as precious.   As children of God we can honor our differences while recognizing that what draws us together is much greater.  

Now all this sounds lovely doesn’t it?  This is the community for which we aspire.  Where all are valued and cared for.   Where all live in peace.  Sadly, we know that our world falls far short.  In fact, many aspects of our society do not even try to aspire to such a vision. Racial and economic inequality is growing and has been for a while now.  The gap between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” has been accelerating since the 1980s.  Hate crimes and intolerance is on the rise.  People who profess to be Christians embrace Christian nationalism and white supremacy, using the language of faith to harm others.   There is much work to be done.  

As Baptists, as Christians, we are called to welcome all who Christ welcomes.  As beloved children of God, clothed in Christ, we have the privilege and the responsibility to make Christ’s love manifest in the world; to speak out and to reach out, especially to those whom the world has left behind. This means shaking up the status quo.  This means stepping out of our comfort zones.   In our churches, in this congregation, we are called to welcome all.  We can honor our differences and then celebrate our unity in Christ.

Let us pray,

Welcoming God, we praise you and thank you for your gracious gifts.  Empower us to clothe ourselves with Christ so that in all that we do, we share Christ’s love with the world.  Amen.