Galatians: The Letter of Freedom Part 2 – Pastor Trudy Franzen
Last week, we talked about Paul and the letter to the Galatians. If you recall, Paul was upset because there were people who insisted that in order to be a “real Christian,” one must be circumcised and adhere to the laws of Moses. This included keeping kosher and not eating with Gentiles.
Can you imagine how this would have undermined the egalitarian movement to follow the Way of Jesus? I dare say none of us would be here.
The practice of dining with people, called “Table Hospitality,” was much more politically charged in Paul’s day than it is in ours. For us, eating a meal is just part of our day. We may or may not even pay attention to who might be sharing a table with us. But in Paul’s day, eating at the same table was a sign of acceptance, solidarity, and intimacy. For Jesus to eat with Zacchaeus the tax collector, or any other person deemed a “sinner,” was a huge statement.
Christians in Paul’s day were making the very same statement when they not only ate with people who were uncircumcised, but they worshipped God and prayed together as well. However, there were those who were poised to mess up this whole movement of beginning to break down cultural, ethnic, and religious barriers. It would have been disastrous if they had succeeded.
Paul carefully explains what had happened in the past. He and Barnabas and the Gentile Titus has hob-nobbed around Jerusalem, interacting well with people despite the fact that some followers of Jesus wanted Titus the Gentile to become circumcised, “Judiaized” if will. At that time, Peter, James, John, Barnabas and Titus agreed that Paul would focus his ministry mainly on the Gentiles and that Peter would focus mainly on the Jewish folk. They agreed that they should always remember the poor.
But then, Peter stopped eating with the uncircumcised folk because he was afraid of upsetting people. Barnabas also stopped eating with Gentiles. Paul heard about this and chewed Peter out about it. Called him a hypocrite.
Now, on a very real level, I totally understand the temptation of Peter and Barnabas not to ruffle feathers.
There have been many times that I have seen posts on Facebook, really great posts about equality in the Church with regard to Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bisexual people. Or posts about racism or sexism. I want to share those posts, but I don’t always, because I know that there are people who are my friends on Facebook who will be offended.
There are people in my family who would be offended and do not agree with me. So I don’t post them. I don’t always say what is on my heart. I don’t always refute hateful or ignorant comments when I hear them.
I secretly absolutely support equality for everyone with all of my heart, but sometimes I am scared about being too vocal about it. Because I don’t want to upset people. I don’t like to make people angry.
Likewise I don’t want to upset people in the church about talking too much about publically including Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Bisexual people. Or about racism. Or about sexism.
I fear what Peter feared, that people will start fighting and become divided and tear the community apart. It has happened here before. I don’t want it to happen again.
But I have to be honest, Paul’s words convict me and challenge me. They convict me, because you see, Jesus’ community is a community for all people. Not just circumcised people. Not just people who keep kosher. Not just people who are straight. Not just people who are middle class. Not just for people who are white. I’ve preached this over and over for years. This is the kind of community that I want so desperately to be a part of. A community that is happily diverse.
What is easier? To abstain from pork and shrimp or to love one’s neighbor as oneself, even one’s Muslim neighbor as oneself? What is easier? To circumcise baby boys or to love your enemies, even those people who have killed or hurt innocent children?
What is easier? To exclude gay people or to forgive 70 times 7? You see, Jesus’ challenges are much more difficult that keeping Mosaic Law. They really are.
Keeping a list of do’s and don’ts that exclude people is much easier than including all people and wrestling with the consequences.
So I am convicted by St. Paul. He says, “we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
That, too, I have preached all my adult life, even before I became a pastor. We are not justified or seen as worthy in God’s eyes because of we follow laws. We are seen as worthy because of God’s grace. This is the Lutheran motto, “We are justified by God’s grace through faith.” And it doesn’t come from Luther, it comes from St. Paul. There is no law we can follow, not even a law of Jesus, that can make us okay in God’s eyes. It is God’s work that makes us okay, not ours.
There is nothing we do, and there is nothing that is done to us that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, do I hear an amen?
I am a conflict adverse person. I am like Peter. I’m not like Paul. Paul likes conflict. He’s kind of obnoxious at times.
Peter is more likely to shy away from conflict. He quietly stops eating with Gentiles because people might get mad. At times I have quietly kept my mouth shut about my own personal convictions because people might get mad. I have said nothing when someone says something unkind or unfair.
But when I look at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, I feel I cannot be compelled to be silent.
When we are silent to please those who are in power, we are hurting those who have no power. And I cannot continue to do that in good conscience.