Galatians: The Letter of Freedom – Pastor Trudy Franzen
Imagine for a moment that people in the Church are arguing about what makes for a “real Christian.” Who is a real Christian and who is not? There’s a lot of posturing and bickering and shouting, and this guy, who claims to have authority from Jesus himself, posts a huge letter on the Internet and people just go wild over it. Some decide to follow what he’s saying. Some not. It could happen. It is happening every day!
It also happened to St. Paul about 50 years after the resurrection of Jesus. You got it, people were fighting over who the real Christians were. And we’ve been fighting ever since.
Here Paul was: he was enthusiastic and excited about a good news that was for all people. For the first time, nationality, birth, status, economics, even gender didn’t get in the way of access to God. Everyone was included in God’s plan. The whole world! No one was excluded. This radical new way had consumed Paul’s life. He had drawn thousands of people to Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And now some people were poised to mess it all up.
It is no wonder he was angry. Paul had put devoted his life to a message that God’s love and healing was for everyone. Now someone wanted to take that away from him.
We come to the beginning of this letter and we find Paul doing what anyone would expect him to do. He starts out trying to prove that his authority is authentic. His message is correct. His source is God’s very self. He has a lot to lose. Not only is he concerned about all his time and effort, the bigger issue for him is the salvation of the world itself. If these people manage to throw everyone off track, it would be disastrous.
So, Paul sets out to prove that he is legitimate and that the Gospel he had shared is correct and authentic. He begins this letter which seeks to defend the Gospel as Paul sees it and task the Galatians with the responsibility of promoting a Gospel of freedom for all people. In the fifth section of the letter, Paul says, “don’t let yourselves be enslaved again. Jesus has set us free!”
What was the big issue?
Well, more on that next week, but the big issue was circumcision and adherence to the law of Moses. There were those that said that in order to be a proper Christian, one had to believe, be baptized, and also be circumcised and adhere to the law of Moses, including keeping kosher and not eating with Gentiles.
Can you imagine how this would undermine all the work that that had been done to include all people, including Gentiles, at the table?
I don’t know who said it, but there’s something about adding something to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Follow his example in life, death and resurrection. And then add something else, like “be circumcised,” or “keep kosher.” That addition to the basics is one that keeps people out rather than inviting them in. It undermines our unity.
It is sad that it didn’t take long at all for Jesus’ example of an open table for all people to get all divided up into factions again. Sometimes people ask me, “Why are there so denominations?”
People naively say that it all started in 1517 in Germany with Martin Luther. That he was the one that broke up the church. But no, it started in the year 50, before that even. People have always wanted exclusive groups and they’ve always wanted to be in the inside of those exclusive groups.
A lot of what is behind this desire for exclusive groups is a desire to control the behavior of people.
We don’t necessarily need the 10 Commandments to tell us how to behave. Societies have had laws governing behavior since the dawn of time.
Some things are pretty straight forward. Don’t take stuff that isn’t yours. Don’t kill people. Don’t cheat people.