Sermon for June 23rd, 2013
23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Galatians: An Evolutionary Love
At the end of their first date, a young man takes his girlfriend home. Emboldened by the night, he decides to try for that important first kiss. With an air of confidence, he leans with his hand against the wall and, smiling, he says to her, "Darling, how 'bout a goodnight kiss?" Horrified, she replies, "Are you mad? My parents will see us!" "Oh come on! Who's gonna see us at this hour?" "No, please. Can you imagine if we get caught?" "Oh come on, there's nobody around, they're all sleeping!" "No way. It's just too risky!" "Oh please, please, I like you so much!!" "No, no, and no. I like you too, but I just can't!" "Oh yes you can. Please?" "NO, no. I just can't." "Pleeeeease?..." Out of the blue, the porch light goes on, and the girl's sister shows up in her pajamas, hair disheveled. In a sleepy voice the sister says: "Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he'll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!"
Today I'll be talking about a revolutionary love--the love of Christ. But before you look at today's sermon title in your bulletin and think that I misspelled it...I'll also be talking about an evolutionary love. Without the R. Evolution can be a dangerous word to use in some church circles, so let me start by saying that I believe in evolution. I don't put much stock in the argument that says an intelligent, thinking Christian has to choose between science and faith, as if the two were mutually exclusive. I believe that God is the creator of the universe and all the laws of science, so if evolution is God's tool and method for the creation of humanity, I'm perfectly ok with that.
But at the same time, my understanding of evolution is not limited to the narrow scope of the origin of species. As a person, as a pastor, as a husband and a father...I am continually evolving. Changing, growing, I am not the same person I was twenty years ago, or even twenty minutes ago. In this sense, we all evolve. Over time, churches evolve, business evolve, nations and cultures evolve. We are surrounded by evolution--and by evolution, I don't mean just random change. Evolution is slow, incremental changes by which we adapt to our circumstances and become better.
A few months ago in our sermon series on Revelation, I showed several charts, graphs and statistics that tracked everything from war, famine, poverty, and disease to show that, despite what we may fear, over the past few centuries humanity across the board, even in developing countries, has become stronger, healthier, more peaceful, and we are living longer lives than ever before. We are evolving.
But unlike some proponents of evolution and natural selection, I see God's hand in this process, guiding all of us forward as we evolve into the Kingdom he has prepared for us. I believe in natural selection, because I believe that God, by his very nature, has selected or chosen us to be his people. And I believe that this selection process, this evolution, is reflected in the scriptures, in the story of God calling his people out of the wilderness, into the land of Israel, and into faith in Jesus Christ.
In today's passage from Galatians, Paul speaks of a time "before faith came"--a time when God's people were "under the law." Elsewhere in Galatians, Paul also speaks of a time before the law, so we have three distinct phases here in Paul's thought, three different stages of evolution: Before the law (this is the time of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham), under the law (Moses, the Kings and Prophets), and after the law (from the time of Jesus onward).
To best understand these stages of evolution, I think of my children. When they were first born, they kind of just did what they did. They cried, they ate, they slept, they made special presents for me to dispose of...and not much of anything I did could change that. As much as I would have liked to have laid down some rules for them (no crying at 2am, no peeing in the middle of a diaper change, all baby food must remain within one foot of the high chair...) I don't think it would have done much good. Amy and I expressed our love for them by simply taking care of them, no matter how loud or smelly they sometimes were. And mostly they were cute and happy. Mostly.
When they got older, though, and began to understand the difference between right and wrong, we made rules. We're still in that phase. The rules aren't just for our own benefit (although no crying at 2am is pretty nice now!) but for their benefit. The rules are an expression of love--our desire to keep them safe, healthy, and happy in a world they share with other people. Our kids don't always understand the rules, but we try to explain them as best as we can, and regardless of whether they are understood or not, we certainly enforce them. We'll be in this phase for another 15 to 20 years.
Some of you with children have already passed into phase three: Your children have grown up and become adults out on their own. You can make all the rules you want now, but I suspect that enforcing them would be an exercise in futility. The hope is that they have internalized all the rules they grew up with, that they understand the reasons behind them, and they make their own decisions, for better or for worse. They are no longer "under the law" but hopefully most of the time they do the right thing not because it's a law, but because it's simply the right thing to do (especially the one about no peeing in the middle of a diaper change!). You are still their parents, but if they listen to your advice in this phase, it is because they have faith in your words, faith in your wisdom, faith in your love for them.
Evolution. The trickiest parts are right around those transitions. Paul is trying to get across to the Galatians in verse 25-26 that "now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith." It's time to graduate, time to grow up, time to evolve!
But some people refuse to evolve. In the world of evolution, there is something called the Darwin Awards. It's an award given to those who do something so incredibly stupid that, in the process of removing themselves from the gene pool (by death or sterilization) they improve humanity by making sure their genes are not passed on. Think of it as the opposite of natural selection.
Just one example: When his 38-caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked. There are many more like this--just Google "Darwin Awards" and prepare to be simultaneously shocked, amused, and dumbfounded all at once.
Those are probably the same emotions that Paul felt when writing to the Galatians. He begins chapter three by calling them "you foolish Galatians!" and I think "foolish" is probably a nice way to translate the Greek word ἀνόητος which literally means non-thinking, mindless, or just plain stupid. Paul is frustrated because the Galatians have heard the gospel message, they have embraced Jesus Christ as messiah, and yet, somehow, they have convinced themselves that nothing has really changed. Nothing needs to change. No evolution here.
Before we criticize the Galatians too harshly, I wonder...it's almost 2,000 years since Paul wrote those words, but have we evolved much since then? Paul says that "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." And that sounds great to us! Or at the least, it doesn't sound nearly as offensive as it would to Paul's audience.
In Paul's time, the predominant view was that "you can't possibly be a Christian...and a Greek!" You have to become Jewish first. Jesus was Jewish! To be Greek means to live a Greek lifestyle, to worship Greek gods, to be everything that a good Jewish Christian is not!"
In Paul's time, people were saying "you can't possibly be a Christian...and a slave! Slaves have no rights, they do what their masters tell them. How can a slave choose to do anything, let alone be baptized?"
In Paul's time, people were saying "you can't possibly be a Christian...and a female! If a woman is baptized but her husband is not, it will cause a breakdown in the basic structure of the family! This is about family values!
All of this sounds almost silly to us now. The inequalities of Paul's time are not the inequalities of our own time. But how many of you have ever been told, or thought to yourself: "You can't possibly be a Christian and also a...(fill in your blank here). We know what our hypocrisies are; we know where we are prone to fall back on laws and rules and legalistic interpretations of scripture in order to exclude people who are different from us.
And to us, Paul speaks again: Foolish Presbyterians. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There are no separate categories. There are no special Christians, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
It's time to evolve. It's time for us to grow beyond our fears and prejudices, and see each other as God sees us: Through the light of love, through the eyes of God's son, who loved us enough to die for us. Yes, there are still rules--but those rules are like beloved former teachers, not shackles and chains. They are means by which we strive to understand God better, not means which we measure and judge each other.
The last verse of our passage today refers to a promise: "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." What is the promise that we are heirs to? What is the promise God made to Abraham and his offspring? Paul mentions it in Galatians 3:8. "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." The word Gentiles here isn't a very good translation. The word in Greek is ἔθνη -- it's where we get the word "ethnicity" from. All the ethnicities, all the races, all the nations, all the peoples shall be blessed in you. Paul goes so far as to call this the gospel, the good news. And it's you. You are the blessing. We are the blessing.
That's a love well worth evolving into.