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Re-created to Live in Harmony
Winter Quarter: Creation – A Divine Cycle
Unit 3: The Birthing of a New Community
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 5, 2017
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Galatians 3:26-4:7
The third unit of the Winter Quarter completes the cycle of creation with Paul’s description of the life of the Church as evidence of God’s on-going creative work in giving birth to the Church. As in all births this one is filled with pain and travail.
Contrary to his other letters, Galatians is written to a region, not a particular church. The Roman province of Galatia is in modern day Turkey, and, like today, the capitol was Ankara (Ancyra). Paul addresses this letter “to the churches of Galatia,” (1:2) where the pains of birth were becoming evident in the development of conflicts and divisions which could prove fatal.
We find this lesson particularly timely. We write immediately after the US Presidential election and at a time when The United Methodist Church is threatened with schism and division. In both church and state, harsh, hateful, hurtful words have been hurled across the divide. A lesson on what brings unity may be prophetic indeed!
Earlier in this letter, Paul had discussed the faith relationship with Abraham and the Law. Now he makes clear we all are connected by faith through Christ – and what a connection! We are family! We are the children of God, with one Father. The family metaphor is a powerful and intimate one, with recognition dysfunctional families are too often the norm, rather than close ones. The family of God cannot be anything else but close.
The divisions in the Galatian church as enunciated by Paul were three, and each played a part in the problems Paul confronted. O yes, confronted, because there is no letter of Paul more confrontational in language than Galatians. His writing is almost saying, “What are you doing?”
There were racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural divisions stated clearly in the key verse 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female; for all of you are one in Christ.”
In the church the Jewish faction wanted to require all Christians to meet a standard established centuries before in the Mosaic Law. Two of those requirements involved circumcision for males and dietary restrictions for all believers. Every male Jew prayed a morning prayer in which he thanked God he was not a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. Paul himself would have prayed this prayer before his conversion.
Although that conversion occurred in a moment of time on the road to Damascus, the full effect would take years to work out in Paul’s life and witness. Just read his history earlier in Galatians, when he chronicles the significant events in his faith journey. The key verse declares a call for all to be inclusive and not to impose individual preferences and habits on others. Of course, we will continue to differ over many issues, but they pale in the face of who we are by the grace of God’s gift of Jesus Christ.
The acceptance of this gift is Paul’s definition of faith. Even Abraham walked by faith, not works, and, in that sense, we are all children of Abraham. There is not anything we can do to merit or earn that designation as a child of God and a member of His family – it is a gift.
We can list many contemporary pairs of divisive issues: rich or poor, urban or rural, liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or progressive, Democrat or Republican, yes or no on climate change, environmentalist or industrialist, gay or straight, and we’re sure, many more. Just make your own list. The question is: do any have the power to overcome what Christ has done?
Some would say: “Faith in Christ is only personal and these issues are social and political. There is no connection.” Here is where Paul’s word to the Galatians is most helpful. He uses another metaphor: We are clothed with Christ. When we are baptized, we put on Christ like dressing every day. To dress ourselves with Christ means we are to live like Christ. Elsewhere, Paul uses the same metaphor in Colossians 3:12-14 to describe the attributes we are to exhibit as disciples of Jesus. He concludes, as in I Corinthians 13, with saying “and over all these virtues put on love, which binds them altogether in perfect harmony.”
Lest this clothing sound like works-righteousness, remember the gift of Jesus came first. The gift evokes the faith, the faith results in the clothing, and our clothes reflect the very nature of Jesus Himself. As in the hymn, “They will know we are Christian by our love.”
In Paul’s view we are heirs. He uses another metaphor here that is even more strongly stated in Romans 8 – adoption. We have an adopted grandchild. Joe is no less a Rogers because of his adoption than Quint or Jamie. They are all our grandchildren.
Likewise, we were adopted by God the Father into His family, and thus we became heirs of His promises. We also have no say about who are our brothers and sisters. The question about inclusion is not ours to make! We can deny it, and, in so doing, disobey God’s will to “love one another as I have loved you.”
We need to be reminded often the whole purpose of God’s gift of grace in Jesus is to restore the relationship with which creation began. Again and again, we re-enact Adam’s disobedience to do it “our way!”
Paul saw the Law as a teacher or guardian protecting the immature before they could fully inherit the promises. Like a minor who inherits wealth before they are of age to manage it has a trustee or guardian, so we in our immaturity needed such a guardian as the Law.
In the fullness of time, “God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law, so we might receive adoption as children.” In that gift, we are enabled to address God as “Abba! Father!” In verse 6 he concludes: “So you are no longer a slave but a child…” YES! We can call God “Abba – Daddy.” In the words of Martin Luther King: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.”
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.