Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 7 (12) (June 19, 2016)
- First reading and Psalm
- Alternate First reading and Psalm
- Second reading
Galatians 3:23-29 | New Living Translation (NLT)
Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.
Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
We come to the next installment in Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. Remember, that he is writing to a church that has received “another gospel.” This other gospel says that you need to follow the laws (specifically the Jewish laws) in order to be a Christian. But here Paul argues against that notion.
Paul says the law was only put into motion to protect us. It acted as a guardian before Christ existed to lead us – to keep us right in God’s sight. But when Jesus came (the way of faith) the law is no longer needed as our guardian. We are now children of God through faith in Jesus. We are to put on Christ.
I love the picture of baptism here. In baptism we are lowered into the water – signifying our death. When we come up, we are raised to life in Christ. There is also something else about baptism that Paul alludes to – when we are baptized, the water surrounds us – it clothes us – even when we come back out of the water, we are “clothed” in water or clothed in Christ. This is especially true if we think of Christ as the living water – Christ the living water surrounds us – we “put on” Christ. Baptism is like putting on new clothes – the clothes of Christ. As believers, we are to look like Christ – that in essence is what Christian means – it means little Christs. The early followers of Christ were called “Followers of the Way.” Jesus Christ called himself the Way, the Truth, and Life. If we are truly living the life of faith in Christ, we will want to follow him and it won’t be a burden. In other letters that Paul writes, he implies that the law can become a burden, and it looks as if that is what happened in the Galatian church.
This is when we need to remember that we are believers only because of our faith in Christ. Nothing can make us new except the blood of Jesus and the power of the resurrection. Those who have done that are in Christ — those who have done that are children of God.
Christ has broken down the barriers. Jesus broke the barriers between Jew and Gentile – there is now no difference between Jew and Gentile – both now have access to the Gospel of Jesus. Galatians 3:28 is a key verse in the Wesleyan Church. It perhaps was the verse that our early Wesleyan Methodist founders used when it came to the issue of slavery.
The early Wesleyans were opposed to the idea of slavery – in fact in 1843, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection was formed because the Methodist Episcopal Church refused to take a stand on the abolition of slavery. The Wesleyan Methodist Connection became The Wesleyan Methodist Church and eventually The Wesleyan Church. As we look at this passage, I think it is very appropriate that The Wesleyan Church uses the tag #madenew.
It wasn’t long after the Wesleyan Methodist Connection was formed that one of its founders ordained the first woman in America to ministry. While they weren’t ordained in the Wesleyan Methodist Church, it wasn’t long before The Wesleyan Methodist Church started ordaining women. One of the churches that merged with The Wesleyan Methodist Church was the Pilgrim Holiness Church. At one time in the early 20th century, 40% of all the clergy in the Pilgrim Holiness Church were women. It was a consistent application of scripture.
It was that same idea found in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither male or female. All are qualified for the ministry. It was this sense of neither male or female that positioned this young denomination to host a ground breaking convention. Are you aware that the first women’s rights convention was held in a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY. (By the way, when we move, this is one of the places we want to visit.) This was not the feminism that we know today – no – it was acknowledging that women are people and not property. I am glad that Wesleyans got involved in this important movement at its founding.
So we are one in Christ Jesus – there is no Jew or Gentile – we are one – Christ died to break down the barrier – to make salvation available to both. There is no slave or free – all have access to Jesus Christ. There is no male or female – both have access to Christ – Christ broke down the dividing walls. If we are in Christ – really in Christ – and are clothed in Christ — then we are all one in Christ.