5th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – June 19, 2016 – Galatians 3:23-29
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Only Us – Pastor Evan Davis
In reflecting on the tragedy of 49 of God’s children being murdered and 54 wounded by another of God’s children in Orlando last Saturday night, our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said this:
“We are killing ourselves. We believe that all people are created in God’s image. All of humanity bears a family resemblance. Those murdered in Orlando were not abstract “others,” they are us. But somehow, in the mind of a deeply disturbed gunman, the LGBTQ community was severed from our common humanity. This separation led to the death of 49 and the wounding of 54 of us. We live in an increasingly divided and polarized society. Too often we sort ourselves into like-minded groups and sort others out. It is a short distance from division to demonization.”1
Enter the apostle Paul – a man who knew how quickly division turns to demonization. After all, he was one of the demonizers. He had made a career and a life out of traveling that short distance – from a division that marked his life, the division of regular Jews and those Jews who had come to believe that Jesus was not only their Messiah but their Lord, the very presence of God among us…and Paul traveled from that division to demonization…that these Christ-followers were not only wrong but were somehow not made in the same divine image as he was…that they were something less than human, something “other” from the humanity God made and called “good.” And so he did not only approve of their persecution and murder, he took part in the murder of these “Christians.”
When you can look at a human being and see not a child of God but an “other,” an “enemy,” a “degenerate,” or even a “thing,” we all know where that leads. It leads to Auschwitz. To the Killing Fields of Cambodia. To Hutus hacking Tutsis to death with machetes in Rwanda. To 9/11. To Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown, San Bernadino, and Orlando.
In the face of this deep darkness, we’re here this morning because the light shone in the darkness, and darkness did not, and will not ever, overcome it. You know who that light is. His name is Jesus. He’s why we’re here today. He’s why we have hope. He’s why, all evidence to the contrary, we can trust that God will overcome all our divisions and attempts at demonization.
Just look what happened when Jesus showed up in Paul’s life. I’ve been talking about this a lot recently. Paul’s on his way to Damascus, literally to go searching for more Christians to kill, when Jesus messes up his day – “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” What a question. Who is our God, indeed? “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Paul goes blind – but hadn’t he been blind already? God says to Ananias, “go talk to Saul,” and he says, “you want me to talk to who?” And God says, “don’t worry, he’s mine now.” And when Ananias starts talking to him about Jesus, something like scales fall from his eyes and he can SEE again…well, he can see ANEW. He now sees God, and God’s children, with new eyes. You see, these are the kind of eyes only God can give, because no matter who you’re looking at, you can’t help but see that person as a beloved child of God. They are very special eyes, my friends.
Fast forward a few years and Paul is out starting churches and he ends up writing letters to those churches he started, including that wonderful church in Galatia. And Paul says in this letter that the law, that is, all of the things that Jews do because they are Jews, in order to divide themselves from everyone else, like what they eat and wear and do and that the men are circumcised, all so that they will be holy as God is holy, all that law, well, it had its purpose. It was our disciplinarian. But you see, years ago, a promise was made to Abraham, a promise that all that families of the earth would be blessed through his offspring. And you can’t earn a promise…or an inheritance. You can only receive it. And you know what? What Paul has realized is…now everyone in Christ is an heir. In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. And since you belong to Christ, you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
Jesus brings Paul a long way. He brings Paul from a place where he believed the purpose of his life was to maintain and enforce divisions…even by demonizing people…to a place where the purpose of his new life is to preach the Christ who overcomes all divisions, who melts away every “us and them” divide. So now Paul can say with conviction, “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.”
It is not there are not Jews and Greeks or men and women anymore, that there are not differences between people, or even that there are not lots of God’s children who are not Christians – there’s still diversity. But what Paul has come to see is that all these people are of equal value to God. That we are all children of God no matter all the things which make each one of us unique.
This week we’ve been asking the same old questions. How long, O Lord, until we are set free from the demons of division? Until we can see with Paul’s new eyes? How long….until people do not set out to kill 50 gay and lesbian and bisexual and trans people because of who they are? How long until no one believes that killing people honors God? How long until we recognize those who disagree with us about guns or social policy are, in fact, human beings? It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree or that sometimes someone is simply wrong, and sometimes we are the ones who are wrong, but that we value one another as people for whom Christ died.
It sounds so simple and yet I truly believe this is still the most fundamental moral problem we face as as human family, as the people of God. Would Paul have changed without Jesus intervening in his life? I’m not sure. Would this “man of the city” in the gospel reading have had any shot at freedom from his legion of demons had Jesus not cast them out? The demons are still running about, possessing us here and there, seizing us, driving us to demonize ourselves. Because when we dehumanize any of our fellow human beings, that’s what we’re doing – demonizing ourselves.
And so, we need Jesus today more than ever. We need Jesus to cast out the demons that tell us you are a less valuable person if you were born outside this country, or if your skin is blacker or browner than mine, or if your sexual orientation is different from mine, or if you are simply a woman, when even in the church female clergy make 76 cents on the dollar compared to male clergy.2
Jesus is the one who can help us finally….see each other, not as “others,” but as one big “us.” Because we are one big Body of Christ. And that Body, God’s Body, is bleeding. By Christ’s power, we will stop killing ourselves. Amen.
2“The pay gap at church,” The Christian Century (February 17, 2016), 7 in Alicia Vargas, Commentary on Galatians 3:23-29, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2873 (accessed June 18, 2016).