20th Jun, 2010

The Third Sunday After Trinity

by Ms. Shireen Ruth Baker, Postulant for Holy Orders

From the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians:

“But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.  For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight oh God our strength and our redeemer.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul talks about the Galatians relationship with the Mosaic laws and more importantly he talks about their relationships with each other.  As far as the law goes Paul equates being under the law to being under a schoolmaster.  The word that Paul uses is “Paidagogos” it refers to a slave that was entrusted with the care and discipline of a school aged boy until that boy grew into adulthood.  With this Paul is telling us two things, the first is that having matured in Christ, we no longer need a disciplinarian or a caretaker, the second is that the laws are not the master, but indeed, they are the servant and cannot make us righteous.

Now with that in mind, I have to say that growing up can be really scary, more than once in my adult life I would have gladly given up the freedom of adulthood for the security I used to feel as a child.   So it is easy to understand why the Gentiles in Galatia were willing to take on the mosaic laws.  Just as a child knows that if he follows the rules he will be rewarded, the Galatians were mislead by enthusiasts for rules and regulations into believing that following the laws would allow them to earn God’s love.  After all, it is much easier to follow proscription than grace.

St. Paul, of course, was concerned by the inequalities placed between Jews and Greeks.  After all for a very long time the mindset had been, Jews were the children of God and Gentiles weren’t.  So when Paul comes right out and says “there is neither Jew nor Greek” he is asking them to make a huge shift in the way they have always thought.  Now in order to make his point about Greeks converting to Judaism, Paul could have stopped there.  But he goes on, making a point about the unity afforded by Christ, “there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female” if he was writing us today he might have added any number of other categories: there is neither Republican nor Democrat, there is neither Catholic nor Protestant or there is neither heterosexual nor homosexual.  But the binaries that Paul does name were not minor in any way. They were set systems of culture, social class and gender.  A person’s identity in the ancient world was determined by these categories.  A free Jewish woman would see and experience the world in a completely different way than a Greek male slave. What Paul says is a radical dismantling of the primary ways in which people identified themselves.  That being said, Paul is not asking them to completely abandon all the things that have shaped their lives thus far. That would be impossible, but instead he wants them to recognize that there is a greater identity to be found in Christ, compared to which all those other categories are mere attributes, no more significant than height or hair color.  Having been baptized in Christ means adopting a new value hierarchy where the values embodied in the life in Christ take precedence over everything else.  By doing this Paul encourages unity among the followers of Christ and what he understood then is what we still struggle with today, unity does not mean uniformity nor should it.  Our differences must remain for us to be truly the body of Christ.

It would be really nice if all we needed to do was confess our faith in Christ, and God would miraculously change us and we would be forever strong and confident, and that would be the end of our story. But our faith in Christ is not the end goal, but rather the beginning of a journey, a journey that began when Christ died for our sins on the cross.

God promises to instruct and guide us, he promises to change us but does not promise that change will come easily.  In fact it will most assuredly not be easy, but if we do as Christ says and have faith we don’t need to fear.  Unfortunately fear is the very thing that will get in the way of faith.  After all there are so many things out there to fear, just like the Galatians we may fear that we are not doing the right things to please God so we make up rules and start adding caveats and addendums to God’s love.  We may fear that the world will have a negative influence on us so we build walls to keep the wicked world out.  Fear permeates everything we do, usually in the form of anxiety or worry.  We fear failure or rejection, we fear bodily injury, or like the Gaderenes in today’s Gospel, we just fear what we don’t understand.  Whatever our fears are they keep us distracted and unfocused, and at times it can get so bad that we find ourselves, like Elijah, begging God to make it stop, to take care of it all for us, to come in like a great wind and sweep away all of our problems. I wondered for a while at God’s interaction with Elijah in today’s reading.  Why would God send an earthquake wind and fire to then finally show up as a still small voice?  I think it was because Elijah was so distracted by his fears of the future that God needed physically to shake him into the present or Elijah would not have heard him.  If we want to hear God we cannot be ruminating about the past or worrying about the future we have to be in the present because that is where God is patiently waiting for us to join him.

But even if we do make ourselves present God will not shelter us from the world. That sounds rather harsh, doesn’t it?  But as Paul said we have “put on Christ” and just as Christ was incarnate in our broken world, having put on Christ is a way into, not away from, the world’s hardships.  Stewart Headlam, a 19th century Anglo-Catholic priest and activist reminds us that Catholic Christians “need neither an infallible book nor an infallible Church.  They stand on the Word made flesh through whom the world is continually made anew and by whose spirit humanity is guided to an ever deeper understanding of the truth.”  Our faith is meant to be tested and strengthened by our experiences. We are meant to be present in this ever changing world.

As is so often the tradition here at St Thomas I am going to close with a short poem, actually it is a song by John Bell but don’t worry I am not going to sing it, it goes like this;

Don’t tell me of a faith that fears to face the world around

Don’t dull my mind with fickle thoughts of grace without a ground

Don’t speak of piety and prayers divorced from human need

Don’t talk of spirit without flesh like harvest without seed

Don’t sate my soul with common sense distilled from ages past

Inept for those who fear the world’s about to breath its last

Don’t set the cross before my eyes unless you tell the truth

Of how the Lord who finds the lost was often found uncouth

So let the Gospel come alive in actions plain to see,

In imitation of the one whose love extends to me

I need to know that God is real,

I need to know that Christ can feel the need

to touch and love and heal the world, including me.


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