June 19, 2022 Second Sunday After Pentecost The text is Galatians 3:23-29.
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke’s gospel this morning is rather multi-faceted. In the verses just prior to today’s reading the disciples were with Jesus in their small fishing boat crossing the Sea of Galilee; and they were terrified because a huge storm had just battered their little boat and it was in danger of sinking. And you will recall that Jesus commanded the wind and the rain to cease, simply by instructing the weather to become calm. The disciples once again marveled at Jesus’ powers and even wondered aloud just who this Jesus really was, he who even the wind and rain obey.
Immediately after this miraculous event, they come ashore in Gerasa, an area inhabited mostly by non-Jewish people; Luke notes that the country where these Gerasenes lived included burial tombs and swine herds. Both of these situations would have rendered Jesus and his disciples, being pious Jews, ritually unclean should they come in close contact with either the dead or the pigs.
Luke then adds to the mix a poor shackled, naked madman, living not in the community, but isolated in the tombs among the dead. He was said to be possessed by an entire ”Legion” of demons, and this demonic control was assumed to be the cause of his madness. In first-century Israel there was no understanding of the true causes of illness; viruses and bacteria were undiscovered and psychological disturbances, as well as physical ailments were thought to be traceable to demonic possession. Jesus heals the afflicted man and commands the demons possessing him to enter the swine herd, which is ultimately drowned along with the so-called “Legion”. Now, we can debate the term “Legion” and whether or not Luke included this as a not so thinly veiled reference to the Roman centurion occupiers of Israel, and why Jesus agreed to have the exorcised demons enter the unclean swine, and the relevance of that. But I think we are much better served if we focus on the ultimate outcome for the man who was healed of his mental affliction, this erstwhile “Gerasene Demoniac”; no longer relegated to being shacked, restrained, and living alone in the tombs among the dead. Jesus’ healing has now restored him to a member of his community; back among those whose culture, belief system, and social norms he shared. In a way this man who was separated from his society has now been restored into a righteous relationship with the wider community.
And, it’s assumed that Paul would have been keenly aware of this event, as well as other reports of Jesus’ healings when he wrote his letter to the churches in Galatia. And while the gospel narrative of demons and drowning swine is rather graphic, Paul’s letter to the Galatians makes a similar point regarding reconciliation to the community; although he stresses that community restoration is effectively achieved through the understanding that we are all bound together by our faith in Christ. Paul’s simple, straightforward declaration of the importance of restoration and participation in community is based on obeying the will of God and acknowledging the freedom granted to all members of Christ’s family. And while Paul’s letter describes these positive examples of unity, we mustn’t forget that he wrote it in the first place in response to the tensions that had arisen within the churches to whom the message was directed.
It seems that those who were Jewish followers of Jesus had pressured the gentile members of the Galatian churches to adopt many of the traditional practices of the Jews; converted males were expected to be circumcised and all were required to adhere to eating only kosher food. So, rather than serve simply as affirmations of the unity that comes through faith in Jesus, Paul was setting the record straight by castigating his readers for not behaving as Christ taught. The letter was something of a proclamation of “we’re all in this together, so let’s cut out all this ‘us vs. them’ nonsense”.
Paul reminds the Galatians that all of them “were baptized into Christ [thus all] have clothed [them]selves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of [them] are one in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s distinctions, while he lists only three, are meant to represent all the different possibilities that existed for his readers at the time. “No longer Jew or Greek”; well, the Jewish people considered anyone who wasn’t Jewish to be “Greek”. In Paul’s time Greek culture, religion, and even language had been adopted by most of the civilized world; even the Romans used the Greek language in their official writings. Heck, even Paul wrote in Greek! So, Paul is reminding the church that all who follow Christ are part of one universal community, Jewish and gentile alike. “No longer male and female”; contrary to the cultural norms of the time, all people are equal in the eyes of God and within the church of Christ. “No longer slave or free”; well, perhaps this was true within the church, but servitude was still widely practiced in the wider culture.
And, to be honest, women were still considered the property of their father if single and their husband if married; and the great differences between gentile and Jew remained prevalent outside of the church. It was Jesus who preached that all were equal in all respects; even if that hadn’t yet happened everywhere, Paul was adamant that Christ’s followers observed this practice within the church. Paul insists that those who follow Christ are no longer bound by the Law, by the commands that God set before the people. In our human-ness, we are not able to obey all the commandments all the time. God knows this, yet God’s Law is intended to serve to guide humanity toward abundant life.
Paul contends that by Christ’s coming all have been justified before God and that adherence to the Law has been overshadowed by God’s grace, bestowed upon us by our faith in Jesus. The Law exists to guide us in the ways of God and the gospel secures forgiveness when we falter. This is at the center of Lutheran theology; the Law convicts us, and the gospel of Jesus Christ saves us. All that remains is the desire and the intention for God’s people to embrace community; to live together as heirs of the promise God has made. None are to be excluded, no one is to be forced to live outside of society, shackled in the tombs. No more of this Jew or Greek nonsense; we are all children of God. Enough of this disparity between men and women, or those of any self-identified gender; we are all children of God. None of us are to live under the oppression of another, for all of us are meant to live in freedom; we are all children of God.
If any one of us is demeaned in any way, the community suffers. If any are excluded, the community is diminished by their absence. If any are denied restoration and inclusion, the community loses its identity as community. Paul got it right when he wrote to the Galatians and he’s still right today. Today is Father’s Day, and the importance of parental guidance, from Mom or Dad cannot be overstated. It is also Juneteenth, when the abolition of slavery is celebrated. It’s painful to remember that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed only 159 short years ago. June is also Pride Month, and the need for such an observance is a sad reminder that Paul’s admonitions to the churches in Galatia are still being largely ignored. He writes today to us, reminding us that we have all been baptized into Jesus, and as such we have been “clothed in Christ”. His letter to the Galatians could very well be retitled “Paul’s Letter to the Lutherans”; or to any group of Christians who claim to follow Jesus.
There is still a long way to go if the world is to be brought into the community that Paul wishes for, and that God and Jesus command. Let no one be relegated to a place outside of the community of the faithful; we are all children of God.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, we acknowledge that we fail to obey your Law and that we are made righteous before you only by the work of Jesus, your Son. Help us to remain steadfast in the Way he has set before us, accepting all we encounter for who they are; children of God.
And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who restores all the world into faithful, abundant community.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen