GiftsEden On The Bay

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Adoption Is Final - 07/07/2019

We are so different from the Galatians Paul wrote this letter to sometime during those first 20 years after Jesus rose from that tomb.

It can be a challenge to get through this language of Jew and Gentile, for instance.

You may remember that while Peter and James and some of those first apostles stayed in Jerusalem to share the Good News of Jesus the Messiah with their fellow Jews, it was Paul who focused his ministry almost entirely on bringing that same Good News to the gentiles. The gentiles in that first century world were pretty much all the people who were not Jewish ... all the people whose males were not circumcised. So the practice of circumcision is a large part of what Paul writes about in this letter.

That may lead one to ask: What could a 2,000-year-old letter to far-away church friends, mostly about circumcision, do to nurture my faith? How does this letter help me to perceive more clearly the ways God is guiding and compelling me in my life? … right here and now, on the shores of Lake Superior as summer has finally arrived above the 45th parallel, as California rumbles, as our people – from families to nations – stand too often painfully divided with heals dug in.

This is one of those places where we have to work our bible study muscles a little harder to look beyond the seemingly irrelevant details for the bigger picture. There we can often find the relevance, the essential truths of the Christian Way that connects all of us … us and our ancestors in Galatia, us and Christians everywhere.

To begin with, here’s a little more about what has happened around this letter. Paul had come to these gentile people in the region of Galatia and shared the story of Jesus with them. He told them how through Jesus, they were no longer slaves to anything, including sin and death. That Jesus had come not only for the benefit of the Jews, as was prophesied in the Jewish scriptures, but for the rest of creation too, including them …

… people who worshiped the empire’s gods or other gods, people who never heard of the God of Abraham.

Paul persuaded many of them to come to our God. They felt called into those first Christian faith communities of people who gathered with one another to hear for the first time and then retell and talk about the stories of Jesus. They broke bread together. They gathered in a new and innovative Way that pushed them to break down social barriers between people. They learned with each other how to practice the Jesus-Following Way, which centered on worshiping only the One True God, and loving all neighbors, even enemies, as Jesus would love them.

(That’s only half of the equation on the loving neighbor commandment, by the way. The act of loving neighbor radically implies that we receive that gift of radical love part of the time too. And so Jesus’ commandment is fulfilled when we do both well, when we both love the neighbor and receive the love of neighbor. One cannot truly take shape without the other.)

So Paul has kicked started this community, drowned them in the waters of baptism and invited them into God’s big new reality made through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As many of you as were baptized into Christ / have clothed yourselves 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 you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:27-29)

And then he left. As Paul was prone to do, he was off to other places where he could tell the story to new people and kick start more faith communities of the Jesus-Way. His mission was to take that story and the freedom that came with it to as many people as he possibly could.

Now Paul and Jesus’ Apostles weren’t the only ones traveling around and sharing Jesus’ story. We saw that coming all along in the stories of Jesus’ ministry. People saw and heard and were healed and changed and they told others. It’s in the story we heard recently about the man from Geresene who was afflicted with a legion of demons. “The man from whom the demons had gone begged that (Jesus) might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:38-39)

This story does that to people. They hear it and then experience the difference … the change it brings to their lives and then they share it with others, adding their own experience to the mix.

Mostly, I think this is a gift to the world … someone’s account of their story through those baptismal waters.

Each story starts with something like “Let me tell you about how Jesus experienced our human walk and then died on the cross and rose from the grave for the love of us. And this is how that freedom from sin and death has affected me ….”

And one person tells the story of how he was able to seek forgiveness and offer it in a long-broken relationship with his son …

Another person talks about growing in the trust that God is at work in every single thing around us and how that makes it a lot easier for her to be less judgmental and more compassionate about that difficult family she has to work with each week …

Or perhaps we see the story of relationship added to God’s story of Jesus. I would argue we see that through the witness of life-long partnerships – like that of the Tom and Karen Derwin, whose marriage of 50 years we give thanks for this weekend. Through relationships like theirs we can perceive this courage we are able to live with as people of Jesus – we can see through them what it might look like to commit to the sometimes challenging and mostly fruitful work of loving each other, knowing that God’s Spirit goes with us to all the mountains and valleys of this life, through all the deaths and births and rebirths of our relationships. God is there in every leap of faith and every sure step of confidence in our relationships.

It is truly a blessing to hear and witness stories such as these, to hear how our stories are eternally intertwined with God’s story. A blessing indeed.

… And sometimes it’s a challenge too, as is the case with the Galatians and the reason for Paul’s letter to them. It seems that after he left them some other Gospel bearers had come, with a different spin on what it meant to be part of the Christian community. They believed in order to be true followers in this new Way of Jesus, the people must become Jewish and obey all the laws of the Torah, including circumcision. Without this step, they could not be counted among the heirs of Abraham Jesus came to save.

Now this version of the Good News probably did not evolve out of malicious intent. The Jewish people held and hold rituals like circumcision as a sacred part of the holy covenant made between God and Abraham. It is a holy way deeply imbedded in the people, as baptism is for us. It was a traditional mark of one who worshiped the One True God. And it was no easy or small thing for these early Jewish Jesus followers t  understand that one could follow the way of a Jewish rabbi/Messiah and not abide by all the Jewish laws.

But that is the new creation God has ushered into the world with Jesus. And so Paul needed to make his Gospel argument again, to widen that circle again of what Jesus meant by “all,” to bolster the confidence of the Galatian people that through baptism they were adopted into the family of Abraham. “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”(Gal 6:15)

So, what we find in this bigger picture of what’s going on in this letter is quite relevant to us. What could a 2,000-year-old letter do to nurture our faith? How does this letter help us to perceive more clearly the ways God is guiding and compelling us now?

I think we can find something to connect with in the story of Paul, a Jesus follower in a place where hardly anyone knows the story of Jesus. I think we can find some parallel between us and a faith community that comes together to support one another in Christian life and vocation, that pushes itself to keep Jesus’ commandment to worship God and love neighbor, all of them.

I think in this letter we are reminded that we come from a long and rich traidtion of people who hear, experience and retell the story of Jesus and weave our own stories into it as we pass it on.

And I think we hear that we are wise to say alert to perversions of the Gospel; to those who would have us believe there are other hoops to jump through or works to chalk up on some heavenly scoreboard before we are truly adopted into this family. Like the Galatians we are to remember “in Christ Jesus (we) are all children of God through faith.” (Gal. 3:26).


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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