June 23rd, 2019
Our Identity in the Eyes of God
by The Rev. Canon Dr. Darcey Lazerte
There is a festive feel today. It doesn’t hurt that we have our annual church bbq later today and that summer has finally arrived. Also a group of us are heading off to Belize next Sunday for our biannual Belize Mission and so there is a group of us who are excited and I know many of you are supporting us in the mission. Further, and while I know it is almost the end of June, but we finally used our backyard for the first time as a family this year! So there is a little bit of a feeling of a party in the air. So I will not be long-winded today but I would ask that we focus because while there is a richness to our scriptures today, in this particular writing of Paul we have one of the most profound revelations that he shares with us in his writings.
So let’s set it up a little. Today we hear from one of Paul’s earliest writings, the book of Galatians. Just as an aside, Paul’s writings are not organized according to when they were written but rather by their length. So they begin with Romans, the longest, and end with Philemon the shortest. So one of the things biblical scholars do is debate the order in which Paul wrote his letters. So while there is no unanimity, it is generally believed that Galatians was early and most likely the second book that he wrote after 1 Thessalonians, though I did have a prof who debated 2 Thessalonians was his first writing – I can see by your looks that you are only so interested in that detail! OK, so back to today’s passage. What we need to take from this discussion is that it is an early writing of Paul and this is important because of the themes he brings up and there are two specifically I would like us to focus on this morning. The first is the relationship between the “Law” and “Faith” and the second is our identity.
Beginning with “Law” and “Faith”. This is a constant theme that we hear in Paul’s writings and I will not dwell on it but rather reflect upon Paul’s early revelation. He opened today’s passage by writing “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed”. Now a first reading of this might make one think that faith is superior and the law was just a holding place. However Paul closes out today’s reading by saying “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise”. Here we see a connection between followers of Jesus and those who were given the law. This makes sense in Paul’s context as the church (or followers of Jesus), at this point, were mostly (like Paul) observant Jews or Gentile God-fearers, who met in the synagogue. So one of the themes we see develop throughout Paul’s writings and his ministry is how the “Law” and “Faith” or “Grace” relate and what that means for the original covenant. Often, as the church, we simply replace the Jews with the Church but this is so against what Paul had to say because he really does work under that principal Jesus spoke of “I came not to replace the law or the prophets but rather to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5: 17) So Paul and the early church work through this issue of the eternal faithfulness of God, the original covenants and the revelation of Jesus in such a way that they are linked to one another and remain relevant to one another. We see here today one of the beginning pieces of this conversation.
The most interesting part of today’s writing I think is verse 28 where he writes “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female”. These are profound words and I think words that should make us all take a moment and reflect for in a day in age in which identity and identity politics is front and center Paul takes us away from this to what identity looks like in the eyes of God. It is even more profound because when you look at the Bible it certainly has counter cultural elements but it is not a revolutionary book. It does not read like Marx’s Communist Manifesto. In fact the spirit of much of the scriptures can be found in Jesus’ interaction about paying taxes to Caesar when he famously says “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. (Mark 12:17) There is certainly an element of Jesus’ ministry which speaks to injustice but it does not call for an aggressive overthrow of temporal powers and authorities. This is clearly seen in the classic four unequal power balances we see in the ancient world. Just to remind you, as we touch on this every year or two. These were government over citizen, husband over wife, slave over master and parent over child. To pick on slavery, in the book of Philemon Paul entreets the slave owner to let the slave continue to work with him because he has done so well and he reminds them that they are all equal in the eyes of God but he never speaks of the injustice of slavery. Now that said, much of the emancipation movement had to do with the witness of scripture and the leadership provided by those courageous Christian leaders who spoke out against the injustice of slavery. That said, it would be erroneous to say that scripture condems slavery. Given this, and given that it is so early in Paul’s writings I think that it is incredible that Paul picks three of our profound identity markers (then as well as now); ethnicity, status/position and gender and says God does not see them. This is important as we read through Paul’s letters because often he gets enmeshed in debates around identity markers and weighs in. However, I would argue that this is Paul working through the values of this world versus the values of the kingdom and that early on in his ministry he realized that God does not see us by our differences but rather God see us as a creation redeemed in Jesus Christ. I think this is especially important for us as Anglicans because the truth is we do like our internal fights and conflicts and I think it would be fair to say that part of our identity is to highlight our differences both within the church and outside of it. We see in Paul’s writing that this is part of the DNA of the church so to speak but that we are called to a higher place beyond this where God does not see those identities which we hold so dear to our hearts and in our lives.
So let us enjoy the sunshine and go have a party but let us also remember that we are all children of Abraham and beloved in God’s eyes, no matter how we identify ourselves.
Thanks be to God. Amen.