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Pentecost 5C Sermon
Galatians 3: 23-29

June 19, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

This has been quite a week for us, hasn’t it? Following the horrible atrocity that happened exactly a week ago in Orlando, the political rhetoric which followed, the blaming for violence in our country, and the presence of social media to throw gasoline on the fire of our nation’s widening divisions, we need to take a breath. I don’t know about you, but I have seen and heard enough this week about gun control, ISIS, patriotism, gay pride and political bickering to last me till next year. But I fear this won’t end here. As long as there are people who have to prove themselves as successful, moral, better than, right, good, on top of, and number one, then the divisions of our culture will continue to grow, I fear.

This is a shame. It is a shame because this is not the way that God intended us to live as His children. This is not what we think about when we read Paul’s words, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus.” That’s just not the way that it really is in the world, is it? There are still deep divisions based on religion and culture, gender and age, social status and financial well-being, and other traditional lines of demarcation that have existed from Biblical times. And not only that, there are divisions which are more recent, within the last couple of hundred years since our country was founded, divisions which have arisen because of issues that we deal with today that weren’t present in years past. Divisions based on political affiliation and the support or criticism of presidents, candidates and governments, second amendment rights and gun control, the presence of terrorism and radical Islamic groups like ISIS, the tensions that still exist between the races in our country, especially whites, blacks and Hispanics, and support or criticism of people openly living out a sexual orientation that has not been historically accepted. All I can say as a result of these divisions is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

And I say that not out of desperation, but confidence. Jesus has promised to come to judge, forgive, and save all of creation which suffers from the sinfulness that has existed since the beginning of time. But we also pray that Jesus come here, now, every day as we seek to be faithful disciples in a world which is in need of judgement, forgiveness and saving!

I think that the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the Gospel reading from Luke 8 go pretty well together today. Jesus is in a foreign land – we know that not only because we are told that he is on the other side of the Sea of Galilee in the land of the Gerasenes, but because there is a herd of swine there. Swine are unclean for the Jewish people, and they would never raise them for any reason.

There are other unclean things in this passage – an unclean legion of spirits which have possessed a man to the point that the community cannot control him. They have tried to shackle him up, but he breaks free. Somehow they have been able to convince the spirits to live among the tombs, among the dead – which are also unclean to Jewish people. Jesus is confronted by this man possessed, and the unclean spirits speak; they seem to think that they are in control. They think that they are intimidating and convincing Jesus to allow them to survive, by driving them into this herd of swine. But alas, after they move from possessing this man into possessing the pigs, Jesus drives into the lake where the pigs drown and, we assume, the unclean legion of spirits also die off.
Here is the problem – this man has a history, a reputation in the community. He was strange, unlike the rest of them while he was possessed. In that cause and effect society, they probably assumed that he was lost forever, that God had condemned him for something that he had done which was beyond forgiveness – much like the way that the former Jews in the Galatian church viewed the former Gentiles. Now that it appears that God has judged, forgiven and saved this man. The question which must have been going around then was this, “What are we to do with him now?” It was easy to vilify him before; how easy will it be to accept him with open arms now that he appears to have been healed from his possession? In addition, can the people trust him? They went so long without being able to before, it might be nearly impossible to be able to trust that he is truly healed now and restore him to the point of being able to live in a house, with his family and friends, and among the community.

I imagine the same kinds of questions were going on in Galatia and other parts of Paul’s world as those who were formerly Jewish were asking what they are to do with these Gentiles, who were previously seen as unclean unless they became like them first. And those formerly Gentile were asking what they were to do with these former Jews who always had so many strange customs and ways in regards to diet and observing festivals and being circumcised.

So, what are we to do with each other today? What are we to do with those LGBT folks who were previously seen as unclean in God’s eyes, but we now realize that God loves them and wants them to be part of his family as well? What are we to do with those people who only want to make sure that they protect their rights to own firearms for their own protection, sport and pleasure? What are we to do with those neighbors who are Muslim, who are not radical and want to live peaceably as American citizens? What are we to do with those Democrats or Republicans? Those Trump or Hillary supporters? Those NRA members or those gun control proponents? Those socialists and those capitalists? Those “black lives matter” people, and those “all lives matter” people. What are we to do with each other since we know that it is God’s intention that all should be one in Christ?

I think that the first step is to recognize that God does love all people, regardless of the labels and lifestyles that we have assigned to others, especially those who are different from us. And that it is God’s intention that all of us be one in Christ. It is on account of sin that these divisions exist, and God is in the process of judging, forgiving, and saving all creation from these divisions.
And then, it is up to us Christians to treat, talk to and talk about those who are different from us with respect, love, and acceptance, living into God’s intended unity. We take Martin Luther’s explanation to the 8th commandment seriously: that to, “not bear false witness against our neighbor” means that we are to, “fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations, but come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Of course, this is not always easy or even possible to do. But we are called to a life where we are not looking to “one-up” others, but to be in good relationship with them because of the gift of God’s grace in our lives.
Ultimately, what we are to do with each other is what God does with all of us – love, forgive, and restore to our community. This does take risk, and trust, and sometimes those things are very, very difficult when we have a history of being hurt by others. But consider the risk and trust that God takes with all of us when we are forgiven and saved! Today, our prayer is that God will judge, forgive and save this broken and divided world, and will we live into that salvation in all of our words and deeds. Amen.