Sermon July 4, 2010
First Trinity Chicago / Pr. Tom Gaulke
For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.
Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! - Galatians
One of the scriptures we spoke about last week,
was Paul's letter to the Galatians.
You'll recall that the big issue in Galatia, (among the men—and also their spouses),
was that a traveling group from a different 1st Century Christian congregation,
(whom Paul called 'the circumcision faction' or the 'circumcisionists'),
[personal note: good band name!]
came into Galatia.
And this particular sect, rather than respecting the diversity of the Galatians' religious expression,
sought to impose their own religious teachings and customs upon the Galatians,
as the One Right Way,
That One Right Way, you'll remember consisted of forcing the custom of adult circumcision upon adult males,
who, according to the Faction's teachings, would not truly be “heirs to God's promise”
unless they received the (*snip*) sign of God's covenant with Abraham.
Last week we discussed Paul's impassioned reaction against this teaching
(this teaching that scared the crap out of the faithful Galatian men),
as being anti-the-Gospel-of-Freedom-in-Christ,
and therefore anti-Christian,
The true Gospel message, concludes St. Paul, (in Galatians!) is that “it is for freedom you have been set free.”
“The only thing that matters is faith active in love,”
and today: “...neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” A new creation is everything.
This week, I'd like to focus on another underlying issue in this epistle to the Galatians.
That is, (I think, really: )the issue of circumcision in the Galatian community was a surface level question.
(As is the case with many things folks over-focus on and make a big deal about—especially in church communities)
But there were much, much deeper and more harmful core convictions
among the circumcision faction
that lead to their conclusion of the necessity of this outward ritual.
There were much deeper core convictions among this particular sect which lead to harmful,
I'd like to examine what some of the core convictions and core values might have been
that motivated the circumcision faction to try to 'convert' those whom God had already transformed in Galatia,
and wonder with you a little bit about how Paul's passionate reaction might be calling us, too,
from similar core beliefs or attitudes.
I don't know what the Faction—Paul's opponents believed, deep, deep down: but knowing what we know from history and from biblical studies, this is my educated hunch:
The Faction (often called the Judaizers by modern scholars), were Ethnically Jewish folk who believed that Jesus was the Messiah—“the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets,” and the One the people of Israel had been waiting for for centuries.
In alignment with the religious tradition they had inherited from their fore-mothers and their fore-fathers, the Faction believed that the One true God was the God of Israel—the God above all gods, and the Lord above all Lords—and, in accord with 1st century Judaism, the only God—the One True God.
The Faction believed that God had specially chosen Israel—chosen them and called them the chosen people (the One chosen people), a people set apart and holy in the eyes of the Lord and in the eyes of all nations.
The Faction believed that their ancestors, Noah and Moses and Abraham, had covenanted with God, promising, as a sign of God's covenant to fulfill certain ritual behaviors.
Noah's covenant was God's promise of display—the rainbow—the bow set in the clouds, a promise of God's protection from the further violent destruction of the land.
The covenant with Moses was a covenant of the people's promise to obey God's laws and commandments—a marriage of sorts—God's and the people's promise of faithfulness to one another, under certain contractual obligations.
The other covenant (which predates Moses) was the covenant God made with Abraham.
This promise included blessings for all of Abraham's many descendents—
the sign that was signified (or made a sign) by the ritual act of circumcision—
a sign that one was made an heir to that promise of God.
Deep down, the Faction (the Judaizers) truly believed that status as a Child of Abraham—and therefore one's status as an heir to the promises of God, was contingent upon (for men), one's status as a circumcised individual.
Beneath that, however, (because remember: circumcision was only the surface issue) was the deeply ingrained belief that in order to be an heir to God's promises, one must belong to the Nation/Tribe of Israel. Citizenship in God's kingdom meant being a part of the political/Tribal body of Israel.
As the best nation in the world, under God's eyes, this unspoken core belief contended,
it is our duty, our joy, and our call, to colonize the rest of the world. To be a light to the nations.
To plant our flag, to snip the putz, and thereby offering the Salvation that is contained in being a member of our national (circumcised) body.
We will offer salvation to these poor Galatians, said the traditionally-appointed Chosen-Ones, by making the Galatians just like us. In doctrine. In pious practice. And in the Flesh.
To state it more concisely, underlying the surface issue—the spoken core value as belief in circumcision—loomed the more deeply ingrained and unspoken core value of the Faction's proud nationalism and ethno-centrism.
“For if those who are nothing think they are something,” says St. Paul, “they deceive themselves.”
The problem with nationalism of any kind—and the struggle in Galatians is one of a national superiority complex on the side of the Circumcision Faction—is that nationalism, on the less-forceful and slightly-less demonic end (in the case of the Judaizers in Galatia) seeks to make those who are not a part of that nation into a part of the nation. “For their own damn good.” Either by colonizing, or by declaring war and usurping a people. Because the Nation believes that she is the Best Nation. Therefore, she seeks to make all others into herself.
People do this, too.
As the controversy in Galatia didn't have to do with land, but with human lives [or “souls”], the colonization took the form of circumcision—the equivalent of a flag planting, a branding, a certificate of birth into citizenship of the Nation.
In nationalism's more extreme and more demonic forms (if I might make that judgment), the Nation, viewed as the Only and the Best, seeks not to convert or transform (as in the case of the Judaizers in Galatia), but, rather, goes farther, and seeks, instead, to wipe out all non-nationals, minority groups, religious deviants, or immigrants. Certainly this form of Nationalism was manifest in the Holy Roman Empire, in the so-called Christian Crusades, the Inquisitions of history (including the Reformation) and in many political and religious ideologies of our time.
St. Paul's message of Grace calls us away from colonization.
Calls us away from nationalisms.
From arrogance. From elitism.
And into the religious truth that In Christ (and in Spirit) there is to longer Greek or Jew, Male or Female, American or Mexican, or German or Iraqi or Honduran, but rather all are one.
Citizenship in God's Kingdom transcends all earthly Kingdoms or Republics or Commonwealths,
calling citizens of God's Kingdom not to colonize, but to embrace, to set free, and to actively love.
This is my challenge to you all (and to myself) this Independence day:
(Quote: Maturity is not throwing a fit every time you don't get your way).
Can you have a conversation about something you care deeply about with a neighbor, a family member, or a friend, and not have it turn into and argument (or a war) that you must win. Can you be content in disagreeing?--in not having to 'plant your flag' in him or her as a sign of your conquering or colonizing him or her in the argument?
Even more, can you allow yourself to be touched or transformed by your neighbor, rather than assuming that you are already all all right? Will you allow yourself to experience Christ's transforming presence in your neighbor—or even in your enemy?
Can you act out in your relationships (both personal and professional) not with the desire to control or manipulate or dominate, but rather with fruits of the Spirit: including, freedom, equality, and love?
In other words: Can you apply all the stuff we just talked about to your personal life?
By the way: if you are saying yes too easily to these questions, you are either being incredibly self righteous, or you're not paying attention.
Lastly, as a nation:
(We usually begin our worship services with a Confession of Sin.)
What might is look like, this Fourth of July,
as we celebrate our Declaration of Independence from those who colonized the Americas,
to look at how we, as a nation, have abused and continue to abuse the freedom we declared upon ourselves back in July of 1776.
To ask seriously, how our freedom from colonization has lead to the colonization of others—and how our 'free' lifestyles effect those around the world who are sacrificed in sweatshops and drug cartels for the sake of our 'free' (and cheap) pleasures. (BTW: diff. Between freedom and licentiousness)...
And might we ask how Christians, as folks who pledge allegiance, ultimately, to Christ, might act responsibly in this nation, guided by the principles of the Kingdom of God.
May God bless all peoples and all nations who long today for justice, hope, and peace.
May God's Kingdom Come. May God's Will Be Done.