31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 28, 2017
Galatians 3:26-28, 5:13-14, 22-25
1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 31, 13:1-8
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
The United Church
Did you notice how I said that? Not the UCC. Not even the United Church of Christ.
The United Church
Ron Bufford, the architect of the God is Still Speaking advertising campaign, started training people to say it that way as a reminder of why we were created, as a reminder of our calling – to always be united in Jesus Christ.
It’s a reminder we need to hear over and over again because it is so easy to not be united in Christ.
For 1000 years, the Christian church was one, and then for another 500 years, it was only two – the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches. But with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, Christians all across Europe began to think about their faith in a different way, began to practice their faith in a different way, and the church began to divide and multiply at a dizzying pace.
There came Lutherans, Anglicans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, Methodists, and even those divided – Lutherans became Evangelical, Wisconsin Synod, and Missouri Synod Lutherans. The Anglicans in the United States became Episcopalians. The Calvinists became Presbyterians and Puritans, who in time joined with the Pilgrims and became Congregationalists.
Differences. The Church of Jesus Christ became very focused on their differences. It was not unlike what was happening in the Galatian churches, much to the Apostle Paul’s aggravation.
And in this letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul unabashedly vents his frustration with them. If you read the beginning of chapter 3, you will see that Paul actually calls them “Foolish Galatians”.
Foolish Galatians, Paul writes, “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God…There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26,28)
In her commentary on this passage, Rev. Mary Hinkle Shore explains Paul’s words like this, “because the new age has come, the old structures of reality — things thought to be as woven into the fabric of being [-] as Jew/Greek, slave/free, male and female — no longer define reality.” “With Christ’s death and resurrection, a new chapter has begun.”
“With Christ’s death and resurrection, a new chapter has begun.” With their baptisms, a new chapter has begun.
So why do they want to go back to the old ways? Why do they want to go back to the old divisions that kept them separate from one another and from God? Why would they “want to roll back time to an age when the resurrection had not happened, when the gentiles were separate from the Jews, and when works of the law — not the working of the Spirit — enacted the will of God in the world.”? (www.workingpreacher.org, May 28, 2017)
Paul cannot imagine any reason why they would want to go back. They are foolish to want to go back.
But we do go back to our divisions, not Jew and Greek, slave and free, but Methodist and Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Baptist, Episcopalian and Congregationalist, member/ non-member.
We like our categories, our labels, even when they create separateness and division.
Do we like them because they are comfortable, like a familiar old pair of sweatpants? Do we like them because they are known and thus require no thought or change? Or do we like them because they make us feel special?
Yes, yes, and yes. We like to be comfortable. We don’t like change. And we really like being part of the ‘in’ group.
All of these things are true, and what is also true is that “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greek, slaves or free, [Methodists or Congregationalists, members or not members] – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
We have been called by Jesus to be one. By our baptisms, we are ONE in Christ.
But it’s challenging to live it. Like the Galatians, we feel ourselves tempted to roll back time to an age when the resurrection had not happened, when the rules made one group God’s special, chosen people and excluded others; when social, political, or gender distinctions gave one group more status than another; to an age when some members of the community thought they were better than the rest.
It’s challenging to live as the United Church, of Christ.
So how do we do it? How do we put aside our categories, our differences, our divisions?
The same way the church has done from the very beginning – with love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)