Tag Archives: Galatians

Keep your clothes on | Sermon for Proper 7C

 

The men were roughly clothed, generally in coarse blue cloth, very carelessly put together. The women came in with their invariably noiseless, gliding step, in very wild garb; they were shrouded in blankets, their heads closely covered with various wrappings ….

Susan Fenimore Cooper, daughter of the famous novelist, shared these impressions in a series of articles called “Missions to the Oneidas” in The Living Church in 1885 and 1886.

I spent this past week at the Episcopal Tri-History Conference in Oneida, Wisconsin.

Parishioners at Church of the Holy Apostles and members of the Oneida Nation were our very gracious hosts as participants from the three historical societies of the Episcopal Church met to consider the encounters between Episcopal and Anglican churches and the indigenous people of North America.

Despite the appreciative portrayal of writers like Susan Fenimore Cooper, the tragic history of those encounters is more about European and American colonists’ attempts to “civilize” indigenous people or, frankly, to take their land, send them to distant reservations, and transport their children to residential boarding schools in order to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

The archivists and historians in the US and Canada have become painfully aware how church and state conspired over the last three centuries to make indigenous people and their cultures disappear.

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I wonder if the prophet Elijah standing by the entrance to his cave on Mt. Horeb appeared like the Oneida women, wrapped in his mantle and shrouded in the “sound of sheer silence.”

He, too, was being threatened with disappearing – Jezebel and Ahab had marked him for death after he prevailed over the false prophets loyal to the king and caused rain to fall after three years’ drought. He had run forty days and nights into the desert, far from his home.

But God gave Elijah a command: Stand on the mountain. Wrap your mantle around you and do not be swept away by the wind, the breaking rocks, the quaking ground, the fire, the noise.

Elijah must not fear those who seek his life, but he is to go back across the desert and fulfill God’s mission.

Keep your clothes on, and keep speaking truth to power.

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What a powerful jolt Jesus got as he stepped off the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee!

“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!”

The poor Gerasene man’s many demons shouted in his head and caused him to shout at Jesus.

Jesus gives the demons a command – leave this man alone – and they rush out into a herd of pigs, leaving the man sitting at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind.”

Though the townspeople are even more freaked out than they had been by the naked man living in the tombs – and he and they both probably wish he’d leave with Jesus – the man is sent home instead to share the good news of what God has done in his life.

Keep your clothes on, and keep sharing good news with your family and your neighbors.

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Paul had neighbors all around the Mediterranean, and Galatia must have been a fairly cosmopolitan Roman province, where “Jews and Greeks, slaves and free,” men and women lived and worked.

He really struggled to keep the members of his congregation there from going back to the old Law, though, to rules and regulations about who was in or who was out, what food was right to eat, what days were appropriate to observe as festivals.

Paul also struggled, according to Edward Blair, against “the Jewish nationalism of the time, which was emphasizing separation from Gentiles and strict loyalty to everything Jewish, not only in Palestine, but in the Roman world as well” (Blair 297).

His people’s focus on legalism and political separation, their disunity, is disheartening to him. “I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted,” he says.

“As many of you as have been 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.”

Keep your clothes on and act like you are one in Christ Jesus!

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Bishop Mark MacDonald is now the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

In his keynote address at this week’s conference, Bishop Mark spoke about the resilience of Native American communities like the Oneida Nation and like many of the First Nations among whom he ministers in Canada.

The Oneida, for example, though they sided with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, lost their land in New York state to their neighbors and had to relocate to Wisconsin. Here in Wisconsin, the same New York fur traders and logging companies who had driven them from their land tried to do it to them all over again.

Nevertheless, over the past 200 years, the Oneida Nation has rebounded in many ways. On the civic side the Oneida Nation is a leader among Native American communities, and on the religious side Owanah Anderson, the former native missioner of the Episcopal Church, praised Holy Apostles as “the Canterbury Cathedral of Native American ministry.”

But Bishop Mark went on to talk about a harder truth. Despite centuries of policies enacted by church and state meant to dispossess them of their land, wipe out their language, and eliminate their religion and culture, the conversion of indigenous people to Christianity has been widespread. Some 80% of First Nations people in Canada are baptized, Bishop Mark said, a much higher percentage than their “more rapidly secularizing” neighbors.

He suggests that about 5% of indigenous people practice their traditional religion, and about 5% practice “normal” European Christianity. The broad middle – most of whom are baptized, remember – make their way in the world as best they can, and are to be commended for their resilience in the face of efforts (even by fellow Christians) to make them disappear.

The resilience of communities like the Oneida, Bishop Mark says, “reeks of resurrection. It smells like the Gospel!”

The resilience of others in the face of hardship and death may smell like the Gospel, but that Gospel often comes shrouded in clothes that look strange to us.

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Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they’re wearing beaded necklaces, praying to the Great Creator, and singing in their native language.

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but we find their their political views troubling.

Some keep their clothes on and speak truth to power, but their club music is loud and unfamiliar (and we don’t know the dance steps).

Some keep their clothes on and share good news with their neighbors, but their stories of mental illness and stigma, recovery and healing make us uncomfortable.

Some keep their clothes on and act like they are one in Christ Jesus, but they make us aware of our own biases and cause us anxiety when they behave differently than we do.

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It’s in the differences between us, and the resilience with which we all deal with the situations we live in, that the Gospel will be found if we have eyes to see – to see past what Mother Teresa calls “Christ in all his distressing disguises.”

It’s in the power of the resurrection over everything that threatens to make anyone disappear that we recognize we have all “come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace” (BCP 101).

We all came up out of the same waters of baptism, we were all reeking of the oil of anointing, and we all put on a new baptismal robe.

Let’s embrace our enemies, our neighbors, even our fellow-Christians – as strange as they may seem – like Christ Jesus would and does embrace them! Let’s make sure that we are looking for resurrection rather than looking to make anyone disappear.

That’s what it means to keep our clothes on and clothe ourselves with Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

Featured image: Oneida woman ca. 1900 from Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project.

For freedom Christ has set us free | St. Peter and St. Paul

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David. (BCP 92)

God has come to his people and set them free

The Spirit includes in our fellowship people we normally wouldn’t include, and the apostles proclaim inclusion and freedom.

Peter has a vision from God that leads him to understand God is doing a new thing, inviting him to move beyond the familiar boundaries of Jewish law and practice.

In response to that vision, he follows God’s leading — “the Spirit told me to go with them, and to make no distinction between them and us” — and goes to the house in Caesarea where some Gentiles are gathered.

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:15-17)

Peter’s story convinces the leaders of the Jerusalem church. “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life'” (Acts 11:18).

God has included in our fellowship people we were once commanded to avoid, and the leaders of the church recognize that God is doing a new thing.

It’s a good start, but it doesn’t last very long.

People don’t want the freedom God offers

It’s no accident that the lectionary appoints the passage from Ezekiel for Morning Prayer on this Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Like Peter and Paul themselves, the early church struggles between law and grace, and in fact we still struggle with it to this day. We refuse to hear the message of inclusion and freedom.

Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them (Ezekiel 2:3-5).

It is, however, a lovely coincidence that the lesson appointed for this Monday morning (Proper 8) in the normal lectionary tells exactly the same story of rebelliousness.

Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’” (1 Samuel 10:17-19)

We do not want the freedom God intends for us, the special covenant relationship with God that saves us. We want what everyone else has.

So Samuel gives us Saul, whom he has already warned us about and (with God’s grudging permission) anointed as our king.

But (what a bunch of jerks!) we don’t even want the king that we chose instead of God’s freedom.

Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went warriors whose hearts God had touched. But some worthless fellows said, ‘How can this man save us?’ They despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace. (1 Samuel 10:25-27)

Can this man save us? Of course not, as Samuel has been trying to tell us.

For freedom Christ has set us free

Our apostles (whom we call bishops) still have to beat their heads against our stubbornness.

Like Paul before them, they have to keep reminding us not to slip backward into law, into exclusion, into wanting what everyone else has — a secular king who will enslave and exploit them.

We need our apostles to remind us to keep pressing forward into inclusion and freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Remembering only one thing

 

Timeline-of-Church-History

At one of the noon Eucharists last week at Bexley Seabury, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Rev. John Dally remarked that there are now some 33,582 Christian denominations in the world.

While it is commonplace to mark the first “unhappy division” of the church to 400 CE (the Nestorians and the “Oriental” Churches) or to the Great Schism between Orthodoxy and Catholicism in 1054 CE, I wonder if we don’t actually see hints of the first division much earlier.

There’s some evidence in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:7-10)

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is bracketed by two feasts — the Confession of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul — celebrating two men who became convinced that the good news of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus applied to both Jews and Gentiles, that is, to everyone.

But listen to what Paul describes in his letter: “we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Peter and Paul are, in effect, dividing the mission of the new church between them, creating two apostolates, carving out overlapping jurisdictions, however you want to describe it. They have one goal, but will pursue it in two different ways with two different populations.

Certainly Paul sees this as a happy division characterized by the “right hand of fellowship,” but I wonder if this isn’t how the whole ball got rolling. Two thousand fourteen years and 33,582 denominations later, we have gotten good at division.

Many of the divisions in Christianity are being healed by time — I just sang the same hymn “Christ, Be Our Light” with Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics this past week — so I wonder if in our time we could become equally good at “only one thing, that we remember the poor.”

Imagine 33,582 denominations laying aside rancor and remembering only one thing. Imagine one billion Roman Catholics and one billion of the rest of us in Christ’s Body the Church (two out of five people in the world) uniting in service for, with, and alongside the poor.

What if we extended the right hand of fellowship not only to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to our neighbors and all who suffer in poverty?

For the Unity of the Church

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 818)

Children of promise and purpose

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He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
(Canticle 16, BCP 92)

In the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians appointed for this morning, the apostle quotes the same passage we read today from the Book of Isaiah.

The prophet uses the image of a childless woman being blessed with children to symbolize Israel’s restoration to God’s favor. Paul extends the metaphor, widening the circle to include “children of the promise,” that is, the Gentiles (Gal. 4:23).

Like Isaac, who was born as a sign of God’s promise to Abraham, the Gentiles are also heirs of that promise. Paul’s extended argument is to remind the Galatians that their hope rests on God’s promise, not on observance of the law. Or, as he puts it elsewhere, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

In the Collect for Grace, usually read on Wednesday mornings, we not only thank God for bringing us “in safety to this new day” but also go on to ask that he “direct us to the fulfilling of [his] purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 100).

We seek to be “holy and righteous in God’s sight” because of our gratitude at being children of the promise. We then go on to use the gifts God has given us as children of purpose, whose mission is to bring ever more people within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.

Until Christ is formed in you

At last night’s awards dinner for our sales team, our newly-hired VP introduced himself and invited us to connect what we do with people. When we keep in mind the people we ultimately serve, he said, we will do our work with passion.

My company sells software to hospitals that helps eliminate wasted time and motion and ultimately ensures that people who need a bed can get into it sooner. Whenever we hear the siren of an ambulance — as we did, coincidentally, in the middle of our VP’s address to us — we can call to mind our purpose.

My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:19-20)

One of the reasons Paul’s letters are still such a powerful inspiration some 2,000 years later is the very human voice that shines through. Paul may be boastful, but he is completely dedicated to the task of nurturing his children in faith.

His letter to the Galatians is a window into the mind of a man perplexed that the Galatians seem to be forgetting the freedom he preached in Christ. They are turning back to their old ways, and he cannot rest “until Christ is formed in them.”

What purpose keeps you from resting until the people you serve receive what they need?