A New Order — July 3, 2016
Blessed be name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Amen.
A few weeks ago, a dear friend and I were catching up on the phone after several months. I shared with her the various exciting things going on in my life. One of them being my work with this parish as a member of the Trinity mission project. And she was confused. She said to me “I thought you left St. Paul’s?” Which I answered yes to, since before moving back to Connecticut I had interned at St. Paul’s K Street in D.C. and worked at St. Paul’s in Old Town Alexandria. However, I explained to her that this was a different St. Paul’s from the others, this St. Paul’s wasn’t in D.C. or Virginia but in Norwalk, CT. Which she simply answered back with “y’all really have a lot of churches named after St. Paul in the Episcopal Church. Can’t y’all be a bit more creative!”
And she’s right, we do have a lot churches named after St. Paul. While one can come up with a list of various reasons for why this is the case, I personally like to think that we have St. Paul’s because St. Paul had a lot to say. St. Paul was the first theologian of the Church. His letters pre-date the written forms of our Gospels. And his writings have influenced Christians in every generation. And dare I say, St. Paul was not shy, he was not afraid to let you know what he thought.
In today’s small portion from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we get a small peak into St. Paul’s passion, language, and strong opinion. In this letter, he compares the pain he feels as he sees the Galatians being misled and forced to take on the ritual of circumcision to the pain of a mother giving birth. St. Paul was not afraid to be a drama queen.
Behind the deep drama and passion in St. Paul’s letters, lies a strong conviction to the love of God and God’s faithfulness towards humanity. A love and faithfulness that is made true and vivid on the cross; a love which is made tangible in the resurrection. And St. Paul believes that nothing, I mean nothing, can separate us from God’s love. He makes it ever so clear in his letter to the Romans as he writes to them asking, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. “
In his final sentences of his letter to the Galatians, Paul pleads to the Galatians not to fall prey to the agitations of those who are pushing the ritual of circumcision on them. See, what Paul is trying to do is convince the Galatians that the love of God in Christ trumps all rituals that we believe can save us or make us better than others or elevates us within our social structures. Paul is convinced that the work of Christ; in his life, death, and resurrection, is an invitation for us to rejoice in God’s love and to celebrate Christ’s victory over death. Because through Christ’s death and resurrection, humanity his been invited to be anew. Christ has offered the world a new order, in which the first shall be last and the last shall be first. An order in which “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.”
And what’s at stake for the Galatians has implications for the way are to view the world, the way we view God. While the big fuzz can be understood as a simply dispute on whether circumcision is important or not, what lies behind it is much deeper. See, those pushing circumcision on the Galatians are pushing on them a ritual that is not there own. These agitators are trying to force on them a practice to create further division, and promising that through it, and only through it, they will fully be saved. They are trying to convince the Galatians that to receive the fulness of God’s love and salvation, they need to adopt specific cultural customs in order to be fully Christian.
While ritual and ceremony are important to our common life, there is something inherently wrong when we use them to create division. For St. Paul to this St. Paul on the Green, our rituals and ceremonies, from Baptism to the Eucharist we are about to celebrate, are here so that we may be united and not divided. So that we might be reminded of the love God and God’s faithfulness which knows no division. Amen.