This post originally appeared on the RevGalBlogPals site on May 10, 2021.
Those of us using the Narrative Lectionary get to preach from Galatians yet again this week! With the Revised Common Lectionary, you can always choose the Gospel reading, or the Hebrew Scripture, or even the Psalm when passages like this show up. But with our beloved NL, there’s nowhere else to turn. We are stuck with Paul. Again.
One thing I keep reminding myself as I wade through these dense passages is that most of the Jesus-followers in Galatia would have been Gentiles. Paul’s frustration and anger is not so much directed toward them as directed on their behalf. He wants them to know, without a doubt, that they are fully accepted into the Christian community; that their lack of understanding of—even their lack of obedience to—the Law does not inhibit their relationship with God through Jesus.
Imagine a group of First Century Gentiles, gathered in someone’s home to worship God and to learn more about Jesus. Their primary scripture at this point is the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. They have just been told by a group of esteemed Jesus-followers from Jerusalem that they have to follow the Law—circumcision, dietary regulations—in order to be “real” Christians. And then someone gathered in that house pulled out a papyrus and read a message from Paul: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
This may be a very good time in many of our churches for just such a word of grace. This word reminds us that we are fully part of the community of God. And it reminds us that they are also fully part of the community. No. Actually, it reminds us that they are we—“all one in Christ Jesus.”
Some things to watch out for:
–These texts are too often used in ways that criticize the Jewish faith and even justify mistreatment of Jewish people. This week’s Working Preacher essay can be helpful in dismantling this harmful way of reading the epistle.
–Discussions of “Christian unity” are often used to maintain the status quo and shame those who would question power structures within our congregations and the broader church. Any discussion of unity should prioritize the voices of marginalized groups and acknowledge the ways power and privilege show up in our various communities.
–Theological/historical/Greek rabbit holes are really tempting with passages like this—at least they are for me. Such tangential explorations, while great for Bible study, are rarely helpful in sermons. And possibly even less helpful right now. COVID brain is a real thing. Collective trauma is a real thing. Just because we’re preaching a Pauline text doesn’t mean we have to sound like Paul.