A History Changing Letter

Message Delivered on June 23, 2013
Galatians 3:23-29

For those of you who turn your televisions to the history channel from time to time, you will have no problem identifying with Paul’s letter to Christians at Galatia.  We can view this letter as a snippet of time captured in succinct words that convey the relevance of the gospel to Christians in any age.

Once upon a time, people wrote letters; not text messages, e-mails, or tweets, but epistles.  Pens were actually put to paper (papyrus, vellum, parchment and other early forms of paper).  These letters changed history in ways big and small.

It was a letter that connected Annie Oakley to the President of the United States, William McKinley.  The famous sharpshooter amazed crowds by shooting holes in playing cards tossed into the air, so she thought she could be of service to her country.   She offered her services in the Spanish American War, and those of fifty other female sharpshooters to be at the disposal of the President.  The women were prepared to furnish their own arms and ammunition, so as not to generate expense to the government.  Mr. McKinley never responded, but that letter helped open the door for women in military service.

In 1956, Geoffrey Boothroyd wrote a letter to Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, in which he criticized Fleming for putting a lady’s gun, a 25 caliber Beretta in Bond’s hand.  Fleming responded by rearming Bond with a Walther PPK and took on Boothroyd as an arms advisor, and created a new character named Major Boothroyd, known to fans as “Q.”

As pioneers moved from Peoria, Illinois and settled in the Arizona Territory, some working on the Arizona Canal Project, Jennie Mann wrote about starting a Presbyterian Sunday School to bring Christian education to the settlers’ children and children in this region.  She chronicled her experiences and we have included them in the history of our church, established in 1892.

The apostle Paul changed history by arguing that we are made right with God through the faith of Jesus, not the religious law diligently followed by children of Abraham, the children of the Covenant who adhered to the law outlined in the Jewish book of faith, the Torah.  In writing to Greek speaking converts to Christianity, Paul was addressing the concerns of the faith community, who wondered if they needed to add Jewish religious practices to their new faith in Jesus.

As radical as Paul’s ideas were to his listeners, I do not think they would have been ready for the e-mail I received this week from Lester Dray, which included the message, “Do you think Peoria Presbyterian Church is ready for this?”
       PREACHER: “Praise the Lord!”
     
       CONGREGATION: “Hallelujah!”

       (T-i-m-e is allowed for this to be accomplished).

       PREACHER: “Now, let us pray, committing this week into God’s hands.
                         Open your Apps, BBM, Twitter, and Facebook, and chat
                         with God.”

       S-i-l-e-n-c-e (except for gadgets running).

       PREACHER: As we take our Sunday tithes and offerings, please have
                         your credit and debit cards ready. You can log on to the
                        church wi-fi using the password ‘Lord909887’.  The
                         ushers will also circulate mobile card swipe machines
                         among the worshipers. Those who prefer to make
                         electronic fund transfers are directed to computers and
                         laptops at the rear of the church. Those who prefer to use
                         iPads can open them now. Those who prefer telephone
                         banking, take out your cell phones to transfer your
                         contributions to the church account.”

                        The holy atmosphere of the Church becomes truly
                         electrified all ALL the smart phones, iPads, PCs, and
                    laptops beep, flicker, and leap into action for the contribution.

              Closing Announcements:
              This week’s ministry cell meetings for various age groups will be
               held on the Facebook group pages where the usual group chat
               ting takes place. Please log in and don’t miss out. Thursday’s
               Bible study will be held live on Skype at 1900hrs GMT. Please
               don’t miss out.
               You can follow your Preacher on Twitter this weekend for
               counseling and prayers.

               Thank you for coming. God bless you—and have a nice day.

My response to all of this to Lester was, “I want to believe that the Lord of our lives is more personal and relational.”  Lester’s answer to me was, “I agree.”

After receiving Paul’s letter, the Galatian Christians realized that there was “no longer Jew or Greek—slave or free…male and female. Instead, all were one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

History was shaped in small ways for President McKinley, Ian Fleming, and families of pioneers from Peoria, Illinois, but it was totally transformed by Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Before Paul wrote his interpretation of the gospel, people believed and felt imprisoned and guarded under the religious laws, which restrained and protected them from hurting themselves and others.  The law was viewed as a disciplinarian.  The disciplinarian, paidagogos, from which our word pedagogy is derived, was a slave who supervised and guarded children, taking them to school and back, and overseeing their behavior, a “nanny” by today’s standard.  The protective custody was temporary because the children grew up and their services were not needed any longer.  Paul says they were guarded under the law until faith would be revealed; faith in Jesus Christ.  He suggests that there were two historical ages: the age of the law and the age of faith.  People had faith in Almighty God for hundreds of years but history changed when Christ faithfully suffered death and rose to new life.  Paul spoke of the law as a prison and prison guard, a disciplinarian (the pedagogue).  Paul insisted that after Christ came we were justified by faith and no longer needed a “nanny.”  Once Christ died and rose from the tomb, no human action is required except that we put our complete trust in Jesus Christ.  In Galatians 2:20 Paul said, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Personal faith.  Christ’s faith.  Together they form the Christian faith.  We no longer live in a nanny state, subject to a disciplinarian.  Paul believing that we are justified by faith and as followers of Christ, are now children of God.  Until Paul’s letter to Galatian Christians, “Children of God’ was a term reserved for God’s chosen people, the Jews, and could be applied to the first Jewish followers of Jesus.  These disciples continued to practice circumcision and to follow many of the religious Old Testament Laws.

Paul continues to emphasize that “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (v.26).  The circumcised and uncircumcised, keepers of the law as well as those who knew nothing of the law.  Jews as well as Greeks–all are children of God through faith.  For Christians today, this letter speaks of the power of faith to create a new family called “Children of God.”  It does not matter what your ethnic or religious background might be or what language you speak.  It does not matter what level education you have attained or if you have a job or spouse or money in the bank.  What matters is faith in Christ. That is what makes us Children of God.

Paul gives us a new identity: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (v.27). When we clothe ourselves with Christ, we take on his characteristics and do our best to present him to the world.  This means showing his grace and his love, speaking the truth, and serving others with generosity and compassion.  V.28 is a political and social statement that continues to be recognized as such today.  In v.29, Paul is following through from his argument in v.16, “The promises were made to Abraham and his offspring, referring to one, which is Christ.  For the Galatians to be the offspring of Abraham is for them to be co-heirs with Christ and for Paul, this is the key point.  If the Galatians are upholding Abraham as a paragon of virtue, Paul is at pains to lead them to the next step of recognizing that Abraham’s virtue was not a product of the law but a product of faith.  I see this as the hinge pin, the key in human history that can unite us with our Muslim brothers and sisters who profess to be faithful children of Abraham.  It is our ministry as disciples of Jesus to proclaim that faith in Jesus Christ is the means by which all people are able to become heirs of the promises.  We have many words to share and letters to write.  I do not believe tweets can convey the “hands-on”, relational love of Jesus for all people.  Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon