Paul wrote in Galatians, in 6 chapters, everything we need to know about the Law and our relationship to it. He wrote about what the Jews’ relationship to the Law was before Christ and how Christians now relate to the Law. I’ve talked, so far in this series, a lot about who’s in and who’s out according the Paul. Today, I want to talk about the Law and what it means to be a child of God free from the Law. Throughout the letter, Paul wants the reader of his letter to be sure that they understand that Christians are free from the Law. There is no longer a need to be circumcised and no need to adhere to the letter of the Law.
The heirs of Abraham become God’s people as God made a covenant with Abraham that his offspring would be numerous and through them all the people of the world would be blessed. The Law was later given as instruction for being people in covenant, the Abrahamic covenant. I believe the spirit of the Law was to reflect righteousness among God’s people. However, righteousness by the Law had become legalistic.
People adhering to the Law were doing what they thought they should do, not out of reverence, but out of duty. Throughout the prophets, God said your worship is dead and the people weren’t honoring the poor. God was calling their sin out, not as transgressions against the Law, but violations of God’s will for His people. The Jews had abandon their calling to be a different kind of people for strict adherence to the Law.
But, they weren’t keeping the Law because they wanted to be righteous; they were keeping the Law out of fear, fear of being punished for their transgressions. The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther wrote, “the Law enforces good behavior, at least outwardly. We obey the Law because if we don’t we will be punished. Our obedience is inspired by fear. We obey under duress and we do it resentfully. Now, what kind of righteousness is this when we refrain from evil out of fear and punishment? Hence, the righteousness of the Law is at bottom nothing but love of sin and hatred for righteousness.” In his letter to the Romans chapter 3 verse 20, Paul says “through the Law we become conscious of our sin.” As much as they tried, as much as the Pharisees and Sadducees taught about the Law, even they couldn’t keep the Law and led people astray by not understanding the true spirit of the Law. Righteousness and love were trumped by fear. Caring for others was put aside for legalism.
(Martin Luther quote: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/gal/web/gal3-20.html)
And so, the people needed a mediator. Not a mediator, like a legal contract would require a lawyer, like the Law; but, a mediator like Christ who reconciles those under the Law to free them from the Law. Christ is the One, not who abolishes the Law, but fulfills the Law. Christ is the Messiah who reconciles us to God freeing us from the bondage of the Law that led to fear of punishment and gives us the grace, unmerited favor, access to God’s unconditional love, to no longer adhere to the Law in order to be counted righteous by God.
Because of what Christ did for us to reconcile us to God, because we were separated from God by sin, we were no longer separated from ourselves. We, in the church, were no longer, slave and free, male and female, Jew or Gentile. Those in the church were now all counted equals. This was a radical teaching by Paul. No more barriers between slaves and free men, no more distinction of male and female, no more separate tables for Jews and Gentiles.
I think what Paul was trying to tell the people of Galatia is that they were to be different then the world around them. Paul often taught the church that Christians were to be different then the world they were in. He said be in the world but not of the world. The Christian movement was a counter-cultural way of living. Paul’s teaching about the breakdown of barriers between male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free in the Church was part of that counter-cultural way of living.
In their world, Christians were, in every moment, reminded that women were property and not equal to men. Men were home owners, business men, farmers, soldiers, governors, kings, and temple leaders. Women were property who managed a household for men, who cooked and cleaned for men, who served men, who were not queens without a king, who could not serve in the temple, who could not go to certain parts of the temple where men could, who couldn’t serve in the army or any prominent role in society.
Now, Paul says, there is no distinction in the Church. Under the Abrahamic covenant, men alone carried the sign of the covenant through circumcision. Men had rights to inheritance. Not under Christ. Under Christ, women carried the sign of the new covenant in baptism, just like men. Women, just like men, were heirs of Christ inheriting the promises of Christ. That equality comes, inclusion is possible, we are adopted into one family of God, through baptism.
When I teach about what happens at our baptism, I say that the act of baptism is a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As we are lowered into the water, we are being buried with Christ. Under the water, we die to our sins. As we rise from the water, we are resurrected to new life. That new life means a new way of living, in an inclusive church ever extending the word and grace of Christ to others.
The church has not always been as inclusive as Paul had called the church to be. Paul included women like Junia and Priscilla in his ministry giving them roles of leadership, apostleship, evangelism and preaching. Women were important mission partners in Paul’s ministry.
However, Paul is often cited for reasons to not include women in leadership. In 1 Corinthians 14: 34, Paul wrote, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” That verse is taken out of context to be used to protect roles of leadership for men and exclude women. It was recently used by a former pastor in Bethany to not participate in the fellowship of the ministerial alliance.
Most church denominations have come around to recognizing the role of women in the church as being equal to that as men. Disciples have been ordaining women since Clara Babcock in 1888 and an African American woman Sarah Lue Bostick near the same time. Women in America have been ordained and their gifts for leadership in the church since 1815.
Today, our church does perhaps reflect the kind of equality of gender that Paul called the church to when he said, no male or female. We have men and women serving equally in leadership roles. In face, we have more women in leadership than men being that we have a full Board of women, 2 of our 3 trustees are women, 7 of our 12 elders are women, and 11 of our 18 deacons are women.
I think in some churches, however, this representation of women in leadership comes more out of necessity than gender equality. In some churches, women may be included only because there are fewer men to fill those roles. I don’t think that is the case here. Being that you’ve had a woman in the pulpit even before Rev. Anderson and I, I believe you truly value the gifts of both men and women to serve in Christ’s church.
That’s what Paul called the church to recognize. That men and women are both gifted at baptism with gifts for ministry. These are the spiritual gifts given by the will of God, not limited by our recognition. When I look around this church, I see the gifts of administration, teaching, music, hospitality, caring, evangelism, preaching, generosity, encouragement, knowledge and wisdom. I see men and women who equally love and serve the church out of our desire to preserve the traditions of the church and promote the word of God.
This weekend was a great showing of how men and women work together for sharing the Gospel with children. At one time in the history of the church, women would have been tasked with ministering to children. Not this weekend, men and women worked side by side for the sake of the children. At the Back to School Bible bash, we had 12 volunteers, men and women, youth and adults helping with the different activities for 55 kids to participate in.
I know it can sometimes seem like women or LGBT or African American or immigrant or Muslim groups can talk a lot about their rights for equality and inclusion. And, our responses beget conversations about political correctness. When we hear these conversations are equality and justice, I think we can look to Paul’s words about equality in the church and recognize that 2000 years later, we have made some progress, but the church should never be complacent with our state as Christ continually calls us to transformation that we may truly reflect the inclusive community He desires that will celebrate the diversity of God’s children as we share the word and grace of Christ. Because, by baptism, we are all children of God.