The third sermon in the Reclaiming Jesus Series preached by the Rev. Linda Harrison
August 5, 2018
A reading from Galatians 3.23-29
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were 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 female and male; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
A reading from Reclaiming Jesus
WE BELIEVE we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society. When we fail to overcome these oppressive obstacles, and even perpetuate them, we have failed in our vocation to the world— to proclaim and live the reconciling gospel of Christ.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT misogyny, the mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women that has been further revealed in our culture and politics, including our churches, and the oppression of any other child of God. … We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.
Oneness. Our original state in creation – the state into which humanity was created: mutuality, equality, companionship.
As a reflection of the divine in whose image we are created, we are to reflect oneness. The image of our triune God communicates oneness – the mystery of God known to us in three ‘persons’, yet an undivided One, of one substance, essence, and nature. Of one purpose. There is no hierarchy within the Trinity. The traditional formula ‘Father, Son, Holy Spirit’ point to one divine substance, co-equal and co-eternal.
Humanity was created to reflect that oneness.
In Christ, we are called to repair the rending of that oneness. And yet, too many Christians look beyond Paul’s words in the letter to the Galatians and emphasize Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1 Timothy – writings they use to support and defend the subordination of women in the church – texts that are often taken out of literary, linguistic, and cultural context. Too many in the church today harken back to Genesis 3 when it all fell apart. Too many Christians still adhere to the outdated and misogynistic interpretation that Eve was the sole culprit and that the pronouncement of punishment was meant for her alone and therefore all women suffer the consequences of her sin for all time. Flawed biblical translations of Gen 3.6 perpetuate this injustice against women by omitting a clear reference to that fact that the man was with the woman during the conversation with the serpent … He was there and remained silent. Then in silence he ate of the fruit as well. This is as clear a case of complicity if there ever was one.
Reading further, God pronounces judgment against all three actors in this story:
· the serpent will now toil through the dust being legless and will also suffer hostility from humanity,
· the man will now toil over a hostile and unyielding land to produce food,
· the woman will toil in childbirth with birth pangs and be subjected to the hostility of man bent on subjugating her.
Plainly this is not how it is supposed to be.
It is the consequence of sin – a consequence of breaking relationship.
So why do we perpetuate the cycle of brokenness through hostility? There isn’t anything we can do about the land, but we most certainly can affect relationships! Why do we insist on maintaining the rending of oneness if this is the result of sin? To do so is to continue in a sinful state while God’s desire for us is one of reconciliation and righteousness. Jesus calls us to repentance and reconciliation – that is, we are called to recognize our sin in humility and sorrow, to ask for forgiveness, and to move forward in joy-filled and grace-filled healing and wholeness in God, turning our back on our former sin.
We are only as whole to the degree in which we recognize the next person’s wholeness. Wholeness is dependent on our actions with and towards others. Wholeness comes from the reparation of oneness – mending our brokenness.
We are one is Christ and the church is the place where that oneness should be lived out. As the writers of the Reclaiming Jesus document state, “The body of Christ, where those great human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for the rest of society.” Instead, even now in the 21st century, there are church leaders who counsel women to remain in abusive relationships even when they come to church the next week with two black eyes, who urge women to forgive the one who raped them and to not report the rape, who deny women teaching and preaching positions in the church based on their gender alone, who defend sexist and heterosexist comments and actions by those in highly visible governmental positions*.
The church has a lot of repenting to do – for what is has done and what it has left undone, for what it has said and left unsaid. Silence in the face of sexism and misogyny is complicity.
There is no oneness in silence.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a strong argument for oneness in the body of Christ, but it does not mean our differences are obliterated in Christ or that we should work to eliminate differences. Uniformity is boring and actually quite detrimental to life. Our entire ecosystem exists and thrives because of the diversity of plants and animals that are in symbiotic relationship with one another. The most unnatural thing in nature is the backyard seeded with grass! Nature not only abhors a vacuum; nature abhors a monoculture. There will always be other plants popping up in that well-tended grassy backyard – plants we may judge as weeds and therefore unworthy just because they are not grass. Nature keeps trying to tell us that diversity is a good thing.
Paul doesn’t call for an erasure of differences; Paul is saying that how we look at and define our differences mean nothing in Christ. Paul lists three key pairs in his argument. These are key because they affect the understanding and good working order of the Greco-Roman socio-political world that assumes an innate hierarchy: slave/free; female/male; Jew/Greek. Free Greco-Roman males were at the top of the hierarchy, with the emperor highest of all. Free male citizens enjoyed unfettered autonomy and dignity that the rest of society, in differing degrees, did not.
There is a twist in Paul’s argument, though. The Greek/Jew dichotomy can be looked at in two ways. Within the wider culture, Roman citizenship conferred rights and privileges that were unattainable to non-citizens, like most Jews. Furthermore, as an oppressed and subjugated people, the common Israelite was even further down the hierarchical scale. This is inverted within the community of Jewish followers of Jesus. In many fledgling communities of Jesus followers, Jews held more status within the sect than Gentile converts. Inferring from Paul’s counter claims in his letters, the argument seems to have been that Jewish followers were in direct line as heirs of Abraham: circumcised on the eighth day according to the law and adherents of Torah. Gentile converts to the Way, so the argument continued, had to first convert to Judaism – thus following Torah, including circumcision – before being admitted to the community of the Way and to the agape meal.
Paul says that is all utter nonsense. As Christ belongs to Abraham, so do all who belong to Christ. All who are in Christ are heirs of Abraham.
Paul truly shakes things up by using the language of inheritance. First, slaves, owning nothing, were themselves possessions and neither gave nor received inheritances. They were the property given in an inheritance along with livestock, business holdings, real estate. Second, given the argument above about Gentile conversion, you can just imagine the scandal of the notion that Gentiles would be inheritors alongside Jews despite not following the covenantal commandment of circumcision – the visible sign that one is an heir to Abraham. And lastly, the thought that women could receive inheritances free from male control was laughable. Free women did enjoy limited rights of inheritance under Roman law, but those rights were tied up with a woman’s relationship with her father or husband who held the inheritance for her. As Paul continues his argument in Galatians, there are no such limitations on the inheritance through Christ, no such restrictions. All are equal before God through Christ Jesus, whether slave or free, Greek or Jew, female or male. All receive the inheritance as children of God according to the promise with no conditions.
And in Luke 13.16, after healing the woman bent over double, Jesus calls her daughter of Abraham. Daughter of Abraham, an heir to the promise.
All are equal. We are one.
But what does oneness look like?
It looks like respect for different approaches and different styles.
It looks like mutuality and reciprocity and respect of another’s human agency.
It looks like equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work.
It looks like equal representation in society, business, government.
It looks like listening to and believing someone’s experience even if it is different from your own.
It looks like being willing to learn from someone different from yourself.
It looks like not blaming the victim.
It looks like being sensitive to another’s views especially when they don’t match yours.
It looks like standing firm against and speaking out against behaviors, attitudes, words, and policies that demean one gender expression over another.
It looks like being aware of and not participating in subtle aggressions against and gaslighting of women or any other gender expressions over cisgender males.
It looks like showing up and stepping up through our own discomfort.
Many Christians today who have been conferred or perhaps granted unto themselves power in their denomination need to read the story of the early church more closely. In the Acts of the Apostles they will read about Lydia, Priscilla, Chloe, Euodia, Synthyche, Junia, Phoebe … They will read stories of women who owned their businesses, were heads of households and house churches, who were pastors and evangelists, and even an apostle imprisoned with Paul – that would be Junia, Acts 16.7.
And if that isn’t enough, we’ve got the gospels. I always go to Jesus before I go to Paul. The gospels are full of encounters between women and Jesus – women that society cast out, ignored, dismissed. Women who were unfit for ‘polite’ company. Jesus saw them, listened to them, believed them. Jesus praised them, protected them, respected them, learned from them, discussed theology with them. Jesus healed them because their worth before God is equal to any man’s worth.
Jesus, who calls us back to oneness through radical equality, was funded by women (Luke 8.1-3).
Oneness looks like taking all these examples from the biblical witness and modeling them in our own lives among our own peers … and holding accountable our Christian sisters and brothers whose actions and practices perpetuate the sin and brokenness of sexism.
God calls us back to oneness; Jesus shows us the way.
In faith, the faith Paul speaks of, and looking to the cross and that glorious empty tomb, let us be bold and confident in reclaiming our oneness in Christ.
Blessed be God forever.