Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pentecost Lectionary Readings: Hopping and Skipping Through Galatians Part 4

The past few Sundays we have been reviewing the readings from Galatians that most Sunday churchgoers will be hearing during the first month of Pentecost. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

This week we pewsitters heard the following excerpt from Paul's letter,

"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 male and female; 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." Galatians 3:23-39

Every time this reading comes along I think back to the time I heard a member of the Episcopal church's Executive Committee misuse the "we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian" line in order to justify the Episcopal church's acceptance of the same-sex agenda.

One of the problems with hearing Galatians 3:23-39 in isolation is that the listener might be fooled into thinking that we really do no longer have a disciplinarian. If the missing verses (Galatians 3:1-22) are brought in, we see right away that Paul is writing as the Galatians' disciplinarian,

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 
There is no escaping the fact that we all need discipline, the question for the Galatians is should following the Mosaic laws (especially circumcision  Chapter 5) be of primary importance to those who have received the Spirit. Paul tries to argue drawing from the O.T. why the law should be viewed in light of the revelation of Christ and in that way applied to the Gentiles.
"Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’, so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’ For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’ But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, ‘Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, ‘And to offsprings’, as of many; but it says, ‘And to your offspring’, that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."
Galatians 3:1-22
It is a meaty argument and would be challenging sermon material for most preachers and maybe that is why it gets omitted from the Sunday lectionary cycle during Pentecost, but Sunday pewsitters are getting shortchanged if they don't hear the sharp words of Paul along with the gentle ones.  

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