From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear God.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before God.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and God rules over the nations.
23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There 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. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
The Season of Pentecost
After fifty days of Easter that concluded with the fire and wind of the Day of Pentecost, followed by Trinity – a unique Sunday named after a doctrine rather than an event – we're seriously into the half-year long segment of Ordinary Time when we count Sundays after Pentecost. Because God is triune or three-in-one, one-in-three, every Sunday is Trinity Sunday, but it's cool to have a special day to worship Trinity as mystery without trying to explain the unexplainable.
Beginning with Advent, the first half of the year tracked Jesus' earthly life and the Acts of Jesus' First Apostles. We'll continue with narratives from both Old and New Testaments, along with more formally theologically passages like today's from the Apostle Paul, yet the upcoming six months supremely are Time of the Church, Season of the Spirit of Pentecost. Our time!
The church at Galatia was the first ethnic church in terms of culture and geography. Biblically, they also were ethnos because they were gentiles. The words Galatia, Gaulle, Gaelic, Celt, Celtic all come from the same root.
In his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul emphasizes the gospel of death and resurrection with its central theme of freedom. In Galatians Paul cautions us about human-made laws such as sacrifice, ceremony, keeping kosher, and circumcision—that's what he's talking about most of the time Paul says law. In today's scripture he finally talks about law as the ten words (decalogue) or commandments of the Sinai covenant. Especially Lutheran and Reformed theological traditions often cite three uses of the law/commandments: to draw people to Christ; to convict us of sin; to lead people to correct behaviors.
Freedom and Juneteenth
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. 3:28
My seminary professor who taught the Pauline Letters announced to the class, "This ain't Emancipation Proclamation, people!"
At the time of this letter, categories of Jew/gentile, male/female, slave/free were central and critical in the Greco-Roman world. In the twenty-first century (of course) there still are Jews and Greeks, women and men and non-binaries, young and old, rural and urban. Paul was referring to Jesus breaking down ranks of superior-inferior, better-lesser, worthy-unworthy. In addition, Jesus obliterated the practice of separating people with certain traits from people with other traits… "segregation."
As Paul also loves to remind us, because Jesus Christ has freed us from sin and death, we now are free to live as servants to all. The NT uses two different words that translate into English as both servant and slave.
This year Juneteenth happens on the Sunday the lectionary has appointed this text. When we read scripture, we first need to ask about the original context and intent to the extent we can know it. As comforting as it may feel, we can't flip open the bible and apply a sweet-sounding verse to our current life circumstances.
With ever-increasing awareness of the history of chattel slavery in the USA and this Sunday's Juneteenth commemoration, interpreting Paul's announcement, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; you are one in Christ Jesus," as an early emancipation proclamation won't fly, yet it still reflects Jesus' own behavior and his call to us to welcome, include, and appreciate everyone's unique gifts and contributions.
In baptism a solitary, isolated, individual becomes part of the gathered body of Christ and assumes one of many differentiated roles and positions appropriate to their gifts and experience. We keep our unique gifts (food, music, accounting, administration, hospitality, art, teaching, etc.), but our baptismal identity in Christ becomes central. In baptism we don't go from being a solitary, isolated, individual to becoming part of an undifferentiated blob, but to serve freely in a body filled with rich diversity, an organism where everyone is poorer without the other.