23 Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, 24 so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian. 26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:23-29 CEB)
Back in the 1970’s a new type of comedy show was released. It entailed a live studio audience with real laughter, not “canned” as in other shows. Carroll O’Connor starred as a bigoted, racist husband and father, Archie Bunker. He was married to Edith (played by Jean Stapleton) and was what our kids today would call a “ditz.” Archie called her a “dingbat.” His daughter, Gloria (played by Sally Struthers) and husband Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner) lived with her parents.
The show made a hit because of the themes it touched on: homosexuality, racism, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, etc. Whatever the hot issue of the day, you could hear the discussion on “All in the Family.”
The show aired for some nine seasons. I always saw to it that the kitchen was cleaned up quickly after dinner so that I wouldn’t miss the opening theme song, “Those Were the Days.”
I remember how Archie vehemently fought against change. The boomer generation was coming of age and they threw the rule book out to make up their own rules of living. Though I hated Archie’s bigotry and chauvinism, I felt his angst at the rapid changes in society of that day.
We have our own Archie Bunker’s today. They, too are bigots and chauvinists. They too fight back at our quickly changing world, desperately wanting to hold on to the values of a time gone by. I suspect there’s a bit of that in each of us. I remember going out to play with friends in the morning and returning home for dinner that night. My mother barely knew where I was and trusted I was safe. Today, my grandchildren come to visit and I wouldn’t dream of allowing them to venture outside of the back yard.
I trust you have your own wishes and desires to return to a former day whether it’s a few years or a few decades ago. Yet, we also value much of what our society has produced today. I’m not at all interested in giving up my smart phone or microwave oven. I want the best of both worlds and I know I can’t have it.
In our text this morning, Paul is upset with the Galatian Christians. They are listening to Christians who are corrupting the Word. We’re not sure who they were, but we know that they felt that gentiles should become Jewish converts before they could be Christians. They believed that new Christians needed to follow the law, eat kosher and be circumcised. Then they could accept Christ.
Paul is angry. And he explains it to them in a number different ways. First, he informs the Galatian Christians, we had the faithfulness of Abraham who left his world of Ur of the Chaldeans to travel to a new place. There he settled down to being a wandering nomad. God made a covenant with him, promising him an endless number of descendants. Abraham would be the leader of a great multitude who would be blessed in order to be a blessing.
More than 400 years later the Hebrew children, descendants of Abraham, found themselves in slavery in Egypt. God freed them and while they were in the wilderness, it became all too apparent that God’s children needed more than a covenant. They needed rules to live by. So the law was given at Mt. Sinai. The Law stated how God was to be worshiped and honored and glorified. The Law taught them how to treat each other; that God loved their neighbor as much as God loved them. Laws were also needed to set them apart from other nations that surrounded them.
The law was progressive for its time: women were no longer chattel to be owned by men, but had status under the law. The widow and orphan would be provided for. The foreigner and the alien should be treated well. All God’s creatures, male and female, slave and free, even animals were given one day a week for Sabbath rest.
The law was good. It set a precedence that other nations and cultures couldn’t match. If only they had followed the spirit of the law. Soon, prophets rose up warning the Israelites of their responsibility to worship only God, to care for those less fortunate and to seek justice.
Then Jesus came. He walked the earth demonstrating how the law was supposed to work. And then he went to the cross, an innocent man dying because you and I just can’t get it right. And with that act of death and resurrection, something new happened. We no longer had to live under the tutelage of the law. We could be baptized and re-clothed in Christ.
In the early days of the church, baptisms took place at a body of water. The confirmand would remove his or her old clothing and enter into the waters of baptism. They left their old life and their old way of life behind them. They were raised from the waters and given a new white robe, symbol of their new life in Jesus.
This new life entailed living a Spirit-filled life, claimed by God to bear fruit. In this relationship with God, we have a new identity, studying God’s word and learning what it means to be a child of God. No longer does the law teach us, but the Spirit of truth. No longer are we guided and directed by the law but we guided by the Spirit.
And because of that, we are one family of God. Jews and gentiles are one people, one culture. Slaves and free are welcome at the table together as one family. Male and female are equal in God’s eyes. At its best we are part of a family that loves and cares for the community and for those who are still aliens and foreigners to the community. At its best we are part of the coming kingdom of God.
We’re not there, yet. The reign of God is not fully established. I wish I didn’t have to write this with Orlando, Florida in the background and Charlotte only a year past. I wish we could be better than we are and I despair that we aren’t.
We’re a diverse people with a diversity of viewpoints. I serve an amazing congregation who has taught me what it means to love each other despite differences of opinion. Political and theological views run the continuum from conservative to liberal. While they are clear on their beliefs and how they conflict with others, they sit side by side in worship and easily give the hand of fellowship to all.
They have taught me that tolerance isn’t enough; that we have to move through tolerance to acceptance of the person. They have taught me what it looks like for the grandmother of a beloved gay grandson to sit next to a man who believes that same grandson to be a sinner and bound for hell. They attend group discussions with all of their fears and joys and beliefs in their hearts mixed together with the Word of God.
That’s where I go to see glimpses of the kingdom. As we struggle to respect each other, we struggle equally to view the world through the lens of scripture. Sometimes we catch ourselves using the Bible to support our viewpoints; other times we find ourselves, like David’s son Absalom, hanging between heaven and earth. The Bible convicts our convictions and we enter into worship humbled.
We have been saved by faith through grace. This is a gift from a God who loves us more than we can even begin to imagine. Rather than the need for circumcision and law, we have baptism and justification. Rather than economic, social, political and gender divisions, we are all one in Christ.
One in Christ…in a nation of anger and hate, remember that: we are one in Christ. We’re in this together. I’m not sure that Archie Bunker ever figured this out. I hope he did, but more than that, I hope I’ve come to a better understanding God’s call to me to live out scripture in a God-hating world.
How will you live it out where you live and work?
All glory and honor be to God.