A Party of One
Grace & Middle Valley United Methodist Churches
June 27, 2010
Galatians 3: 23-29 (NRSV)
Now 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.
As a child, my sister and I spent many of our days (and some evenings too) under the watchful care of a babysitter. I still remember those babysitters well. The first one was Mimi, who took care of us every weekday until we started preschool. She would often watch us in the afternoons after preschool and in the summers, too. I remember riding big wheels in Mimi’s carport, taking naps in her living room, and looking at her collection of Barbie dolls in the basement. After Mimi, there was Mel, who was a friend of Mimi’s and conveniently lived less than a block from my elementary school. I would walk to Mel’s house after school and play there until my Mom or Dad came to pick me up. When I got older, my sister and I would spend our summers with Rebecca, a high schooler and church friend, who came to our house each day to watch us and play with us. She would also watch us sometimes in the evenings when our parents went out to special parties or events. We played board games, watched movies, and went swimming at the pool on those hot summer days. By the time I was in high school, I was babysitting in the summer too. I remember helping Amy with math drills and eating Moose Tracks ice cream with Amy and her sister Kelly.
Mimi, Mel, Rebecca, and I are all very different people. We are different ages, we live different lives, and we have different interests. What links us all together is the fact that we have all done some babysitting in our lives. And one of the roles of babysitters is to act as the disciplinarian of the children in the absence of the parents or guardians. It’s something every babysitter has to do sometimes, even in the midst of play and fun there’s the occasional timeout or a firm, “No.” It just comes with the territory.
Such “territory” is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the law as our “disciplinarian.” See, in Paul’s time, it was common that families would have a slave whose task it was to look after the children day by day on the parents’ behalf, caring for their needs and making sure the children behave; much like a babysitter functions in today’s society (except with pay, of course). What Paul is seeking to convey to the Galatians, and to us, in this passage is that the law has functioned for Israel like a babysitter or disciplinarian until Israel should grow up. But what Paul goes on to claim throughout this letter to the Galatians is that, with the coming of Jesus, Israel was a last God’s grown-up child. Israel had reached the age of responsibility or trustworthiness. And the word for “trustworthiness” is the same as “faith.” The faithfulness of Jesus himself is the sign that here at last is a mature Israelite, come to bring God’s promises to fulfillment. The answering faith of the believer is the sign that this person, no matter what their background, is a full and complete member of God’s family. All of you, says Paul, are children of God!
We are all God’s children! We have been freed from the law through the sacrifice of Christ, and together we belong to a particular community, the new royal family, the grown-up children, Christ’s people. As God’s children, we are all one in Christ Jesus, and the badge of God’s free people is that we are entrusted with responsibility: we are to believe the gospel that has freed us and be a people of faith and trust. And to a great extent, this is what we celebrate in this place today. We celebrate that we are children of God! We celebrate that we have been freed through the sacrifice of God’s son, and that we are all one in Christ Jesus. And today especially we celebrate our growth in Christ as we are united in a new relationship with the congregation of Middle Valley/Grace United Methodist Church! We are all one!
It has been a sad truth of Christianity that our history has been marked more by division than by unity. In fact, many of Paul’s letters, including this one to the Galatians, were written to speak to the church in the midst of disagreements and division. The letter to the Galatians specifically addresses the question of who should be included in the church because there were many who felt that only the circumcised Jews were included in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Since the time of Paul, the church has divided over disagreements on baptism and communion. We have split because of differing beliefs about the importance of good works in salvation. The church has split because of theological differences regarding predestination and free will. We have divided because of slavery and war. And we have divided along ethnic, cultural, and denominational lines. The result, as we know, is a varied spectrum of Christian churches; everything from “low-church” Pentecostal to “high-church” Catholicism to extreme fundamentalism. And here in the south, at least, it seems that we have a church on every corner…probably because we do!
The story is told of a man who was shipwrecked and lived most of his adult life alone on an obscure island on which no other human being had ever set foot. After many years of isolation, a ship came his way and a rescue party was sent ashore. He welcomed them, of course, and then proceeded to show them around his home of many years. Pointing to a small log cabin, he said, “This is my house. I built it with my own two hands.” Then he showed them a second building. “This is my Church,” he said. “I built it with my own two hands.” Then he showed them a third building, saying, “This is the Church I used to go to.”
My friends, it is often easier to divide that to unite. Sometimes it is easier to walk away from division than to try and solve the problem, even when it means building a new church with our own two hands. And throughout the church’s history, division has often overridden any desire for unity. But today we mark the beginning of something different. We celebrate a “birthday” in a sense as we grow together as God’s children! We rejoice in a uniting rather than mourning a division! Today we live into exactly what Paul is talking about in this passage; we are all one in Christ Jesus! This day and beyond, these two congregations, Grace and Middle Valley are living more completely into our identity as the Body of Christ. Sure, it may be that one congregation is an arm and the other an eye, or one a nose and the other a foot, or one the heart and the other a leg. Certainly each congregation will maintain its own unique identity, and our various missions and ministries in the North Hixson community will continue through each church, but together, we are so much stronger than we are apart. That’s what the body of Christ is all about! “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female;” whether we live in Middle Valley, or Lakesite, or Hixson, or Soddy Daisy, we are all one in Christ Jesus. And as a united body, we are more fully able to be the church that Christ would have us to be, and that is awesome! Imagine all the possibilities!
Have you ever wondered what makes the difference between a spotlight and a laser beam? How can a medium-powered laser burn through steel in a matter of seconds, while the most powerful spotlight can only make it warm? Both may have the same electrical power requirements. The difference is unity.
A laser can be simply described as a medium of excited molecules with mirrors at each end. Some of the excited molecules naturally decay into a less excited state. In the decay process they release a photon, a particle of light. It is here that the unique process of the laser begins. The photon moves along and “tickles” another molecule, inviting another photon to join him on his journey. Then these two photons “tickle” two more molecules and invite two more photons to join the parade. Soon there is a huge army of photons marching in step with each other. It is this unity that gives the laser its power.
A spotlight may have just as many photons, but each is going its own independent way, occasionally interfering with other photons. As a result, much of its power is wasted and cannot be focused to work in the same way as a laser beam. The laser, because of its unity, is like an army marching in tight formation and is able to focus all its power on its objective.
Today we become a laser beam. Today, Grace and Middle Valley move from shining our spotlights on Northern Hamilton County to a united effort that in the coming months and years will transform this community with the laser beam of God’s love in Jesus Christ! We have been freed through Christ’s sacrifice and we have been united in Christ’s love; and today, we grow-up a bit in that love. The task before us now is to bear the responsibilities that come as God’s grown-up children, the disciples of Jesus Christ. We cannot reminisce about our childhood and days gone by; there is a world waiting to be transformed, and as a body united in Christ Jesus, the congregations of Grace and Middle Valley can do our part here in the North Hamilton County community and even beyond!
My friends, be ready, get ready because God is up to something big around here: discouraged folks cheer up, dishonest folks ‘fess up, sour folks sweeten up, closed folk open up, conflicted folks make up, sleeping folks wake up, lukewarm folk fire up, dry bones shake up, and pew potatoes stand up! We have work to do! Christ, the Savior of the world, is to be lifted up. And here’s how it happens, through our united efforts! When the people of God unite and allow the Spirit to take hold, amazing things happen: barriers are broken, communities are formed, opposites are reconciled, unity is established, disease is cured, addiction is broken, cities are renewed, races are reconciled, hope is established, people are blessed, and church happens. Today we unite as one in Christ Jesus. Today the Spirit of God is present in this place in a new and special way and…well, we’re gonna have church! We’re gonna be church!!!