Reflection on Galatians 3:23-29 11/12/19

Reflection on Galatians 3:23-29
Text: Galatians 3:23-29
Rev. Heather M. Hinton
November 12, 2017

I’ve recently been binge-watching the TV series Sense8 – a show, I hasten to add, which is not suitable for children or sensitive viewers, filled with nudity, sex, and violence as it is. One of the show’s protagonists is Caphaeus, a young Kenyan man living and working as a bus driver in Nairobi. Perhaps because of the corruption and injustices he has experienced first-hand as he tries to obtain HIV/AIDS medications for his mother, Caphaeus is convinced by a reforming political party to run for office. In a moving scene late in Season 2 Caphaeus gives a speech on stage at his first political rally. [1] In that speech he reveals that his mother is Kikuyu and his father was Luo – two of the seven major tribes in Kenya who vie for power, often violently so. But his parents refused to let the tribal boundaries limit their love, and married each other anyway – even though it led to estrangement from their families of origin. Caphaeus says:

My parents had to leave their homes to find a city where no one knew them. The same prejudice that drove them away was also responsible for taking my father’s life when a political difference became a tribal war.

I share this story because you have heard many rumors about me, and I felt it was time to explain who and what I am. I am Kikuyu. I am Luo. My business partner and best friend is also mixed – his father, Sudanese and his mother, Kenyan. These are facts that he and I have never talked about, because for us, they have never mattered.

Nothing good ever happens when people care more about our differences than the things we share in common. The future I hope for is the same as yours: A future where our children grow up never knowing love as a wall, but only as a bridge.

As he finishes speaking those hopeful words about a world where love is a bridge, the rally erupts into a riot, complete with knives, guns and a Molotov-cocktail-type bomb. And I was braced for that very thing as I watched – not because I’m fantastic at predicting plot lines in TV shows, but because it’s just not surprising. After all, we who call ourselves Christian follow a man who spoke and taught and lived love – and he was killed for it.

We humans are so attached to our divisions, to our polarities, to our “tribes” of various shapes, sizes, and descriptions. We have such a hard time letting go of “us/them,” “insider/outsider,” “worthy/unworthy,” “saved/damned,” “right/wrong” divisions. And we collectively and historically are so threatened by talk of transcending those differences that we collectively resort to violence in order to maintain the status quo.

Paul found himself facing that very kind of seemingly intractable division in the church he founded in Galatia. We know, of course, that by and large the earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish – as Jesus himself was. By the middle of the first century CE, however, largely due to the missionary efforts of Paul, Christianity had spread rapidly among non-Jews, also known as Gentiles. There was a great deal of uneasiness between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Much of it revolved around the question of Jewish law: did Gentile converts to Christianity first have to convert to Judaism and follow Jewish law before they could become disciples of Jesus? Paul seems frustrated throughout many of his letters, including in this one we heard this morning to the Galatians. He wants them to stop making these former identities – Jew or Gentile – all-important. The identity that matters is this: they are followers of Jesus.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about who I understand Jesus to be. If I had to give an “elevator speech” about who Jesus is, I might speak of him the way church leader Brian McLaren does: “Jesus is a nonviolent, loving human being who loved everyone, rejected no one, and called us to a life of repentance (which means rethinking everything) and to a life of peacemaking.”

Jesus: a nonviolent human being whose love served as a bridge between God and people, between Pharisees and fishermen, between the sick and the healthy, between slave and free, between poor and rich, between men and women, between Jew and Gentile. Indeed, if he were walking among us today, I dare say he would also be busy building bridges between Christians and non-Christians. He was never interested in what gets us to heaven or in who was right about various theological ideas. He was interested in living love – and in doing so, living peace.

Jesus’ earliest followers were called the People of the Way. Which begs the question: what Way is that?

Simply this: The Way of Jesus is the Way of Love.

Can we be People of the Way? I believe we can – and I believe it will be hard. But I believe it’s work worth doing, because it will lead to the future our fictional hero Caphaeus, as well as historical heroes down through the ages, and Jesus himself dreamed and proclaimed:

a future where our children grow up never knowing love as a wall, but only as a bridge.

May it be so. Amen.

[1] Sense8, Season 2, Episode 10: “If All the World’s a Stage, Identity Is Nothing But a Costume.”

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