Day 324 “Divine Intimacy” Galatians 3 – 4
November 20, 2021, 8:53 AM

Day 324 “Divine Intimacy” Galatians 3 – 4

So we know that Paul is seeking unity in the church—Alistair has already told us this. But we should also know that this is considered the very first letter Paul wrote, at least of all the letters we have. He wrote it about 9 or 10 years after his own conversion experience and Galatia is one of the first places where he has planted churches, and now things are going south fast, and factions are arising.

Reminder that this also occurs before the Council of Jerusalem that we read about in Acts which finally determined that circumcision was unnecessary for Gentile converts to the faith. (Ok, informal show of hands—how many people are tired of talking about circumcision? And can I tell you that typing the word over and over again…) In any case, circumcision is the central sign that Paul points to as he calls them ‘enslaved’ to the law. Gentile converts are confused because they are being incorrectly or confusingly taught that being a good Christian means that they have to demonstrate that they are also good Jews, to a certain extent. And it’s hard to know who is right!

Ok, let’s imagine that someone, a respected teacher, came into our churches and said “You don’t need to baptize anyone any more. We have received a new revelation and it’s no longer necessary.” (Note: We baptize our children and converts in the Christian church because Jesus told us to do so very clearly, in case you are now wondering. See Matthew 28 and the Great Commission to refresh the command for baptism from Jesus.)

Or if this teacher or teachers told us: “You do not need to receive the bread and wine physically. You have already received them spiritually, so we are not going to do communion services any longer.” Now the first one, baptism, works better as an example than the second, communion (and these are just examples) because baptism, like circumcision, happens once in a person’s life and remains a lifelong symbol. However, baptism does not make any physical changes in a person, as circumcision did, so a major difference is that people could see which men had been circumcised and which hadn’t. (Again, how many times do I have to stumble-type the word circumcision???) Paul’s revelation to the Gentiles that circumcision and other Jewish laws were not longer binding was shocking to the Jews who were both circumcised and who were Christian converts, and it was hard for a whole people group to let go of a central commitment that had been part of the religious culture for centuries.

This is what would happen if someone suddenly reversed the teaching on baptism so that it was no longer considered necessary: people would talk amongst themselves. They would be profoundly uneasy because baptism has become a cultural symbol, a tradition, a habit and a check list item for families who may not even understand what it symbolizes in the Christian life, but who have a feeling that “This is what we do to protect babies,” or “This is what my family has always done, and I am not giving it up!” Secret baptism services would pop up in people’s homes. Anxious priests would think that it was better to err on the side of baptism rather than give it up altogether. Church folks would start to argue, pointing to one another as coming up with creative names like the ‘anti-baptists’. That is not creative at all, but let me know if you can come up with a better fake insulting name, ok?

Baptism is what we call the “entry sacrament” for new Christians, and baptizing a baby publicly celebrates the whole family and their commitment to Christ as part of a public celebration in the church. But you know what? It has largely become symbolic for most people. I baptize babies whose families no longer come into church for any reason, which breaks my heart. We really should work on reclaiming the meaning of baptism in our churches. (Sorry—crabby priest moment there.)

Circumcision is a congregational/family experience as well. I have been to a bris (circumcision) where the baby is circumcised in the living room and the family gathers around. The men have so much pride in their eyes as this 8 day old baby joins the ranks of their spiritual tradition physically and publicly. See how this sounds like baptism? And of course, there’s a big party afterward! Who doesn’t love a party?

We need to understand how hard it is to give up traditions and practices that we have been brought up with, that we have been told are important to God and to our historic faith traditions. Paul is angry, angry, angry because the people are confused; Peter is waffling about whether he should spend time with the Gentile Christians because he’s afraid of the ‘circumcision faction’ –the Jews—who might be angry with him (Peter-- see 2: 12)…it goes on and on and is only finally resolved at the Council of Jerusalem, which takes place a year or two after this letter is written in approx. 48 AD.

For what it’s worth, here’s my take on it. When someone, let’s just say me—when I am converted to Christ, a change happens in the center of my being. To be dedicated to Jesus means that he is my Savior, he is my example, my leader, my ultimate teacher. Paul would say that I am enslaved to Jesus, which is ok with me because he is the only perfect person and he will not exploit that relationship. And as I follow Teacher Jesus, his words and actions show me what it means to belong to the Christian family.

This is what I actually do find in myself—I want to be more and more like Jesus. I want my heart to be moved by poverty, injustice and inequity. I want to WANT to do something about it, to center the world on the principles of radical love and service. Public services and wordy commitments that mean nothing, checked boxes for baptism and confirmation—these mean nothing unless our hearts are connected to Jesus, our minds are changed by Jesus, our lives are guided by Jesus. Paul wants the Galatians and all people to be truly connected at the deepest level of our selves, into the recesses of our spiritual guts, the hollow caverns of our darkened hearts. Jesus brings light; Jesus brings life; Jesus brings freedom from bondage and allows us the free will to choose his Way, to follow in his steps, to model our lives after his. Paul wants all of us--Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, and you and me-- to tap into the excitement and freedom that is gifted to us by our faith in Jesus.

“Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came so that we might be justified by faith… 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: 24, 28).

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,


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