The Sunday Sermon: Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – February 24, 2019
Scripture: Galatians 3:23-28
Equality as Justice
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
This is the scripture that we have been working with, leaning into, for the last three weeks. It is the portrayal of the peaceable kin- or king-dom, the peaceable kin-dom, which we are called to bring about in this world, which we, little Christ’s, Christians, are called to curate.
Those are the opening words that Ashia used to begin our service last week – a powerful Youth-led service that confronted some of the violence in our world and that countered that violence through prayer, song, confession, proclamation, and charge: We must do better.
These are the opening words used to begin our service this Sunday. And they will be the opening words used to begin our worship service next Sunday. All this in service to the deeper understanding we’ve gotten of ourselves through this past Advent season and Christmas and the deeper conviction we’ve nurtured that God not only loves and delights in us, but needs us to live into the promise we are. In these last few weeks before Lent we are exploring where in the world we are not doing so. Last week we explored violence. This morning, we are exploring equality in our world.
Where are the wolf and the lamb not feeding together? Indeed, where in our world is the wolf actually feeding on the lamb? Where is the lion not eating straw like the ox? We might ask, where are the lions of this world feeding on caviar and prime rib, leaving only that straw for the ox. Who are the wolves and the lions and the lambs and the oxen? I’m sure we’re dividing up as I speak, but maybe we need to listen a bit longer.
Pray with me …
As we prepare to turn to our scripture for inspiration, we would do well to remember that we, the church in the 21st century, are not the first to imagine equality as an inalienable human right. We don’t “insert” – or project back – our own contemporary hopes and dreams of equality on earth with those of, say, Jesus or Paul when we teach them or preach them. In fact the idea that “equality” is not just something we offer, but something that is immutable in the will of God and the Way of Jesus was part of the very first communities who gathered in Christ’s name. To speak of “equality as justice” is firmly rooted in our Judeo-Christian faith from the very beginning. It wasn’t then, and it shouldn’t be now, a (small “d”) “democratic value.” It is a “family value,” absolutely essential to any Kingdom of peace, here or to come, because, as we’ll here again, we’re all children of God.
Listen now for the Word of God. Read Galatians 3:23-29. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The cry of Galatians 3, especially verse twenty-eight, is the high point of Paul’s letter. Here is the vision that drives Paul. Even with the deep needs of feeding the poor, preaching release to the captives and bringing the Good news to the world, Paul cannot keep this glorious vision of the inherent worth of every creature of God to himself. He cannot “not” speak of the oneness that exists for us in something beyond us – in Christ, in God, in creation itself. And neither should we be silent in this belief. Even as we seek ways to grow our church in numbers, in outreach and mission, and in deeper community, this passage and ones like it must ground us in all we do, must always push us away from the divides we create and burst us out of our complacency about who deserves God’s love. Where is the church that lives into this vision? Do we? Where is the denomination that has not compromised its soul with a self-satisfied disregard of Paul’s word: “for all are one in Christ.” Certainly not the Presbyterian Church. We justify this compromise, over and over again, but we learn over and over again that God’s love and God’s will for unity will always win out.
The very first thing I learned about this passage is that you can’t read it, we can’t hear the message it shares about equality, without paying close attention to the mentions of “Christ” – into Christ, with Christ, in Christ Jesus. Paul is speaking in this letter to those already Christian and saying that, whether they came into this community as a Jew or a Greek, a man or a woman, slave or free, they were all equal in side this community. So, the claim that is then quickly made is that Paul is only talking about while you’re here, while we’re here, gathered as the church. He’s telling the Galatians to treat each other “equally” as long as they’re gathered in Christ’s name. In the “real world,” we have to have slaves, and women’s work, and national identities that decide who gets served first and who must wait. There’s certainly grounds for that “contrast” in the first Century AD. But even then, and most certainly today, over two thousand years later, God’s radical love is meant to extend far beyond rooms like these.
“In Christ,” “with Christ,” and “into Christ” doesn’t just happen in church. As “Christians,” from the first communities in Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth to the ones today in Pewee Valley, Louisville, and anywhere else today, we are “in Christ” and “with Christ” always, every moment of every day of every week of every year we are alive. And so, there is never a time when verse twenty-eight of chapter three of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia isn’t our guiding light. When will we try it? Truly try to see beyond race, sexual orientation, culture, political party, wealth, and all the other ways we have devised to separate us from one another?
The chief obstacle remains our stubbornness. Every one of us balks at this passage that dares to imagine a world where wolves and lambs are equal, and lions and ox are being nurtured by the same blessings. Sure, every once in a while, preachers like me are called to declare and embody the radical notion of the kingdom of God coming among us to day. But if we really mean it, then we are going to have to live in a world beyond our own preference for more than one our once a week!. We’re going to have to embody a life beyond our natural inclinations, and certainly beyond our own design. If we really believe that the Kingdom of God has come, is here, and that we are called to more fully realize this dream, then …
In the midst of complex immigration controversies, we are going to have to realize that “there is neither native born not illegal immigrant.”
In a world dramatically divided by income, we must believe that “There is neither rich, nor working class, nor poor.”
In societies polarized by race, “There are neither people of color nor people of no color.”
In communities confused and scared by sexuality, “There is no gay or straight.”
In any and all of our seasons of elections, there is neither Republican or Democrat or Independent.”
For us, as Christians – in, with, and through Christ – all, all, are children of God, inside and outside of the church. And, in light of the baptismal covenant that makes us who we are we have no other choice than to respect the dignity of every human being.
Where is the denomination that has not compromised this call? Where is the church that has not lived out this vision? Where is the individual, you or I, that hasn’t gotten complacent? It’s so easy to write this, and all dreams of the Kingdom on earth, off as “pie-in-the-sky” wishful thinking. But, as theologian C.K. Chesterton wrote “(It’s not that) the Christian ideal has … been tried and found wanting. It’s (that it) has been found difficult and not tried.”
What would happen if we really tried sometime? What might happen if we stopped cannibalizing one another and started finding ways to embrace the vast diversity and profound variety of the children of God? What might that look like?
Wolves and lambs would feed together. Lions and ox would share equally. There would be no hurt and no one would seek to destroy. It would be … Holy, the peaceable kin-dom of God we are called to curate.
For those of us with ears to hear, we may be one step closer to making it so.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 24, 2019