The Sunday Sermon: Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday – February 23, 2020
Scripture: Galatians 3:26-28
Jesus: No Separation
We bring another leg of our never-ending journey to a close this morning. And as is always the case, this ending prepares us for a new beginning, this time our twelfth Lenten journey together as Pastor and congregation that begins again on Wednesday of this week.
The journey we’ve been on since mid-January when we recognized our own baptism in Jesus’ baptism has been with him, with Jesus, side by side. We’ve been discovering ourselves in the one we call Lord and Savior: fully human … and so divine … something new … through his compassionate community. You all had a break from all of this, from me, last week. A welcome break, I know, as Dr. Cynthia Campbell preached here as part of the Presbytery’s pulpit exchange. I’m trusting that “absence made your hearts grow founder.” I know it did mine. It was good to be with the community worshipping at Harvey Browne Presbyterian, but I missed all of you and all of this, our humble community and our life together. So … I’m back. We’re back together for another ending and another beginning.
Let’s pray together …
So one more sermon, one more lesson, one more suggestion on how you, too, may live your life as Christ in the direction of the mysterious reality we call God. You, too, are fully human – created by God to be “fully human.” Our full humanity, the full humanity of anyone, may just be the most practical way to understand divinity in the 21st century. It’s certainly one of the most provocative ones. As you live fully and love wastefully, as Jesus lived and loved, you, too, offer “something new” even two thousand years later – the Kingdom of God not near, but here, on earth as it is in heaven. And you, too, are part of the compassionate community that Jesus gathered during his life, that continued to gather after his death, and that gathers still in his name.
We talked a few weeks ago about some of the characteristics of this community. It is a community where any, and all, swords are sheathed and heaven is experienced on earth. It is a community where all are not only welcomed, but fed – body and soul.
It is a community that understands compassion not simply as a personal trait, but as a political one, a community that seeks to create balance in life beyond itself, that seeks to control the excesses of our world and country that has created social, economic, cultural, racial, and gender divides in every era of human history.
How? How does such a community do such a thing? How does it even attempt to do such a thing in a world which, almost from its very beginning, encourages selfishness and self-survival and empowers those who “have” to “get more” and those who “have not” to rely on others, often at deep costs to their social, economic, cultural, racial, and gender well-being. How?
It does it by professing this … Listen for the Word of God. Read Galatians 3:26-28. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
This is how we do it. This is how we should do it. Words of ancient hope never fully realized, I dare say. But also never fully forgotten. Allow me to “back in” to the incredible profession that is verse twenty-eight of our reading.
Every year the University of Louisville presents their Grawemeyer awards, five awards given to individuals in the fields of education, improving world order, music composition, psychology, and (in conjunction with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) religion. One of the unique things about these awards is that the selection process for each includes one final step that involves three lay readers, anyone outside of the field, reading the final three nominations and adding their own recommendations to the professional’s. Charles Grawemeyer, who created the awards in the mid-1980’s believed that great ideas should be understandable to those outside a particular field and not be the “private treasures of academics.” I’ve had the honor of being a lay reader for the “ideas improving world order” a number of years ago and for the education award just this past Fall.
This year’s Grawemeyer award in Religion went to Stephen J. Patterson, a Professor of Religious and Ethical studies at Willamette University for his research and book entitled The Forgotten Creed. The creed that has been forgotten, Patterson suggests, is verse twenty-eight of the reading we just heard from the book of Galatians. And this verse may sound odd to many coming “from the pen” of Paul, since so much writing in the New Testament attributed to Paul runs the gamut from classist, to sexist, to anti-Semitic. But every student of the bible learns early that the books that contain the vast majority of these negative attributions come from forgeries. Paul didn’t write Colossians or Ephesians or Timothy or Titus.
Galatians, however, is one of the letters of Paul that scholars agree was almost certainly written by him, including the remarkable words of chapter three, verses twenty-six to twenty-eight. What intrigues Patterson, and what is the focus of our message this morning is the final verse. While Paul, of course, has written this verse into his letter, Patterson notes “most scholars do not assign the verse directly to Paul,” believing instead that he was drawing upon an ancient creedal statement originally associated with baptism (4). Paul knew it and quoted it, but he did not compose it. In other words, it would be pre-Pauline. And since Paul’s writings are the oldest writings we have in the New Testament, most older than even the Gospel writings, verse twenty-eight, this creed, would perhaps be one of the earliest attempts to capture in words the (true) meaning of the Jesus movement (5).
No Jew or Greek … no slave or free … no male and female. No … separation. A baptismal confession of faith.
We know from our understanding of past history and our personal experience of present reality that such a creed, such a vision, such a community has never fully existed, even in (perhaps especially in) the church that came to be the worldly expression of the Body of Christ. Patterson is brutally honest in the introduction to his book. Let’s be honest, too: What does Christianity in the 21st century have to say about race (Jew or Greek), class (slave or free), and gender (male and female)?
We’ve all heard it said that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in American life. It may be that the church is the last truly segregated public space in America (2).
Week after week we speak, pray, and sing about how the poor are blessed and the meek will inherit the earth. But in today’s fastest growing churches, the “prosperity” gospel is all about class (2).
And gender? The Catholic and Orthodox Church do not ordain women as priests. Neither do the largest Protestant denominations or most of the historically black churches, or the Mormons. Only the denominations known as “mainline” churches ordain women, and we are the in decline. The church is the last institution in America where it is still legal to discriminate on the basis of gender.
What has Christianity ever had to say about race, class, and gender? Well, if we don’t hear what we’d like to hear from the contemporary church, perhaps we should look back. Patterson notes:
Before Revelation made Christianity a set of arcane apocalyptic predictions; before the gospels told the story of Jesus as God’s persecuted righteous Son; before Paul could argue that human beings are justified by faith, not by the works of the Law – before any of that, that was first this elegant credo and the utopian vision it contained (5). No Jew or Greek. No slave or free. No male and female.
And it was, perhaps, the vision that Jesus had for the “how” of his compassionate community. This short creed claims that there is no “us” and no “them.” We are all one. We are all Children of God. How are we doing with that within our own Compassionate Community?
Close your eyes. And look around. Who do you feel separated from in this room? We’re a fairly homogenous group, but we do have just a bit of cultural difference here, including generational difference. What separates you culturally, generationally, racially from others here?
We have a bit more economic and social diversity among us. Do you feel separated from anyone here because of money or politics? I know you do on some level. Can we rise above it?
How about gender inequalities within this community? How certain are you that there are divisions between male and female? Extend that to disagreements about sexual orientation and gender identification? How certain are you that there are no divisions?
Now go beyond this room, this community, and into the world, your world. How are you separated from others because of race, class, or gender? How do you separate yourself in those, or any other, ways?
Open you eyes … And now, truly: Open your eyes.
Since the dawn of the church, it has always been easier to believe in miracles, in virgin births and atoning deaths, in resurrected bodies and heavenly journeys home, than something so simple and basic as human solidarity” (7). But that is who we are. Not a an exclusive community, not a doctrinal community, not even a theological community, but a compassionate community that strives to be “without separation” in a Kin-dom of God on earth.
I find it fascinating that on this final Sunday before Lent, on this Transfiguration Sunday, set aside by church calendar planners as a Sunday in which we seek to more fully understand who, how, and why Jesus was, that we wind up where we began! Jesus was like us in every way, except … (do you remember? Hebrews 4:15?) … without separation. No separation within from God. No separation without from others.
You are like Jesus in every way except … when we’re not. As we begin Lent this year we begin with our eyes more fully opened. We, too, are called to be fully human. We, too, may find our divinity in that fullness. We, too, are something new when we live in and through our compassionate community with no separation.
In Christ, as Christs … There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free. There is no male and female. There is no separation. May it be so. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 23, 2020