Sermon for 3 Pentecost Yr C, 20/06/2004
Based on Gal 3:28
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Unity and oneness in Christ, baptismal equality, dividing walls of the human race have been removed by Jesus Christ—that is the message Paul preached to the Galatians who were fighting amongst themselves and dividing themselves against one another. That same message is equally as relevant and important for us Christians today. Paul is not speaking of a utopian ideology, nor an ethical demand—rather, he is speaking of an accomplished fact when he says: “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.” For Paul himself, who was a devout Jew, this message must have been revolutionary. In his Jewish morning prayers, which he likely prayed daily, Paul would have thanked God that: “Thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” But now as a Christian, Paul is saying they very opposite—because he believes with all his heart that Jesus Christ has removed all dividing walls.
Jesus Christ has removed the division of race and ethnic background—“There is no longer Jew or Greek.”
Murray Joseph Haar, a devout, practicing Jew, son of Holocaust parents tells of how, in his many years of searching, he became a Lutheran pastor and now is a professor at a Lutheran college. In telling about his quest for the truth, his struggles within Judaism, and his journey into Christianity, he has this to say:
…something or someone compelled me to go into the enemy’s camp. I discovered that Jesus spoke the truth to God and the truth about God. He was a Jew. I also know that history has divided Jew from Christian. I can’t change that. But I think that Jesus embraces both Jew and Christian. Judaism and Christianity have defined themselves and Jesus in particular ways, and they have learned to defend their positions with fences and walls. But Auschwitz destroys these defenses and calls on both traditions to return to the Scriptures to study again, together, in search of the truth. 1
Jesus Christ has removed the dividing wall of race and ethnic background. Whether we are Jew or Gentile, black or white, brown, red or yellow, whether we are Norwegian Lutherans, German Lutherans, or “whatever” Lutherans—the dividing walls have been removed thanks to the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In these rather heated days of racial and ethnic tensions around the world as well as right here in Canada—Paul’s words admonish us to repent of our own racism, to practice what we believe and preach by reconciling racial and ethnic divisions; by working for equality, justice, love and harmony among all the races and ethnic groups. We are all equal before Christ’s eyes; we are all one in him regardless of the country we were born in or live in; regardless of our skin-colour; regardless of the language we speak.
Our oneness and unity in Christ is even broader in scope than race or ethnic background. Paul also says that in Christ the dividing wall of slave and free person has been removed.
For centuries, Christianity—sad to say—has failed miserably to put this great truth into practise. There are, unfortunately, many examples from history where Christians have built and strengthened this dividing wall of slavery and freedom rather than removing it. In Europe, the doctrine of “divine right of kings” led to—in some countries—a very rigid socio-economic class system, which made the poor poorer and the rich richer. Moreover, the church became so corrupt that it pandered to the wealthy and powerful by blessing them—thus betraying the poor. When European Christians colonized Africa and Latin America, they used the dividing wall of slavery to their advantage. Black people and other non-whites were regarded by white Christians as inferior races, therefore they were destined to be and remain slaves. Thanks to people like Abraham Lincoln in the U.S.A. and Lord Shaftesbury in England, Christians eventually worked together to remove the dividing wall of slave and free person. It is believed by some church historians today that one of the major reasons why Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire was that it attracted so many slaves because of this message that in Christ there is no longer slave or free. The Christian community included slaves, business people, peasants, nobility, soldiers and other people from all walks of life. Jesus Christ has removed social, economic and political dividing walls. Our value, identity and ultimate destiny does not depend on these divisions. Christ values and treasures each one of us.
Our oneness and unity in Christ, our baptismal equality goes even farther than racial, ethnic, slave, free dividing walls. Paul also says that in Christ: “There is no longer male and female.” Jesus Christ has removed the dividing wall of gender.
My wife, Julianna, is also a pastor. Over the years, both of us have met Christians who bluntly—and sometimes hurtfully—told us that they did not believe that women should be ordained. However, as the old adage goes: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it.” Indeed, much to our delight—and sometimes even to our amusement!—some of these people, over the years have been converted. Indeed, several of the most outspoken people who opposed women’s ordination have now become the most convincing and zealous spokespersons for women’s ordination. They have discovered the truth of Paul’s words that male and female are united, one and equal in Christ’s eyes. The Christian Church, in this century, and the latter part of the last century, has finally discovered—after centuries of denial and suppression—the incalculable contributions that women have made and continue to make to Christianity. Christ has removed the dividing wall of male and female so that true freedom, equality and unity might be more fully experienced and realized.
Paul’s vision of oneness, unity, baptismal equality in Christ is a vision of an inclusive, wholistic church. May our Triune God help us all to be what Paul says we already are—a united, equal, and free church; an inclusive and wholistic church; a church which rejoices in and respects our unity in diversity and our diversity in unity; a church in which there is room for everyone! Amen.
1 Cited from: Murray Joseph Haar, “In the Enemy’s Camp: A Convert’s Sadness,” The Christian Century, April 15, 1992, Vol. 109, No. 13 (Chicago: The Christian Century Foundation, 1992), p. 391.