Galatians 6: 7-16
Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” That statement, from 2nd Corinthians, is very familiar. It is often used liturgically as an assurance of pardon. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” Those words are echoed in the passage from the letter to the Galatian Church. Paul ended this letter with a written shout! He took the pen from the person who was setting his words down and wrote in his own hand. It was the all caps shout of modern communication. “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; BUT A NEW CREATION IS EVERYTHING!”
“A new creation is everything!”
In this passage Paul is not saying that we, as individuals, are new creations. He is not individualistic in his approach. Instead, the new creation is broad – it is a change in the world itself. Individuals are a “new creation” as they participate in the realm of God which has come near, offering transformation to the entire world.
What does new creation look like? Paul’s entire letter speaks to the characteristics of the new creation. It is broad, broader than anything they could have imagined in a world that valued divisions as a way of keeping order. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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.”
The gospel lesson for today has a similar theme. Luke had already told us about Jesus sending out the twelve – a story that appears in Matthew and Mark as well. Now, he tells a story unique to this gospel. Jesus sent out the seventy (or in some versions, the seventy-two.) Scholars suggest that this number reminded folks of the “seventy” nations of the world. So, sending out seventy was a way of saying that Jesus’ mission and ministry was for all people.
There are some wonderful things to note in this passage. It has become a favorite passage of the “missional” church movement. It paints a very different picture of what evangelism might (should) look like. At a conference one leader said she was heartened by the message they were to proclaim. “Peace be to this house” and “the kingdom of God has come near to you.” There is no highly developed teaching here. The passage talks more about the demeanor of those who had been sent out. They were to establish relationships in the communities to which they were sent. They were to establish those relationships by being recipients of the hospitality offered them. “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid.” We might think of the story of Peter before he went to Cornelius’ house. He dreamed about a feast being offered to him – yet it was a feast of unclean food. God said to him, in this dream/vision, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” To be a guest of Cornelius, a true guest, he would have had to accept the hospitality Cornelius offered. “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean,” Peter said to Cornelius.
The early church’s radical inclusiveness was one of its profound proclamations in a world which was divided. Faith communities that demonstrated oneness in Christ, where there was no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, were, in themselves, a witness to the gospel, to the message that the realm of God had come into the world in a new way.
How have we lost that vision? Let us not fool ourselves. Our world is as comfortable with division as the ancient world was. We identify groups of people. Some are deemed acceptable, others, not! Modern churches are seldom a testament to erasing division. On the contrary, we more often than not, demonstrate division and exclusiveness. This is, we are told, the most segregated time in American society. We have churches that carefully draw their boundaries, using theology and practice, so that undesirables are kept out. There is an old joke about someone moving up the social ladder – and having to change churches as a result. I can’t tell you how many times someone says to me, “I can’t go to church. I don’t have the right clothes!” The church is divided – by race, by theology and practice, and by economic status. What would happen if the church chose to live into Peter’s declaration, “God has shown me I must not call anyone profane or unclean”? What would happen if we looked at the divisions that give comfort to some in our own world and said that we will strive to live beyond them, that we will seek a new way of being radically inclusive?
This weekend we celebrate this country’s Independence Day. “E pluribus unum” (Out of many, one) is part of the Seal of the United States. For years it was the unofficial motto of our country until, in 1956, congress adopted “In God We Trust” as the official motto. Let’s consider that “unofficial” motto, e pluribus unum. It has been around since the Revolutionary War. “Out of many, one.”
It has been, through the years, an ideal that calls us and yet remains elusive. It appeared on all the early literature as the country sought independence, yet, we know, that there were those who were not included in its ideal, even in the earliest days. We should remember the slaves who had no right to be counted. We should remember that women had no right to vote, to participate in the decision process. We should remember the Native Americans who lost their lands and their traditions as the newcomers pushed for more and more land.
There are pieces of our history that remind us how difficult it is to embrace the notion that our many are one. It seems that every new wave of immigrant is greeted and treated with great distrust. The vision of “oneness” gets narrowly and carefully defined so that “strangers” are readily considered a threat and excluded from the vision.
I wonder if Pierre Eugene de Simitiere, who suggested the phrase e pluribus unum had in mind Paul’s vision for the early church, a vision of acceptance that denied the divisions Paul’s world thought necessary. Whether or not he did, it is a wonderful ideal that still challenges us. We hear the challenge in the rhetoric of the day – rhetoric in many circles that tells us that those who are different are to be feared and are to be excluded. We’re told that we can’t afford to be welcoming, that we can’t trust differences.
Last week’s passage from Galatians spoke about the gifts of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul said, “There is no law against such things.” There can never be a law against “being the church.” Perhaps it is time, in our country that is torn asunder, to strive for the new creation that God has initiated in and through Jesus, the Christ. The church could embrace its call to be a place that practices a radical inclusiveness. The church could embrace Jesus’ call to encounter the world in ways that invite relationship.
It is a frightening thing to live into God’s radical vision of shalom, of peace. To do so asks vulnerability of us. It asks us to be recipients of the gifts others offer us. It asks us to sit at their tables, eat their food, hear their stories – and know, that somehow in all of that, the realm of God is drawing near.
Christmas Eve Service
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