Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Marks of Jesus

This morning’s scripture reading is Galatians 6: 11-18 and can be found on page 826 of your pew Bible.

I invite you to listen for the word of God.

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.
The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.
Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
-The word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God
The cross is a symbol we see so often, that I wonder if we are not sometimes dulled to its harsh meaning.
We wear this symbol on necklaces, see it tattooed, painted on buildings, on bumper stickers and t-shirts; we see the cross all over.
So it’s hard to be shocked to the roots of this symbol.
For many Christians, we look to the cross for comfort, for support, for it is to many a tangible and constant symbol of God’s love.
However, it is also a constant and tangible symbol of our sinfulness; for it is by this cross that we executed God.
Not unlike the electric chair of old prisons, the plank of a pirate ship, or a guillotine from the French Revolution, this cross is a symbol of capital punishment, as this symbol has everything to do with death and violence.
In a time where executions are not public spectacle, a time where we put our prisoners to sleep peacefully rather than as painfully as possible as was the intention of the Roman Empire, we must strive to remember what this cross is all about.
Paul – unlike us – can’t seem to forget the pain of it all though, as this passage tells us that he wears the marks of Christ on his very body.
This statement is the most captivating of the whole letter of Galatians for me, for it makes me wonder, what is it that he is really talking about. Is he speaking literally, as through he bears the marks of the stigmata – the real and physical holes in his hands and feet – or is Paul speaking figuratively?
Regardless, we can be sure that for Paul the cross is a symbol that strikes pain in him somehow – the brutality of it all does not seem to pass far from his thoughts.
For in the cross Paul sees not only his own faults, but in the cross, in the marks of Christ, Paul sees the faults of the World.
Paul, now at the end of Galatians, seems to know these marks personally, for the world now judges Paul just as the world judged Christ.
Paul – like Christ – became a traitor to his tradition.
Those who oppose him accuse him of acting and speaking in a way contrary to what is in the Bible, just as they accused Jesus.
In this letter to the Galatians Paul’s most obvious charge is Genesis 17: 9-14, but most especially vs. 14 which says, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
It is based on such a command from God in the book of Genesis, that those who accuse Paul find the ground of their argument, for how can Paul say, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision” matter, for such a statement clearly goes against what the Bible says. And not only against what the Bible says but what tradition says, what people grew up hearing and believing.
It was blasphemy; his teachers and his parents must have been very disappointed.
But Paul had seen the flaw in living his life according to such laws, living his life attempting to make himself pure before God, trying to earn his salvation. For Paul saw that life could not be based on such laws alone - when Paul saw the cross and some how realized that God was on that cross.
That God had been charged with breaking the laws canonized in our Bibles; that God had been found guilty by those judges that were to stand for righteousness so that people might come closer to God, that God had been executed by the Law.
So if the Law is God’s, how can God be guilty, Paul had to ask?
While Paul is charged with breaking one Law of Genesis, Jesus, God in human form, is charged with breaking even more.
For Christ did not live his life abiding completely by what was written in the Bible, for God was compelled to live beyond those regulations.
Christ was charged with breaking the Sabbath codes, laws created to emphasize the importance of abiding by this commandment, but God found it more just to heal the sick than to serve this law, he decided that loving his neighbor as himself is more important than loving the Sabbath, saying, “the Sabbath was created for man not man for the Sabbath!”
Just as Christ was compelled to serve those who were left out by the tradition founded on this Law rather than the tradition itself, so Paul calls us to serve God, not tradition, who convicted Jesus Christ.
It may sound easy – to live by obedience to our brothers and sisters rather than living in obedience to tradition, but for Paul this was no easy task.
Paul was faced with a very hard decision. He had the rules for his life, plain as day, just as we have. He knew what he should eat, how he should live, and what things to do to best serve God.
There are some who say that Paul, if he would have just stuck to the Law, that he would have been a made man – living an easy life in a high office, his future was set – but how could he go on serving God through tradition when he realized that tradition had sentenced God to the Cross?
That tradition had marked Christ a sinner, a Law breaker, for they would rather boast in those rules that they were not guilty of than see the sinfulness that Christ’s life made so apparent.
Standing for the truth marked Christ a sinner, and now standing for the truth has marked Paul with the marks of Christ.
These marks that Paul speaks of – I believe he could feel them, and they weren’t only the marks of a loving God, they were also the marks left by a family disappointed, the marks left by a good job he had to leave behind, the marks left by turning his back on what everyone expected him to do so that he could do what he believed was right. They were the marks left by those who attacked him, accusing him of ignoring the Bible, ignoring his culture and tradition, falling away from the right and just path.
In this last passage of Galatians, Paul does not sound as though the marks of Christ are something that he is proud of, that he boasts in, for he asks that no one cause him any more trouble, as though he has had enough, as though he doesn’t want to put up with it anymore. He is tiered, and maybe he even wants to go back to the life he had before, those days when life was easier, all you had to do was follow the rules and you would know that God loves you. All you have to do is be proud that you have been circumcised, and don’t worry about those who fall short of this standard. Boast in the marks that prove your innocence and God will love you, all you have to do is eat right and you will be healthy and happy.
But how could Paul go back, knowing that those rules had put God on the cross?
He could not, and neither should we, but we do. We look to the Bible to tell us that we are good, and that they are bad, that we are right and they are wrong, forgetting that doing so is not so unlike those who charged Jesus with braking the Sabbath, and those who accused Paul of breaking the circumcision codes.
For by using the Bible this way we may feel as though we are holy, as though we are just, as though we are righteous, but by doing so are we not just like those who Paul accuses of boasting in the flesh.
And if we use the Bible this way, do we not assume that God’s love is some how contingent on human behavior.
As we look to the cross, we must see the violence and self-righteousness that put God there, but we must also see a God who loved us any way.
For hear is a symbol of death, but because of the Love of God, the love of God for us that would not die though we tried to kill it, we see a love that we cannot win, cannot deserve, and cannot deny to anyone, lest we risk denying it to ourselves.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Are What You Eat

This morning’s scripture reading is Galatians 6: 1-10, and can be found on page 826 of your pew Bible.
-I invite you to listen for the word of God.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
-The word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God
Some would say that a German man named Karl Barth is the most influential theologian of the 20th century. In his most celebrated work, Church Dogmatics, Barth puts into writing his theology, much of which can be applied to our lives today if we take the time to understand what on earth he is talking about. In his volume on the church Barth seems to draw precisely on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and claims that the Bible must not become a rule book for our lives, for it offers something much more complicated than simple legalism. In fact, if life were a game of cards and the rules for this game were written down in the Bible, the outcome is already obvious, we have all lost; and while some of us will continue to attempt to earn salvation through doing good works, continue to see others as either better or worse than they are, those who read Paul’s letter to the Galatians and take his teaching on circumcision seriously must come to the conclusion that salvation is not something that we can earn through circumcision, through right diet, through living upright lives in any way – for salvation is a gift given by God through Christ’s crucifixion. However, while salvation is given and guaranteed, our happiness is not. While salvation will not come through abiding to the law, through avoiding alcohol, shrimp, or pork, we still are what we eat, and so in the first half of this last chapter of Galatians we find practical wisdom that sounds something like the saying that I have been hearing all my life, you are what you eat.
In our society, like all societies this is an inescapable truth, but in our culture of diet and exercise the saying takes on a particular meaning. As I asked a few people what they thought of when I said, “You are what you eat,” the reaction was always the same, if you eat healthy you will feel healthy, if you eat unhealthy you will feel unhealthy. This kind of option makes me think of the check-out isle of the grocery store where on one side stands the rack of magazine covers presenting women and men so skinny, healthy, and good looking they almost don’t seem real, and on the other side stands the candy bars. Which side will I choose? Will I side with the skinny celebrities or the delicious candy – what will I pick, will I stick to my diet as these celebrities are so good at doing or will I give into the temptation and bite into that delicious Snicker’s bar?
However, neither side of the check out line offers us the happiness that we seek. The candy bar may offer a momentary satisfaction, while the lifestyles of the rich and famous so often only offer a shallow smile that covers a life of insecurity, a truth we come to know too well when these celebrities fall from the pedestals that we place them on.
To a great degree, we are what we eat, and the pictures of celebrities’ show us just how true that is - especially as I think about their diets and the bodies those diets produce as compared to my diet and the stomach that my diet has produced.
But I have recently wondered how much do we really know about those things that we eat? We live in a world of constant spring and summer. The tomatoes that are only now becoming ripe in Georgia have been sitting proudly on our hamburgers all year round, though maybe not as ripe and juicy as they could be. We live in a world where we can eat a much greater variety of fruits and vegetables than what our local farmers can grow, and we so often eat potatoes from Idaho and Peru, Apples from Washington and Chile, not simply Georgia peaches and peanuts. If then, we are what we eat, what are we if we don’t even really know where our food comes from?
We are simply not the agrarian society that Paul addresses in this letter to the Galatians. He says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
We are no longer a culture of reapers and sowers. We do not depend on the land that we live on to nourish our bodies, we do not worry about our livelihood during a drought, but only the health of our lawns; but we can be sure that Paul’s audience knew exactly what he was talking about.
If you only plant one kernel of corn you should not expect to reap in a full harvest, and if you plant just one seed you should not expect to feed your whole family through the whole winter.
Just as our lives are far from the reality of the Galatians, just as our culture of grocery stores is so different from their culture of farm land, just as we cannot be too sure of what we are for we hardly know what it is that we eat, we are also often misguided as we think of the realty and the consequences of what we sow.
So often we live lives unconcerned with the consequences of our actions. Our cars spew forth exhaust fumes but we wonder why on earth the city is covered in a grey cloud of smog. We sit in front of the TV for hours and wonder why we never talk any more, why we don’t know our neighbors (Pause).
Never was the harsh reality of actions and consequences, or sowing and reaping to use Paul’s language, more striking than when a drug dealer told me about the time one of her clients came to her door with her two children, soaked to the bone by the rain. This mother, addicted to the drugs that this woman was selling, brought with her two wet children, one with a diaper that it seemed had not been changed all day. The woman who told me this story said that she took the two children and told their mother to get clean, and to come back later when she could take care of her children properly.
She took in the children bathed them, held them in her arms and saw exactly how bad the drugs she was selling were. She was in the business of sowing drugs, and so on that rainy night she reaped in a harvest of child cruelty that resulted from those drugs.
This week in Washington it seems as though the same was true, as some of this country’s most judgmental representatives were judged for breaking the moral code that they so boldly preached. They sowed judgment and so they are now being judged.
Though in our own lives it is not often so obvious - but the same is still true.
Our society has sown an economy and a way of life dependent on foreign oil, and how can we expect to survive as the oil runs out if we do not develop new technologies?
If we sow relationships that devalue our bodies and our emotions, can we expect to reap the reality that we are one of God’s children?
In our marriages, if we sow adultery, pornography, or abuse, can we expect to reap happiness, mutual respect, and good self-esteem for our spouse?
In a society obsessed with low cost and good deals, should we be surprised to find low paying jobs filled by the most desperate to work, should we not expect to reap bad service and the end of Mom and Pop businesses?
In a world that sows war, we must ask if it will be through sowing war that we can expect to reap peace.
In a world that puts a priority on making more and more money, working longer and longer hours, who can expect relaxation, happy families, and good marriages?
In neighborhoods without side-walks filled with houses without front porches, who can expect to find the kind of community that we all need?
If we sow individualism, if we only look out for number one, what can we expect to reap but loneliness and isolation?
If we value money first and our families and friends last, will the money fill the emptiness that we are sure to reap?
If we don’t tithe, then can we expect to reap a church that can satisfy all our needs and that can be a strong voice in the community?
Just Friday over ice cream a wonderful person named June told me about an obituary that listed, “member of the Sam’s Club” as one of the recently deceased accomplishments. I hope and pray that my obituary will not be concerned with my ability to buy toilet paper in bulk, but that by the time I die I might be remembered as being generous, being kind, being a good husband, for it is in sowing these things that I believe I will reap happiness and joy.
The thought of such happiness helps me to remember God’s plan for us; that we find true joy – but we must remember that we will not find it in those places that the world tells us we will.
We must trust Paul, following our maker’s instruction, not so that we might avoid some eternal hell fire, but so that we might find the happiness that God wants us to have.
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Well that Sounds Easy Enough

This morning’s scripture reading is Galatians 5: 13-26.
I invite you to listen for the word of God.
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
-The Word of the Lord
-Thanks be to God.
In this passage of scripture Paul once again calls us to the freedom that Christ Jesus has brought us. He claims that the entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself;” and that if you are led by the Spirit, you are no longer slaves to the law.” Paul claims that freedom has come, just as freedom came to many on July 4th, 1776, and then to many more nearly one hundred years after that.
In the year 1863 as the Civil War raged on President Lincoln by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation legally freed all slaves. But where the abolition of slavery brought freedom once the strength of Lincoln’s Proclamation came to fruition, it was not long before the powers of evil made slavery real once again through low wage jobs, denial of the opportunity for land ownership, and denial of the right to vote, not to mention the reality of the constant menace of racism most dangerously incarnate in the form of the KKK.
It is the gift of freedom that Paul asks us to remember for according to this example we must remember how easily freedom may turn back into slavery.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that the entire law is summed up in one command and it is one that is easy to remember: Love your neighbor as yourself. One command then, some might say, that sounds easy enough.
That we are to avoid things like sexual immorality, debauchery, and hatred, striving for things like love, joy and peace – yes, all of this may sound easy enough
That we are called to freedom, that we are to no longer be slaves to our sinful nature, and that we are to be led by the Spirit – that too may sound easy enough.
Paul, in this letter to the Galatians, calls us to something that may seem obviously attractive and blatantly simple. He calls us to freedom, to avoid many things that the vast majority of people know will not make anyone happy, and to strive for those things that will.
But most importantly it seems, Paul calls us to be free – but those of us who know our humanity well will remember how President Lincoln’s words set men and women free in one sense, while slavery reared its ugly head once again. Those of us who know our humanity well know that freedom is rarely simple, and that freedom from one thing so often too easily becomes nothing more than a transfer from one form of slavery to another.[1]
Paul issues these warnings for Paul knows that freedom is dangerous - that a society that attempts to exist without Laws faces chaos. For the Hebrew Laws that Paul seems to fight against offer a life that seems far from chaos. A life regimented by dietary codes, laws concerning clothing, laws concerning farming, codes of conduct, all of which can still be found in the first five books of our Bible, and all of which, for Paul, can be represented by circumcision – his main subject in this book called Galatians.
Given the importance of these laws and all laws, critics of Paul simply need to ask: and where would the Galatians be if all of these laws were abolished? If the freedom that you speak of were truly granted?
So Paul warns: “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”
In this phrase we may once again see the limits of our English language, for according to Bible scholar Dr. Charles Cousar this sentence might more appropriately be translated as “do not allow your freedom to become a beachhead for sin.” This past 4th of July many of us may have been reminded of what a beachhead is and how during WWII our freedom was threatened once again by a strong enemy. Just Monday the man who delivers our trash bags and toilet paper told me all about the day his platoon stormed the beach at Normandy. He said it was a day that he will never forget – his voice held the importance of that day’s victory. That success on that beachhead meant that the enemy was on their way to defeat –that the tide had changed – and Paul uses this kind of imagery to emphasize the importance of not allowing freedom to indulge the sinful nature.
For the fact is, freedom must be defended – and the defense of freedom takes constant discipline, for once you give in just a little, once the enemy storms the beach and establishes a beachhead the war is that much harder to win.
I thank God that our veterans won that day, but Paul urges us to not let sin sneak into our lives that same way for freedom must be defended.
Today new enemies creep once again into our midst. Our military is fighting a new war – but there is also a spiritual war raging in our society. The battle between right and wrong – the standards set by our for-parents seem to be slipping away for it seems as though the world is about to erupt into chaos and lawlessness. So many believe that we must fight once again, but I am not sure it is just that easy.
We live in a world in need of change – a world steeped in injustice – a world that once again must defend freedom.
But while we need freedom it is something that we also fear for we fear that lawlessness is the only force that will fill the void when the Laws are overturned – when the traditions of old are threatened as Paul claimed that the truth of Christ demands that we challenge those laws that we have always held so dear. But Paul does not advocate lawlessness – no – he advocates for freedom – and he calls us to remember that freedom must not turn into slavery once again.
He calls us to reform our society through the lens of the one law that completes all laws: that “The entire law is brought to completion or perfection when the single command: Love your neighbor as yourself” is applied for our freedom is threatened when our law does not enable us to do so.
Some would say that in this past week our laws have been threatened.
Scooter Libby, a man charged with lying on four different occasions – four lies that may have helped stop end an effort to discredit the Vice-President and President and their case for war in Iraq - a man charged with 2 and a half years in prison.
This week his sentence was commuted – and as I read this passage in Galatians I realize why it was.
Because in his case the law could not be blind, for in Scooter Libby the President saw his neighbor. He saw someone like him, someone from the same background, someone from the same class; someone like him and so the law had to be reformed.
But there is a woman at the Metro State Women’s prison who will not be so lucky. She murdered her husband – she was tried and convicted and because she is on death row when she walks through the prison compound everyone must stand 10 feet away from her as much of her right to basic human contact has been taken away.
But would the law not have been different if her judge could have loved this woman as himself – if her judge was a battered woman, and how different would her sentence be if the law was reformed so that we all could love this woman as we love ourselves?
How different our legal system would be if all people were tried by someone who could empathize, someone who could “love their neighbor as him or her self” as seems to be the case with Scooter Libby. How different would this woman’s sentence be if she were tried by someone who knew what it was like to have an abusive husband, who knew what it was like to fear for your life?
In some ways we are like her, we are not really as free as Paul would have us be. We are slaves to the law still, and so we are not always able to love our neighbors as ourselves.
So freedom must be defended once again.
May God open our eyes to the truth – that the world is made up of only our brothers and sisters in Christ. May you see your own face in every person that you meet.
[1] J. Louis Martyn, Galatians (New York: Doubleday, 1997) 485.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

What is Paul Talking About?

This morning’s scripture reading is Galatians’ 5: 1-11.
I invite you to listen for the word of God.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.
The word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
I can’t say that I intended to preach about circumcision on Children’s Sunday, that’s just the way the preaching schedule worked out, but the good thing is, Paul wasn’t really preaching about circumcision either.
Paul, in this section of Galatians, was talking about human attempts to earn salvation; a task that Paul knows is impossible – and, ironic, especially as we Christians confess to believe that salvation has already been won by Christ’s crucifixion. That is the meaning behind this symbol which is our main symbol of Christianity, that by Jesus’ death, we have been saved, not through our own works, but through the work of God.
However, like the Galatians, we sometimes forget, and try to earn salvation ourselves, or at least order our society in a way that denies the power of the cross.
You see, because Christ earned salvation for us, there is no longer any reason to order society the way we always have. We like to order society by thinking about who is cool and who is not, who is good and who is bad, who is righteous and who is sinful, but Paul doesn’t seem to think we should be allowed to do that if we acknowledge that we are given salvation, not because we are good but because God is good.
We can be a lot like a bunch of yellow birds that Dr. Seuss told a story about. There was this group of big yellow birds who lived happily on an island. At least, they were all happy, until a man came around with a machine that could put green stars on their yellow bodies. Once one of the birds had a green star, all the birds had to have a green star to be like the bird who looked so special with that green star, but once every bird had a green star the man with the star machine had to figure out a way to keep selling stars so he convinced some of the birds that it would be better to have two stars on their yellow bodies. The birds with two stars walked around like they were better than everyone else, so the birds with one star naturally wanted to get two stars, so they paid the man to get two. Then some of the birds wanted three stars so they could feel like they were better or more special than the birds with two stars, but then all the birds with two stars wanted three, so some of the birds got three stars, and then four and then five, and on and on they went until some of those birds were covered in green stars, looking like they were more green than yellow.
Today, none of us have green stars on our chests, but we still do things to make ourselves feel special, to make ourselves feel like we are better than someone else. Sometimes we buy up the nicest things, the best shoes, the coolest cars, the biggest houses, the best video games, but once we get the thing that we think is so cool it’s not long before there is something else that we have to have, just like the birds with one star thought one star would be enough, but soon they wanted two and then three, and then on and on and on.
Here at the church we are sometimes guilty of doing the same kind of thing, just as this morning’s scripture passage tells us about. We all want to feel special - like we are special to God – so we buy things, or we do things to make ourselves feel more special. Maybe we buy something new, maybe we give something up, maybe we stand up for something that we really believe in - maybe we don’t put green stars on our chests, but we certainly take pride in ourselves for doing things that make us feel special.
But the problem is that we can’t depend on anything to make ourselves better than anyone else – because the fact is that we all mess up, we are all sinners. And when we try to make ourselves more holy than we are we end up just like those birds, with stars all over ourselves, looking less like the yellow birds that God created us to be.
For if we could make ourselves feel special, that God would not have had to offer us Jesus on the cross. Paul wrote that, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.” In trying to make ourselves feel special, we deny the power of the cross, because it is this cross that is the ultimate sign of God’s love, the source of what makes us special, the reason we can all call ourselves God’s children.
Of course, just because God’s love comes for free, that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want, because we all know that if we did whatever we felt like doing without respecting each other and ourselves we would not be as happy as God would want us to be.
The point of the story about the yellow birds though, and Paul’s point in this passage from Galatians, is that rather than rely on our own ability to make us feel special, we have a God who has made us feel special. We are not special because of what we wear or because of what we do or don’t do, what we have done or haven’t done; we are special because God loves us. Because God knows who we are, God doesn’t expect us to earn God’s love; God just gives it to us for free – So that all people may know that they are equal in God’s eyes, as they should be in our eyes.
We are a long way from the kind of equality that Paul hopes for, that Paul believes is the necessary result of Christ’s death on the cross, but each time we come to this table I believe we know what it would be like if for only a second.
Because we are not invited to this table because we are good, we cannot earn our way up here. We are only allowed to come to this table because God has made it so.
But – we are invited to pray and live in a way that the truth of this table and the power of the crucifixion might be known throughout the earth.