The below text is from the preacher’s prepared remarks, and is not an exact transcript, but is very close to the recording. Additionally, at around 7:34 minutes in, we experienced a technological challenge which halted recording. The recording picks back up again, but about a minute of the sermon (paragraphs 4/5 in the text) was lost.
3:23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.
3:24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,
3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
3:28 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.
3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
I visited Korea last year. I was born there but moved to the U.S. when I was 9 years old. It was only my second time back. And it’s of course a whole different place than when I used to live there. I was using Google Maps to navigate the Korean bus system, and had to ask for directions. I stopped someone and asked (in Korean), “Do you know what bus I need to take to get to Namsan Tower?” And the guy replied back to me (in English), “Do you speak English?” Now, if you know Korean, you know that my Korean is good but I clearly have an American accent. And everyone knows ‘bus’ in Korean is not ‘bus’, it’s “Bbuh seu”.
When I moved to the United States, I didn’t know how to speak English. I learned but for a while had an accent. People stared at me and treated me differently. I always had this dream what it would be like to go back to Korea, where everyone looked like me, and I could speak Eorean and not be misunderstood. It turns out I’m too Korean in America and too american in Korea. Am I Korean or American? Identity is a peculiar thing. I never felt totally at home anywhere and displaced no matter where I was.
And I especially struggled with that in my formative years. Throughout middle school and high school, I probably changed my “identity” about every year. Each grade, I made a new circle of friends. 6th grade, I embraced being a shy girl with only 2 friends, the 3 of us picked a spot just around the corner of the school building at every recess. 7th grade I felt the need to expand my circle, or actually move up the ladder, I joined the cheerleading team and made friends with the popular “prep” crowd. Then I got too cool for the cool kids and in 8th grade and decided that I was into alternative rock, baggy pants, and hung out with skaters. 9th grade, I met these Vietnamese kids at our school that were so cool with their low-rider cars and what they called “rice rockets”, fixed up Hondas with spoilers and rims. We’d go “race” our cars around the block during lunch hours. I jumped around to “cliques” and reinvented myself every year. Because I didn’t fit in anywhere.
It would be too cheezy of me to simply say that I found myself in God. Although I did, after I was much older, not necessarily through church community, because churches were always somewhat complicated too. I didn’t fit into Korean youth group. Or the campus fellowships where everyone had similar political views in college while I was studying political science. Because actually Sunday mornings are some of the more segregated times in america. I found myself, after years of trying to be this or that for others, realizing that I didn’t need to try so hard to have people understand me. They didn’t. They didn’t get me. They couldn’t put me in the categories they knew. I didn’t fit them. I came to find myself more grounded during an especially estranged time, when I first moved to San Francisco right after college for a job. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a community or church, my job was a whirlwind. I felt alone and disconnected. It was during those times that I began to do this thing, a thing that I always felt the pressure to do all my life but never did it right, I had Quiet Times with Jesus. We used to called it QT. Bible study leaders used to keep us accountable by asking, “how are your QT’s going?” And I never got through the designated devotional readings. But during this time, when I felt most alone, I spent some time in the evenings, right before bed, reading the Bible, doing this devotional called My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and I prayed and talked with Jesus. And I kept doing it night after night, because through those times, I felt grounded. I felt connected. I felt this sense of peace, this strange source of energy that was joyful. I was working 70-80 hours a week, exhausted, but I perked up and felt energized by spending time with Jesus at nights. It was crazy, cause I always used to fall asleep reading the Bible growing up. It didn’t matter to God where I was from or what language I spoke proficiently. My prayers were a mix of Korean and English, and sometimes just groans and tears. I felt heard and known by God. I wasn’t sure who I was still, mid 20’s, who I was becoming, but I knew that I was the beloved child of God. And I felt that so strongly and deeply at a time when I was the most lost, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. And like Paul says in our text today, whether I’m Korean or American, I am a child of God. “you are all children of God”
Racial, ethnic, and national identity has always been a tricky thing. The Old Testament is basically a series of stories in a process of making and breaking of a nation and their identity, the Israelites, the Jewish people. Because of their belief in a God who promised a covenant relationship with the descendants of Abraham, Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham, I am one of them and so are you, so let us praise the Lord, although I’m not a son, I’m a daughter, but that was the message. The promise. God’s chosen people. And they had a special name for anyone who was not them. The Gentiles. I used to think the Gentiles meant people from the Gentile, there’s no such country. It just literally means anyone who’s not Jewish. The Greeks did the same thing, The Greeks and the barbarians. Anyone who was not Greek were called barbarians!
So Paul saying whether you’re a Jew or Greek was a very provocative, scandalous, uncomfortable thing to say. Because the separation was clear. And those who tried to blur those lines by worshiping and eating together, were being considered heretics. This is what Paul was defending because his ministry was being discredited because of his stance on the mixing of the Jews and Gentiles. And the text might not hit us like it did them then. We don’t FEEL the danger of the words in our bodies like we would if different words were used today. Let me show a modern day example of this with a quick video. This guy named Nuseir Yassin, who identifies himself as a Palestinian-Israeli, posts a short video each week on various topics called Nas Daily. This one is on Segregation.
Words like, Jews or Arabs, Christians or Muslims, Black or White, Straight or Gay, Citizens or Immigrants–categories that may have exposed tentacles for today’s folks, is kind of like what it felt like for the Galatians to read this letter from Paul. This letter wasn’t written in a vacuum but in the midst of high drama for the Galatian church. And using “loaded” terms during that religious climate was – them were fighting words. And Paul was fighting – fighting for the legitimacy of his apostleship. These “teachers” were saying that he was an imposter. They were claiming that in order for their church to be valid, they had to follow the purity laws, follow our rules.
A thing to note here – as modern day Christians, we shouldn’t assume that Paul’s view of expanding the good news to the gentiles was simply a Christian doctrine and that the Jewish belief system was the archaic bounded set one. We’ve got to remember that at this point, the gospel was still a sect of the Jewish religion. Paul still very much thought of himself as a devoted Jew, as he constantly reminded them how zealous he was as the teacher of the law, which is also why he’s making this claim of his theology as one that ultimately meets the promise of becoming Abraham’s heirs, within the realm of Jewish beliefs. In fact, the early Christian history from the book of Acts show that the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem had earlier agreed that the gospel of circumcision and the gospel of the uncircumcision were BOTH valid and acceptable. Meaning, Gentiles didn’t have to follow the traditional Jewish laws to be a part of the faith. It was the unraveling of an eventual split but not yet. And nowadays the Jewish requirement to join the faith, or Catholic, or other churches and denominations vary widely, and are still up for debate. It’s interesting how applicable Paul’s call to radical unity and inclusion is even today, especially today.
I mean, Paul’s looking at the Galatian Incident, but look at us now. Churches are still debating what belief makes you in and what makes you out. Some people have used terms like bounded set vs. centered setto talk about this, that’s helpful. Bounded – that’s about who’s in or out. Centered – that says Jesus is the center and we’re all in different places. After thousands of years, we’ve still make it about who’s in or out. And rules and guidelines, or more lightly put priorities or set of values are important. But they are just that. Guides.
Paul puts it like this. He says, “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came…” The word disciplinarian here is the same word they used for slaves who oversaw children during their formative years. They were tutors, babysitters. Law was the guardrail but now faith is here! It’s like this.
The babysitter was told bedtime was 9pm and no popsicles. But now, mom and dad’s home. They were the ones who gave the instructions in the first place, but it came from not the correctness of sleeping at 9pm because 9pm is holy and cause popsicles are evil. It’s because of the parents love the child and want the child to have good rest and enjoy a popsicle at a proper time in the sun, at a picnic on the grass when the whole family is eating popsicles together.
Basic rules are helpful, but it points to the greater truth that is beyond the law. Children start with the basic colors, learning red, blue, yellow. But you grow older and see the beauty of complex colors like aquamarine or lavenderblush that they can create and paint for themselves. Or grammar rules that everyone learns but every advanced writer throws out the window when they’re forging their own truth words. How much more than, is how to live holy lives, can be determined by the textbook of the Scriptures. It cannot. Paul says, It’s not the Torah (the book) but Jesus (the person) that leads us and guides us and teaches us and is for us and walks with us and loves us. He says, “Faith has come!” Faith in Jesus. And I don’t mean faith in Jesus as in, saying the formulaic words like a spell, “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” Again, the intent was good but we’ve made it into a formula again! That’s not faith. That’s a system and we love to create systems because it’s easy. It keeps the power in the system. But Paul was preaching the unleashing of the faith that’s living out the spirit of Jesus. Faith is not a thing you join like a rewards program, that only works if you signed up for all the terms and conditions that’s in the fine print that you never really read, that applies only from Aug 1st to Dec 1, and if you pay a little more, you can get the platinum status. NO! You’ve already been approved! Credit cards try to tell you this because it’s such good news, but that’s the magic of marketing, it looks very similar to good new but it’s not. And churches do that too. You’re all welcome! Unless you want to get ordained. Unless you have questions. Unless you think the spirit is working in you that’s different from what the Bible says.
And the Bible says a lot of different things! This whole debate is in the Bible and with the early Christians too. Who is in and who is out is always the debate. Books like Ezra and Nehemiah had divorce decrees for those who married foreigners. But the book of Ruth and book of Jonah, Ruth, a foreign woman becomes an ancestral matriarch in the royal line of David, and Jonah who was a particularist is then shown by God God’s heart for the people of Nineveh. This is our debate today still, and was in the days of the Bible.
In Romans, Paul again deals with the heated debate of whether to eat meat or not. For some thought it was okay to eat meat and some vehemently opposed it. Peter struggled with this too but his change in his theology didn’t come from interpreting the Torah but from a vision in his prayer, where he saw a sheet coming down with all kinds of unclean animals descending from heaven. His mind was changed from experiencing God. But this issue of eating meat was a big deal, a hot topic to get all worked up about. I mean this happens in the modern day too right? I remember in San Francisco, when I first moved up there from LA, there wasn’t a big recycling culture in southern california, and at restaurants in SF had a bin for trash, a bin for recycling, a bin for compost and I stood there with my tray and placed things into wrong bins, and this lady behind me walks up frustrated at my slow moving and rearranged the trash, muttering something like, it’s not that hard. It’s like, okay, I know there’s climate change and we’re killing the earth but I just haven’t been around such a well organized disposal system, like you don’t gotta be so condescending about it, you know? And Paul kind of sounds similar in Romans 14 saying, “Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables”, he calls them weak! Guess we know how he feels about vegetarians! But still, he goes on to say, “those who eat must not despise those who abstain…and not pass judgement”. In one of her latest standups Ellen DeGeneres was like, “vegans are such snobs.” but also, “let them be. Why are people so concerned with where they get their protein. But what about protein! I don’t care where you get your riboflavin!” But these are important matters, purity laws, climate change, veganism. People care and they should. But Paul reminds us, even to the church today, experiencing much division over disputable matters, (even though some may say it’s clear and not disputable, but just by the fact people do disagree makes it a disputable matter). Some have called it third way, and while there’s some criticism even what third way really is, I think it’s simply remembering that it’s not about meat or no meat, or circumcision or no circumcision, but about faith in Jesus and unity of the spirit in the community. I’ve heard it said, I forget where, not left or right but from above, or not the elephant or the donkey but the lamb. I know we get worked up about our differences and some matters are not just issues but people, not preferences but life and death matters. Yes, and how do we fight for what is good and justice in the midst of division and disagreement, holding tension and holding one another, not letting go of the other who disagree, not walking away but making them look into your eyes as your share your convictions with them and sitting down and eating with them as you hear their experiences and life story that brought them there. An enemy is one’s story you haven’t heard. That is a provocative prophetic progress that only the church can show the world, that no activism organization or political party can achieve because the radical power of love that church is supposed to display.They will know us by our love, Jesus says in John 13.
And it’s hard. Plenty of churches, denominations, and church have split over issues. Nations have split over ideologies or political methods, communism and democracy like North Korea and South Korea. It’s complicated. Or sometimes it seems so simple but, unfortunately it’s not, apparently it’s not and what are we to do with that? Just steamroll people who don’t get it? Who’s not there yet? Who just don’t see the light? Referring back to the video from earlier, racism and division is not just going on in America or between whites and blacks. Singapore is an interesting social experiment in action. A young city state, gaining independence in 1965 after having been a British colony for centuries. It’s implemented innovative social methods, like their housing ownership laws, given to citizens at a much lower market rate with the caveat that it’s for 99 years only, or college abroad paid for with the promise to come and back work in Singapore for certain amount of years. The city runs extremely efficiently and the diversity is very much an integrated one. And you might think, Chinese, Malay, and Indian, well of course that’s easy, they’re all Asian and look alike. Um, you haven’t seen a staunch nationalist like an old Korean man who’s been through colonization that almost wiped out his country and culture. ‘Made in Korea’ is everything to him. Among Asians there’s a great divide among east Asians, South Asians, and Southeast Asians. And among same kind of Asians there’s discrimination among the lighter colored ones and darker colored ones. And there’s so much judgement and shame to those who are overweight or exactly at their own personal weight that’s considered “fat” when it’s totally healthy. And there’s so much gossiping and disregarding of folks who are not educated. Employed and the unemployed. Disabled. Homeless. Jews or Greeks. Slave or Free, male or female, even those categories reinforce the hierarchical system cause that’s all we know. But do you know that before you were American or undocumented refugee, you are a beloved child of God? And after you never graduated and after you had kids and stopped working, Jesus walks with you still daily and works through you. Before you decided to follow all the rules, never go outside the lines, always be helpful, never cause a ruckus, achieve a respectable status/career, perform at the highest level at all times, God loved you just as you were and will always love you even if you don’t keep it up at all costs.
Whether you’re wearing Louis Vuitton or Target, or an Ivy League graduation stole, or sign saying “anything helps”, you are all clothed in Christ – one who died on the cross and rose in glory to say, I love you this much. Whether we’re dressed at our Sunday best or naked with nothing left, Jesus clothes us. Binds us. Unites us. “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise.” You are heirs. According to the promise. Know that that is who you are. Heirs. Do you believe that? May we live into that inheritance more and more. Amen.
An Invitation to Whole Life Flourishing:
Notice the various categories you place people into: conservative or liberal, powerful or powerless, rich or poor, privileged or not, ally or enemy. Without judgement, notice the differences and particularities.
Spiritual Practice of the Week:
Find radical common ground with the other. Imagine Jesus loving both you and the other just the same, uniting the two of you no matter how different or disagreeing you are.