Before faith in Jesus Christ came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3.23-29)Galatians is one of the longer tellings-off in the Bible. The Galatian Jewish Christians have been excited by the news of the Gospel, and they're excited that Gentiles are coming to know Jesus.
But as Rob Runes's Letter to the Church Magazine reminds us, the Gentiles are a dreadful bunch....
"– apparently they don’t know the Bible, worship sheep, and are violently opposed to God’s prophets."So the Jewish Christians are in fact so excited about the Gentile Christians that they want them to become Jewish Christians as well. They want the male Gentiles to undergo circumcision. They want them all to follow Jewish food and ritual laws.
But Paul knows that the Gentile Christians didn't need to follow the rules to be saved. They didn't need to lay off the bacon to know Jesus. They didn't have to avoid black pudding to receive the Holy Spirit. They just had to believe in Jesus.
The Jewish religious laws seem, in this argument, to have been a marker that proved the Jewish people holy. They were like a football shirt that said what team you were on - like a way of proving that you were on God's side. But the Christians who had come in from the Gentiles - the "Greeks", according to Paul, presumably because we are all Greek to him - hadn't needed the rules. They had received the Holy Spirit, and they had become Christians. Why would they need to follow the food laws? Why did they need to be circumcised? They didn't need to become Jewish. They had to believe, and be baptised into Christ. And if that's enough, then why do they need to add extra?
Paul answers that question by throwing God's love out to everyone. There is no Jew, or Greek, or slave, or free, or male or female. God's love is given to everybody in Christ Jesus. We can all belong to Christ. We can all be adopted into God's family.
Our problem can be that we don't realise God can love other people just as much as God loves us. That was the problem for the Galatians: they knew God loved them and, if only the Gentile Christians could be more like them, If they could eat the right foods, dress the right way, take up the Sabbath.
This week has seen two murders particularly in the British media. That of Jo Cox, I'll avoid. It's sub judice and we don't know enough to comment anyway without making giant guesses. The other - the shooting of 49 innocent people at the "Pulse" nightclub in Orlando. A murder where some people - in the US especially - seem to think the crime was somehow lessened by its targets. 49 innocent people died when they'd gone out to have fun. 49 people - gay people. The target of the crime was gay people. People who I'd like to think, if they came to your church, or to the Beaker Folk - on their own, with their partners - with their families - we would greet as we do anyone else. Offering a welcome exactly the same as we do to anyone else. The regulations in the Old Testament against homosexuality, it seems to me, are part of that world that made certain foods special, certain activities special, to mark the Jews off as a sacred people that weren't like the rest of the world. Because now that faith has come, we are no longer supervised by the law.
And if you don't believe that - and I can understand that not everybody believes that, with regard to gay people having sex with other gay people - then I hope you'd still welcome gay people into your fellowship, just like everybody else. Because God loves them, as much as you, no matter what you think of what they do.
Not just gay people. People can be looked upon suspiciously for other reasons - made to feel unwelcome by our unthinking, instinctive words and actions. People who are single; people without children; children; people who don't dress the way we do. Young people who have a different attitude to everything. While those two incidents made the British press, many people were once again being murdered by Isis for trying to flee Fallujah. We don't hear so much about it because - I guess - they're not so much like us as an English MP or a bunch of people partying in the city where Walt Disney World is. But they're all made in God's image, God loves them, as much as you - no matter what you think.
But then, maybe it's you that you don't think is so attractive to God. Maybe you think God doesn't think you're up to it. All over the country, there's teenagers taking exams. And if you need 2 As and a B to get into Sheffield and you get 3 Bs maybe Sheffield won't take you because you're not good enough. Maybe you think God is like that. Maybe you're wondering what grades it will take to get you into heaven, and thinking that you probably haven't done enough revision.
And Paul turns it upside down and makes it quite clear that that is the wrong way round. The Jewish Christians in Galatia - they've been so good, they've kept the Jewish Law, they've sung the Psalms and they've prayed three times a day. And that's all good. But the Gentiles - the non-Jews - the Greeks and Pamphylians and Arabs and, eventually when it gets here, the Celts and the Angles - they've not done any of it. And yet - they are baptised into Christ and they are clothed with Christ.
And it's all through faith, not through what you do. Paul says we are clothed with Christ - when God looks at us, what he sees is not a Bedfordshire person or an American, a gay person or a straight one, a beautifully prim person who's never said a wrong thing in their life or a person who gets stressy and bangs stuff around and swears like a trooper. God sees Christ in you.
You are special - with your strengths and weaknesses. You have your own likes and dislikes, people that you love and turns of phrase, facial expressions, incredible joys and secret fears that only God sees. You are not like anyone else, and God sees you and loves you, and sees you in the light that is scattered through the prism of Christ.
And you can know that God loves you - wholly, limitlessly. So much that the Son died for you, and yet so much that the Son lives for you and in you, And if you can know God loves even you, then you can know that God loves everyone else. Or, if you can understand that God loves everyone else - maybe you can realise the shocking truth. That God even loves you.