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Sermon for Ordinary Time, Galatians 6:6-18
The final chapter of Galatians, like many final sections of letters, is a bit less cohesive than the argument throughout, as it is concluding the call to the Galatians to live in the Spirit rather than under the Law, and applies that in a few different ways that are specific to the Galatians. Rather than try to hit every point, here in our final week of covering this letter, I would like to focus in on one key statement that summarizes the heart of the letter, and indeed the heart of the gospel itself: For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation is everything.
St. Paul has been at pains throughout this letter to remind the churches he planted of the decisive, radical significance of Jesus Christ’s work on the Cross. Throughout the letter he has argued on the basis of the implications of the crucifixion: When we are in Christ, united to him by the power of the Spirit through baptism, then we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ, 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (2:19). We can say, “And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (5:24). And finally, we ought to say, “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.” (6:14).
We all who are in Christ went to the cross with him, our sin and shame being separated from us on that day. We participate in his death by union through the Spirit. As a result, our sinful passions and desires, what Paul calls “the flesh,” were also crucified, put to death. Finally, the world, with its values and standards, we were separated from, as that connection ceased in the cross. In a word, all these things which held power over us no longer do. We were crucified with Christ, and so all the things that enslave us were defeated, and left behind as we rise with Him in resurrection life.
Me, sin, the world; all crucified on the cross, with and in Christ. We continue to be who we are, but in Christ, a part of the new creation, and we continue to live in this world, but we are not of it, but of the New Creation. On the cross, Jesus Christ inaugurated his empire, the Kingdom of God, the New Creation, and we are now aliens in this world, because we are being transformed for the next.
Circumcision doesn’t matter, nor does uncircumcision; the circumcision party cannot claim superiority, or a greater closeness to the God who saves us, nor can those who are uncircumcised; because that was never the point, and none of the rituals or standards or rules that are outside the gospel and its implications have anything to do with our life in Christ. All that matters is a New Creation, the one promised by the prophets of ancient days, and looked forward to by the Israel of God, which now includes Jews and Greeks, women and men, slaves and free, rich and poor, black and white, old and young, and all variety and expression of human life renewed by the Spirit through union with the Son to the glory of the Father.
As people of the New Creation, then, we live under a different kind of Law, the Law of Christ. Vs. 2 tells us that this can be fulfilled through bearing each other’s burdens. I think this is simply a specific example of a broader principle, one we hear at the beginning of our liturgy, that the true law is fulfilled through love of God and love of neighbor. The different between this law and the law requiring circumcision and all manner of rituals and prohibitions on Israel, is that instead of being a law from the outside, a law of externals, the law of Christ is a law of the transformed heart, a law that comes not from without, but from within, from the Holy Spirit in us. This is why those advocating for circumcision cannot fulfill the law truly, because it is fixated on the external, and not on the interior work of the Spirit in making us a new creation.
The Nile River is a truly marvelous thing. In the midst of one of the harshest deserts in the world, there was a thriving and prosperous civilization on par with the most powerful of the ancient world. If you look at a satellite image of the Nile river basin, you will see a lush, green region, surrounded by a sharply defined line, beyond which is nothing but the dull yellow of the desert. This is because when the winter snowfall in the mountains deep to the south melt, the river flooded, churning up all manner of silt, dark, black, rich soil that coated the river and the irrigation works, bringing incredible growth to the natural world around it. For years, explorers tried to find the source waters of the Nile, only in recent years being able to do so.
We are like the Nile in this image: we did not summon or create the source waters, for they are Christ. But within us comes this churning, powerful water, the Holy Spirit, who takes what was stagnant, sinful death and recreates it, the silt of our healing from sin and death making us what we are in Christ. From this, then, comes the Law of Christ, the love of God and neighbor.
The growth from that event, from that transformation, is what Paul means by living in the Spirit. When we bear each other’s burdens, that is the fruit of new creation; when we sit with someone, homeless and on the street, looking them in the eye and calling them by name, that is fruit of new creation; when we hold the hand of one who weeps and suffers, not telling them sentimental pieties but simply dwelling in their suffering with them, we grow the fruit of new creation; when we embrace the ones we love in joy and laughter, we reap the harvest of new creation; and when we are tempted and resist, and fall back onto Christ with whom we were crucified, we bear the fruit of new creation; when we say, I will not steal for my employer, I will not exploit the weak, I will give gladly rather than hoard my resources, I will sacrifice my time for the sake of someone who needs help, and I will not suffer the foolishness of any standard or mark that says one group of people is less deserving of God’s grace than I: That is the fruit of the New Creation, bought by the crucifixion of Christ, and given to me for my freedom by the work of the Spirit.
You have not been given to slavery, but released into freedom by the Spirit. Let nothing divide us that is not of the Gospel. Look to Christ who died and rose again, and know that there is nothing he asks of you in order to come to him but faith. And you who have been renewed by the Holy Spirit and joined by him into Christ, live as new creations, for that is what you are: free to live in faith, not fear, free from sin and from the values of the world, and free to live in love, because it is no longer you who lives, but Christ, who lives in you. Amen.
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