Monday, June 20, 2016

Wearing Christ

Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
June 19, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

We are about half- way through the book of Galatians, and we are about to see, in this text, the turn in Paul’s argument. He has written to the churches of Galatia because he is alarmed that they have been told they need to add something more to their faith. These former pagans have been told that they must become Jewish, too, and Paul wants to assure them that this is not necessary. In typical polemic Pauline fashion, he uses a kind of verbal shorthand to distinguish the two sides of the argument- “the law” on one hand, and “faith” on the other. This is a false dichotomy, frequently misinterpreted through our Western Christian lens of interpretation. The law itself is not the problem. The problem is that people can so easily derive their identity from so many things other than the grace of God though faith. Paul declares unequivocally where our identity truly rests.

Let’s listen for God’s word in Galatians 3:23-29.

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, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Our gospel reading takes us along with Jesus across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus encounters a man who is out of his mind – so crazy he can’t live in community, doesn’t even wear clothes, but instead wanders among the graves, tormented. Let’s listen for God’s word in Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice,
"What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"-- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)
Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?"
He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
So he got into the boat and returned.
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus ent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you."
So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

I want you to travel with me, back in time. The year is 428, and we are at the church. It is night – early morning, actually, just before the Easter dawn. The candidates for baptism have been preparing since Holy Thursday. Their teachers have examined them, laid hands on them, and interrogated them. On Friday, they fasted. On Saturday, their sponsors once again, prayed over them, instructed them, and read to them. When the cock crows, it will be time.

Some of them have been preparing for months, even years. Some have given up occupations – charioteers, gladiators, soldiers, brothel keepers, magicians, actors, magistrates, even teachers – were ineligible to be baptized.[1]

The children are baptized first, led one by one into the pool or pond.
Then the adults come.

Imagine this youth, with his grandfather as his sponsor, coming to receive the sacrament.
Can you see him?

He comes timidly, but his earnest face gleams in the torchlight. He removes all of his outer garments and stands silently, barefoot and wearing only his tunic. He is given salt, the salt of wisdom. Then the renunciations – do you renounce Satan, and all his works?

He turns to the West and says “I renounce thee, Satan, and all thy work, and all thy pomp and all thy worship.”

Next, the affirmation of faith.

He turns toward the East, toward the dawning light of the rising sun, and says, “And I associate myself with Christ. “I believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and in one Baptism of repentance.”

He removes his tunic and stands shivering in the pre-dawn while he is anointed with oil -
his nostrils, his mouth, his head and heart,
blessed to be kept holy before God.

Then he steps down into the chill waters, arms outstretched.
Three times he is submerged –
You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As he rises up out of the water and ascends the steps on the other side, he steps into the embrace of his sponsor, his godfather, and into a clean, dry robe of pure white linen. Now the blessing is on the forehead, the sign of the cross made by the bishop. He receives a cup of milk and honey, the symbol of promise, and he receives, for the first time, the eucharist.

He is clothed in Christ.
All the distinguishing marks of his old life are momentarily gone –
the clothing that showed his status,
the family with which he grew up,
the occupation he is learning,
the origins of his race or ethnicity or language,
even his gender identity –
all left behind with his rough woven cloak at the edge of the font.

Now he wears a shining white linen robe;
his family is the family of faith;
his vocation is to follow Christ;
his new community is the church;
and in this new community 
he is neither Jew nor Greek,
nor slave nor free, nor male nor female.
He belongs, body and soul, to Christ.

What a gift – to belong!

To those who stand at the edge of the font,
Christ beckons, with an outstretched hand.
Come, come into these dangerous waters –
they will wash over you and I will not let them overwhelm you.
When you rise up from this font, you will be clothed in a robe of glory.
To those who wander, naked and tormented, among the graves,
Christ beckons, with an outstretched hand.
Come, come to me and receive healing.
Your demons will be cast into the sea, far away from you.
Come and sit at my feet and learn from me,
for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

To those who stand at the fringes of society, outcast, alone,
Christ beckons, with an outstretched hand.
Come, be welcomed.
Here, there is hospitality, and mercy, and grace.
Here, you will find sanctuary.

To those who peer suspiciously at the church, looking in from the outside,
Christ beckons, with an outstretched hand.
Come, come with your questions and your wounds.
Here there is faithful conversation, words with meaning,
here are not only words of hope but acts of healing.

To those who have climbed the pinnacle, self-centered, successful,
Christ beckons, with an outstretched hand.
Come. Learn to serve.
Give your heart and your strength to something greater than yourself.
Let the waters of baptism drown your ego
and raise you to a new and better height.

To those who wake each morning and seek the face of Christ in the dawn,
Christ beckons with arms outstretched:
Come, let me surround you with love and fill you with peace.
I will feed your hungry heart, and strengthen you for service.
Now you are not a stranger – neither Jew nor Greek nor slave nor free –
now you are a child of the promise,
a member of the family, an heir of the covenant of Abraham.

Come, put on Christ,
be made a new creation,

Come to me, and then go,
go and tell the world what God has done for you.

Thanks be to God!


[1] Ferguson, Everett. Baptism in the Early Church 329-330

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