This is an exciting week for me on many levels. First, it is the first time I get to preach at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. I was installed as the Pastor of Family Faith last weekend. Second, we moved into our house over the weekend, so this is the first week that I don’t have to commute to the office every day! Third, we follow the Narrative Lectionary, so we begin a three-week mini-series on Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia (known as Galatians).
Above is the image I created for this letter during the Hart Haus Years (2002-2007). This week we look specifically at Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21. This follows nicely after last week’s sermon on Acts 15. The big controversy that colors most of Paul’s letters has to do with the cultural boundary issues between Jewish followers of Jesus and Gentile (non-Jewish) followers of Jesus.
The first group of Jesus-followers were thoroughly Jewish because Jesus was thoroughly Jewish. The cultural identifier and boundary marker for Jews that distinguished them from all other people groups (known as the goyim, or Gentiles by the Jews) was the Law of Moses given to the newly freed slaves in the book of Exodus.
The most distinctive aspects of these laws have to do with circumcision and dietary laws. You may be wondering how circumcision was a cultural identifier. Did the men have to flash you before they were allowed to enter the church (ooo, gross!)? Actually, men in the Greco-Roman culture were often naked in public because they competed in athletics naked and bathed in public bath houses. They did this to make sure that women weren’t allowed (sexist, yes) and that the circumcised were identified. So, yes, it was a big deal to be circumcised or non-circumcised (in the Jewish mind, to be clean or unclean).
The second distinctive was shared by men and women. It had to do with what you eat and how you eat it. The Law of Moses, and the subsequent cultural additions, had a very strict code of what a Jew could eat, or even be near, while eating. Take pork, for example. It was strictly forbidden because it was considered unclean. Now imagine if a Gentile Jesus-follower sat down at a church supper with a Jewish Jesus-follower and plopped a big ham and cheese sandwich in front of her. Horrors!
What made a person a follower of Jesus? Did she have to become a Jew first and follow all the Jewish “works of the Law?” If not, what marks the Gentile, non-law-following Jesus-follower apart from the non-believing Gentiles? How would the world know if you were “in” or “out” of the body of Christ?
That is the big question for the church of Paul’s day, and it is still a big question for the church today. I look forward to exploring Paul’s letter to the churches in the region of Galatia and looking for connections to our cultural boundary issues today.