Narrative Lectionary for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year Three
May 21, 2017
Lessons: Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 and Luke 18:9-14
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that welcoming new people into the Body of Christ is part of stewarding the Good News. Putting undue hardships and burdens on them as part of the process is not good stewardship and runs counter to the message of Jesus.
Key Scripture: …yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. Galatians 2:16
My grandmother was a veritable font of colloquial sayings and folk wisdom. She was also a woman of deep faith who was not afraid to call things like she saw them, especially when she saw someone talking and acting incongruently in the name of Christ or judging others to a higher standard than they themselves upheld.
“Why, that’s like the pot calling the kettle black,” she’d exclaim with more than a hint of indignation.
In our lesson this week from Paul’s letter to the Christians of Galatia, we get a taste of my grandmother’s indignation, but this time it has to do with the struggle for Jews to accept, welcome, and fully incorporate Gentiles into the Body of Christ. It doesn’t seem to be the case that the “old guard” leaders of the fledgling movement don’t want more converts; it’s just that they want to put an unreasonable burden on these newcomers with the weight of the law and to exert control over the situation. Paul is having none of it.
The first part of the reading reminds us of Paul’s complex pedigree. As a good, law-abiding and card-toting Jew, he was an active persecutor of Christians. He was doing what he’s been taught, pursuing holiness and righteousness. And then God got ahold of him on that Damascus Road and taught him a little “pot and kettle” lesson. In short, Paul did a 180 degree turnaround for Jesus, and he didn’t pass go or ask permission. He just went, and began the work of sharing the Good News of Jesus for all people, especially to the Gentiles.
Fast forward to chapter two where Paul is writing to set the record straight with his Galatian brothers and sisters. After he established congregations, some of the “old school” leaders have come along and told the neophytes that they’re doing this whole Jesus thing wrong. It seems there are quite a few more hoops for these new Christians to jump through in order to be real kingdom insiders. Wanting to follow the way of Christ, these new Christians are confused but trying to follow what they’re being told, even if it seems this newfound freedom in Christ isn’t turning out to be that free.
Fast forward to today: Here we stand at the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther determined to call the church back to accountability in the gospel, to rid God’s people of extraneous and burdensome practices that he felt ran counter to the teachings of Jesus. Not surprisingly, things changed in both expected and unexpected ways. The ripples of the Reformation were powerful and spread throughout the world as things changed.
The world is still changing, and the church (sadly), has not learned from history. We still tend to look backwards, to complexify structures, and to put burdens on those new to the faith that seem quite unnecessary and cumbersome. We’ve come a long way, but humankind’s broken nature causes us to take a few steps back before we can move forward again. We lose sight of the heart of the gospel; in short, we lose sight of Jesus, and see through foggy, fuzzy lenses of nostalgia and need to preserve our institutions and past, we will not be able to welcome the stranger, embrace the new, and release that which needs to be let go.
Maybe we would all do well to repeat frequently these words of Paul from our lesson: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:19-20). Let us live by faith in Christ and move forward in faith.
Invite worshipers to consider what it means to have Christ living in them—that it is no longer just us, just our lives to live as we please. How does that shape our days, direct our paths, and inform our decisions. Consider creating a sending or benediction that reminds congregants that they do “wear” Jesus into the world.
A movie that may help you talk about Paul’s letter to the Galatians and our reading this week is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The movie itself has quite a few flaws and is a bit uneven, but it tells the story of a woman whose cells continue to make a difference in so many ways today. It also tells the story of how she and her family were exploited in the process. It would provide some good springboards for discussion. There is also a documentary available, The Way of All Flesh, by Adam Curtis, and the book by journalist Rebecca Skloots.
Jesus Lives in Me!
Find pictures of a biological family (yours or someone else’s close to you). What you’re aiming for is to show some of the similar features we pass on through genetics. It may be eye color, hair color, height, etc. I would stick with visible markers, or if you do use genetics keep it simple.
Have you ever had anyone say to you, “Oh, you look just like your mother!” or “You are the spittin’ image of your grandfather!” or something similar? Our ancestors “live” in us through the genetic material they pass to us. For example, our eye color, hair color, and other traits may be like our parents’ or grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ features and traits. Genetics and DNA are complex and varied, but we are interconnected through our family lines. The Bible even has a record of Jesus’ family history in Matthew’s gospel, although we don’t have photographs to compare.
So how does Jesus live in you, as Paul says in Galatians? Well, like genetics, it’s complicated. But remember that in baptism you were named and claimed as a child of God and given the gift of the Holy Spirit? That Holy Spirit goes with you always. That we are “clothed” in Christ and made new creations? You encounter Jesus in prayer, in word (scripture) and in Holy Communion. We are told that Jesus is among us wherever two or more are gathered. So you can’t blame Jesus because you didn’t get curly hair or dark brown eyes. But, you can give thanks that you live In Christ and that Christ lives in you.
Paul helps us remember that as God’s faithful people we carry Christ’s spiritual DNA in our hearts and minds. God is always with us and ever faithful to us.
Note: Adjust the level of this children’s time to suit the ages of your group and finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
This week’s lesson from Galatians invites us to consider our stewardship of Christ’s body and one another. Are we truly welcoming all who seek Christ? Do we put undue burdens and hardships on new believers? In what ways might we be hypocritical as Christians, or where in culture do you see hypocrisy lived out in the name of Christ? How can we do our best to steward this good news so that all may come to know and love Jesus?
Stewardship at Home
Consider using the selection from Luke’s gospel (18:9-14) as you pray this week? Are your prayers more like the Pharisee or the tax collector? Or are you concerned about the way you pray and whether your prayers are even okay? Have no fear! Jesus is near, and the Holy Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Come to Jesus frequently with all your prayer needs. Come like the tax collector in humility and gratitude for all that God has done for you. Come and connect with your Lord in the act of prayer. Be fed, be strengthened, and strengthen others through your petitions. Try to increase the time you spend in prayer this week by at least 50%. Chances are you’ll be glad you did!
Photos: Jro, Creative Commons, © cienpiesnf and © Sychugina_Elena – Fotolia.com. Thanks!
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