One in Christ

Galatians 3:23-29
When I was in high school, I went on a study trip to Washington, D.C. It was a year-round program that brought together kids from around the country for a week to learn about civics, politics and American history. 

As soon as we arrived, we kids began the social size up: 

  • Who were the jocks and cheerleaders?
  • Who were the nerds?
  • Who were the wallflowers who would never get asked out on a date?
Even with a fresh start and a new group of kids, stereotypes were at work, governing who would be friends with whom. 
One night, however, our young adult counselors took us by bus to a statue. They blindfolded us prior to our arrival and gave us our task: Together, our busload of kids had to figure out what the statue was.
It wasn’t an easy task. Without the benefit of sight, we had a hard time getting off the bus. And, when we got to the statue, the only sense we had to go on was touch. We bumbled our way around, feeling with our hands the cold stone. “Was it a horse and rider?” one person suggested. “No, it’s a war memorial,” said another. Meanwhile, we laughed as we bumped into each other on our way around the statue. 
When it came time to take off our blindfolds, we saw the most surprising thing, and it wasn’t the statue. To be honest, I don’t remember what the statue was! 
It was the people. When I took off my blindfold, I saw the people I had been working with—jocks and cheerleaders, nerds and wall flowers—all the people I normally avoided, and who I thought avoided me.
When we couldn’t see each other, all our social distinctions were erased. We had a common purpose and worked together as equals. 

Paul wrote that being a Christian was a similar experience in our second lesson. From his letter to the Galatians: 

As many of you were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, 

There is no longer make and female; 

For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  


Their social distinctions were along religious, status, gender fault lines. The pairs that Paul presents did not fraternize:  

  • Jews did not eat with non-Jews, women’s and men’s societies only came together in the home. 
  • Slaves never sat at the same table with free people – they were serving. 
Often times the needs of these groups were presented as being in conflict with one another. They were used to being pitted against one another, rather than coming together. 
But people from all of these groups became Christians. On one side of the baptismal waters, they took off their old clothes – clothes that denoted their religion, gender, and class. When they walked down into the pool of water and came out the other side, they were presented with a new set of clothes – a white robe, symbolic of Christ’ resurrection. Dressing this way had the same effect that being blindfolded did for me and my peers: It cut through the classifications that kept them apart and reminded them of their common identity. 
I think it is more important than ever to find this unity in Christ these days. Across the nation, Christians are lining up on opposing sides of hot button issues. We feel so strongly in our convictions that it can be easy to be blinded to what we have in common. We forget that there is a person behind those opposing views – someone with whom we share a faith; someone who believes in Christ. 
It is important that we take a step back from rhetoric that amps up division. It doesn’t mean we have to abandon our convictions, but when anyone begins to paint others with a broad brush, we need to be wary. Categorizing and fomenting division is not of Christ. Instead, we are called to live as Jesus did. Our Gospel lesson is a great example of how he looked past a person’s label to the heart of who they were and saw them as a fellow child of God, someone to love, not someone to fear or ignore. 
Which leads me to another story from high school, about my friend, Annie. 
Annie and I had known each other since we were six years old, and we were both Lutheran – but not the same kind of Lutheran. As we got older, I noticed differences in our views. She was quite literal in her interpretation of scripture, and as I grew to question and expand my faith, she became more dogmatic in hers. By the time we were in high school, we quarreled about the place of women in religion and society. We no longer hung out together. 
The senior prom was approaching, and my mother was planning to sew my gown. We’d picked out the pattern and material, and my mom had set aside the week before prom, when her teaching had finished for the semester, to sew it. But her mom died in her sleep that week, and so the whole family needed to travel to NY state. My mom could get me back in time for the prom, but not to sew the dress. I’d begun to shop for a gown, when I got a call from Annie: Her mom wanted to sew my dress, and Angie would help. And that is what happened. Annie and her mom sewed every seam and stitched a tiny label in it that said, “Made With Love.” 
The mercy of that act changed me. It was deeply humbling to receive a gift from people that I had excluded from my circle because I didn’t agree with them. But, even more importantly, I could no longer see Annie as the wrong kind of Lutheran. Even when she was telling me women should be in the home and not in the pulpit, I heard her voice on the other end of the phone, telling me, “We’ll make your dress.” 
These are difficult times to be family, to be Christian community, to be society. It is challenging to live out our unity in Christ in such a divided world. But, how many acts of mercy and kindness have you experienced, just like Annie and the dress? And, when have you connected across the boundaries that might otherwise divide? I am willing to bet I am not the only one who has these stories. I think it is important to summon those memories when contentious topics arise. 
These experiences echo Saint Paul and remind us of the truth that we are not defined by category, but by our baptism into Christ. Our identity is child of God – and so is the person in the other camp. 
Oneness in Christ does not mean uniformity of belief. It does mean that we strive to live like Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, to act with love toward even those we would think of as our enemies. 

There is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, Paul wrote. 

There is no more jock or nerd, conservative or progressive. 

The love of Christ transcends all human division. 

We are all one in Christ. 

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