12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (20 June 2010)

One in Christ: when night ends and day begins


Readings
Galatians 3.23-29
Luke 8.26-39

Let’s recap as to where we are on our journey through Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Two thousand years ago, Galatia was a Roman territory in the country we know as Turkey. People had come to Galatia, who were wanting the Galatian believers to obey the Jewish laws like eating only certain foods, being circumcised and keeping the Sabbath. The Apostle Paul would have absolutely none of it. Not a bar of it!

As a young man, Paul had really loved the Old Testament law. But Paul discovered that the law he loved so much was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now his Lord and Saviour.

Now the centre of Paul’s life was Jesus and not the law.

The people who wanted to bring in obedience to the law wanted to do it as a sign of the purity of the Christian community, so they could know who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Those who obey the law are ‘in’; those who disobey are ‘out’. You can see that under the law, Jesus himself would be ‘out’. Why? He died a criminal’s death as a law-breaker.

Law brings clear division; the gospel brings a new people into being, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, law-keepers and law-breakers.

Greek philosophy was good at making divisions too. Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato used to give thanks

that I was born a human being, not a beast;
a man and not a woman;
thirdly, a Greek and not barbarian.

Not to be outdone, in the Jewish cycle of morning prayers the men prayed:

Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile;
blessed be He that He did not make me a slave;
blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.

All this would have been the very air that Paul breathed as he was growing up. Saying the daily prayers, reading the philosophers, he was reminded of his privileged position as a Jew; as a man; and as a Roman citizen who breathed the fresh air of freedom.

But since his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s theme is unity in Jesus Christ.

In chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul finds two other ways of talking about this unity. Firstly, he looks back to Abraham as the father of faith. Abraham put his trust in God and all who now put their trust in God are children of Abraham. Doesn’t matter who they are, Jew or Gentile, black or white, each and every one is a child of Abraham. That was a very important thing for Jewish Christians to grasp; their father Abraham was the Gentiles’ father too.

The other reality that spoke to Paul of unity was baptism. Those who are baptised are one in Christ.

We baptised S. today. She is now part of the Church, the Body of Christ. She is one with all who are in Christ; S. is united with those in all the past, present and future who trust in him.

According to Paul, baptism completely undoes any and all distinctions between groups of people. These distinctions had been entrenched in the prayer that he would have grown up with. Let’s hear it one more time:

Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile;
blessed be He that He did not make me a slave;
blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.

Paul now says the very opposite, in a verse that we use at every baptism:

As many of you as were baptised 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.

Every one of the distinctions in the prayer that Paul knew is rendered null and void. Doesn’t matter if we’re male or female, straight or gay, young or old. We are all made one in Christ, and the sign of this unity is baptism.

This is so central for Paul that he mentions it in two other letters. 1 Corinthians 12.12-13 says:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Baptism is the sign of unity in Christ.

It’s also in Colossians 3.9b-11. Here, Paul is talking about the need in baptism to strip off all that belongs to the old creation, and put on what belongs to the new creation in Christ:

you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Baptism is the sign of unity in Christ. And ‘Christ is all and in all!’

‘Christ is all and in all.’ Wow! Look around at your fellow parts of the Body of Christ. Christ is all and in us all. Christ is in both male and female, Christ is in black, white, asian. Christ is in us no matter what our sexuality. It doesn’t even matter if we’re Catholic or Protestant. Christ is all and in all. If Christ is in all, then we had better be able to see him.

This is a very urgent need for the world today. To take one example: there is no black nor white in Christ. We Christians need to demonstrate this at a time when racism is clearly present in Australian sporting life. Timana Tahu has left the New South Wales Origin team because of racist statements by his team’s assistant coach; and an AFL heavyweight has been heard to call Indigenous footballers ‘cannibals’.

I’d like to share with you a story that was given to me on two quite separate occasions this past week. When that happened, I began to think that God was wanting to show me something This story made a real impact on me. Let me share it with you:

A rabbi asked her students how one could recognise the time when night ends and day begins.

“Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a dog from a sheep?” one student asked her. “No,” said the rabbi. “Is it when, from a great distance, you can tell a date palm from a fig tree?” another student asked. “No,” said the rabbi. “Then when is it?” the students asked. She said, “It is when you look into the face of any human creature and see your brother or your sister there. Until then, night is still with us.”

‘Until then, night is still with us.’

Separations and distinctions are natural to us. We grow up wanting to know if we are a boy or a girl and what that means. We become conscious of our skin colour and of cultural differences. Where I spent my early years, we were very conscious of being Yorkshire. My dad told me, ‘You’re Yorkshire first, and you’re English second!’ I learned that lesson well, and took it right to heart. Yorkshire people are different. But are we any better? My reluctant answer has to be ‘No’.

In baptism, whatever we are, we are one in Jesus Christ. The unity God gives us is greater and deeper than any differences that exist.

Imagine the world if Christians truly lived that out. If the Christian leaders of churches and nations could hold out that vision.

When does day begin? When you look into the face of any human creature and see your brother or your sister there. Until then, night is still with us.

Baptism declares that we are one in Christ, but it proclaims even more. It proclaims that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, are just the pilot project. We who are baptised are meant to look upon all people as our sisters and brothers. Even those beyond the Body of Christ. Day has not come until we look into the face of any human creature and see our brother or our sister there.

We split people off and separate them from ‘our’ group almost instinctively. There is one group of people who seem to suffer more than most from being isolated by others: the mentally ill. Today’s Gospel story shows how it happens to people who are labelled as ‘mad’, or ‘crazy’, or ‘possessed’. The man we call the ‘Gerasene Demoniac’ was in chains, in a cemetery, unclothed, unhinged, cut off, isolated from others.

We are fortunate these days that we have drugs to treat people with mental illness. It’s not that long ago that the chronic mental hospital in Wolston Park was by far the largest hospital in Brisbane. People used to live there for years, suffering. Now these people can live out in the community—but there’s still a stigma with mental illness. Can we who are baptised into Jesus Christ follow him into the day? Can the day dawn that we look into the face of a person with a psychiatric illness and see our brother or our sister there?

I’m going to mention something that a few people here today know, but that I’ve never publicly spoken about. You are looking into the face of a person with a psychiatric illness right now.

I have chronic depression. I have been on antidepressant medication for about ten years.

You might say I look ok. You might say (I hope you will say) that I’m doing a decent job as the minister of this place. But I have a mental illness.

When the Gerasene Demoniac met Jesus, his life was transformed and he became ‘clothed and in his right mind’. I too have received wonderful healing through truthful and caring relationships with people like you, my sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ. But I still need to take antidepressant tablets each and every day.

Can you look into the face of this person with a psychiatric illness and see your brother? I hope you can. I’m trusting that you will. I’m also hoping that you will see the faces of other people with a psychiatric illness and know them as your brothers, your sisters.

So, here’s another couplet to add: mad or sane.

In Christ, there is no longer
black/white
male/female
Catholic/Protestant
gay/straight
mad/sane

Being one in Christ is a very radical place to be. Can we do it? Can we let go of the feeling that we are better than others? Can we value our baptismal unity in Christ? Can we welcome people who look different, act differently or love differently? Can we love the mentally ill?

It takes great commitment to live in the day, to look into the eyes of another person and see a sister or a brother. It takes a great willingness follow Jesus into some places that are at first very uncomfortable. But we who are baptised are called to do live as people of the light and model to S. and all the young ones amongst us what it means to be ‘in Christ’. Amen.

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