Now that I work at the library, I have started reading picture books. I see them all the time when I’m shelving or helping get new books ready to be checked out, and they’re so interesting! They have beautiful illustrations, they’re fun or silly or deeply true, and… and OK, yes, I also love feeling accomplished because I read a book in three minutes.
I read a book this week about two girls. One of the girls was a mermaid child, and the other was a human child, and they became friends. The mermaid took the human underwater, to see fish and seaweed and the whole underwater world; the human girl rigged something up so she could take the mermaid girl on a bike ride, and set up a table in shallow water so they could have a tea party together.
Not gonna lie, I picked this book up because the cover was pretty. But I was so struck by the story, by the way girls befriend each other. You can’t walk on land? Let me figure out a way to share it with you anyway. You can’t breathe underwater? We’ll stick to shallow water. Neither girl tried to change the other. Instead they found ways to share their experiences and became friends as they were.
This story made me think of our second reading for today. We have this snippet from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul had been in Galatia, had taught them the gospel, and then been called away. And once he left other preachers and teachers came, and those teachers told the Galatian church that they still had to follow the Jewish law–be circumcised, eat kosher, and so on. He is furious! And so he writes this letter, basically telling them to knock it off. But taking a while to do it, because it’s Paul and he could never just come out and say it.
Don’t get me wrong–Paul had nothing against the law itself. He grew up Jewish, after all. He kept the law strictly then, and even after he met Jesus on the road he wrote of the law: “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12) How are we supposed to know how to live well if no one tells us what is good?
No, Paul’s problem was not with the law itself. His problem was with how the Galatians are handling it now. Based on what Paul says a bit earlier, these other teachers seem to have been arguing that the Galatians could only be considered children of Abraham–that is, be a part of God’s family, be a part of the Jewish tradition of worshiping God, even be loved by God–if they followed the Jewish law.
So he starts talking about a disciplinarian. A word about his metaphor here: ‘disciplinarian’ here refers to a Greek and Roman practice in rich houses, where kids were cared for by someone who was a mix between a nanny and a governess. Only once they’re grown are they considered the heir, able to be responsible for themselves and learn their full duties as father’s heir, and be a full adult who’s fully accepted into the family.
In the same way, the Jewish law was and is important teacher, but Jesus is here now and we are called to more: to being fully included, fully part of the family. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, because of the forgiveness of sins that God gives us through Him, because of God’s love–because of nothing we’ve done, in other words, no law that we follow and no perfection of our own making, but only through God’s grace–we are all children of God. In other parts of his writings Paul uses the metaphor of adoption–through Jesus we are adopted into God’s family.
And so it is here that we hear Pauls’ famous words: “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.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish or Greek, if you’re slave or free. You are still a member of the child of God.
I was going to go into detail about the difference between being a Greek or a Jew, or slave or free. But I don’t think we need that nuance–we experience the same thing today. We are still divided. I could rewrite this passage for today and say, ‘We are no longer Democrat or Republican, we are no longer Steelers fans or Eagles fans…” No matter who you are, God welcomes you into the family of God. God doesn’t care about those markers of status or importance or anything else; you are a child of God, created with such love and care by God, and God is thrilled to welcome you into the family of God.
But this passage is not just about God’s love for us. It is also a call to action to us to do the same, to welcome and love others no matter who they are.
I chose this passage for today because of two dates last week. The first was July 15, which is the anniversary of the Emanuel AME shooting on June 17, 2015. Nine African American parishioners of the church were shot at Bible study by a white man. The shooter was a member of an ELCA church, so the ELCA has taken on this date as one of special importance. We honor the date and remember and try to do better teaching every person in this church that racism is wrong, that every single person is a beloved child of God and should be treated as such.
And the second is Juneteenth, which is today and is now a federal holiday. Juneteenth remembers June 19, 1865, when the Emancipation Proclamation was finally announced in Texas. It honors that freedom and pushes us to make sure that we continue to make sure that everyone is free in our society.
Both dates remind us to keep working to love one another, as we are and with all of our differences, for every person is a beloved child of God.
And so, may we go out and love one another. May we find ways to set up a table for tea in shallow water, so that we can meet and share our experiences without trying to change one another.
Alleluia, and Amen.