This week we are having our “Promotion Sunday.”  It’s a day when the Sunday School wraps things up, promotes students, gives bibles to those youngsters going into the 4th grade, and when we recognize graduates.

I usually do my worship planning far in advance, 3-4 months ahead.  I had decided to zero in on the Epistle.  Galatians 1:11-24, lead me to think about Paul’s use of the term “New Creation.”

Unless I’ve been using the same ‘book’ for severl weeks, as the lectionary sometimes allows during common time, I cannot help myself but read on either side of the pericope.  Earlier in this letter Paul notes that he’s changed.  It is interesting to me that he refers to his ‘earlier life in Judaism.’  I am remembering that at this point in history this ‘Jesus’ movement has not moved fully out of the synagogue.  Further, I am thinking that being a Jew is something more than a religious self-identification.  Yet Paul refers to his own change, movement from the past.

 If nothing else, we can identify Paul as someone who zealously pursued the tradition, attempting to do ‘what is right,’ to promote the ‘traditions of my ancestors.’  In this one phrase, Paul is identifying both ideologically and biologically with the tradition he now refers to in the past tense. 

 How does one overcome the past?   Early in my ministry, in my first call, our ecumenical group had a program called  “The Weekly School of Religious Education.”  It was a program we sponsored whereby elementary school children who were interested were ‘released’ from school for an hour, transported to one of our churches (by our contract bus), and received a ‘Sunday school lesson.’  The bus was raucous.  Once, the police even pulled it over because kids were hanging out the windows.  So, pastors and other adults volunteered to ride the bus to keep things under relative control.  There was one child, on one of the trips, who was particularly unruly.  One day I sat next to him in a last ditch effort to keep order.  I asked him, “why do you make such a disturbance on the bus?”  He told me, “I am a bad kid, just ask anybody.”  His response broke my heart.

 In the fine set of commentaries, “Feasting on the Word,”  Beverly Roberts Gaventa notes, “Paul will insist that God has overtaken all of the categories into which human beings sort themselves, so that the only category that remains is ‘in Christ.’” 

 In my mind’s eye, I often picture Paul as one who is greeted in the cities he visited with mixed emotions.  His past is no secret, and it is easily assumed that there are some people who cannot get over that.  His identity as a Jew is also apparent; just look at how often he has to pull out his passport and note to the authorities that he is ‘also’ a Roman citizen.  Who Paul is, down to the very fiber of his being has not changed as much as his relationship to God has changed.

 For students and graduates, the temptation is to see this Sunday as a graduation day.  My youngest son is graduating from High School this same week.  It occurs to me that the part of this pericope that applies to them (and to all of us really) is where Paul identifies God’s call to him as something which began in the past and is continuing in the present, moving into the future.  In the Greek New Testament, this Aorist tense, indicates a “one-point-in-time” action, although it may actually take place over a period of time.  This word, ‘selected’ or ‘set me apart,’ (aphorisas) is in the aorist tense.  It was something which happened in the past but is active through the present time.  This action, this selection, “from my birth,” is refers to God’s action, not any action by Paul.  The events described as his ‘awakening,’ or ‘revelation’ (aforisas) are also ongoing.  Is it possible to remind folks, young people especially, that they are the people of God and have been, marked by their baptism, and as such are never ‘bad kids,’ but are always within the reach of grace (caritos autou)?  This is not so much graduation, but transition, is it not?

Even for those of us labeled ‘over achievers,’ as I would certainly label Paul, is it not comforting to know that the future is still wide open, we need not try and do it on our own, and the key is to grow into the people that God has already claimed us to be? 

 More than an individualistic, may I say narcissistic, view of this benefit, it effects how we view the world and our place in it.  Charles Cousar quotes Barth: “It gives us a very strange relationship if on the one side we have the selflessness and self-giving God and Jesus Christ, in which the salvation of the world is effected and revealed, and on the other the satisfaction with which Christians accept this and are content to make use of the very different being and action of their Lord”[1]  Rather than a conclusion, this grace is instead it points us toward a mission.  At the risk of “exegetical falicy,” remember that Aorist tense?

 The Luke text for this day concludes in such a way that it may appear at first blush to support such a personal perspective on grace: “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”  But what would be overlooked in the text with such an interpretation is the woman’s loving service to Christ.  This is the very point, so it seems, that Peter overlooked.

This identity changed Paul’s action in the world.  It gave him confidence (or did it transform it, he seemed pretty confident before the Damascus Road) and comfort as he served Christ. 


[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p. 567

Advertisements