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Sunday 16th June 2013 ‘Living Christ’ Galatians 2:15 – 21 Living Christ, King of Kings, Jesus, help me to pass your

message on…

Who are you?

What tribe do you belong to? Because we all belong to one tribe or another – sometimes more than one.

It is easy with young people to see the different tribes, some of you in your younger days may have been Punks or Mods or Rockers, I teetered on the edge of ‘Grunge’ but never made it all the way in. But with adults it becomes far more subtle, but it is still there though, under the surface, the groups that we want to be associated with or perhaps more importantly – Not associated with. What marks of belonging do you have? Quite often these days it is a dress code, or the right type of leisure activities, or an in place to holiday.

In Galatians, Paul talks about the most obvious Jewish mark of belonging; circumcision. Have you ever felt out of place or been prevented from joining something or going somewhere because of the way you looked or dressed? For example; I am reliably informed that if you try to get into a night club wearing trainers or track suits, you will be turned away. And if you try to sit in the ‘home’ end of a football match wearing the ‘away’ strip you may well be asked to cover your shirt, move, or leave the ground. A couple of years ago, Tesco banned people from entering its supermarkets wearing pyjamas and slippers.

But have you ever been prevented from eating with someone because of who you are? I think for us this is an unusual concept. I couldn’t come up with any examples in our culture that came anywhere close to carrying the power of this symbol: you can’t eat with me because you are not part of my family, you are not part of God ’s family and as such you are unclean and I cannot associate with you. This is what was happening in Galatia, the Christians who were from a Jewish background were saying that the Christians from a Greek or non-Jewish background were not really part of God’s family. They wouldn’t be real Christians until they started to follow Jewish law as well as the teachings of Jesus. This is the false gospel that Paul is writing against – the twisting of Christian Identity. Who are you? Everybody is fully welcome into God’s family, Jew or Greek, Slave or free, male or female, black or white, working class or middle class, Evertonian or Liverpool supporter, Baptist, Methodist, Anglican or Catholic – none of the tribes we belong to are a barrier to joining God’s family. None of the tribes we belong to make God love us more. In Acts 10 we learn that Peter had a vision on the way to Caesarea where he was commanded ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’. In Caesarea he goes to the house of Cornelius, who is not a Jew, and enters the house saying ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a non-Jew or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean .’ Peter goes on to speak of the peace of Jesus, who is King over all, God’s chosen Messiah, as the prophets had testified. While he is speaking the Holy Spirit comes upon the non-Jews listening and they begin to speak in different languages and praising God. The Jewish Christians who had come with Peter are astounded that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit was being given to non-Jews. This was proof for Peter that non-Jews could enter God’s family. Yet here we are in Galatia some years later and Paul is telling us that Peter has gone back on his earlier announcement because he was afraid of the Jewish Christians, he was telling the non-Jewish Christians that they had to follow the Jewish Law to be full members of God’s family. No wonder the Galatians are confused. Paul writes to the Galatians telling them what he told Peter “Peter, come on mate, Us Jewish Christians know the only way to be part of God’s Family is by faith in Jesus… Peter we know this because we tried keeping the law and failed, if we try to go back to keeping the law it will only show how we failed. Faith in Jesus is the only way to enter God’s family. Peter, I no longer live – my identity as it was has gone. My old identity was crucified with Jesus, and Jesus – the living Lord of the universe – lives in me. I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Peter, if we ignore God’s grace we are saying we think that we become part of God’s family by following the law, in which case Jesus, The Messiah, died for nothing.”

Who are you? Paul is saying that the identity-marker of being in God’s family is no longer a visible external one, like circumcision, but an internal identity marker of Faith. I think Paul’s message to us through his letter to the Galatians has two big challenges for us, one to do with how we are in church and among Christians and one to do with how we are outside of church. I’d like to tell you a story… At the church I grew up at, it was fairly middle class, south London, nearly suburbia, very pleasant. One day after a period of outreach to one of the local schools, a new family turned up at church, 5 kids, unruly and undisciplined compared to what we were used to and they ran amok in the service and in Sunday school, and the father was covered in tattoos and wore baggy vests and trousers, with all his tattoos on display. So how did my old church react to this family so clearly from a different tribe? They tried really hard to be welcoming, they tried really hard to put the grace of God in front of their tribal reactions. They helped the mother supervise the other children and provided activities for them to do before Sunday school. The church didn’t always get it right, and there were times like the day the father came in thrilled to bits because he’d got a new tattoo of Jesus in the middle of his back and people didn’t know how to react, but over all they did okay. And generally I think we do okay, I found St Thomas’ to be a very welcoming church when I came, but unless you are a flute player who hates violinists, I’m not going to rock your tribal boundaries. But one day someone is going to come into church who really pushes our tribal boundaries and the challenge will be to remember that God’s grace comes before our rules and regulations and comfort zones. The second challenge Paul has for us is… if my old identity is gone – crucified with Christ – then who am I now? Who are you? Who do you think Jesus is? You can’t truly know who you are until you know who Jesus is – and for me that is wrapped up in our picture of who he was. Now I need to come clean here – for many years I was embarrassed of Jesus. And looking back I think it was because my image of Jesus was shaped by the pictures and representations I saw; Jesus was a drippy, hippie character, softly spoken in whispers – you know I couldn’t even tell you where I got my picture of him from , but I do know now it is a wrong picture.

The more I got to know Jesus by reading the Gospels and people’s studies of him I began to see a different Jesus – Jesus the revolutionary, Jesus the passionate man who challenged the status quo of his day. As one author puts it, (N.T. Wright ‘Who was Jesus’ page 52) “Jesus wasn’t some droopy pre-Raphaelite, but a shrewd Palestinian Jewish villager, who drank wine with his friends, agonized over the plight of his people, and taught in strange stories and powerful truths.” I had a friend who once said when we were discussing who you would cast as Jesus in a film, that he would cast Ray Winstone, because Jesus was a carpenter, he would have been used to hard manual work and would probably have that type of build.

The more I got to know Jesus, the closer I got to him, the less embarrassed I was of him, the more natural it became to talk about him. The other revelation that has radically altered how I see Jesus has been my growing understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven and how a Kingdom needs a King. When you grow up in the church, you can become immune to the powerful nature of some of the Christian language, take the word ‘Lord’ for example. It had come to mean to me, boss, person in charge, like a Lord of the manor, but not much more… so when someone pointed out that the phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’ in the new testament is a direct challenge to the phrase ‘Caesar is Lord’, I suddenly understood the magnitude of the word – Caesar was all powerful, Caesar was worshiped as a god, Caesar controlled everything, everything began and ended with Caesar in the Roman Empire, which was pretty much the whole of the known world at the time. Suddenly the phrase ‘Jesus is Lord’ is massive. The phrases I had grown up with in church, Jesus is Lord, King of Kings, Alpha and Omega… they had become so familiar that they had lost their true power and meaning.

Relearning that Jesus is King, now, over the entire universe has certainly made me less embarrassed of him. But more than that it has given me a new identity, servant of the living Christ, and I get that – servants do the King’s bidding, and we are not talking chamber maids and chimney sweeps here, we’re talking, chamberlains, stewards, treasurers, chancellors, messengers… As a church we’re looking long and hard and our ‘frontlines’ the place that we spend most of our time, work, home, school, golf club, and how we become Jesus’ messenger in those places. If like me you are struggling, if it doesn’t feel natural to talk about Jesus, try spending more time with him and getting to know him all over again. You can’t truly know who you are until you know who Jesus is… Who are you?