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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 6/24/07

  I assume it’s not just those of us who grew up in eastern Massachusetts, the cradle of the American Revolution, who learn about “the shot heard ‘round the world,” the skirmish between some colonial farmers and British soldiers at the bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, Concord Hymn: 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard ‘round the world.

(Funny story about that, apropos of nothing; until I went to seminary in Chicago I never lived more than 2 hours away from Lexington and Concord, most of the time much closer than that.  I never went there though, until we were living in L’Anse and were back east to visit family; funny how that works.)

What happened at that bridge was one of the events that marked the beginning of the American Revolution, armed resistance to the British occupation of the American colonies, the effects of which would change the order of the world, effects which you could say are still being played out today.  It probably didn’t seem like much at the time, but that little battle had world changing effects.  Since then, the phrase, “a shot heard ‘round the world” has come to be identified with other events that wind up having implications much more far reaching than the event itself might have first indicated.

Many years before that April day in 1775 though, when St. Paul wrote the sentence we know of as Galatians 3:28, I think he fired a shot heard ‘round the world.  “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.”  That’s a bombshell.  It may sound rather innocent but it’s a bombshell.  It was then and it still is today; we still struggle to accept the inclusivity and unity that Paul proclaims here.

It can be argued whether or not Paul meant to fire a shot heard ‘round the world with this statement.  It’s quite possible, probably likely that he didn’t intend or expect it to be heard beyond the church in Galatia.  From what I know about Paul it seems that he was pretty impulsive and emotional in his writing.  I don’t think he carefully weighed every word and phrase he used thinking that people would still be reading it 2000 years later.  He was just writing letters, in this case writing against those who continued to insist that to be a Christian you had to first observe the laws of Judaism.  It might well be that Paul just thought he was using overstatement to make his point as strongly as he could. 

But then sometimes the Holy Spirit sneaks in there, and I think that’s what happens with this verse.  If Paul had stopped with “there is no longer Jew or Greek” what he said might not have had much effect beyond Galatia.  But as he continued he opened up new paths of interpretation, specifically about baptism.  Paul had been provided with an insight about baptism and how it changes our identity, an insight that has become an important part of our baptismal theology, an insight however, that we almost can’t help but resist, it’s so radical. 

To understand how radical what Paul said was, you have to consider that he was challenging the Jewish code of law.  When we hear that, our tendency is probably to think about all the dietary and purity laws, the offerings and sacrifices that don’t seem very relevant to us and think that’s a good thing for Paul to take on.  But you have to remember that in the Old Testament, the law wasn’t just a lot of arcane, hard to follow minutia; it represented the good order of God’s world; it represented God’s will and God’s purpose.  It was sacred. 

For example:  Psalm 1, and it’s number 1 for a reason, starts out, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.”  Psalm 119, the longest of the Psalms is an amazing, if repetitive, acrostic poem; 176 verses in praise of the law.  Now Paul isn’t saying that none of this matters, but he is saying that something else matters more.

What matters more is our relationship with Jesus Christ established through baptism.  “As many of you as were baptized in Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”  Paul says that you go down into the water of baptism one person and come up out of the water a different person, Christ’s person!  So, Jew: Christ’s person.  Greek: Christ’s person.  Male: Christ’s person.  Female: Christ’s person and so on.   Could we go on to say, rich: Christ’s person.  Poor: Christ’s person.  Gay: Christ’s person.  Straight: Christ’s person.  Republican, Democrat, Baptist, Lutheran, whatever pair you want to come up with: all Christ’s persons.  

Who we become in baptism matters more than any distinctions the law creates, more than any distinctions society makes.  Again, this is a remarkably radical path for Paul to take because much of Judaism was about what made them a distinctive community.  For Paul to suggest that this distinction wasn’t as important as they thought was a shot that still echoes in a world where the emphasis so often is on differences.

Much of what Paul writes in Galatians and other places is based on the idea that a new age has been brought about by Christ.  The passion and resurrection of Jesus has started a time that is truly new and different from what Paul sometimes calls the old age.  Despite that though, it doesn’t seem likely that Paul intended to say that the distinctions he talks about in Galatians 3:28 are completely obliterated as you come out of the baptismal water as Christ’s person.  So we proclaim the new age of Christ, but acknowledge that it’s both already and not yet.  For Paul the distinctions are not eliminated, but they are made secondary.  The distinctions, whatever they are, still apply, but they become incidental to the community’s life of faith.

In essence we would say that we live with one foot in the old age and one foot in the new age, but it is the new age that governs our behavior and defines our identity.  Our primary identity is as a beloved child of God, washed in the waters of baptism.  All other ways that we have of identifying ourselves, and others are radically de-valued in the light of our belonging to Christ.  That’s the shot heard ‘round the world that Paul fired in Galatians 3:28.  Efforts have been and continue to be made to muffle the sound of the shot because it is somewhat threatening.  It has always had a way of upsetting orders and categories that people find comfortable, particularly those people who benefit from the distinctions; but the shot still echoes.

Imagine though, if we could really embrace baptismal identity as what most clearly tells us who we are?  Imagine if we could get past all the other ways we have of categorizing people?  Imagine if we really were “one in Christ Jesus?”  That’s what the church is supposed to be, a community united in Christ through baptism, and I think most people would agree with that, yet within churches and denominations, between churches and denominations, it winds up afflicted by divisions and distinctions that Jesus and Paul quite consistently challenged.

Sometimes to be what we are supposed to be, the church and we as Christians need to unlearn things that we may have come to believe are pretty important.  That’s the challenge Paul put before the people of Galatia.  To understand what he was saying they would have to unlearn some of what they had been taught about the law.  That was Paul’s shot heard ‘round the world, because in Christ, things had changed; new interpretations were called for.  The shot still echoes because in Christ things have changed and the effects are still being played out.  We’re still learning what Paul was talking about, just as we’re still learning what Jesus was talking about and what he revealed…and we’re still unlearning too.     

 
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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