A Reflection for the week of
25 April 2021
Acts 11:19-26 and Galatians 3:23-29
Title: The Easter Effect: A Gift for All People
Narrative: This week, we continue the journey through the early years of the Church, hearing the stories of the first time the people in the Jesus movement are called “Christians”. Trista invites us to consider what it means that faith in Christ is A Gift for All People.
Blessed Christ, you have many ways of revealing Your Presence through the world. You call people from every tribe and in every language, teaching us all in ways that speak to the deepest parts of our heart. Holy Spirit, you have come into the world to make All of Creation new, and your Holy Presence is still moving in, with and through us today. Please help us to participate in Your co-creation, and to recognize our place in the Great Unfolding Story of our Creative Dreamer’s Grace.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Acts 11:19-25 (NRSV)
The Church in Antioch
19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. 20 But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”
Galatians 3:23-29 (NRSV)
All are One in Christ
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 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. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
“A Gift for All People in Faith”
A Reflection by Trista Wynne
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Gal 3:26)
One of the most tantalizing questions a person who is doing translation work can ask is how best to translate a prepositional phrase in order to bring the original meaning into their current context. If you haven’t studied church history to a deep degree, you may be surprised to discover that the translation of a prepositional phrase can become the seed of contention which leads to the emergence of a new branch of the Christ Family Tree. And, even with a particular word in English, we may have different understandings of what that means. It only takes listening to a few different preachers to hear strong differences in opinion regarding how a text could (or should) be translated to hear this.
In today’s letter to the church in Galatia, an urgent message is brought forth in order to bring some unity to the divided congregation. They are self-segregating based on their identification as Law-followers or as Believers who are Uncircumcised (and therefore, considered outsiders based on their bodily appearance). The central message in this letter is that there is no distinction between people groups, “for all of you are one in Christ”.
The tantalizing part of this message is that the unity in The Family of God comes “through faith” (Gal 3:26).
Whose faith is it that creates the United Family?
Is it the faith of the Church? The faith of the believers? Or is it perhaps the faith, (or faithfulness) of God? Who is the actor which holds, maintains, nourishes, and strengthens “faith in Christ”? And what does “faith in Christ” truly mean?
Are we talking about the faith that originates with the believer and is placed in Jesus? Or is it a faith that originates in Christ Jesus which is, according to the guidance of Christ then enacted, or enlivened, by the people, (meaning Jesus has faith that we can be one, and so we are indeed, one, in Christ’s vision and now doing our best to live into that Great Reality)?
The Greek word that is translated here as “in” can also be translated “of” “by” or in a manner that indicates that a person is being filled with, or gripped by, something.
The verses earlier indicate that the group of believers now called Christians in their context, were once confined and now are being created anew for a different purpose. Verses 23 and 24 hold a repetitive word in Greek that holds indication of begetting, conceiving, and birthing. We don’t really see this in the English text, which is deeply disappointing to me, for it holds such rich textures of family lineage and origin, that, in my perception, strengthens this letter’s argument that we are all One Family. We might translate verse 23:
“Now, before faith was birthed/arrived/was revealed, we were surrounded/confined/encircled by the Law, up to the point/until faith was revealed.”
And there, we are immediately brought to the revelation of God’s love in Christ, so the revelation of faith is birthed in Christ.
So, taken altogether, when I read through the Greek and English versions of this whole text, this portion of the Galatian Epistle gives us grammatical imagery of an infant in the womb which has now outgrown its space and is in process of being birthed as though it were a whole new creation. The embryotic sac that was the Law, which at one time had given the people in God’s womb a safe place to develop and grow, is now no longer necessary, for the Holy Spirit has, in Christ, brought forth Divine contractions. The birthing waters which flowed from the heart of Christ on the cross have now welcomed a whole new way of being identified as the Family of God. This is now in the process of being revealed in the infant people group then being named “Christian”.
Combining this imagery with the Scriptural passages we have been exploring in the last couple of weeks in “The Easter Effect” mini-series, we are taken to a deeper understanding of our own capacity for relating to the whole of humanity and the whole of creation. I would postulate that we are currently experiencing, on a world-wide scale, something like a Divine Braxton-Hicks. These present discomforts are indeed the contractions that are preparing us to welcome a Whole New Reality that we cannot yet imagine. And this has implications for how we identify, and to whom we are truly related.
Up until this point, the Christian Church has been historically based on a model of exclusivity, just as Jewish spirituality had been. The ways that we have, as a whole, been speaking about faith, is much like the old way of viewing The Law.
Now, at this point in history, during the Divine Contractions of this Covid time, we are being called to re-define who is a part of the Great Cosmic Family. Who, and what, has personhood in the next phase of our spiritual growth? Will we come to recognize our relationship with the Whole of Creation? And can we fully embrace our common humanity, recognizing people from other cultures, tribes, tongues, abilities, ethnicities, abilities, sexualities, and creeds as ALL being a part of the Great Divine Family created by the Spirit through the Faith of Christ?
Only time will tell…