Identity, Service, Law, and Donation

This post will be about two services from last Sunday: one at a Presbyterian church, and one at a Catholic church.

At the Presbyterian church, the pastor artfully tied together three biblical texts.  The first text was I Kings 19, which was about Elijah fleeing to Horeb and God asking him what he was doing there.  The second text was Galatians 3:23-29, which talks about how the Galatian Christians are clothed with Christ, are children of God, and are Abraham’s seed.  The third text was Luke 8:26-29, which was about Jesus casting demons out of a man, and the exorcised man was then clothed and in his right mind.

The pastor was uniting these three texts around the theme of identity.  Elijah was running away because he was scared, and God gently reminded him of his identity.  Similarly, the pastor said, when we run from God, God reminds us that we are his children.  Galatians 3:23-27, too, is about identity, as Christians’ identity is in Christ and not whether they are Jews or Greeks, free or slave, male or female.  They are children of God, Abraham’s seed.  Luke 8:26-29 was about a man receiving a new identity: he went from being possessed and oppressed by demons, to becoming his old self, clothed and in his right mind.  We sang a hymn, “Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit,” which was about God delivering us from our inner demons, including our fears.

The pastor made a few points that particularly stood out.  For one, he was telling the children the story of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man, and he said that Jesus brought the man clothes after cleansing him of demons.  That makes sense, since Jesus was around for a while after the exorcism, and the man did come to be clothed somehow, so why not conclude that Jesus was the one who brought him the clothes?  Jesus clothing the man may look like a small, insignificant detail, but it is not.  Jesus does not just cleanse the man of demons and move on, but Jesus, ever a servant, continues to help the man on his journey back to normalcy.  May God help us to have that kind of servant attitude, continually looking for and seeing ways to help.

Second, in talking about Galatians 3:23-27, the pastor was referring to the part of the passage about people being under the custody of the law until Jesus came: they were under the supervision of a tutor, until Jesus came and God took a different approach.  The pastor compared the law with Maria on the Sound of Music: she taught the children the basics of singing, the notes to sing.  But the children would move past that. They would mature.

Questions or objections can emerge in response to this.  Of course, many adherents to Judaism would disagree with any Christian characterizations of the law as a stepping-stone to Christ, or as a temporary stage of religion for the spiritually immature until Christians would come with their supposedly mature spirituality.  Plus, are not Christians themselves still under some sort of law, since God has requirements, and God wants for Christians to practice certain disciplines, such as prayer and attendance of worship?  Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Adherents to Judaism may have a point and be justified in their disagreement.  Yet, from a Christian perspective, the coming of Jesus makes a difference, such that people need not have the same relationship with the law that they had before.  They possess the Holy Spirit inside of them, so they do not necessarily need for the law to hover over them, telling them what to do and what not to do.  They will still try to do what is right and avoid what is wrong, but they do so with a new perspective, from a different standpoint: a standpoint of being at a new stage of what God is doing, of being accepted by God, of the Holy Spirit being inside of them.

At the Catholic church, the priest was trying to raise money for air-conditioning for the church, and for a chapel where people can come to pray.  People in the church had actually requested these things.  The priest said that he has the money for this, and it is in our pockets!  Some may sneeze at this: why not give the money to the poor, instead of to enhance the church?  But it is still good to be able to worship in a state of comfort, and to have a place where people can gather to pray.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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