June 23, 2019: Open Concept

June 23, 2019                                                                                  Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN                                  

 Open Concept 
Galatians 3:23-29 

 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,

for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

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 I want to begin this morning by confessing my guilty pleasure: HGTV. I went into mourning when Chip and JoJo (from “Fixer Upper”) announced they were canceling their show. Property Brothers is one of my favorites. That’s the show where one brother, Drew, is a realtor and the other, Jonathan, is a contractor. Drew helps people find and buy fix-it-uppers; Jonathan helps them remodel it and turn it into their dream home. It seems that on this show and “Love It or List It” and “Fixer Upper” . . . the big thing these days is open concept. Everybody wants an open concept house where the kitchen opens up into the dining room opens up into the living space. But that’s not always been the style. So Property Brother Jonathan and Fixer Upper Chip are always knocking down walls in older homes to create the open concept that today’s homebuyer wants. 

 Knocking down walls. Creating an open concept. That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul was doing when he wrote the passage I read to you earlier: 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. Unity (but not uniformity) is one of the central themes of Paul’s letter to the Church at Galatia.

 This particular passage, particularly the part about neither male nor female, became very important to me when I was a young woman wrestling with a call to vocational ministry within a denomination that looked down on such a thing. Religious folk who want to argue that women can’t be pastors love to quote the Apostle Paul; there’s no lack of fodder from Paul’s writings for those who want to prohibit women from the ordained ministry:

·        I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12 

·        The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 1 Corinthians 14:34 

There were no shortage of people in my younger days who loved to throw these verses out at me, to which I would reply something like, “That’s from Paul, right? The same guy who wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female? So there!” (Back in those days I wasted far too much time arguing the finer points of theology.) 

 In those days it seemed to me that the Apostle Paul had multiple personality disorder—saying one thing to the church at Corinth and another to the church in Galatia. Some like to suggest that Paul wrote specific things to specific churches based on their context and the problems at hand. While there is certainly truth to that, I think that’s letting Paul off the hook a little too easy. This passage from Galatians (There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female) is Paul at his best—his most evolved. That’s Paul recognizing our shared humanity. That’s Paul acknowledging that living life with an open concept is the proper stance for Christians to take in light of how Jesus lived and what Jesus taught.

 At other occasions in Paul’s writings, we recognize that Paul was a product of his own culture—a highly patriarchal society which valued the rich, Jewish male as superior and the poor, the Gentile, and the female as inferior. Sometimes, Paul’s own stereotypes and presuppositions prevented him from writing from the higher plane from which he at times recognized the walls that separate people are not of God. 

 We’re not so different than Paul, are we? Like Paul, we all suffer from too many walls. Like Paul, we must strive to tear down those walls, to live life with an open concept. 

 The famous psychologist Carl Jung introduced the phrase “two halves of life,” suggesting that each person has two major tasks in life. The first task in life is to build walls: to form our identity, our significance, to create our ego boundaries. “I like this, but I don’t like that.” “I am like these people, but I am not like those people.” The building of walls is the task of the first half of life. The task for the second half of life is to recognize that all of those walls we built in our earlier years—the ego boundaries we establish for ourselves—they may not have much meaning. If we can find the courage in the second half of life, we ask, “What is this all for? What am I supposed to do with this? Is it just to protect it, to promote it, to defend it, or is there some deeper purpose?”[1] Many people never attain the spiritual maturity to ask those questions. So we have 60-year-olds, 70-year-olds, 80-year-olds, who lack spiritual maturity, never moving past that first-half-of-life task. They live with the same old walls they built in their teens, and 20’s and 30’s. How sad.  

 Any time you notice an “us and them” mentality, you can bet someone is choosing their walls over spiritual maturity. Social media is the worst. Lots of people who would never do this “us and them” thing in real life, in normal conversation, are happy to share this first-half-of-life stuff online. There is no dearth of classism or racism on the web! It can be difficult to inoculate ourselves from this toxic stuff.

 Especially when it’s in our own homes.

 Several years ago, when my oldest was in 2nd grade, I was trying to talk to him using more creative questions than the standard, “How was your day?” So I asked him about his friends—who he played with on the playground. The conversation went something like this: 

·        “Son, do you play with Gabe at recess?” “Sure. We like to play on the monkey bars.” 

·        “Do you play with Robby? Sometimes. We like to play tag.” 

·        “Do you play with Andrew? Yeah. Andrew likes to play football.” 

·        “Do you play with Jonathan? No. I don’t play with him because he has brown skin.” 

 I. Was. Mortified.

 Finding myself in a teachable moment with my 7-year-old, I started giving him the lesson about not judging people by the color of their skin. I reminded him that we have family members who have brown skin and black skin. Later I wondered where that racism came from. I hope that it didn’t come from his parents, though like Paul, I’m certain I have not fully arrived at the open concept living I espouse. Then a thought crossed my mind—he’s building his walls. He’s forming his identity and establishing his ego boundaries. “I like this, but I don’t like that.” “I am like these people, but I am not like those people.” I discouraged him from building that wall, and I’m proud to say that five years later, I sense no racism in him.

 Back to the Apostle Paul writing to the church at Galatia. Surrounding the verse about neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, Paul is helping this local church, comprised primarily of Gentiles, to understand their place in the larger scheme of the history of Israel. He talks about God’s covenant with Abraham, the establishment of the law, and the fulfillment of the law in Jesus Christ. It’s like he was encouraging the church to live into the second half of life—breaking down the walls that the Hebrew nation had spent centuries building. See, early in their history, the Hebrews needed to distinguish themselves from the Pagans living all around them. So they built walls, literally and figuratively, as they built their nation. But by the time of Christ and later during the days of the early church, it was time for them to grow up. To break down the walls that separated them from one another. Christ was the central figure in this new understanding of how to live and move in the world.

 So Paul wrote to teach them: 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. 

 One of the beautiful things about an interdenominational church like ours is that we have moved beyond denominational walls that once divided: there is no longer Baptist or Methodist, Lutheran or Presbyterian, Catholic or Protestant; for we are all one in Christ Jesus!

 But we still live in a divided world. What other kinds of us/them divisions do you see today? More importantly, what walls do you have in your own house preventing you from living into the open concept ideal set forth in Paul’s letter? Walls that perhaps served a purpose in your 20’s and 30’s, but now they just prevent you from living this higher way—the way of Jesus Christ?  

 A few years back I went to annual conference of the International Council of Community Churches, the group with which our church affiliates. Back in 1950, a group of white community churches and a group of black community churches met in Chicago and became one. In 1950. Long before desegregation was cool. At the conference I got to sit down with our brothers and sisters, some from white churches and some from black churches. We began to talk about tearing down walls—walls that keep us from the radical hospitality that we imagined Jesus would want from us. Walls that make us think in terms of “us and them,” often in the form of labels we use for ourselves or others. The conversation made me wonder if Jesus likes for us to think of ourselves, even, as “Christians.” It’s not a term Jesus coined, you know. In fact, it was originally a derogatory term used by Pagans to describe us; we were the “them.”

 I wonder if Jesus would prefer for us to think of ourselves, simply, as “human.”

 So, fellow humans, go ye therefore, and get busy tearing down the walls you once so painstakingly erected. Find yourself one with rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, citizen and immigrant, young and old. May your house of walls be upgraded, renovated, liberated as you embrace the open concept way of life.

 

 


[1] Father Richard Rohr, https://www.amazon.com/AARP-Falling-Upward-Spirituality-Halves-ebook/dp/B006PW2DHK

Debbie Wilson