Galatians 3: 23 – 29
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.
The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is taking place today in Indianapolis – our home for the nine years prior to our move to Tulsa. The 103rd running of the Indy 500 will see thirty-three race cars go 230 miles per hour in circles for a few hours. Some 350,000 spectators will be on hand for the race. It’s a crazy deal. Living there for nine years, I never once attended the race. Sundays were a bit of a problem for me, you know. We were on the northeast side of the city but the western part of the city nearest the Speedway shut down. Churches couldn’t have worship – though they usually rented parking spaces which could fund their church budgets for the year. I did go to Carb Day one time – which is not an anti-Atkins all-protein diet or anything – the Carb is short for Carburetion Day. Carb Day is the final session where teams can tune their carburetors in conditions similar to those that might be encountered on race day. The name has remained even though no qualified car has used a carburetor since 1963. I remember sitting in the metal bleachers in an area mostly by myself. The roar of those empty metal bleachers and its vibrations when a car would zoom past is surely why when my kids holler at me from across the room I respond, “What?” So loud! The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The whole goal of competitions such as this are winning of course. Which car is faster? Which driver is better? Who can hold their bladder the longest? The history, the hype, and the hope are in full glory today.
There’s a new movie coming out later this year starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale called Ford vs. Ferrari. It tells the true story of the battle for racing legacies between Enzo Ferrari and Henry Ford II… particularly the efforts of the Ford team to defeat the domination of Ferrari in the world’s oldest active sports car endurance race, The 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. French sounds so sophisticated. In Nascar-ese (of which I’m more comfortable), it’s called “That Long Race in Lee Manns.” Just kidding. Along with the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans rounds out the Triple Crown of Motorsport. Where was I? The movie. Yes. Henry Ford II tried to buy out Enzo Ferrari but when Enzo walked away from negotiations, Ford set his sights on defeating Enzo at his own game in 1966. He needed a car that could achieve speeds of 200 mph (which had not been done before at this time) but also reliable enough to survive the grueling 24-hour race. The car had to be fast yet able to handle switching gears over 9,000 times and drive 3,000 miles. He had ten months to assemble such a car. He built the Ford GT40. You’ll have to watch the movie, I guess (or do a quick Google search) to find out who won. (Matt Damon always wins, right?). Bottom line – whether Indy or Le Mans – we spend so much of our lives trying to win. Nadia Bolz Weber quickly brings this sentiment into our theology as well. She said simply, “We all want to know who we’re better than.” It’s the curse of evolution in some ways – this survival of the fittest notion that we’ll only last, we’ll only matter, we’re only valuable if we’re better than everyone else – and sometimes we’ll settle for being better than at least some-body else. “At least I wasn’t last,” we’ll say. But… alas… someone was. Where does that leave them?
The Apostle Paul had a competitive spirit about him. It was part of what made him so good at what he did and also part of what made him annoying at times. It is said, you know, that our greatest strengths or qualities are often also our greatest drawbacks or weaknesses. Paul, self-proclaimed “Greatest of All the Pharisees” and “Jesus hater” had let it all go when he encountered Christ and discovered a new freedom in his life that he had never thought possible before. Leaving his legalism for this new freedom in Christ, however, didn’t mean that he left all of his personality behind. He was still competitive… driven to share this new vision and invite others into the freedom he had come to know. And he just couldn’t understand why everyone wouldn’t want to do the same. I think he wrestled with his own history, the hype of his public ministry, and his hope to see the Way of Christ become the way of the world.
Paul’s letter to the Galatian church had a lot of this wrapped up in it. “We all want to know who we’re better than.” Many times, when we get our hands on religion, we are tempted to turn it into an instrument for controlling others – putting them or keeping them “in their place.” It’s little wonder you know so many people who have a church experience they left behind saying, “I got out of there… and now I’m free.” Our tendency bends toward control. Paul was all about this in his role as Pharisee. It was a life of coercion from the outside – not a setting free from the inside. Some of Paul’s early travels brought him through Galatia to establish churches. This letter follows in a few years as Paul’s a little peeved that the church is re-introducing some old ways and patterns of religious rules and regulations. These strong-arm tactics were the very things he had found freedom from himself and believed Jesus came to release as well.
Paul does come on a bit strong. Galatians three opens with “You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken a leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.” (Tell us how you really feel, Paul.) He’s trying to differentiate the idea that we can perfect our faith through our own striving while it is only gift through Jesus Christ that we actually find wholeness. He even points back to Abraham – the father of their faith – saying, “Remember Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.” He asks all of these rhetorical questions saying, “Isn’t it obvious then that heirs of Abraham are actually those who live by faith, not by his own efforts?” And this is our struggle too. It’s our struggle for wanting to know who we are better than. How else do we measure our spiritual progress? I’ve got to be better than another for me to do so.
Runners will teach you to pick someone in the race who is up ahead of you as a target; pass him or her, and then pick out the next person. The underground racing community calls those “Kills” even. “How many kills did you get?” Crazy right? I must say, I am generally the one getting killed in those races. I’ve had very few kills. But we do this with faith. What does that person believe about baptism? “Ehnt!” Wrong. Kill. I’m better. You may have your own list which may include social issues or doctrinal quandaries. We can get so lost in those battles. To what end other than setting our own measurements so we know who we’re better than. Boom. You’re bad. I’m good. But as someone recently said, “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive.”
Paul is saying, “I get it, Galatians. I was so caught up in that myself. But now that faith has come… it’s a whole new world.” I can’t get that Heavy D tune out of my head with this title: “Now that faith has come what are we gonna do… with it?” It’s not easy. I’ll admit to falling into the trap more than I’d like of comparative faith… of doing over being… of judgment over grace. And some of this is the way we grow and learn. Walter Brueggemann says that
“The Torah, or the first five books, correspond to the good and necessary “first half of life.” This is the period in which the people of Israel were given their identity through law, tradition, structure, certitude, group ritual, clarity and chosen-ness. It’s helpful and easiest for children if they can begin in this way. Ideally, you first learn you are beloved by being mirrored in the loving gaze of your parents and those around you. You realize you are special, and life is good — and thus you feel “safe.” Loving people help you form a healthy ego structure and boundaries.”
But moving along in the text we encounter the Prophets. Brueggemann says
“The Prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures then introduce the necessary suffering, “stumbling stones” and failures that initiate you into the second half of life. Prophetic thinking is the capacity for healthy self-criticism, the ability to recognize your own dark side, as the prophets did for Israel. …The leaven of self-criticism, added to the certainty of your own specialness, will allow you to move to the third section of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Wisdom Literature. … Here you discover the language of mystery and paradox. This is what the second half of life is supposed to feel like. You are strong enough now to hold together contradictions in yourself, others and the universe.”
This is what Richard Rohr calls the “classic pattern of spiritual transformation: ‘order-disorder-reorder.’ Paul calls it “the foolishness of the cross.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
This pattern is all over our lives: Order, disorder, re-order. We find some structure, we perfect it to some degree, it fails us, and then we re-build around some new understanding. Rohr calls this the two halves of life. David Brooks calls this the two mountains. The first mountain is all about us succeeding, climbing, becoming better-than but life proves at some point that this only leads to emptiness. Thus, we begin climbing the second mountain – the one where we are not the star – a climb we make with the wisdom of experience, with the peace of not having to do all the winning (and thereby creating losers); one that is other-centered valuing relationship over being right and grounded in a force greater than ourselves – Jesus for we of the Christian faith. It’s a freeing thing that we are slow to receive. But Paul has caught a glimpse – a glimpse so bright it blinded him for a while. Now that faith has come, he’s got a whole new outlook. What about you?
I was fascinated with a word Frederick Buechner offered about the danger of principles. Naturally, I thought principles were a good thing… and I think they are… don’t get me wrong. But listen to this perspective. He writes,
“Principles are what people have instead of God. To be a Christian means, among other things, to be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice even your highest principles for God’s or your neighbor’s sake the way a Christian pacifist must be willing to pick up a baseball bat if there’s no other way to stop a man from savagely beating a child. Jesus didn’t forgive his executioners on principle, but because in some unimaginable way he was able to love them. Principle is an even duller word than religion. See also idolatry.”
Whoa. We’ve often allowed principles to answer our “Who are we better than?” quizzes. Paul says, “Stop it!” And then he just loses his mind. He’s gone this far, I guess. Why not? He gets radical. He says, “Once you choose Christ, you’ve chosen Christ. And in Christ, we choose each other too.” How’s that, Paul? “I’ll tell you how,” he says. “In 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.”
Jesus was so awesome at this… and he’s rubbed off some on Paul here… and Peter when Peter stretches a hand to the unclean Gentiles and last week when we remembered Philip’s reach to Earl the eunuch. It’s all just wide open now and I get it… that can be a scary thing. It’s a little uncomfortable when the group doesn’t look just like you or think just like you and you certainly don’t want people in the group that haven’t put in the work like you have. Its human competitiveness that makes it a real struggle and that works its way into my own bones sometimes.
Author Bob Goff did a crazy thing. He put his personal cell phone number in the back of his book, “Love Does” which sold like a million copies. His goal is to not let any call go to voicemail. Can you imagine? He fields dozens of calls a day. “Try it for a week,” he says. “Loving people the way Jesus did means living a life filled with constant interruptions. Take the calls.” Oh my. Bob said there’s one kid who calls him every three weeks and cusses at him. Bob’s a lawyer and felt like he’s heard it all before but this kids got some new ones. Before he hangs up, Bob always says, “I’ll always take your call.” He figures he’s playing some stress-relieving role in this kids’ life. Bob has the young man tagged on caller ID as “Vulgar Kid” because he needs to brace himself each time before he answers his call. “Is it fair he says mean things to me?” Bob asks. “Of course not. But here’s what’s changing me: I don’t want what’s fair anymore. I want to be like Jesus. It’s a distinction worth making.” What I love most is that line, “Here’s what’s changing me…”. I wonder how readily we could identify that faith-check piece ourselves. “Here’s what’s changing me these days.” Who are you making room for? Who are you trying to understand better? How are you looking for Christ in the places and people you’ve previously written off? If you made your own list of “There is no this group or that group; this person or that person…” Who would make your list today? If that list has never changed for you or me, I wonder if we’re doing it right.
Pauline worshiped with us on Easter Sunday. She wasn’t the only one!, but her story came to light this week in a way that has me reflecting on our community with gratitude. Pauline was an Amity intern at Eisenhower International School next door for about four months last year. She was assigned to Tulsa following her graduation from a college in France with an education degree. Pauline stayed with one of our marvelous HACC families during her stay and they become instant family. She landed in London next to work on her master’s in education and while on a two-month break, her Tulsa family invited her to come back for a visit and she did. In her four months in Tulsa last year, she never came to church though she was always welcome and invited by her host family. She grew up Roman Catholic but was rejected by the church and much of her family when she revealed her sexual orientation as a gay woman. She hadn’t stepped foot in a church for the last eight years. On this most recent visit, her Tulsa mom said, “Hey – why don’t you come with us to worship on Easter.” She politely declined but agreed to check out our website and give us a look and listen that way. As Easter Sunday approached, however, Pauline asked if it would be awkward to be the only French lesbian with tattoos and a nose ring present for Easter. Her Tulsa mom laughed and told her she wouldn’t be the only one with any of those realities except, perhaps, her uniqueness as a citizen of France. So. She. Came. Eight years without a foot in the church. Easter Sunday. She came! Asking what she thought after the service, she said, “It was surprising. I was surprised by the contemporary music. I’m surprised that I didn’t ‘burn’ and that nobody there told me I was going to burn.” And that afternoon, she skyped her Roman Catholic grandmother with whom she has a tight bond. Pauline said, “I went to church!” And her grandmother responded, “Look! I told you that you wouldn’t burn!”
After eight years, friends, that may be no small victory… especially if all you’ve ever been told is that you’re gonna burn. Can you imagine? There were no more labels, just church. One in Christ. It’s an interesting possibility don’t you think? One of our church leaders was bagging sand at Bixby High School this past week as the community rallied to help preserve the school from all the flooding. One of the school janitors asked our HACC leader if he could join a few of them at her house to move some things upstairs and off they went. There was no longer janitor and parent-of-student, just neighbors helping neighbors.
Dan Threlkeld posted a picture this week of Tulsa’s chief meteorologists. It’s a humorous shot and he pokes a little fun at the competitive nature of ratings and all – but he added a line of deep respect for his colleagues and a passion they all share to do their best to keep Tulsa safe. There is no Channel 8 or 2 or 6. There are no longer competitors in Christ, only companions.
I had dinner with a friend last week whom I only officially met last year but there’s a connection that runs way deeper. His mom was my Sunday School teacher when I was a kid. I worked for his dad the summer after my Senior year. And sitting with him, talking about the little town we both grew up in though two decades apart, spending time on the same farms, in the same back parking lot of Ben Franklin’s when cruising the strip in high school, bring baptized in the same tub, and seeing his folks in his facial expressions and in his voice, I was moved. There’s somehow no longer generations and distance, but in Christ there’s an inexplicable oneness and community.
So what, right? We just want to sit and watch cars go around in circles some times. And so we do. And we cheer on our teams and our hopes and our people and there’s space for all of that. But in Christ… when we’re really in Christ… in that zone… this need to know who we’re better than? It just drifts away. It’s you and me and they and we… it’s us and them coming together… joint heirs according to the promise. And many will scoff. Many will say it can’t be. But I know you and I know Jesus. And I think there’s a chance this oneness-in-Christ-thing could become The Greatest Spectacle in Faith.
 Brandt, Eric. “Here’s what we know about the upcoming Ford vs. Ferrari Le Mans movie.” The Drive, June 21, 2018, thedrive.com. Ciferri, Luca. “Story reveals why Enzo Ferrari said no to Ford.” Automotive News, August 31, 1998. autonews.com.
 Richard Rohr, “Human development in Scripture,” Center for Action and Contemplation Website, Daily Meditation for March 26, 2018; adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
 Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith (Zondervan, 2009), 323.