Creekside Church
Sermon of May 9, 2021

"All in the Family"
Galatians 6:6-10

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning. I need to begin with a confession this morning. I did not image last week’s sermon and this week’s sermon to be a continuation of the same line of thought -- at least, not when I was writing last week. If you remember -- of course you remember -- last week I talked about Jesus as the Good Shepherd and Lamb of God, and we Christians as the flock, the sheep of God’s pasture. Toward the end of that sermon last week, I said that the New Testament didn’t really have a satisfactory collective noun for a group of Christians. I proposed some ideas of my own, and invited you to share your ideas with me. My thanks to Tim Morphew, who suggested a church of Christians.

But here’s where I need to confess that I overlooked some really obvious images in the New Testament. One is the body of Christ -- not exactly a collective noun, but a powerful metaphor of what it means to function together and respect the various skills of the other parts of the body. The other image is the one I want to talk about this morning. It’s a wonderful image because it’s complex and messy, but can be expressed in a phrase which nearly everyone can understand and relate to. That phrase was in the text that Cathy read for us from Galatians, at the end of verse 10 which says, “let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (6:10)

I’m not going to ask for a show of hands if you have a perfect family -- mostly because if anyone raises their hand, it will ruin my point entirely. However, I could ask you if you love your family, and I might get a completely different response. You may be familiar with the opening line of Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Plenty of happy families exist -- they don’t have to perfect to be happy; but there are so many things which can make families unhappy, that families can be unhappy in a millions different ways.

The letter of Paul to the Galatians is not a friendly letter. Paul is upset, and since he didn’t have Twitter or Facebook to let loose on, he writes this letter to the churches of Galatia. Paul is upset because he founded the churches of Galatia; he converted the Greeks of Galatia who are now believers in Jesus Christ, and then some other -- unnamed -- teachers have come to the Galatians and told them they need to conform to Jewish practice -- especially circumcision. Paul has spent his missionary career fighting for the inclusion of non-Jews into Christianity, and these other teachers totally undermined his efforts. Paul is mad. In Chapter 3 he says, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publically exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? [The correct answer is obviously by believing what they heard] Are you so foolish?” (3:1-3a) Paul is saying, You idiots -- you saw Christ crucified and accepted his grace, why are going back to trying to live by the law?

This is not the only epistle where Paul is upset. When he wasn’t thanking folks for their support of his mission, a number of Paul’s letters are trying to put out fires in churches. To Paul’s credit, some of our best-loved passages are things which he wrote to congregations who are squabbling. 1 Corinthians 13 where he characterizes love as patient and kind -- that’s a church fight. In Galatians it’s the passage right before our text today when Paul says, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control.” These are things we need to keep the family together.

I said earlier that I like the image of family because it’s complex, messy and oh-so familiar. Families might be children of the same parents, but they are also children who are related because they share one parent, but not the other. Some families have one parent, some have more than two. People who we have known for a long time and have had a significant relationship with are “like family.” There are step-siblings, half siblings, adopted children, foster children, in-laws and outlaws. In some cultures, family is defined by the man who fathered the children and supports them economically. In other cultures, including our own, families can be organized around mothers who gave birth to children with different fathers, and are the center of a complex web of family members. Family is more complicated than biological relationships, and there is no perfect template of what a family “should” look like.

How a family should behave is a different matter. In Galatians, Paul gives that list of fruits of the Spirit which are a sign of the gift of Jesus’ grace -- not the physical marks of Jewish law. Paul shared a good teaching with the Galatians, and he wants the hearers of that Word to share that with others. What he is worried about is Christians acting in such a way that they exclude non-Jews who came to believe through the Spirit of Christ. Families are imperfect because they are composed of imperfect people. There’s a lot of material here if we think of Christians as a family of faith. In the Church of the Brethren, we call each other brother and sister -- sometimes when we’re discussing the things we most disagree about -- to remind ourselves that we are bound together by a relationship that is stronger than our individual opinions. What tears a family apart is when some people are not included; when we don’t identify them as brothers and sisters.

I’m going to have the Media Center play you a clip from a TV series which ran from 1971 to 1979. This clip is from 1971, which makes it 50 years old. The show is “All in the Family”, voted one of the most influential series of all time. It is set in Queens, NY and revolves around the character of Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor. Archie is an aggressively outspoken, narrow minded guy who often finds himself in conflict with the views of the younger generation. In this clip he has a conversation with Sammy Davis, Jr. A couple things before it’s cued up: this is a comedy, and the laugh-track is a bit obnoxious. And there are some terms used which would never make it on to network television today. Most notable, for me though, is how relevant the conversation is fifty years -- fifty years! -- later. Let’s listen.

In the coming weeks, at least one of Creekside’s adult Sunday School classes is going to be studying Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart. I have read it, and it was a difficult read -- not because of any deficit in the writing, but because it made me examine who is part of the family of faith, and ways that I have been complicit in excluding others. Every church I know describes themselves as friendly and welcoming, and in many cases it’s true, but we need to have the courage and the humility to consider if we are welcoming to everyone, or only to the people whom we’ve already decided belong in the family.

Paul was scolding the Galatians for the ways they were excluding the Gentiles. it is our privilege today to be gathered and welcomed and included in God’s family, by the grace of Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. On this Mother’s Day when we celebrate the joy of human love and those who have nurtured and cared for us, we also need to consider the places where we have work to do. The ways that we might better embody the fruit of the Spirit of Christ: the Spirit which calls us to the love, joy, peace, patience kindness, generosity and self-control of being part of the family of faith. So that even on this day of celebration we will never grow weary of doing what is right and working toward the good of all. We celebrate Christ’s grace, and the love of God which makes us brothers and sisters. Amen.


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