Words and Deeds Lead the Way

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on June 19, 2022

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. 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Yesterday, the Southern New England Conference, the name for all the UCC churches in CT, MA and RI, held its third Annual Meeting.  At the beginning, there was a long – more than five minute – statement of apology, acknowledgment for stealing southern New England from the indigenous people who were living here.  Land acknowledgement is a great idea, but what does it mean if it doesn’t lead to some sort of action?

Words… words about gun control, words about land acknowledgement, words…. And now these words, from Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow.  McMorrow is a practicing Christian, a Roman Catholic, and she wrote in a recent Commonweal Magazine article:  

Calling yourself a Christian, or putting it in your Twitter bio, is not the same as being one.  It’s performative, and it’s nonsense.  It’s not showing faith through works.  

Last week I pointed out that everything we do here is founded on our belief in Jesus Christ, however you define that belief.  It’s quintessentially in our DNA – we don’t want to confine anyone to a particular way of describing Jesus, but we do want you to follow Jesus.

Mallory McMorrow reminds us that following Jesus is not about saying “we follow Jesus”.  It’s about following Jesus.  It’s not about getting into fun discussions about whether or not Jesus is fully human and. . . and fully divine.  It’s not about saying racism is bad.   It’s not even about white people learning about Juneteenth.  It’s about doing, not saying we do.  It’s about living out our faith.

Today’s scripture reading is one with which we’re pretty familiar, because it contains …. 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.  But there’s more to this selection that that wonderful declaration.

You see, that declaration is part of a longer discussion about what makes us Christian.  Back in the day of Galatians, the way you became an adherent of a religion,  was that you were born to it.  You were a Roman, you followed Roman gods – tho a wealthy important Roman might also follow the Greek gods because they were classy.  But Phoenicians followed Phoenician gods, Egyptians followed Egyptian gods, and Jews followed the Creator God we follow today.  By and large, you didn’t change gods, unless you were trying to cozen up to the powers-that-be…. Thus the Herods pretend they are kinda sorta Roman, so as to be more acceptable to the occupying powers.

The question of the day for Paul was – did you have to become a Jew in order to be a true follower of Jesus?  If you were a Greek or a Roman or from one of those countries on the south side of the Mediterranean – did you have to give up who you’d been in order to become a follower of Jesus?  This was not just a religious question.  If Romans didn’t honor the Roman gods, their loyalty to the Roman authorities became suspect.  Being a Christian in those days was something of a liability.

There in Galatia, there was an argument going on, one which basically said, if you’re not born one of us, you’re really ever not going to be one of us.  We still think this way — we all know communities where if you’re not born there, or if you didn’t graduate from the high school, you will never ever really be accepted.  Or one of those places where if you aren’t from the right class, or not related to the ruling family… well, then, the words will say “you’re welcome”, but actions will say, “not so much. . .”

Our lesson helps us understand that everyone is welcome, that everyone is a member of the family, that everyone counts, that what supports one, supports all, what hurts one, hurts all.  And there’s more.

Because what we say is not just about words, it’s also about deeds.  And the Bible is really clear as to what those deeds will look like.  How we are to behave is throughout the Scriptures:  in Exodus 22, for instance, we read that aliens, people who are not of our country, must be treated as we treat ourselves.  In fact, all the laws and rules we find in Exodus and Leviticus, as boring and petty-fogging as they can seem, are an attempt to make sure that everyone is treated fairly.

Paul says it very clearly in Philippians 4: 7 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  In the Letter of James, it’s written:  be ders of the word, and not merely hearers…. And a little later in that same first chapter, it’s written:  14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Words are good.  We need to know who we are, whose we are.  

Deeds matter because they give tangible form to our words, they make our words live.   

Words and deeds together, are a gift from God, a gift to God.  

We welcome the stranger; we feed the hungry. We clothe the naked.  But we don’t just do exactly and only what those words say.  Feeding and clothing are only examples. We use our powers of observation and compassion to see what needs to happen where we are.  We use our intelligence to listen to our world, to let go of what’s no longer needed, to pick up what’s important now.  

We are Christians and we care about our world.  We are Christians and we work to make this world better.

That is our name, that is our calling, that is our work.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child