Being an American

Galatians 6:1-16

Caring and sharing

6 Brothers and sisters, if a person is caught doing something wrong, you who are spiritual should restore someone like this with a spirit of gentleness. Watch out for yourselves so you won’t be tempted too. 2 Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are important when they aren’t, they’re fooling themselves.4 Each person should test their own work and be happy with doing a good job and not compare themselves with others.5 Each person will have to carry their own load.

6 Those who are taught the word should share all good things with their teacher. 7 Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant. 8 Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the benefit of the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit. 9 Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. 10 So then, let’s work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity, and especially for those in the household of faith.

Final greeting

11 Look at the large letters I’m making with my own handwriting! 12 Whoever wants to look good by human standards will try to get you to be circumcised, but only so they won’t be harassed for the cross of Christ. 13 Those who are circumcised don’t observe the Law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised, so they can boast about your physical body.

14 But as for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except for the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through him, and I have been crucified to the world. 15 Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t mean anything. What matters is a new creation. 16 May peace and mercy be on whoever follows this rule and on God’s Israel.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

If you were going to distill down what it is to be an American to a single phrase, this would have to be one that you would consider.  Coming from our Declaration of Independence, it is a central part of what it is to be American.  It represents some of our core values of freedom and liberty and equality.  It defines what it is to be an American.

Another definition of what it is to be an American has to do with documents and legal specifications.  I was born in Wisconsin so I am an American.  I was born to parents who were American so I am American.  When we talk about being an American in this context we tend to think of legal specifications: what it takes to be a natural-born citizen or what it talks to become a naturalized citizen.  In this instance, being American is all about legal requirements.

Two weeks ago, an American opened fire on other Americans, killing or wounding around a hundred individuals.  Legally, this person was an American, born in this country and so granted full citizenship.  His actions however showed that he was not an American.  He did not believe in the values of America, in the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.  By the law he was American.  By his conduct he was not.

All throughout Galatians, Paul has been hammering home this distinction between the Law and Spirit.  Now, at the end of the letter, he presses once more the case that we should set aside legal definitions and practices when it comes to faith.  Instead, we need to look at who were are, at who God is, and place our faith in that.  He wants us to shift our focus from the definitions of what makes us Christian and what makes us saved to the reality that we are saved by God’s grace and invited to live into a new creation in Christ.

It is easy to focus on legal definitions and practices.  There are times it is even helpful to do it.  When it comes to our faith however, those definitions tend to be less helpful and more about control.  Members of the church in Galatia wanted to control the actions of others.  They wanted to tell others what was needed to be a real Christian to be a real follower of God.  They had clear definitions, such as circumcision and obedience to the Law that defined their faith.  They used these to control who was or was not a part of the community.  They used it to define who was or was not saved.

Too often in the church, we focus on the same sorts of things.  We think in terms like membership and visitor.  We think in terms of us and them, creation definitions and legal boundaries for our own little kingdoms.  It lets us be in control.

At its heart, being American is not about having a birth certificate or passport or some other document that defines our citizenship.  Being American is an aspirational goal that we seek to live into.  It is about believing deep down in the idea of a nation where all can be treated as equals, where all can be free, where all can know peace.  When he entered the nightclub in Orlando, the shooter was an American by law, but not by his heart or his actions.

Zoe was baptized last week at Annual Conference and she even has a certificate to prove it.  Even baptism, the Christian induction into the faith community, is not meant as a legal boundary.  What makes her a Christian is not the piece of paper, but her commitment (or in this instance her parents commitment) to follow God.  What makes her a Christian is a willingness to embrace God’s new creation.

To be an American is to live into the ideals of our nation: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  To be a Christian is to live into the ideal that we are freed from sin by God’s grace and are meant to enter into a new creation, a new life with Christ.  We are freed from legalism and boundaries of who is in and who is out.  Instead of striving for salvation we are free to live our salvation.

 As Christians we are not meant to keep score, to worry about who is a member or who is not.  We are meant to embrace this gift of new life that is given to us.  We are meant to live as faithful followers of God.  We are meant to live for Christ, each and every day.

Questions to Ponder:

What does being an American mean to you?  What does it mean to be a Christian?

When is a time you have struggled with legalism in your faith?

What does the “new creation” Paul talks about look like to you?

Prayer:

God, through the work of Christ you have given us all new life.  Free us from our own worries and thoughts to live into this freedom you offer.  Bless us that we might be faithful followers of you.  Watch over us, and our nation, as we seek to do your work in the world.  Amen