I have no digital footprint, and I intend to keep it that way. When I was pressured early on to get on Spacebook, or Myface (just kidding) my visceral protest was “the brethren are up in my business enough as it is.” My decision, upon reflection, was reinforced by my realization that people misinterpret, misunderstand, and take offense with alarming regularity. Since my organic disposition is sarcasm, I felt it unwise to give my inner musings a public voice. Recently, however, my reason has changed. People on social media have so eschewed any filter for what they say, or the pictures they post that I prefer not to see what the brethren put on display. I don’t want to know what harsh comment someone made in the name of the culture wars, what was in that red solo cup someone was holding, where they were after hours, or who they were with. I prefer the bliss of my ignorance, and thinking of you all in your church clothes.
I have experienced a similar change of mind about preaching Galatians 5.1-12. I know the whole counsel of God must be preached – but it is also true that some passages are not suitable for thorough discussion when children are present. The rape and dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, or the attempted gang rape of the angels in Genesis 19 are two examples. The dual incest between Lot and his daughters that ends Genesis 19 is another. I have had the same feeling about Galatians 5.1-12 because its topic is circumcision, it mentions foreskins, and it ends with Paul wishing his opponents would castrate themselves.
Paul is agitated in the whole book of Galatians. Many Jewish-Christians are preaching that Jesus is not sufficient – that one must keep the laws of Moses as well as follow Christ. They have influenced Peter, James – even Barnabas (Galatians 2.11-21). Paul’s agitation reaches full pitch in Galatians 5.1-12. His sentences are shorter, his phrasing emphatic, his vocabulary extreme. He ends the passage in verse 12 by saying, “I would that those who are troubling you would castrate themselves” – not the kind of self-expression we want to encourage in small children.
But nowadays our children have heard much worse on the political commercials that ran all day during the recent election. Beyond that, we seem to be at ease with hateful, vulgar speech. Not that we Christians engage in such (although if you do on your Facebook page, or twitter account I’ll never know…..until some calls me to snitch on you), but we seem to accept such from our public figures as a matter of course. I just don’t think the language of Galatians 5.1-12 will seem so shocking anymore. So, I have gone ahead and decided to preach on the passage next week.
The passage is important. Our Sunday sermon series this year is “Faith, Hope, and Love”, and this passage is likely the earliest use of the three together. Galatians 5.1-12 is about Faith versus Works, and Love versus Law. I am anxious to explore it with you, but I must admit I am ambivalent about the new-found freedom I feel to share this passage on a Sunday morning.
When we Christians become accustomed to coarseness - when we support it with our silence, or our vocal approval – we communicate to our children that such coarseness is acceptable. This, more than anything else that has transpired during the political season, makes me worried and sad.
Jesus clearly equates hate-speech with violence (Matthew 5.21-26). Paul constantly insists that our speech edify (Colossians 3.17, 4.6; Ephesians 4.29 – whatever else his speech in Galatians does, it edifies), and Peter tells us that even when we are interrogated by the authorities we need to answer with gentleness and reverence (I Peter 3.15). The New Testament establishes a standard we need to keep – and to apply.