A post Orlando word from St. Paul to the churches

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.. (Galatians 3:28)

This statement from Paul’s letter to the Galatians could not be more timely. Nor could it be more relevant.

The news last weekend of the hate crime against the lesbian and gay community in Orlando, Florida , the violent  behaviour of Russian and English and other  football fans at the Europe 2016 finals and the political murder of Jo Cox led to a whole week in which everyone has been labelled. The Muslim, the terrorist, the Russian football fan, the English football fan.

Paul’s statement to the Galatians is as radical now as it was then,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female…

Had St. Paul been writing this letter today, I have no doubt whatsoever that this statement would have been,

There is no longer Christian or Muslim, there is no longer gay or straight, there is no longer male and female…

When asked in a discussion group recently what the church’s job is, a woman answered and the group agreed that the church’s job is to make more Christians. That is not true.

The church’s job is to be the body of Christ. As God was in Jesus so is God in the authentic church. When the church is the Body of Christ then it will have nothing to do with labelling and dividing.

To shoot people in a gay nightclub is violent hate crime. To attack someone because he is of a different nationality and he supports another football club is violent hate crime. To label people is to engage in the seed, the beginning of that kind of violent thinking.

I have a friend who is a leader in a Mosque. He is white. He is Scottish. He is highly educated. He is a convert to Islam. I have the greatest of respect for him and the two of us share a great deal in common.

He is white, Scottish, very intelligent, and yet he walks around with his beard and the clothes he wears as a Muslim and people call him a ‘Paki’ and other things. He is not Pakistani and Islam is a religion not a nationality. People shout comments about terrorism. Less of a terrorist you could not get.

And my point is that those who do it do not even recognise or see that he is white because their eyes tell their brains that he is foreign and their brains make connections and they remember the tabloid headlines – the Sun, the Daily Mail – about Islam and terror.

They do not see a father, a man who works for the NHS, a man who works tirelessly to challenge perceptions inside and outside of the Islamic community.

When the church walks with God it doesn’t make anyone anything. It lives Jesus’ teaching. It sees with Jesus’ eyes.

It does not label. To label yourself as a Christian is to set yourself apart. To label someone as a non-Christian is to divide the world. It is to engage in divisive and counter-kingdom of God language and thinking. It is counter-gospel. It is not the language or teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.

If you look out at the world and you see some Muslims there and Christians over here, one man and gay and another straight, what is the difference between you and anyone else? You are merely reflecting the prejudices and fears of the world around us.

But when you look out and you see people then you are close to the kingdom. Jesus listed a variety of categories. Friends, family, persecutors, those who have wronged you, enemies, strangers, outsiders, the sick and the well, the righteous and the unrighteous.

And Jesus teaches, instructs, demands, that we do one thing. It doesn’t matter who a person is or who people are. There is no distinction. We love them. Labels have no place. You are to love without distinction or qualification.

And Paul got that and he said in is letter to the Galatians,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female…

There is no longer Christian or Muslim, there is no longer gay or straight, there is no longer male and female…

And that is what the churches have to say this week, in the aftermath of Orlando, Marseilles, Euro 2016, the killing of Jo Cox.

This is the text of the first part of the sermon preached at Dumfries Northwest Church on 19 June 2016. The sermon is preached in two sections and I have not included the second part here.

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