Billions

How many people will you meet in your lifetime? Based on a little bit of research, estimates seem to range from as low as 10,000 to as high as 80,000. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t, not when you consider that even 80,000 people would be just 0.024% of the United States population and the United States only has 4% of the world’s population.

Let me put this another way. The five highest rated scripted shows on TV in 2018 were The Big Bang Theory, Roseanne, This Is Us, NCIS, and Young Sheldon. All of those shows were watched by at minimum 15 million people a week. I’ve never seen any of them. I don’t know anyone who watches any of them. However, I have a long running text conversation with several friends who are intensely dedicated fans of a show called The Magicians that is watched by less than 700,000 people a week.

We all live in bubbles. Intellectually, I think most people understand this, but it’s incredibly difficult to understand and process on an emotional level. It’s hard to step out of yourself and realize that what you observe and experience and feel every day, the things that are routine to you, are completely foreign to billions of others.

time lapse photography of people walking on pedestrian lane
Photo by Mike Chai on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because the Super Bowl is coming up in a few weeks. As a football fan, this has always been an important time of year to me, but a few years ago I realized something interesting. The Super Bowl is the single-largest communal event in the United States in any given year. On average, 50% of the people who live in the United States will watch at least part of the Super Bowl. That’s more than the number of people who will vote in a presidential election.

I think about this a lot on Sunday mornings when I take communion too. That’s the time when we all become part of the body of Christ. We all drink the blood, we all eat the body. We are all, at least for a moment, at least symbolically, one. It’s just a flicker, but it’s beautiful, especially in a big world where we may never meet or share anything else in common. It’s one thing that can bring us all together and make us all one.

 

Today’s blog post was written by Benjamin Howard. Benjamin is a lead editor for Teaching and Learning Resources at The United Methodist Publishing House. He received his Master’s in Theological Studies from Lipscomb University and currently resides in Nashville.

Today’s Bible Lesson

Re-Created to Live in Harmony

by Patty Meyers

This bible lesson originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.

Lesson: Galatians 3:36–4:7

Background: Same

Our Scripture readings this week emphasize family ties, inclusivity and the equal worth of all beings. They have shed light on how we are to get along with each other despite our many differences. They have shown Abraham’s obedience, Christ’s fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, our connection with him across the generations and the adoption into the family of God through Christ. We traveled several centuries through time to arrive at the challenge of learning how to get along with one another.

Do you remember the riots in Los Angeles after police officers who were filmed beating Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted? I will never forget the press conference given afterward and the poignant question that Mr. King asked: “Can’t we all just get along?” Differences of race, class, and gender make it hard for people to get along. Mr. King later said that he had to learn to forgive because he couldn’t sleep at night. He said that he had to let go and let God take over because it took too much energy out of him to be angry. Mr. King lived to only age 47. He had a troubled life, but he did not deserve to be treated so badly. No one does.1

How can we live in harmony? All kinds of walls divide human beings. Paul told the Galatians that, through Christ, we received the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:3). That made us heirs of God, members of God’s holy family, in which human differences are no longer divisive. There is no room for prejudice in the family of God. Many people claim to be Christian. They are people of infinite worth to God, but their prejudices harm the body of Christ. All the “-isms” (racism, sexism, ageism), homophobia, xenophobia, fears of every shape and kind are human ways that keep us from getting along with one another. As a child, I learned a poem that said, “Love and I . . . drew a circle and took him in.”2 Paul said that Christians are united by the saving work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. There is no greater power than the love of God.

Paul’s teaching in the third chapter of Galatians focuses on five important points. First is our identity as Christian believers. Our basic identity comes through our union with Christ. Our identity comes through our baptism in Christ. When we “put on Christ,” we share the garment of salvation and share with others the status of member in the family of God. All of the previous religious rituals and observances that marked persons as members of any other religious grouping were drowned in the baptismal waters. In essence, we take off one robe and put on another, shiny, new one. We have a new life and a new identity in Christ.

You may recall that some of the first Christians, who were Jews, thought that every man had to be circumcised in order to be Christian. As more and more Gentiles believed in Jesus Christ, circumcision became an obstacle for inclusion in the body of believers. Paul thought that none of that should matter, so he worked hard to eliminate that as a requirement for joining the early church. What really mattered was the work of God’s Holy Spirit in people’s lives. Paul saw baptism as a signifier of our relationship with Christ, it was not an end in itself. Galatians 3:26-28 says that those whose identity is rooted in faith are Abraham’s children. Identity via faith is different from all other kinds of identity. It does not rely on outer symbols; it is evidenced in the way that we live. Faith in Jesus Christ is the singular way that God incorporates persons into the family of God.

The second important point Paul made was about faith. Paul spoke frequently about justification by faith. Abraham is the model for faith as Paul saw it. Abraham’s complete trust in God’s promise to bless him was raw and uncompromising. Abraham didn’t have a list of doctrines or things he had to do in order to have faith. He implicitly and completely trusted God. This is the kind of faith that Paul wanted the Galatians to have. Faith came to humankind as a way to set us free from anything that would get in the way of our relationship with the Holy. Faith is a gift; we cannot earn it.

Paul’s third point is that Christ liberated humankind from its captivity (Galatians 4:7). It is somewhat surprising that Paul did not say anything about captivity from sin. Israel’s captivity was over. Its exile was over. Jesus set both Jews and Gentiles free through his death on the cross, liberating believers from the bondage of sin. They were liberated from ignorance and alienation from God. They were liberated for new life in Christ. Human beings are great at creating laws. We have only to look at Congress or children on a playground for prime examples. Christ liberated us from the spirit of law to live by faith and God’s grace.

Paul connected his fourth point to the third: The Holy Spirit is God’s promised blessing on the new community of Christian believers. Paul saw the Spirit as the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:14). He saw the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit as a continuation of the promise to Abraham of many descendants. Next Paul wrote about the place of the Mosaic Law in the Christian story (Galatians 3:10-24). He did not reject the Law, although he got quite close. He was a good Pharisaic Jew before his conversion. He pointed to the Law’s role in the unfolding story of Christ as the embodiment of God’s redemptive work.

Last, Paul emphasized that unity in Christ changed or more accurately erased the divisions between God’s people. We are in this life together! As Psalm 148 showed us last week, all creation— everyone and everything—should praise the Lord. We get so caught up with what divides us that we do not see what unites us. Like Psalm 148, Galatians 3 is radically inclusive. God wants us to get along with one another, to treat one another kindly and to build one another up, not tear apart the human fabric.

This is our time and our opportunity to live by faith and to follow the example of Christ in every way. The 24-hour news cycle is discouraging, but we can do what we can in our own little corners of the world. We can work for change right where we are. No one is better or worse than anyone else. No division of haves and have nots nor any other kind of division should exist between us. “Can’t we all just get along?” We confront the injustices of life through our combined resources of faith and full participation in the body of Christ. Our oneness in Christ overcomes all of the obstacles and divisions that can threaten or divide the human family. Together, by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God nor keep us from being all that God intends us to be. It is up to us to hear what the Scriptures say to us and be faithful to the One whose name we bear: Jesus the Christ. All for One and One for all!

  1. biography.com/people/rodney-king-9542141. Accessed 11 May 2016.
  2. From “Outwitted,” by Edwin Markham; goodreads.com/ quotes/8703-he-drew-a-circle-that-shut-me-out–heretic. Accessed 11 May 2016.
  3. Albert Schweitzer quotations; brainyquote.com/quotes/ quotes/a/albertschw387027.html. Accessed 11 May 2016.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s