“A New Creation is Everything”
A Sermon on Galatians 6:1-16 for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
By The Rev. Matthew Emery, preached July 7, 2013
Back during the 2008 presidential election campaign, you may remember a small item for which then-senator Barack Obama was scrutinized and criticized. No, I’m not speaking of his affiliation with our sister congregation, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and its then-pastor the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr.. Something smaller than a multi-thousand member church, something smaller than a pastor. And no, I’m not talking about the birth certificate question either. Smaller yet. Something so small that someone could wear it and you might not even be able to tell from across this room. Do you remember?
It was a pin. A lapel pin, to specific, a lapel pin of an American flag.
During the height of the primary campaign, beginning in mid-fall 2007, there was a bit of a flap about the observation that Obama did not—or at least only rarely—wore an American flag lapel pin on his suits. The implication, of course, was that his patriotism was suspect because of his lack of stars-and-bars lapel labeling. Obama’s explanation was that he in fact had become concerned that things such as pins and other easy symbols had become a substitute for what he saw as “true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security.” A bit more depth than a simple “patriotism is more than a pin”, but that was implied as well.
Now, of course, for those looking to pick this fight over the pin—“the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with,” according to Obama in an April 2008 debate—for those making the issue, Obama’s more nuanced lifting up that patriotism includes speaking out fell on deaf ears. As it turns out, people don’t tend to like to have their boxes and categories called into question.
“For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” If you’ve been here for worship at Storrs Congregational over the past month or so, you’ve been following with us as we worked our way through a number of the sections of this letter from the apostle Paul to the Galatian Christians. As I laid out at the beginning of this series, the churches in Galatia were caught in a controversy between Paul on one side, who proclaimed to them the gospel message that all could be included in God’s covenant community solely through the grace of God that was made known in Jesus Christ… and on the other side some agitators who came among the Galatians later, after Paul left, to tell them that no, instead they did have to also adopt and follow the Jewish law codes as well in order to be Christians.
In this debate, the practice of circumcision stood as the symbol for all the rest. In terms of the Jewish covenant, the circumcision of males was a central identity marker of who was considered in the covenant or out of it. The main push for the agitators was that the non-Jews in Galatia who had converted to Christianity needed to undergo circumcision. They, in essence, needed to be wearing their flag lapel pins in order to been seen as good enough, according to the agitators.
Hopefully all of us know that a flag lapel pin does not make one a patriot. Nor does the lack of one make one unpatriotic. The back-and-forth talking heads back in 2008 wanted something they could easily latch on to… there’s a pin or not a pin, even if the actual evidence was inconclusive—both Democrats and Republicans alike in that primary season could be found with pins, without pins, or pin-ambiguous.
The situation back in the Roman Empire following Jesus’ time may have been begging for a clear marker like that. It’s hard to know for sure exactly why the agitators felt that circumcision and the rest of the Jewish covenant code needed to be followed, but it may have been because of the status of religions in the Empire. Judaism was recognized; and while not at the top of social status by any means, you were safe as a Jew. If you were a Christian, though, and not part of the Jewish community, you were not safe. In fact, you could be put to death.
But you see, that’s exactly it, my friends. Jesus himself was put to death, and it is only in the new creation that began on that cross in which we can make any boast. In a world beset by brokenness in every heart and injustice on every street, it is only the new creation that begins with the worst the world can throw—death itself—that can give us any hope. The new creation is God’s work… it’s not a simple procedure we can do once, it’s not a pin we can tack on to our suits.
That’s the amazing thing about the grace of God. It isn’t something we have to create, or find, or earn. God finds us, no matter who we are, and the grace is ready. All we have left to do is see the new creation that’s already near.
A poet pastor writes:
is not large enough
for a new
what needs lopping off
is not our sexuality
but our control
of cultural symbol
do this and you’re in
avoid this and you’re in
do that and that
and you’re out
every diminution of one’s life
to carry out
someone else’s plan
lessens our common good
take care in temptation’s face
not to live another’s life
no matter the perks
it is not redemptive
focus on gentleness
bear mutual burdens
do your own work
weary not in good
compassion trumps judgment
care overarches competition
sowing precedes reaping
peace always mercy ever
 Barack Obama, quoted in Jay Newton-Small, “Obama’s Flag Pin Flip-Flop?”, Time, 14 May 2008, accessed 6 July 2013 at http://www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1779544,00.html#ixzz2YK1Lwkqy
 Wesley White, “Pentecost +6 Sunday – C3”, Kairos CoMotion Lectionary Dialogue, 5 July 2007, accessed 6 July 2013 at http://kcmlection.blogspot.com/2007/07/pentecost-6-sunday-c3.html .