Sunday, June 23, 2013

TWTATIN Syndrome?

Have you ever suffered from TWTATIN syndrome? T.W.T.A.T.I.N. as in: that-was-then-and-this-is-now. It’s when you meet the reality that your life has changed with denial, negativity, or outright resistance.

About 20 years ago, I shared my home with a husband and two children. Then I became divorced at the same time my nest was emptying, and suddenly, I was flying solo. It was a shock to my system; I did everything I could to make it not so. I just couldn’t accept that that was then, and this is now. Eventually, I got over it, but it took a long time for me to embrace my new life. You may have experienced the same thing in your life. It can be hard to accept that that was then, and this is now.

The irony is that it can be difficult to let the old life go, even when it wasn’t all that great. Like when God’s people were freed from slavery in Egypt and, what did they do? They couldn’t stop whining about how much they missed their old life. As bad as it had been for them in Egypt, they couldn’t let it go.

Well, Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to people who suffered from that-was-then-and-this-is now syndrome. To understand this a little clearer, it helps to know something about how Paul divided history. By his way of thinking, there had been three eras for God’s people. It all begins with the time when God establishes a relationship with his people through Abraham. And then, there’s the second era, which came through Moses. And now, Paul says, God’s people are living in a new era that was ushered in by Jesus. And, the way that people relate to God in each of these eras is different.

 ·         Abraham did nothing in particular to deserve the favor of God. God simply chose him. And God promised to love him. Abraham said, “That sounds like a good deal to me”, so he trusted in God’s promise. And that’s what faith is, trusting in God’s loving promise. Faith was the name of the game for Abraham.
 ·         Moses had some challenges that Abraham didn’t have. He had to form a nation out of a rag-tag mob of people who only had one thing in common, and that was the slavery of their past. Just telling people to trust in the God of Abraham wasn’t going to cut it. They needed guidelines for this new life. And so, with Moses came the Law. The way to live in relationship with God was by following theLaw. This is the era that Paul and his contemporaries had been born into.
 ·         But all that changed with Jesus, Paul says. Now, our relationship with God isn’t defined by keeping the law, it’s about trusting in the love of God we’ve come to know through his Son Jesus. Once again, God’s people have returned to an era that is much like the era of Abraham. It’s no longer following the law that distinguishes God’s people; once again, it’s faith.

So, Paul writes to the Galatians telling them to get with the program. Stop living like you’re still in Moses time. That was then, this is now. Now you’re living in Jesus time.

There are many ways of naming the era that Jesus ushered in. Jesus himself calls it the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Some today call it the Reign of God or the Realm of God. It’s all the same thing. It’s the time when the way of being in the world that Jesus taught about and modeled with his own life is lived out. When we’re living in this new era, the Jesus Way is our way. Paul calls it living “in Christ.”

As Paul describes it, the Galatians don’t need the law to keep them in line because now they’re “in Christ.” In Christ, they’re all God’s children through faith. Now, that is an entirely different way of living and being in the world than the Jews had known. And it changes everything. You’re in Christ now, Paul says. You need to live into that new reality. And here’s what it looks like in your life together as God’s people. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for in Christ Jesus, you are all one.

Now, the Jewish Law did a good job of judging and separating people. Paul says, while we were still living in Moses’ time, all those distinctions were important to us. But that was then and this is now. And now we’re living in Christ. In Christ, there are no such distinctions. In Christ, we are all loved equally as God’s children.

I would suppose that this doesn’t come as a surprise to us because we’ve heard it so many times before. But just imagine what an earth-shattering idea it must have been for God’s people back in the first century!

So, you may be wondering -- what happened? Even within the New Testament letters we find examples of injustice against women, slaves, gentiles, and others. And it certainly continues today. Although the names of who’s in and who’s out may change from time to time, those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus seem to have a lot of difficulty living in a way that embodies what Paul means by being “in Christ.”

You don’t have to look any further than last Thursday to see examples of this. There was Paula Deen using the “n” word and planning a wedding reception with slaves waiting on tables in the way she pictures it from “Gone with the Wind.” The only good thing about that was the outrage others voiced over it. But, really?

And then there was our dear governor, Pat McCrory, repealing the Racial Justice Act. This was the law that came about because it had been proven beyond a doubt that race is a factor in capital murder trials, and since injustice is unacceptable anytime, but particularly when it comes to executing people, that injustice needs to stop. But then our governor noticed that everybody on death row was appealing their case and nobody was getting executed anymore, like they did in the good old days. And we can’t have that.

Racism is alive and well. Slavery was a blight on our country from the beginning, and we’re still paying the price for it. Racism has become so much a part of who we are that we don’t even recognize it. And lest you think you’re okay because you would never say what Paula Deen said and you would never do what Governor McCrory did, lest you think you’re beyond all that… if you’re a white person and you ever find yourself even just a little bit scared in the “wrong” part of town. Or, if you’re a white person and you aren’t aware of privileges that you enjoy on a daily basis because of the color of your skin. If you think racism has nothing to do with you, you need to think again.

We can’t pretend we’re anything other than who we are. Although we’re called to live in Christ, we are all too influenced by the world around us.

Just this past week, something else happened that was truly amazing. For 37 years Exodus International, which calls itself a Christian organization, had been dedicated to curing people of same-sex attraction by coaching them to do things like “pray away the gay.” Well, this week the president of Exodus announced that they are closing their doors and he offered an apology to the many people they have hurt through the years. It’s still too early to know where this is going, but it’s encouraging. The first step toward living in Christ is confession.

To truly live “in Christ” will always be a radical way of being in the world. The fact is, the Christian life is a paradox. Yes, we’re a part of the world, and we’re influenced by the ways of the world around us. We can’t escape this world and go off living in Jesus La-la-land 24/7.  But what makes us different, as those who have been baptized into a Jesus Way of being in the world, is that we’re aware of the alternative reality we’re also living in. Yes, we’re mere earthlings, just like everyone around us. But we’re also “in Christ.” And the relationship we have with Christ matters in the way we do relationships with others.

It seems like the world’s way has a tendency to stay in the foreground of our lives while the Jesus Way is in the background. When we’re truly in Christ, it happens the other way around for us. As we’re open to the transforming work of the Spirit in our lives, the Jesus Way comes to the foreground and the world’s way is in the background. Then we’re living into the new era, we’re living in Christ.

God gives us the gift of the church so we can practice living in Christ. I like to think of it as God’s little love laboratory. This is where we spractice living in Christ with one another so that it might become so much a part of we are that we also live in Christ when we’re out in the world.

There is a challenge for us, in our little love laboratory, from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white or brown, straight or gay, child or adult, liberal or conservative. All that divides us is gone. Not just because the world has taught us that it’s a good thing to be tolerant of others. But all that divides us is gone because when you’re in Christ, that’s just the way it is. Christ has made us all one. And so, that’s the way we live.

It’s hard to be a part of God’s new reality, we can’t deny that. There is so much in the world that pushes us to separate ourselves from one another, and make judgments about those who aren’t like us. There are so many ways our twisted little need to feel superior to others is reinforced. The world seems to prey upon our fears so we label those who don’t do things our way our enemies and we become obsessed with protecting ourselves from those we don’t understand. We’re severely challenged by the that-was-then-and-this-is-now syndrome. We cling to the world we’ve known, even when it hasn’t been all that great. We’re invited to be a part of the kingdom of God, and we’re hesitant.

The world is very much with us. Jesus knew that, too. I suspect that’s why he included these words in the prayer he taught his followers to pray: May your kingdom come. May your will be done here on earth just as it is in heaven.

May it be so among us here. May it be so among us now.

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