Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our Relationship Status with God

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
December 29, 2013

The First Sunday after Christmas
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 147:13-21
Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

Our Relationship Status with God
            Some of you know that I really try to get the word out about St. Paul’s on the social media sites facebook and twitter.
            Part of my daily routine is to get up early in the morning, fix a cup of coffee and then fire up my computer. I try to post something every day on the St. Paul’s facebook page – usually information about the holy man or holy woman we’re honoring that day, reminders about our service schedule or a heads up about upcoming events.
            It’s amazing to me that our facebook page gets so many “hits” – sometimes over a thousand a week - allowing people who aren’t able to be physically present to still be part of our extended community.
            It’s wonderful.
            Then there’s my own personal facebook page. I try each day to post some verses of scripture or a prayer or a quote that I hope might be meaningful to some people. As a rule I almost never post anything about my personal life. I feel like being a priest is already very public and people already know quite a bit about my life, thank you very much.
            But, I do give my basic information. So, people who click on my facebook page know that I live in Jersey City and they know where I went to school and they know that I’m the Rector of St. Paul’s.
            And they also know what facebook calls my “Relationship Status.”
            Actually, facebook offers its users eleven different possible relationship statuses.
            It’s comprehensive list, some statuses very clear while others are deliberately vague. They are: single; in a relationship; engaged; married; in a civil union; in a domestic partnership; in an open relationship; it’s complicated; separated; divorced; widowed.
            There are many people who share big news about their personal lives by changing their facebook relationship status. Getting serious with someone? “Single” is changed to “In a relationship.” A marriage comes to an end? The relationship status is changed. Want to be mysterious? Same thing.
            Lots of times I’ve learned about major life changes among friends and even family through a change in facebook relationship status.
            Relationship status.
            The truth is Christmas commemorates a profound change in our relationship with God.
            For all of us, for all of humanity, God changes our relationship status by becoming one of us in Jesus.
            And we heard reflections on that change in relationship status in the today’s two lessons from the New Testament.
            Today’s Gospel lesson is once again the powerful, achingly beautiful, cosmic view of Christ’s birth offered by the Prologue of the Gospel of John.
            Most scholars agree that the Gospel of John is the last of the four gospels to be completed, probably around the year 100, seventy or so years after the earthly lifetime of Jesus.
            So, the Gospel of John is the product of divine inspiration working through decades of Christian experience – decades of Christian reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
            The author of the Fourth Gospel proclaims that God has come among us in Jesus of Nazareth – that when we look at Jesus we see God - and now everything has changed.
            “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
            In and through Jesus, God changes our relationship status.
            Probably no one understood this change in relationship status better than St. Paul.
            As we were reminded just the other day on the Feast of St. Stephen, Paul (or Saul as he was known then) was a Pharisee and a persecutor of the first followers of Jesus. He kept an eye on everyone’s coats as they stoned Stephen to death.
            But after his dramatic conversion experience, Paul has the remarkable and unexpected insight that Jesus is the Messiah not only for Israel but of the whole world.
            Paul has the insight that through Christ our relationship with God has changed – we are no longer slaves but are now God’s beloved children.
            And Paul has the insight that through Christ our relationship with each other has changed – we are no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, but one in Christ. We are beloved sisters and brothers.
            Our relationship status has changed.
            And we hear Paul describe that change of relationship status in today’s lesson from the Letter to the Galatians.
            The letter is written much earlier than the Gospel of John, probably around the year 55, just two decades after the Resurrection. Paul is writing to mostly non-Jews, Gentiles, in churches, small Christian communities, that he founded.
            But, it’s not just a “Hi, how are things going?” letter. No, Paul has gotten word that others – probably Jewish Christians – have brought a different gospel to the Galatians. It seems that these Jewish-Christians are telling the Galatians that in order to follow Jesus they must – even though they aren’t Jews – follow the Jewish Law.
            And some of the Galatians seem to be doing just that.
            Well, Paul is infuriated. He’s angry because the Jewish-Christians deny Paul’s status as an apostle. (I’m sure you’ve all heard what happened to Stephen!) And, Paul’s upset because they seem to be missing the whole point of the gospel: in and through Jesus everything has changed.
            Our relationship status with God has changed.
            So, Paul writes to the Galatians, reminding them of the story:
            “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”
            Our relationship status with God has changed from “slave” to “adopted child” and “heir.”
            On facebook when you look at your own page you’re reminded of your relationship status. And when we look at other people’s pages we can see their relationship status.
            Well, one of the reasons we come here to church week after week is to be reminded of our relationship status with God.
            We come here and are reminded that in and through Christ our relationship status with God has changed.
            Our big challenge is to live our lives with love and integrity and faithfulness so that our family, friends and neighbors are able to look at us, to listen to us, and see our relationship status with God – to see that in Christ we are beloved children of God.
            May it be so.