A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago. I used some of my continuing education time to take a preaching and pastoral class back at my seminary.
Besides learning a lot about wedding and funeral sermons, I also got to visit with some dear friends and walk around my old neighborhood—the Hyde Park community around the University of Chicago. I walked near 58th and Ellis—near the medical school—and I saw him. As I had done several times a week during the three years I lived there, I crossed the street early so I would not have to talk to him, or risk making eye contact or getting handed one of his pamphlets.
With his white hair and white beard, this jolly middle-aged man could pass for Santa Claus. But he’s not. In my mind, I think of him as the Circumcision Guy. For at least five years, he has been on that corner in front of the hospital almost every day with his picket signs protesting circumcision. He describes it as genital mutilation. Apparently the U of C Hospitals circumcise about 80 percent of newborn boys, when the national average in about half.
You might be wondering, “Why is Paul blogging about this?”
This weekend, the assigned 2nd Lesson is from Galatians 2:15-21 and is part of a larger controversy about circumcision. It’s actually not about circumcision, but is about whether one must follow the Jewish Torah in order to be Christian. Circumcision is just the most visible sign of the law. I love this passage from Galatians because it so clearly talks about grace and the idea that Christ lives in us, but it’s difficult to have a complete exegetical discussion about Galatians without talking about circumcision. I don’t feel comfortable doing that in a sermon, lest a little kid asks their parent after church, “Mommy, what’s circumcision?” I figure the blog is a better forum for this conversation. I’ll likely focus on the Gospel text from Luke for this Sunday.
Just before Sunday’s lesson begins, in verse 11 Paul describes a conflict with Cephas, where Cephas kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. In Chicago, I crossed the street early to avoid talking to a representative of a very different, but equally fervent circumcision faction.
These pro-circumcision folks (sometimes called Judaizers, but I think that term seems a bit politically charged these days) have infiltrated the community of Galatian Jesus-followers. The argue that one has to follow Jewish law in order to become Christian. Paul does not tolerate this preaching at all. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” he asks in 3:1.
What we learn from this Galatian situation is that there is only one message that can be tolerated—God’s grace. We don’t need to be circumcised, avoid pork, or do anything to receive God’s grace. This is very good news. I pray that I could be as ardent and passionate in sharing this message as the Circumcision Guy is about his.