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The Rev. Dr. Jim Somerville The Rev. Dr. James Somerville

The Rev. Jim Somerville is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, VA.

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Dr. Jim Somerville: How Do I Get In?

January 14, 2011

One of the stories that came out of my recent trip to India is the one about the groomsman who wanted to get into the family.

He was at the wedding reception, watching as his friend Josh (the groom) was welcomed again and again by members of this large, loving Indian family.  He himself had grown up in a small family, and something about all those people laughing and calling each other "cousin," "uncle," and "aunty," appealed to him at the deepest level.  In an unguarded moment he asked one of the uncles: "What do I have to do to get in?"  The uncle looked at him, smiled, and began flipping through his mental Rolodex, searching for the name of a niece who hadn't been married off yet.

 

That's one way to do it: marry into the family.  But as I watched Josh (who grew up in Oregon) nervously greeting his many Indian in-laws-I guessed it was going to take more than a wedding ceremony and his signature on a legal document to become part of the family.  I thought about my own experience over the previous two days as I had been welcomed into my host's home in Bangalore.  That first morning at breakfast I learned to eat idli and coconut chutney-with my fingers.  It was delicious, but a much different experience than my usual bowl of oatmeal at home.  How many times would I have to eat idli before it seemed like a typical breakfast and not a new experience?  How many times would Josh have to try new foods, learn new customs, pick up words and expressions in another language, before he truly felt like part of the family?

Interestingly, I was able to apply this experience to the Bible study from Galatians I led last Wednesday night.  I said that the doctrine of justification seems to be a question of how we get into God's family.  For Paul, it's as simple as getting married.  We are justified (brought into the family) through God's grace and our faith in Jesus Christ.

In my mind's eye I could see the bride's father, Colin, graciously welcoming his new son-in-law, Josh, simply because of his love for Kavita.  But suppose some members of that wonderful Indian family felt that wasn't enough.  What if they wanted Josh to adopt their language, culture, clothing, and customs?  What if they believed he could never really be part of the family until he was Indian? 

That's what's going on in Galatians.  The Jewish Christians are having a hard time welcoming these Gentile believers into the family.  It's not enough that they have said "I do" to Jesus and signed all the papers; they want them to adopt the language and culture, the clothing and customs, of Judaism. 

Circumcision, for example. 

Paul is incensed.  Like the father of the bride at that Indian wedding he insists that the Gentile believers are also part of God's family even if they look different and talk funny and have all those quirky Gentile customs.  He might say that you don't become Christian by being circumcised any more than you become Indian by eating idli. 

Take another look at the bride and groom in the picture at the top of this post.  Don't they look happy?  And don't you think their love might not only survive the mix of cultures they bring to their marriage but thrive on it?  I'm guessing that's why God has always had it in mind that the Gentiles, too, would be part of his family. 

His love isn't diminished by diversity; it is enlarged by it.

[Taken with permission from Dr. Jim Somerville's blog. Originally posted 1/10/2011]


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