21 November 2023

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (17) 21 November 2023

‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6: 14) … a cross on the sand dunes in Laytown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. This week began with the Second Sunday before Advent (19 November 2023).

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on the seven churches in cities or places that give their names to the titles of nine letters or epistles by Saint Paul: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaloniki.

My reflections this morning follow this pattern:

1, A reflection on a Pauline church;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A Celtic cross in Duleek, Co Meath … Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians is the one book in the Bible that is addressed to a Celtic people (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Paul’s Galatia:

The Apostle Paul wrote 14 of the 27 books the New Testament. He founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe from the mid-40s to the mid-50s AD, and wrote letters to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaloniki.

The Letter to the Galatians is the ninth book in the New Testament. It was written in Koine Greek to a number of Early Christian communities not in one particular city but in Galatia. This is either the Roman province of Galatia in southern Anatolia, or a large region defined by Galatians, an ethnic group of Celtic people in central Anatolia.

Galatia (Γαλατία) in the highlands of central Anatolia corresponded approximately to the provinces of Ankara and Eskişehir in modern Turkey. Galatia was named after the Gauls or Celts from Thrace who settled there and became a small transient foreign tribe in the 3rd century BCE, following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BCE. It was bounded on the north by Bithynia and Paphlagonia, on the east by Pontus and Cappadocia, on the south by Cilicia and Lycaonia, and on the west by Phrygia. Its capital was Ancyra, present-day Ankara, the capital of modern Turkey.

In this letter, Saint Paul is principally concerned with the controversy surrounding Gentile Christians and the Mosaic Law. He argues that the Gentile Galatians do not need to adhere to Mosaic Law, particularly male circumcision, and that Gentiles could convert to Christianity, without converting to Judaism or becoming Jewish proselytes.

Biblical scholars mainly agree that Galatians is a true example of Paul’s writing in its style and themes. The letter also offers s a different point of view from the description of the Council of Jerusalem than that in Acts 15: 2-29.

A majority of scholars agree that Galatians was written between the late 40s and early 50s, although some date it to ca 50-60. But the similarity between this epistle and the Letter to the Romans has led some to the conclusion that they were both written about the same time, during Paul’s stay in Macedonia ca 56-57 CE.

Saint Paul evangelised South Galatia in 47-48 CE. The Acts of the Apostles records him travelling to the ‘region of Galatia and Phrygia,’ which lies immediately west of Galatia, and the New Testament indicates that Paul spent time in the cities of Galatia – Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe – during his missionary journeys.

The letter is addressed ‘to the churches of Galatia.’ However, the location of these churches is a matter of debate. Most scholars agree that it is a geographical reference to the Roman province in central Asia Minor, which had been settled by immigrant Celts in the 270s BCE and retained Gaulish features of culture and language in Paul’s day. Some scholars argue that ‘Galatia’ is an ethnic reference to Galatians, a Celtic people in northern Asia Minor.

After Saint Paul left Galatia, the churches there were led astray by individuals espousing legalism and what Saint Paul saw as a ‘different gospel.’ The Galatians appear to have been receptive to the teaching of these newcomers, and the epistle is his response to what he sees as their willingness to turn from his teaching.

The cities of northern Galatia include Ankyra, Pessinus, and Gordium – known for the story of the Gordian Knot and Alexander the Great.

Others say the letter is addressed to the South Galatians during either his time in Tarsus in Cilicia or during his first missionary journey, when he travelled throughout southern Galatia, and written in 49 CE.

A dangerous legacy of interpretation of this letter during the Reformation is found in Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, in which he expressed his deep and worrying antisemitism.

Probably the best-known single statement by Saint Paul in this letter is: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3: 28).

It is worth noting how Saint Paul provides three different pairs: Jew or Greek, slave or free, and male and female. His words eliminate racism, antisemitism, and the biological differences between males and females, and call gender roles into question, leaving no place for gender hierarchy in the Gospel.

Saint Paul tells these people that the whole law is summed up in one single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Galatians 5: 5). He reminds them that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23).

The command to love, to love God and to love our neighbour, is at the heart of the Gospel. It is summarised in the two great commandments in Matthew 22: 36-40 and Luke 10: 27 (see Leviticus 19: 18). But Saint Paul, on more than one occasion, reduces it all down to this one great commandment. In this letter, for example, he says: ‘For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.’ (Galatians 5: 14). Earlier, he writes: ‘The only thing that counts is faith working through love’ (Galatians 5: 6).

‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6: 14) … an icon cross in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 19: 1-10 (NRSVA):

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Galatians 6: 2) … a Turkish bag among suitcases belonging to delegates at a USPG conference in High Leigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 21 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’. This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (21 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray that this year’s 16 Days campaign might make governments, churches and communities around the world take notice and support an end to gender-based violence.

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit at breakfast-time in Platanias in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed
to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory
we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope:
bring us at the last
to that fullness of life for which we long;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Corinth)

Continued Tomorrow (Ephesus)

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … lemon trees bearing fruit in Platanias near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’ (Galatians 5: 22-23) … fruit on a market stall in Tangier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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