Tag Archives: inclusion

“Holy Ground” – Curriculum for Youth Mission/Service & Learning Trip



Mission and service trips mean little when participants on the trip do not take time to reflect on the service work they participate in. In August, I took 28 youth (in 6th-12th grade) from the Edgewater neighborhood in Chicago on a mission/service and learning trip to Dubuque, IA. Each night, my youth gathered together for worship, large group discussions, and small group discussions where they reflected on their experiences for the day.  (Each small group remained the same throughout the week.)

The following is the curriculum I developed for our trip.



Mission/Service and Learning Trip CURRICULUM
Theme: Holy Ground


DAY 1: 

(Day of travel, group building through low/high ropes course, pizza at local restaurant, prepare to lead Sunday worship service at host church the next morning.)


Explain: Each night on our trip we are going to have a faith discussion and reflect on and talk about what we’ve done so far, learned so far, or how we have experienced being in God’s presence. We will also spend time in worship. Each night during discussions, we will break into small discussion groups. Your group will be the same group each night, so you will have an opportunity to get to know the others in your group pretty well. Tonight, we will just have a short time to break into discussion groups and get to know one another better. (Break into groups)

– Everyone: say name, grade going into, school, and something interesting about yourself
– Everyone: share what you enjoyed so far today and/or what you are looking forward to on this trip

PRACTICE/PREP for Sunday worship


DAY 2:

(Led Sunday morning worship at host church, potluck with host church, Sunday Funday: fun activities around Dubuque.)

Materials Needed: copies of Ann Voskamp quote and closing prayer, Bibles, small group discussion questions, marker and paper or board to draw/write on

Team Building Activities: (Break into groups of 4-5 and ask the groups to discuss a few of the following questions.  After a few questions, switch groups and have them answer a few more of the questions.)  (5-7 min)

1. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
2. What are two of your favorite things to do?
3. What are three things that make you laugh?
4. Name four things you do after you finish school.
5. What is your favorite tv show and why?
6. What’s your favorite place to visit and why?
7. Describe an embarrassing situation that occurred to you.
8. If you could be a famous character from a movie, book, play, who would you be?
9. Who is your favorite music artist?
10. If you could move anywhere in the world for a year, where would you move?
11. Tell about your family (parent/guardians, siblings, etc.)
12. Tell where you grew up
13. Tell about one memory from your childhood that sticks out to you
14. If you have moved, talk about how it felt to move and why

Intro to Theme:

LARGE GROUP: (5-7 min)

Explain: Our theme this week is Holy Ground and all week we are going to explore what this means and looks like both here in the Dubuque and when we live our every day lives back at home.

Ask: What do you think I mean when I say Holy Ground? (holy= sacred, connected with God, revered/honored) What did it mean in biblical times? (In Ancient Near East, there were particular locations and places that were considered “holy” or “holy ground” – places where God dwelled – such as the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies was veiled away in the Temple and only accessible to the High Priest. Such places required people to pay special reverence or deep respect for the space.)

Read: quote by Ann Voskamp (who wrote about her experience spending a weekend with monks in a monastery on a silent retreat)

“We no longer have the Holy of holies veiled away in the Temple, no longer the Ark of Covenant that couldn’t be touched or you’d be struck dead. Yes, we are the people who wonder, “What is holiness? Where is holiness?”…
I feel the heat whisper of God, “Lo, I am with you always…. here in a monastery and there in your kitchen and I am Holy and I am everywhere and what is below your sole is always sacred and see, Child, see.” Life is the holy experience and any given hour is hallowed ground and see, Child, see, and it’s a week now since a weekend with monks. I stand in this domestic cloister that shakes with noise, stand over a kitchen sink full, on a cork floor dirty, and there is no other way to see His face, hear His voice, feel His heat, but to pray right here in this sacred everyday.
 Because any old monastery will do.” – Ann Voskamp

Ask: What does this quote say about Holy Ground today? Where is Holy Ground in our lives?  How/when have we experienced Holy Ground in our lives? (Share examples of how God is present in our lives.) Is this place where we are currently at this week Holy Ground? How so? (Any specific examples?)


SMALL GROUPS: (10 min.)

ASK: How have you experienced being on Holy Ground – or in God’s presence – so far on this trip?

READ: Exodus 3:1-6 (have volunteers read and everyone follow along)
– ASK: In your own words, what happens in this text?
– When Moses searches to find answers about the burning bush, what happens? (His searching leads him into a conversation with God – a holy conversation.)
– What does God ask him to do next? (Take off his sandals.)
– Have any of you ever been asked or expected to take off your shoes or sandals when you walked into a place? When or where? – (homes? Apartments? Etc.)
– If so, why do you think you are supposed to take off your shoes in these places? (You don’t want to get dirt from outside on the ground and dirty someone’s house. Ultimately, this is an act of respecting the person and the person’s home.)
– EXPLAIN: In many cultures, homes, or religions, removing shoes when entering a place or a home is a way to show reverence (or great respect) for the person hosting and his/her place/belongings.
– So why do you think God asked Moses to remove his sandals?
– EXPLAIN: Removing sandals was a form of respect/reverence in Moses’ day, kind of like today, when we take off our shoes in some people’s homes. In Moses’ day, this was a gesture people did when they entered a holy place of divine presence (or a place that was considered holy ground and in God’s presence.) In this scripture passage, removing sandals is a gesture that honors the holiness of this ground, this mountain, and this God. Removing shoes is a practice that is still used in Islam and some other religions. (If you enter a Mosque – a place of worship in Islam religion – you take off your shoes.)

LARGE GROUP: (20 min)

– RECAP: So let’s recap: What is holy Ground? What was it for Moses? What is it for us today? What does it mean for Moses to take off shoes his shoes?

– EXPLAIN: As I mentioned already, we don’t consider just certain places (like the Ark of Covenant or the Holy of Holies, or a church) to be holy ground. Our churches are places that are holy ground, but so is every other place we stand in God’s presence. And since God is always present with us, holy ground is everywhere, in and amidst all of God’s creation (which means holy ground is both when we are on God’s earth, the land, outdoors, but also among God’s people).  This means God is with us everywhere – all the time – and we can experience God’s presence everywhere, but that then also means we must – like in our Bible passage – “remove our sandals” when we are on Holy Ground. In other words: Since Moses was on holy ground, he was asked to respect that holy ground by taking off his sandals.

– ASK: Since today we are always on holy ground, we are expected to also “take off our shoes.” What do you think that means for us? Do I mean that we literally need to walk around barefoot all the time? Or does this mean something else?  (We don’t have to remove our sandals all the time. Rather, we need to show reverence – or deep respect – for God’s creation.)  So what does this look like?

– EXPLAIN: We will specifically think about this in 2 ways this week: 1. Respect and revere God’s earth. 2. Respect and revere God’s other creatures – animals, human beings.

– ASK: What does this look like? (This week? And when we return home?)

– EXPLAIN: (And write on the board) In the Church, we often use a word called STEWARDSHIP or being good Stewards. Does anyone know what that means? (dictionary definition: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care)

– EXPLAIN: God has put God’s earth and all of God’s creatures in our care. So we are called to be good stewards of God’s earth and creatures. This means we are to take care of God’s earth, animals, plants, etc. AND take care of God’s people and treat them with respect. This is how we “take off our sandals” in holy ground.  Besides showing reverence, removing our sandals or shoes when we are standing on holy ground enables us to have a closer connection with that ground. How might this be? (It draws us closer to the ground because we are actually touching it with our bare skin. When we are barefoot, we can feel every texture of the ground – every stone, every piece of dirt, every smooth puddle of mud, every sliver of grass.)  In the same way, as we respect/revere God’s creation – as we recognize and honor the holy ground we are on, we have a better understanding of God and have a closer connection with God.

This week, we will be intentionally aware of being on holy ground (being in God’s presence). We will have opportunities to be aware of this as we do service work, work in gardens (on God’s earth), learn about organizations that help God’s people live healthy lives, etc.

– ASK: But we will also be aware of being in Holy Ground and “take off our shoes” – or show reverence and respect – for the people we encounter and the places we visit or stay.  How so?  (How do we respect the people and places we are staying, visiting, etc.: picking up after ourselves, throwing trash away, saying please/thank you, getting to know people we are working with, etc.) And while we are doing these activities and talking to and meeting new people, and learning about others’ differences and similarities, we will experience a closer connection with God.

– EXPLAIN: Although we will be standing on holy ground here in Dubuque, when we return to our every day lives back in Chicago, we will also be in Holy Ground, so we need to remember that what we are called to do here is also what we are called to do when we return home.

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together as large group):

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I love what is holy.
Strengthen me, 
O Holy Spirit, 
to defend all that is holy.
Guard and Protect me, then, 
O Holy Spirit, 
that I always may be holy. Amen. – Augustine of Hippo


DAY 3:

(Worked in community garden at Manasseh House: Affordable Housing for Single Women)

Materials Needed: marker and board/paper to write on; Bibles, construction paper, markers, closing prayer)


– ASK: What is our theme for this week? (holy ground) And what does that mean? (where do we experience holy ground and how?) What did Moses do when he was standing on holy ground? Why? How do we – like Moses – “take off our shoes” while we stand on holy ground?
– EXPLAIN: Today we had the opportunity to “take off our shoes” – to be good stewards of God’s earth and God’s people – while working in the community garden. We are going to now talk more specifically about both of these things.

– EXPLAIN: We are first going to talk more about being stewards of God’s earth…

– ASK: How many of you had difficulty packing all of your stuff into one bag for this week? Why? What stuff did you want to pack that you couldn’t? Any of you feel you packed too much stuff? Is there anything you packed that you now don’t think you need? What stuff weighs us down while we travel? (compare to life journey: stuff can get in the way of what’s important)  Do any of you think about the excess that we live in compared to the vast majority of people around the world? (Discuss) What are your thoughts/feelings about this?

– EXPLAIN: When Jesus called his disciples to follow Him, He told them to drop everything and follow Him. This would probably be really hard for each of us to do if He asked us to do this today. And, yet, think of how much easier it would be to travel if we traveled MUCH lighter!

While we may not be called to give up everything, Jesus does call us to follow Him and to give up things that are excessive that weigh us down and keep us from being able to journey on the path in His footsteps. (Stuff that gets in the way of experiencing God in our lives and from focusing on what and who is important in our lives.)

– ASK: What are some things in our lives that are excessive and distract us and weigh us down – keeping us from being able to follow in Jesus’s footsteps of loving/caring for others and distracts us from what is important in life?

– EXPLAIN: The U.S. makes up about 5% of the world’s population and yet uses up about 25% of the world’s resources. (DRAW DIAGRAM TO SHOW THIS.) When you think of other overdeveloped countries and how much they use, what does that leave the rest of the world? How does this make you feel?

In addition to using so much of the world’s resources, North Americans make a very large collective “carbon footprint” – Total set of greenhouse gases emitted. (The amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group.) How does this collective carbon footprint affect the rest of the world? (specific ways?)

Being good stewards of God’s earth is connected to being good stewards of God’s creatures (people) because when we hurt the earth, many of God’s people are affected. How? (When we use so much stuff and so many resources that we don’t need, others around world don’t have access to it… such as water, etc.  Many people who don’t have much money live close to landfills, which can be toxic in air or water, etc.)

– ASK: What are other ways that we – who have excess – might (even unintentionally) leave unhealthy footprints while here in Dubuque this week? What are specific ways we can make sure we tread lightly on this trip, are careful to treat this land and community as Holy Ground and not leave huge footprints wherever we walk this week? When we get home? (recycling, taking care of what we have, not wasting, throwing trash away, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: We can be good stewards of God’s creatures (and people) by caring for the earth. What other ways can we be good stewards of God’s people? (Sharing with those who don’t have as much, being intentional about learning how others live and trying to live our lives better so others can live better, helping at places like community garden, food pantry, shelter; being kind to others.)

We can also be good stewards of God’s people by treating others with kindness and in another way that we hear about in the passage we read and I preached on at Sunday’s worship.

Read: Galatians 3:23-29 (Have volunteers read and everyone else follow along.)
– ASK: What does it mean for there to no longer be Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female? (Explain background of inequality within society and the early church during time Galatians was written.)
– So what does this say about how to be good stewards of God’s people? (By treating others equally and – like Jesus – saying to the world that all are equal. Standing up for others who are not treated equally.)

– EXPLAIN: The footprints Jesus left show us how he continuously treated others as equals: he taught, loved, cared for and healed, was always standing on common ground with everyone else. Jesus stood on the same ground, sat in the same boat, walked on the same water. He approached others at eye level (not above them looking down as one higher than they were.) He humbled himself. Looked at others as equals. He didn’t stand over them, but stood with them and walked alongside them during their joys and sorrows and as they traveled on their journey of life.

This can be very difficult: to see others and treat them as equals when we often see and focus on the things about others that seem different or that we don’t really understand. So right now, I want us to do a few little activities.

Bond activity (5 min)

Tell youth to find someone who: (try to find a different person for each question)
– likes the same sports as you
– likes the same kind of music that you like
– watches at least one tv show that you watch
– was born in the same city that you were born
– likes the same subject in school that you like
– likes to read the same kind of book or magazine that you like

– Explain: (5 min) How many of you found someone in this room for each of the questions? All but one? All but two? We often like to hang out with the same people who look, act, and think like us or who are familiar to us. (People we know well.) And so we get nervous when new people are around. So it’s really difficult to reach out to new people or people who might seem like they are different than we are. Yet, this activity we just did showed that even though we don’t know many people in this room very well yet, we still have many similarities with others.

– ASK: But how did we get to know what other people liked and that we have some things in common? (Asking and talking to one another. Hearing their stories.) This is important. We don’t know about others’ stories unless we ask and unless we make the effort to find out and to listen to each others’ stories. As we read about in our Bible, Jesus does a really good job of building relationships with people and getting to know them.


Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays. (Take a few minutes.)

SMALL GROUPS: (15 min)

– Take few minutes to check in with each other about today: What were your thoughts and feelings about working in the community garden today? (Did you learn anything? Why was this work important for us? For the people we worked with today? For the community?)
– How did you experience holy ground today? (How was God present today?)
– What were some of the highs and lows for today?

READ QUOTE: “We serve others most not by giving them things or by doing things for them, but by accompanying them on their way.” – Don Richter

– ASK: What does this mean? What does this mean for our group as we continue to be good stewards of God’s creation by practicing service?

– READ: Scripture from Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

– EXPLAIN: Paul wrote this – quoting from the book of Isaiah (from Old Testament) – recognizing that the most faithful way to bring good news to others and share Christ’s love to others is by standing by them, walking alongside of them, sharing common ground with them – working with them.

– How might our footprints continue to show respect on this Holy Ground this week?
– How might our feet bring good news to the people we encounter on this trip? (The people from our host church, the people we encounter on our service projects, one another in this group?) (Examples: Help someone who needs help, make sure everyone is included, say encouraging words to others, etc.)

– EXPLAIN: Our feet are not the only feet that bring good news while we practice service on this trip. Often, when we practice service and bring good news to others, we receive good news from others, too (from those we are working alongside to serve, by those we encounter during our service work, by our friends (through love, generosity, kindness, etc.)

– ASK: How have we received good news this week so far from others? (Try to help the youth think about specific people and experiences like: people at community garden, people from our host church who helped us pack lunches, brought potluck, people who donated our food, woman who paid for our pizza night on Sat. Also try to help them think about each other or other leaders in this group: friendships, discussions we have, ways we’ve helped or included one another, etc.)


LARGE GROUP: (5 min)

As we listen to music (Be Thou My Vision) let this be our prayer. Silently trace your foot on construction paper, on one side write: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rom. 10:15) On other side write one or two ways your footprints on this earth will bring good news (recycling, sharing love, treating others equally, etc.)

CLOSING PRAYER: (Pray Together)

Set our feet moving, O God,
Guide our feet as we walk with neighbors near and far,
Share common, holy ground that bids us shed our shoes,
Tiptoe through green pastures and stroll beside still waters,
Trudge up mountainsides with swollen, sweaty feet,
To preach peace and shout salvation, stampede for justice, stomp and clap when right prevails,
Run the good race even when it doesn’t stand with others in the need of prayer,
At daybreak and dusk traversing every threshold by dance or limp.
Set our feet moving, O God.
Teach us to follow in your footsteps as we behold those beautiful, bruised feet that bear our burdens.
Bless our stumblings and bring us safely to shore.
We pray in Jesus’ name and for his sake. – Don Richter



DAY 4: 

(Worked at Dubuque Rescue Mission in the morning: worked in community garden, served a meal to Mission residents, helped organize clothes/shoes in the Mission Thrift Store.  Participated in activities with Circles Initiative/Bridges Out of Poverty program in the evening.)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, One Day lyrics, markers, closing prayer


– We have been talking all week about standing on what? (Holy Ground) And we have been saying that taking off our sandals like Moses means what? (being good stewards) We say we are called to be good stewards of both what? (Yesterday we talked about and experienced being stewards of God’s earth. Today we really experienced being good stewards of God’s creatures: taking care of and loving God’s people.) How many experienced Holy Ground today and tonight?


– What did you do at the Dubuque Rescue Mission this morning and what were your thoughts and feelings about your experiences there? (Both from your participation in activities and in what you learned about the mission.)
– How did you experience holy ground this morning at the Dubuque Rescue Mission?

– What were your feelings and thoughts about the Circles program tonight?
– What were your reactions to and feelings about the group activity at Circles?
– What happened in the activity?
– How did that activity make you feel?
– How might that activity inform us in our interactions with people in our every day lives? (at church, school, in our neighborhoods, etc)
– How and when did we experience Holy Ground at Circles? (during dinner, when we interacted with each other or members of Circles, when we did the activities, when we heard other peoples’ stories?)


– Share what small groups discussed


Get into pairs with a person you don’t know very well. (Tell the other person about who is in your family (your parents or guardians, your siblings) and share one story about your family growing up. EX: a funny story or a story about where you grew up. Could be a story about how you and your family celebrate holidays, etc. (Take a few minutes.)

SONG REFLECTION: One Day (hand out lyrics and marker)

– Listen and think about today’s work and learning projects, experiencing holy ground, etc. (highlight words/phrases that stick out)
– Discuss


Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek; 
To be consoled as to console,
 To be understood as to understand,
 To be loved as to love;
 For it is in giving that we receive;
 It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi


DAY 5: 

(Did conservation and restoration projects at Swiss Valley Park and Nature Center; Toured Nature Center; Hiked at the park; went to family farm in the evening for bbq and hayrides)

Materials Needed: small group discussions, notecards, pens, paper bags, closing prayer


– Check in: How is everyone? How’s the week been?
– Explain what we will do (small group check ins, affirmations in small groups)


– How were our experiences today at Swiss Valley Park?
– What did we learn about today?
– What did we think of the two different projects? Why were these projects important and how did they connect with our theme of holy ground and being good stewards of God’s creation?
– How have we experienced holy ground today? (at Swiss Valley, at the YMCA, at the farm?)
– What are our highs and lows of this week?


– Ask one person to sit in the middle of the circle. Have everyone around the circle say an affirmation (one sentence about what they appreciate about the person in the circle from this week) (Example: Emily, I really appreciate how well you listen to others.)

– Each person should have a turn to be in the circle and everyone should hear an affirmation from everyone in the group

CLOSING PRAYER: Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. – Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi




*** CLICK HERE to see the closing worship service we did on our last day right before we left to go back home. ***

“All for One, and One for All” – Sermon on Galatians 3:23-29



(Preached on Sunday during the Mission/Service and Learning trip of Edgewater Youth Coalition at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dubuque, IA, our host church.)

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3:23-29

It’s wonderful to be here this morning and this week. My youth, adult leaders, and I are very thankful for all you have done and are doing to help make this a wonderful mission and service and learning trip for our group.

While many of you know my face or have heard my name, you may not know what I do. I thought this morning, I’d share a little about myself and the group I am here with this week.

While I am a recently ordained pastor in the Chicago Presbytery, I serve as the pastor with youth, children, and households at three ELCA congregations and one American Baptist church in the neighborhood of Edgewater in the city of Chicago.

Some call me an ecumenical bricolage… Others call me crazy.

This week I joined Joe Morrow, the Youth Director at Edgewater Presbyterian Church in our neighborhood in bringing youth from all five of our congregations for a mission/service and learning trip. I hope you will get the chance to meet some of these wonderful youth today or sometime this week.

One of the things that began my passion to work with youth and children was my own desire as a kid to find a safe community of peers and adults where I found a sense of belonging and where I could be myself. This was mainly due to my own personal experiences of being bullied and excluded from the “in” crowd at school. In elementary and middle school, I was picked on by the popular kids for many reasons.  Sometimes it was because I didn’t live in a big house or my family didn’t own a new car. Other times it was because I was not very athletic or I did not wear a certain brand of clothes like the popular girls at my school.

But for whatever the reason: I was picked on because I was just a little different than the girls in the “in” crowd.

And in the midst of my own experiences of feeling like an outsider and being bullied, I witnessed many of my friends and classmates who were bullied and excluded because of their differences, as well: sometimes it was because they were new to the country, spoke a different language with their friends at school, lived in a different neighborhood than the cool kids, or because they couldn’t afford to wear new, trendy clothes and shoes.


This issue of determining who is “in” or “out” – being included or excluded because of differences – was at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. For the earliest Jesus followers, this was not as much of a problem because most of the Jesus followers were Jewish, decided to join this Jesus movement within the synagogues, and therefore continued to worship and to observe the same customs and the Jewish Law as they always had before.

So for these Jewish Christians, things in the early church did not look much different from how things were in the Jewish community before Christ. However, as more and more Gentiles (or non-Jews) began to convert and join the movement, this new growing community had to begin to define what it believed and required of its new members. These Gentiles were different than the Jewish Christians: they were different ethnically and culturally. Many of them may have looked and dressed very differently than the Jewish Christians and possibly spoke dialects or with accents different from the Jews. They had different customs and world views, and they did not observe the Jewish Law – which defined the Jewish people as a faith community.

In addition to this, for centuries, the Jewish understanding was that the Jews were THE children of God. So now all of a sudden as Gentiles were joining this movement, the Jewish Christians had to begin to ask the question: what does it mean to be a Jewish-Jesus-follower worshipping alongside these very different NON-Jewish-Jesus followers? And what is required of those non-Jews in this growing faith community?

Many of the Gentiles were accepted into this new Jesus-movement community. However, there was a large group of Jewish-Christians who claimed that the Gentiles could only be included into this community and could only become children of God under one condition: they had to first convert to Judaism and observe the Jewish Law and customs. Among many things, abiding by this law included observing the dietary laws and the Sabbath and being circumcised – a practice that was considered very repulsive in the Hellenistic culture.

Many Gentiles were receptive to such teachings – including the Gentile-Christians in the Galatian church that Paul was writing to in our passage from today.

However, I imagine that this was not an easy decision or process for these Galatian Gentiles… I cannot imagine it would have been easy for them to buy into the fact that they had to give up their own heritage, their customs, and their identity and try to conform in order to ensure that they got into this community.

And I imagine that many of these Gentile Christians felt that they had no other choice if they wanted to become a child of God and be included into the faith community. We see that even when some of these Gentiles were included in this new Christian community without observing the Jewish Law, several of the more conservative Jewish Christians excluded them from the life of the faith community. We even see this right before our passage for today – in Galatians 2, where Paul explains that several of these conservative Jewish-Christians – including Peter – refused to eat with the Gentiles in Antioch… So I don’t think we can put too much blame on these Gentiles for trying to conform in order to be fully included.


Doesn’t this sound sort of familiar to us today? Aren’t there many communities, groups, and even churches around us that exclude others who are different from the majority of those communities and groups?  Where too often those who are the “outsiders” are pressured to give up their identity and customs and conform to the majority in order to fit in and be included?

In the US, there is sort of an expected “American Dream” way of life – where your social status is determined by your worldly success, financial means, and material possessions.  Where your status is based on living in a particular type of home, owning a specific kind of car, and looking and talking in a particular kind of way.  And if you don’t, you are often deemed as the odd “outsiders.”

It will probably not take many of us here too long to think about who the individuals are around us who have been excluded and considered these outsiders or others.

They may be the kids at school or the people at work who just don’t fit into the “in crowd.” They may be people from not readily accepted groups based on age, ethnic background, or race. Those who speak a different native language, who grew up in a different neighborhood, whose family situation is not the same as ours, or who just haven’t had opportunities to receive a quality education. They may be the people we see walking into the Dubuque Rescue Mission to receive their daily free meal or the people we pass downtown who are sitting on the park bench shaking a cup and asking for change in order make enough to have a place to sleep for a night.

They may even be the new people who enter this service on Sunday morning for worship and who stand by themselves during fellowship hour. Or maybe even some us here today can identify with those Gentile Christians from the first century, trying to find a community in which we belong and are accepted – no matter who we are – and yet feeling the pressure of having to hide or give up parts of our true identity in order to be fully accepted and included.

We all love to be around our friends and people who look, act, and think like us. And yet, when we don’t reach out of our comfort zones – to others who may not believe the same things we do and who do not look, talk, and act like us – when we look at these individuals as less than ourselves or ignore and exclude them, we deny them the gift that is offered to them by God.  The gift that they – too – are children of God, as Paul put it, and we deny them full access into our faith community – where ALL in Christ are called to be one – no matter our differences.


The good news is that Paul’s message to the Galatian church shows us that this is not the way God intended the world and the Church order to be. In response to the teachings of the several conservative Jewish-Christians that the Gentiles had to first convert to Judaism, be circumcised, and observe the Jewish Law, Paul explains in Galatians chapter 3 that it is not the Law that justifies, but rather, it is only the work done through Jesus Christ. He later explains that: “for in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. The only thing that counts for anything is faith working in love.”

Paul then goes on to say in our passage that before there was faith in Christ, the law was a disciplinarian.  It was a temporary guide that helped the people of God discern how to live, interact with one another, and be reconciled to God. However, now that Christ has come, proclaimed the good news of God’s love to all, died on the cross for the world, and has risen from the dead, all who have faith in Christ are no longer subject to this Law. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I think what Paul is talking about here is the kind of love of neighbor that the Musketeers – the men who swore to serve and protect the French king – had for each another.

If you have ever read or seen any of the versions of the Three Musketeers, you probably know what I’m talking about. At the end of the story, D’Artagnon, the newest member of the Musketeers – has a personal duel he has to attend to. And when he tells his new friends – the Three musketeers – that he will take care of the matter himself, the three musketeers interrupt him, saying: “we Musketeers not only protect the king, but we also protect each other.” The story ends with D’Artagnon shouting out: “All for one,” and the rest of the musketeers answering together, “and one for all.”

We can learn from this kind of unity and loyalty of the Musketeers. As followers of Jesus Christ, not only do we strive to serve, protect, and love God, but we are ALSO called to serve, protect and love our neighbor – and ALL who are in Christ.

You see, for Paul, ALL who are in Christ Jesus are children of God through faith – no matter who they are, no matter where they live, no matter how they dress, and no matter what their background. And ALL should be invited to and included – without any conditions – into this community through faith and cared for with love.

But for Paul, this does not stop here… In our passage for today Paul goes on to describe an even more radical reversal that has taken place through Christ.

And as he describes what it means now to be IN CHRIST – to be and to live as the Christian faith community – he
addresses the issue of hierarchy and classicism.

You see, within the Jewish community before Christ, there were several strong divisions and class distinctions between particular groups of people. An ancient Jewish daily prayer explains it well, saying: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has created me a human and not beast, 
a man and not a woman, an Israelite and not a gentile, circumcised and not uncircumcised, free and not slave.”

This prayer describes three major divisions and hierarchies: based on gender, social and economic status, and ethnicity.

Every morning Jewish men would have prayed this prayer, and Paul – who before he was converted to the Jesus movement was a Jewish Pharisee – would have been very familiar with it as he, himself, would have prayed it every morning, as well.

And yet here in Galatians, Paul takes this prayer and he reverses it, saying to the Galatian Church: “There is now 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.”

In other words, Christ has brought an end to these unjust societal and cultural divisions. And so now all who are “in Christ” are one. Differences no longer matter.  Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, rich or poor, young or old, powerful or outcast, native or immigrant.  All are God’s children, all are equal, all are united as One.


This message to the Galatian Church would have been good news to the Gentiles. But it is also good news for each one of us today. It reminds us that ALL in Christ are equally united as one body and as children of God – no matter our differences. And it calls each one of us to reach out in love to include and care for all of God’s children.

And to those of us who identify with those first century Galatian Gentiles – those of us who have been excluded and bullied for our differences, those of us who are longing to find a place of belonging, where we will be accepted for who we truly are: Galatians 3 speaks to us, as well. Paul’s message reminds us that we ARE God’s children – no matter what we look like, no matter where we live, and no matter where we come from. And it reminds us that we can and SHOULD hold onto our heritage, to our customs, and to our true identities: which only make us unique and beautiful individuals with a lot to give and share with the church and with the world.

This week, our group will be talking about holy ground: that we are always standing on holy ground – in God’s presence – and that we are called to be good stewards of God’s creation, taking care of God’s earth as well as all of God’s creatures and all of God’s children.

Since our youth are coming from five different churches, who are in different grades, go to different schools, many who come from different countries, and some who live in different neighborhoods, we will be talking a lot about how we can be good stewards of God’s creation by recognizing the similarities we all have in our differences and by affirming all of our equality as children of God in Christ.

So I’d like to leave you all this morning with a poem called “Human Family” by Maya Angelou, which speaks to my youth and to all of us here this morning as we reflect this week on what it means to be one in Christ.  A poem that if Paul were writing to the Galatians today, I can’t help but think he might include it in his letter.

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

WE are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.