“Grow Up” Galatian 4:1-7

In Galatians 4, Paul makes what appears first to be a really strange point.   “Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are owners of the property.”

            Now that’s a comment that should make every teen-ager, (if they were here,) sit up and take notice and should make every parent squirm a bit, because that is the way it works.

            “As long as you live in my house you will…..”

            “Mow the lawn, pick up your room, wash the dishes…..You treat me like some kind of slave…”

            Who else has a few choice colorful phrases that they have either heard or perhaps even found themselves using?

            “Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are owners of the property.”

            So what does this have to do with Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit?

            I just got back from the “Festival of Homiletics” and I heard a lot of great speakers there on the matter of preaching, but it was once again Dr. David Lose who hooked me with his comments.

            “Preachers” he said “Have a kind of fantasy life.”  We have this fantasy that if we preach a good enough sermon, the listeners will sit in rapt attention, glean from it what God is calling them to do, and then just go out and do it.  But that isn’t the way it works.

            Here is my fantasy life.  I work hard on a presentational sermon that I just believe is going to so inspire you that you will just naturally from that one presentation of the Gospel feel compelled to go out and do the same thing in your daily life.  I assume that just by hearing the Gospel preached you will know how to put it into action. 

            This is not a bad fantasy, but it is one that bears no resemblance to the way that Jesus mentored and discipled people. 

            It has some semblance of the way Paul worked, but the trouble with Paul is that he has to keep writing letters and coming back and correcting things after he leaves.  Evidently sermons don’t stick, which is why we seem compelled to repeat them over and over again every week.  

            So as the preacher I get this “in one ear and out the other” resentment toward my own people.   And my people get this “what is he harping about again” look on their faces, doing the eye roll, “oh yeah, that the preacher, out of touch with the way things are.”   This is not the picture of the Gospel Jesus had in mind.

            I can imagine Jesus doing a “Facepalm” at this whole situation.  

            There may have been a time when this presentational preaching style worked.  Maybe when we still lived in the “Fred Rogers” world where things were simple and people were attuned to listening and when the world was a lot more “homogenous” in nature, but now we are fractured and fragmented and plugged in to so many different things at the same time. 

            What does Pentecost look like in this picture?Image

            “And they all began to receive texts and e-mails, each to their own devices?”

            Actually, that’s not a bad comparison, because on the Day of Pentecost the miracle that takes place is precisely one of communication. 

            “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability.”

            My problem in preaching is that I really don’t know how to speak any other language, and like you I am a little bit scared to open up to the moving of the Holy Spirit to speak another language and that does put me in touch with the main problem with my fantasy which is assumption.

            Assuming that you will take this message and just somehow intuitively know how to pass it on to others, how to invite others, how to speak about faith to others. 

            This is what the Holy Spirit empowers us to do, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t just start with a blank slate.

            No, all those assembled on Pentecost Day had spent time with Jesus, watching, observing, and being forced from time to time to do as well.  He sent them out, two by two, into the surrounding villages.   Jesus takes them with him into the houses where healing is called for.  He pulls them along across the sea of Galilee into Gentile territory to show them how to interact with those who are foreign to them.

            When you think about it, there is a kind of “Mr Rogers” quality to what God does with us through Jesus.  Mr. Roger was all about “Do It With”.  Do it with me!  Let’s do this together.  Can you get your crayons out and do this with me?   We made fun of him with his changing his sweater and changing his shoes but in every step of the way what Mr. Rogers was doing was inviting children to try it with him, and he was building confidence in the process.

            Does that sound like what anyone else did as he invited, “come and follow me?”

            Pentecost does not happen in a vacuum, indeed no flame burns in a vacuum.  There was ready kindling available when the spark was struck.   The followers of Jesus had been groomed for this moment when they were finally given a language to speak.  They knew what to say, the Holy Spirit just gave them the tools with which to finally do it.

            And if we are honest with ourselves, we know that is the case in all of our undertakings as parents.   How do you get around the shouting match of expectations?

            You do it together.

            You model with your child and family the kind of household you want kept, you teach by coming alongside and build confidence in the tasks that are essential for life.  How to do the laundry, how to clean, how to do the dishes, and along the way you model the expectation that you are learning this so that someday you will not have to be shouted at or reminded of it, because this is what you are destined to be able to do on your own.

            “Heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are owners of the property.”

            You do grow up, and when you do; then all that you have learned and all that has been modeled for you will be available to you when the spark of the Holy Spirit opens a new language up for you to explore.  You will have something to speak with a person with whom you just might build a new future.

            What if we began to think of Pentecost in those terms’ the way that God has chosen to build a new future in love?

            This is what God has been up to in Jesus.  God has been hanging out with a rag-tag odd assortment of folks from a cross section of society.  They haven’t got a lot in common.  What does a Tax Collect have in common with a fisherman or a widow with a prostitute?   Yet what Jesus does day in and day out is sit them down at the same table or throws them into relationship with one another in his presence. 

            The Gospels are full of the teen-age complaints too, if you think about it.   Peter blustering, “you will never wash my feet!”    Andrew whining, “Six months wages would not being to buy enough bread for everyone here to even have a taste!”

            Oh, and Jesus too has his whiny moments too.  When his disciples fail to heal the epileptic boy he mutters, “How long must I endure you, faithless and perverse generation?”   “Could you not wait and watch with me even one hour?”  Jesus chides his disciple in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his betrayal, while he is sweating blood here, they are napping.

            Still, what Jesus persists in is “doing it with.” 

            All the time spent with Jesus was to show us how to love and act when the Spirit came.

            What if we began to think of church, of Sunday Morning like that?  Not so much a fantasy of me the perfect preacher giving you your spiritual fix for the week, but that what we were called to do was practice faith together in the presence of Jesus.

            What if the sermon was “Do it with?”

            What if church as a whole was less about the fantasy that we think it should be, everyone being nice, coming for a sermon that amuses, inspires and motivates, and going home “fed.”   What if it was more about our time of practice together?

            Here we come to mess around with the building blocks of faith.  Not with an expectation to get it right the first time, but more of a Mr. Roger’s approach of “do it with me, doesn’t matter if it’s messy, we’ll learn together.

            What if in church instead of professional pray-er or prayers, we practiced praying together.  Lift up a petition.   Take the hand of the person next to you.  Be spontaneous if the Spirit calls to so to be.  Notice that hurting one?   Go to them, right now, ask them to step down to the chapel with you, “let’s talk, let’s pray, let’s be there for each other.”    Get up, leave the sermon to do that, I won’t mind.

           What if in church we practiced commenting on a piece of scripture together, bringing our questions and doubts into this place so that when we are confronted with them “out there” they are less scary, and we build some confidence in ourselves and in each other.

            What if in church the value we held was not so much to “get it right” as it was to “live right” together.   What if we engaged in sharing life, and that means calling each other to account in love as much as it does just trying to “get along.” 

            What if, in short, this Pentecost, we decided to “Grow Up.”

            What if we claimed that ability to love that we have been groomed into and prepared to engage in by Jesus!  No longer be slaves or under the guardianship of others but children, and if children, heirs taking ownership of all that Jesus told us we would be, witnesses to Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.

        Well, I did it again, I preached.   Sorry.   But David Lose himself said he doesn’t really know how to do this, how to change the sermon from a listening event to a practice session.  We will have to learn that together, but that is the reason why the Holy Spirit was promised. Are you ready to grow up with me, so that we can with the power of the Holy Spirit build a new future in love?

Amen

“A Bus Driver View of the Law” Galatian 3:1-9; 23-29

 Oh Foolish Galatians!

            Sometimes it’s hard for us to see just what the big deal is here.   What is Paul so ticked off about with this Gentile congregation.

            The question underneath all of Paul’s is that understanding of belonging and covenant.   God made promises to Abraham and Sarah, to Moses and Merriam.   How does this new covenant promised in Jeremiah and fulfilled now in Jesus relate to the old, and more importantly what is the sign of that new covenant?

            It is really important that we get this, and we know it intuitively, but don’t always make a connection to it about faith, this matter of signs and belonging.

When God made the covenant with Abraham, God gave a particular sign that marked a covenant people, namely circumcision.   This is how you know if you’re dealing with “one of us.”   

O.K.   Maybe not a great visible sign, it’s not like you could walk up and say to someone, “Hey, let me see if you are one of us.”  But still, a physical marker of who is in and who is not.

            When God makes the covenant with Moses and the people, while circumcision remained, it was the character of the community now that marked people.  The Ten Commandments became the mark of belonging.   Because you are my people, you are to above all else observe the Sabbath.   Keeping Sabbath was the reminder to keep all the rest of the commandments.   Because you are my people, and you worship, my name, and keep it holy and observe the Sabbath, therefore you also shall not kill, steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, or covet.   Setting aside the Sabbath ordered life in such a way that we could visibly “See” who it was that was one of “Us”.

            We know this matter of belonging and identifying is important to us.   I only have to put up a couple of pictures to illustrate it.

            If I throw up a picture of your favorite sports team, I’ll get a reaction.   If I throw up their, and therefore YOUR rival, I will get quite another one.

            I will get very different reactions, and they will be reactions of belonging, won’t they.   This is who we identify with, our team, where our allegiance lies, this is what defines us, helps us know who we are as opposed to the other.

            Or, if I throw up a picture of the current president, House or Senate leadership, or our previous president, I know that I will get the same strong reaction.   We know who we agree with, what we claim that identifies us, what we identify with as being core to our own beliefs and what we find revolting about the other.

            These are the ways that we tend to define our world.  The distinctions we make,   whether that is by means of sports teams, or a political affiliation, or by means of class or race.

            We are creatures that hunger for connection to some outward sign to identify with, some sign that marks us as being connected with something that brings meaning and purpose to life.

            What does all of this have to do with Galatians or the Gospel?

            Just this, that in Galatians we see Paul tackling this very same issue of identity and the outward sign that is to identify who we are as followers now of Jesus.

            God had worked through the Holy Spirit to bring the Gentile believers in Galatia to faith in Jesus.   Now those same believers are looping back around wondering if they maybe need a “sign” of that faith.

            Maybe we should listen to the Jewish voices that say, “You really ought to be circumcised.”

            Maybe they are right, we really ought to observe the Sabbath laws, dietary restrictions, adopt some outward sign to point to that confirms our faith and gives us a sense of identity.

            All this Paul calls “Foolishness!”  

            “Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”  He asks.   Are you really ready to give up the freedom found in the Gospel just so you can have some comfort of “belonging” somewhere?  Fitting in?  Being defined by some outward sign? 

            That is what prompts Paul into his comments about the nature of the law, of that outward sign held to by the Jews.

            The word Paul uses is paidagwgos which is translated here “disciplinarian.”   But that doesn’t quite give you the right impression.   Too often we think it is related to a “pedagogue”, a teacher, but that is not what a paidagwgos is. 

                A paidagwgos is the slave assigned by the family to escort a child to and from school.  As such the slave serves two functions.  

            He keeps the child safe from bullies and mishaps along the way.  

He also makes sure that the child observes good manners and does not get into trouble himself as he makes his way to school. 

            That’s a paidagwgos  job.  

When I looked around at what we might equate it to today, what came to mind was the role of “bus driver”, and when I think of a bus driver I always think back to my own experience of that, old Louie Noble who was a cigar chomping, gruff old cuss who picked us up, kept us in line, and dropped us off where we needed to get to without a lot of interaction except a scowl in the mirror when you were mis-behaving and a grouchy “Hey” shouted back when you were out of line.

            That’s the image I have.   That’s the law, it’s a bus driver!

            In fact, we even had an identity through old Louie.  We were the kids on “Louie’s bus.”  It was a mark of identity and belonging.   “Who’s bus are you on?”  The principle would ask as we left school.  And we would say, “Louie’s bus” and he would point us to the right one to get us where we needed to go.

            Now old Louie could have his sweet side.   Every year on the last day of school he would pull into the Dairy Sweet and buy everyone on the bus an Ice Cream Cone.   So there was something positive about him.

            But you would never confuse Louie for school, or what you were to learn, or what education would make of you.   Louie was the means to get you to the learning, not the end identity.

            In the same way, the Law has its sweet side.  It does give you sense of belonging, fulfills that very human need we have to belong, be identified by an outward sign.

            But here’s the thing.  That kind of sign is also a divider of community.

            In the way this world divides this up, the way the “flesh” works, you can’t be two things at the same time.  The distinctions in this world, the outward signs that give us comfort, they also divide us, or can.

            And this is why Paul is so insistent with the Galatians.  What is the visible sign, the mark of this new covenant in Jesus?

            “Now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a paidagwgos.

            For the church, faith, trust in Jesus becomes the sign. 

For the church, baptism as an initiation into relationship with God becomes the sign.

It’s not a visible sign, it’s a relational sign, and the visible sign becomes living a life that reflects that faith in Jesus.  

No one is going to see the mark on your forehead made by water and the Word, but that is who you are now, and if they are going to see it, it will have to be revealed only in how you choose to live from now on.

Those distinctions that used to apply no longer define your world.

            “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.

Faith now cuts across all worldly distinctions.  Faith now cuts across class distinctions.   Faith cuts across gender distinctions.  Faith cuts across all nationality distinctions.

Why?  

Because sin also cuts across all those distinctions, and Jesus has to take away sin from each and every one of them.

Here is the trap that the paidagwgos sets us up for.   We so often mistake the bus driver for arriving somewhere.   He’s really only good for transit.  The law is really only good for pointing you in a direction, not for becoming your whole identity.   It is meant to point to the God who stands behind it.

The flesh, this world; is so bent toward figuring out who is right, best, accurate, correct that the distinctions we make in this world blind us to the God who is at work in and under all of them.

The temptation is to put your trust in the fact that Louie’s bus is the best because he gives you ice cream cones.

The temptation is that this party or that party is the “right” one because of its actions.  The temptation is to declare that this sports team is “better” than all others, so we align with them.  All those distinctions that we make in this world in order to feel like we belong, end up doing the very opposite of faith to us.   We put our faith in Louie, or in the republicans, or the democrats, or KU or the Huskers rather than in the Christ who is active in, with, and under all such distinctions!

Oh, and hey, just to make sure we get this, that’s all distinctions, even those inside the church.   So when we play one style of music over the other, or one kind of preaching over another, or one order of service over the other, we are putting our faith in the   paidagwgos … in the “bus driver” rather than in Christ who stands behind it all.   For God in Christ Jesus cuts across all such distinctions and is just as comfortable singing praise songs as16th century hymnody as the tunes to the psalms that have been lost to time but will never be lost to God’s ears. 

This is why this is so crucial.  It is the same mistake that we are tempted to make over and over again even as followers of Jesus.  We are ever tempted wrap ourselves up in the “who we are” as over against someone else, and all such wrapping are simply the windings of the flesh that lead to decay and death.  

Instead, the Spirit wraps us in the baptismal garment given to us by Christ Jesus in water and word.  This is who you are.  You are people of faith, nothing more, and nothing less.

Here is the truth this day, on Mother’s day, on a baptism day, on the day when we hand out quilts to our youth as they mark graduation from High School.

We’d really like you to have an identity, and most of the time we think about that in terms of fleshly things.

We’d like you always to be mommy’s little girl.

We’d like you to always be a Lutheran.

We’d love it if you would grow up to be a leader in this church, appreciate our music, do things the way we are comfortable having them done.

But all of that is really just so much fleshly wrapping, and it is no place to put your trust no matter how cherished or time honored it may be.

No, our prayer for you, all of you, and all of us today is the same as Paul’s.   In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.   Not through what you do, or how you sing, or where you go, or what you like, or what political persuasion you are, or which team you follow, or what church you end up going to.  

 You are children of God through faith.   Trust in the God who sent his spirit upon you in baptism. Find your identity in the God who has promised to never withdraw that spirit from you, no matter how many times you may miss the bus in your life!

Amen