Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas - Gal 4:1-7

                                                                                    Christmas 1
                                                                                    Gal 4:1-7

                        As parents we recognize that we aren’t the only ones who are involved in teaching our children how they are to live.  Certainly this kind of training also goes on at church and school, and involves the people who serve in these settings.  At the same time, we believe that these settings are only meant to assist us.  We think that the primary responsibility for training our children belongs to us – the parents
            However things were very different in the first century Greco-Roman world.  If you were a person of any means at all, you did not believe that the primary responsibility fell to the parent.  Instead, it was the task of the pedagogue. The pedagogue was a slave who was assigned the responsibility of providing for the safety and moral training of the child. The job of the pedagogue was to restrain wrong doing in the child and to teach right behavior.
            This set up the unique situation in which a slave had authority over a child, who could one day be his master. The pedagogue had this role for a fixed period of time.  In the early to mid teens, the youth came out from under the tutelage of the pedagogue.  Needless to say, more than a few youth indulged to excess in this new freedom.  We have examples where youths mocked the paedagogue in writing because of the freedom they now possessed.
            Just prior to our text, Paul has used the paedagogue as an illustration of the role that the Law – the Torah – had until the coming of Christ.  It’s something he needs to address because he has been telling the Galatians that they are saved by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.  God’s salvation is a gift based on his own promise.  Paul has written, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”  The apostle argues that the Law which came centuries later does not invalidate the promise God had made to Abraham that “In you all nation will be blessed.”  As he concludes, “For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
            Yet this immediately raises a question, and so Paul says, “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” Because this sounds similar to what Paul says in Romans, many have said that the role of the law was to increase sin and make us see our need for Christ.  The problem with this is that it is the exact opposite idea of everything the pedagogue meant.  It would be like using Michael Jordan as a metaphor of failure and defeat – it just doesn’t make sense.
            Instead, Paul is saying that until the coming of Christ the law restrained sin and kept Israel separate from the pagan nations as they looked for Yahweh’s Messiah.  The law did this, but only until Christ came.  Paul says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our pedagogue until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a pedagogue, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
            The Galatians need to hear this. They are being told by men who have come to Galatia that if they really want to be part of God’s people, they need to do parts of the law such as being circumcised, and only eating certain foods, and observing certain Jewish religious days and festivals.
            Instead, Paul says that because they are in Christ, the offspring of Abraham, they are already sons of God through faith. The guarantee of this fact is their baptism.  As Paul says immediately before our text, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
            The problem with the law, Paul says in our text, is if you act like Christ had not come; if you now keep acting as if the law of Moses is necessary for being a part of God’ saved people.  The apostle says in our text, “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.”
            Paul begins to talk again about being under the law before the coming of Christ.  But now things have changed. He describes it instead as a time of slavery.  And he does something shocking because as a Jew he writes to Gentiles and says that we were all enslaved under the “elementary principles of the world.”  He takes the law of Moses – the Torah – and tosses it in with all of the paganism that had been the life of the Galatians!  How can Paul do this?
            The reason Paul does it is because the law and doing has never been able earn anything except the curse of the law. In chapter three he wrote: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”  The law gives life – if you can do it perfectly in thought, word and deed.
            But think about your life.  How often do you do the right thing, for the wrong reason?  How often do you carry out your vocations with a grudging heart, resenting the fact you have do this thing when you would rather be doing something else?  How often do you really desire to serve yourself?
            That’s why the law can only bring curse and judgment. The problem is not the law. The problem is you the sinner. And so Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”  The language of “redemption” comes from the world of commerce.  Originally it meant to buy a person out of slavery.  Eventually it meant more generally to free from slavery.
            In our text Paul is warning the Galatians that after believing in Jesus, to take up the doing of the law as if it necessary to be saved will put them back in the exact same situation they were before they heard the Gospel. They will be cut off from God. Paul describes the law of Moses from the “now time” when Jesus Christ has died on the cross and risen from the dead. The time of its purpose for God’s people has come to an end. After all, God’s people in Christ are now both Jew and Gentile.
            On this First Sunday of Christmas Paul’s words in our text reveal what Christmas means for us.  He says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
            The apostle uses the phrase “fullness of time.” This is a reminder that God’s saving action was a plan that moved through time.  God worked in the midst of human history using Israel and the surrounding nations of the Near Eastern and Mediterranean worlds.  At his choice moment, in the first century A.D. he sent his Son into the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He did this to redeem us.  Jesus received the curse of being cut off from God because of sin when he was crucified.  But he did this for us.  He did it in our place.  He did it to redeem us – to free us from the slavery of sin; the slavery of being under the law’s curse imposed on all who fail to keep God’s will in thought, word and deed.
            God sent forth his Son. The baby in the manger was the incarnate Son of God who had been sent to redeem us. The Father sent forth the Son so that we could receive that adoption of sons. We deserved the curse.  We deserved God’s judgment.  But instead, because of what Jesus the Son did for us, now we are considered by God to be his sons and daughters.  And here’s the thing – if God says it is that way, then it really is.
            God has given you this status. And because he has, he has also sent his Spirit into our hearts. Paul says in our text, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’”  Those who are sons and daughters receive the Spirit who enables us to call out to God. The Spirit prompts us to call upon God the Father in faith on the basis of the Son’s work. We have been rescued from the slavery of sin and the curse. As Paul says in the last verse of our text, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
            Through faith and baptism you are in Christ.  You are the children of God and so are heirs of eternal life. Those who had come to the Galatians were going to take this away from them by sending them back to doing the law.  Paul went on to conclude this section of the letter by saying, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
            But Paul also wanted the Galatians to know that this was only part of the story.  And so he went to add, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, through love serve one another.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
            In the world, where sin reigns, freedom is all about me.  Freedom allows me to do what I want to do.  But Paul says it is not that way for those who are in Christ.  He writes, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”  Those who are in Christ are freed to serve.
            At Christmas the Father sent the Son into the world. He did it to redeem you from slavery.  He did it in order to make you a son or daughter of God. He did it to save you.  And he also did it to remake you into his instrument of love and care for those around you. Faith in Christ saves apart from works. Faith now works in love because of Christ.  And all of this finds it source in God the Father who in the fullness of time sent his Son into the world.




Friday, December 29, 2017

Commemoration of David

Today we remember and give thanks for David.  David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 B.C.  David was gifted musically. He helped to organize the music for the temple and was the author of 73 psalms. His public and private character displayed a mixture of faithfulness (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath; 1 Samuel 17) and sin (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah, 2 Samuel 11).  In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised that He would establish David’s kingdom forever, as He promised that the Messiah would descend from David.   It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city.

Collect of the Day:
God of majesty, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven, we give you thanks for David who, through the Psalter, gave your people hymns to sing with joy in our worship on earth so that we may glimpse your beauty.  Bring us to the fulfillment of that hope of perfection that will be ours as we stand before your unveiled glory; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.  In the attempt to kill the infant Jesus, King Herod the Great murdered all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger (Matthew 2:16-18).  Since they were killed because of Christ, the Church very early honored these babies as “the buds of the martyrs,” killed by the frost of hate as soon as they appeared.  The Holy Innocents remind us of the terrible cruelty which sin has brought into the world.  Their deaths point forward to the death and resurrection of the Innocent One, Jesus Christ through whom God has conquered sin and death.

Scripture reading:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:13-18)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying.  Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.  John and his brother James were among the first apostles called by Jesus.  He was present with our Lord at His transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane.  From the cross, Jesus entrusted the care of His mother Mary to John.  He is the author of the Gospel that bears his name, as well as three epistles and the Book of Revelation.  According to tradition, John was banished to the island of Patmos (off the coast of Asia Minor) by the Roman emperor Domitian.  In his later work John is associated with Ephesus and he is believed to have been the only apostle who did not die a martyr’s death as he lived to a very old age and died at the end of the first century A.D. 

Scripture reading:
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.  Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:20-25)

Collect of the Day:
Merciful Lord, cast the bright beams of Your light upon the Church that we, being instructed in the doctrine of your blessed apostle and evangelist John, may come to the light of everlasting life; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.