Galatians 4:1-7 Sunday June 17, 2012
I invented a game last week. I’m calling it ‘dangerbox’. 🙂 And I need a few people who want to play it as a way of introducing my sermon.
Dangerbox is still in the prototype stage, so I’m looking for some people with very specific traits. The most important trait is age…I’d like to have three or four people volunteer…
How about one child who’s less than five years old–do we have any little ones like that here? I’ll take more than one if I can, but I need at least one if possible. (Kian, Mia, Brayden, Edward, etc) (this youngest person or people can bring a parent if they’d like…in fact I think they probably should).
Then I need a child who’s a little bit older, but still not old enough to drive.
Now, I’d like at least two more people…one who’s either high school or college age, and one who’s older than…let’s say 25.
Come on up, and while you’re getting up here, I’m going to explain the rules and how to play the game.
I have two boxes up here, and they’re both filled with items that symbolize life choices.
One box is filled with candy. That box symbolizes things that are fun and safe and educational, things that make life enjoyable. It’s wrapped up in brightly covered gift wrap, to symbolize that it’s not to be feared, and that the contents will probably make you happier.
That box symbolizes good life choices, choices we make that improve our lives, contribute to society, and generally bring joy to us both as individuals and as a community.
The other box I have up here is what I’m calling the dangerbox. 🙂
It contains a bag of sand that I may or may not have gotten from an ashtray outside of Wal-Mart, a small amount of broken glass that I found at a construction site, and a bunch of rusty nails, thumbtacks, and a strand of barbed wire that’s been in my shop ever since we moved here.
That box symbolizes choices we make that generally decrease the quality of our lives.
These are things that are messy, things that are dangerous, things that we could hurt ourselves on if we’re not very careful when we handle them.
I wrapped that box in a brown paper sack, and I tried to make it look a lot less appealing on the outside, to coincide with the contents of that box.
Now, I thought about a couple of ways to play this game.
But in order to involve as much of the congregation as possible, here’s what we’re going to do.
As each of these contestants comes up on the stage, I want you all (the congregation) to tell me which box to offer each person. I’ll have the boxes up here with me, and each one of these people will come forward to take something out of the box and take it back to their seat with them.
I’ve cut special holes in each box, so that when the contestant puts their hand in the box, they won’t be able to see inside.
The only rule is that by the end of the game, both boxes have to have been used, so you do have to be careful who you’re going to have me offer which box to.
Ready?? Remember kids, don’t try this at home!
I hope that game doesn’t get me fired. 🙂
Just so we have complete disclosure, the only difference between the two boxes is the exterior. They were both filled with candy…I just tried to make one box look a little more ‘dangerous’ than the other one.
Thankfully, this round of Dangerbox went pretty close to how I had imagined it would.
I assumed in a room full of this many people, that we could be trusted with the safety of our children, and to make the obvious choice to save the danger-box for the more mature people who I had join me up front here.
There are good reasons we don’t want to see a 2 year old stick his or her hand into a box we think is filled with broken glass and rusty nails.
We don’t expect the 2 year old to understand why… though by the time they’re 10, we think they ought to have a pretty good idea.
Now, during the game, did anyone get the feeling that we were unjustly inhibiting the child from doing something that was just part of their nature?
Did anyone feel badly that we didn’t let the child choose freely, by their own will, which box to play with?
The truth is, it’s part of a child’s nature to grab onto things. It’s part of what Paul calls the “elemental spirits” in the NRSV, or the “basic principles” in the NIV.
It’s just what children do; it’s hardwired into them to explore, to touch, to taste, and all that.
That’s why they need guardians; to keep the dangerboxes of life at a pretty safe distance until they’re old enough to handle the responsibility for and the consequences of their decisions.
That’s what “guardianship” is all about.
That’s the kind of ‘guardian’ the Law was meant to be.
It’s gotten a bad reputation though, because just like children, we all experience the denial of our nature as an inexcusable kind of evil.
Most of us hate being told what to do. For the most part, we’ve embraced the notion that anything that restricts our freedom, or takes away our ability to choose for ourselves…is something like an evil thing that must be resisted.
Our freedom, and our independence are what make us “Americans”.
And so most of us think of the Law in negative terms…like a bunch of rules that restrict our choices and limit our freedom.
But you know, when we think about it in terms of a parent or a guardian caring for a child, I think we get closer to the intent.
It should be no secret that as much as parents love their children, as much as they will sacrifice for them, and as much as they only think about their child’s safety…at some point in that child’s life, they are going to experience the love of their parents as judgmental, stuffy, restrictive, and overly heavy-handed.
Are you seeing any parallels to our faith yet in what I’m saying?
Just before the passage we’re looking at this morning, in chapter 3, Paul compares the law (and when he talks about the law, he’s talking about the rules and regulations we find in the Old Testament; think of it as the ten commandments plus a lot of commentary).
He compares it to a kind of prison, or a kind of ‘disciplinarian’, and the main task of this law in Paul’s mind, was to guard us until faith was possible.
The implication is, that faith is impossible under the law.
It’s not that one is good and one is bad; it’s more like a child learning and growing and maturing, to the point where they can handle difficult decisions on their own.
The law was the guardian of God’s people.
Just like Minors need clarity and certainty to know what’s OK and what’s dangerous…so God’s people needed the law to kind of stand watch over their actions.
Children; at least infants and toddlers; they need to hear, in no uncertain terms, not to touch the hot woodstove, or the box of rusty junk, or the chemicals under the kitchen sink.
They don’t need to know “why”; they just need to stay away from the stuff that could hurt them.
That’s the “Law”.
Our legal system today spells out clearly what’s expected in all kinds of different situations, and legal definitions of who’s a minor and who isn’t are very clear. If you’re 18 or older, you’re an adult. If you’re younger than 18, you’re a ‘minor’.
The consequences of your actions change on your 18th birthday, at least according to the ‘law’.
We take for granted that as people grow older, they learn to assume responsibility for their own safety. We take it for granted that minors aren’t quite ready to handle the full weight of the consequences they might face because of decisions they’ve made.
So we have this concept of ‘guardianship’, the ‘age of accountability’, and so-on.
Now, Paul sets this up in a really helpful way.
If I can paraphrase, He basically says we’ve been adopted.
And a couple of things about adoption; one is that it’s forever. Adoption isn’t just for a time; it’s not just until the child turns 18, and it’s not like foster care, where the parents are filling a temporary need for the child…
Adoption is forever.
And another thing about adoption; something we’ve been comforted to know as we move closer to our own adoption; and that is that adoption, (that is, when it’s properly done), is always the best option for the child who is being adopted.
We are children.
We are all adopted children; as I’ve said before, the family of God has no biological descendants. We’ve all been adopted, so we are children of God and therefore heirs to His kingdom.
But heirs, as long as we are minors, are no better than slaves.
Though we might own the whole property, we remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.
How old are you, exactly?
We are children, and we are heirs, but the point of faith is to be growing, maturing, and assuming more and more responsibility for our own journey.
Let me say it like this; Those of us who emphasize God’s grace, acceptance, and the liberal agenda that Jesus promoted; more often than not, we understand the law as an oppressive, legalistic, heavy-handed club used in the hand of an angry and jealous God.
And on the other side, those of us who emphasize the Holiness of God; the sheer magnificence of our creator and our own destitution and wretchedness compared with God’s perfection. More often than not we see the law as an uncomfortable yet necessary benchmark that’s been put in place mainly to show how imperfect we are and how much we need the forgiveness and the reconciliation that comes through Christ.
As different as these mentalities are from each other, what they have in common is an understanding that the “Law” is viewed more or less like a brick wall, or a prison.
It’s a barrier between us and God that’s been erected either in order to keep us in line, or simply to measure our own inadequacy.
But we are first of all children of God, not prisoners.
And like all children, there are times when it’s easy to trust the law completely some days, like a little toddler, and rebel against it other days, like a rebellious teen.
But none of that can change the nature of our adoption.
We are precious sons and daughters of God, chosen through Christ to express God’s love for the world, empowered by the holy spirit, that is, the spirit of adoption that cries within us and longs for the redemption of the world, our enemies, and our very selves.
The work we’ve been given is not work that minors can do; so therefore we must grow; we must put childish ways behind us as we prepare ourselves for more and more responsibility in God’s kingdom which is our kingdom.
For we are no longer slaves but children, and since we are children we are also heirs, through our adoption by the almighty God. Amen.