A mother went to wake up her son for church one Sunday morning. She knocked on his door and said: “Honey, it’s time to go to church.” The son responded, “I’m not going!” “Why not?” asked his mother. “I’ll give you two good reasons,” he said. “One, they don’t like me. Two, I don’t like them.” His mother replied, “I’ll give you two good reasons why you will go to church. One, you’re 57 years old. Two, you’re the pastor!”
Paul wasn’t joking with the Galatians, and his metaphors are different. He uses words such as imprisonment, disciplinarian, children, heirs, slaves, minors, and adoption. Paul uses different words for a different age. Sometimes it can get confusing; we get bogged down in words. But the bottom line, it seems to me is this: Paul is exhorting the Galatians to grow up!
Paul understands that in Christ, all is made new, that Jesus Christ is calling you and me to a transformational change. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” One has a new identity.
Paul wrote: In Christ you are no longer a slave, you are a child, and an heir. You are a child, but not a baby. No matter what age you are you will always be a child of God (and truly mature adults are in touch with their inner child!) but that doesn’t give any of us an excuse to be childish! This reminds me of a phrase my mentor, Rev. Dr. Jack McClendon, used to say about some fellow Christians: “We are called to be fools for Christ, but that doesn’t mean that we are to be damn fools for Christ.”
I think it is a struggle for many of us to have a grown-up relationship with Jesus, to have a mature relationship with God. Many of us are stuck in 5th grade Sunday School faith. You have to grow up. Yes, Paul writes: “God has sent the spirit into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!” “Abba” is Aramaic for “dad” or “daddy.” But ‘Abba’ is not baby talk.
My parents were planning to come for a visit last week. Unfortunately my father had to go to the hospital so they had to cancel their trip. Thankfully my Dad is home now and back to his normal 93-year-old self. (Which, to Dr. Proudfit, is still a young man!) I closed the conversation with my father the way I always close the conversation with my father: “I love you Dad, bye!”
When I was a little boy, I called him “Daddy” and loved my father but I was a tiny bit scared of him. (Of course I would rather get in trouble with my father than my mother… Dad’s anger would be quick but it would soon be over. Mom’s, on the other hand, would linger – she would make you think about it for a while!)
As a teen, I loved my dad but was a wee bit embarrassed by him, as my kids are embarrassed by me – it’s the way it works. “Dad, drop me off a block away from the school please.”
And when I was studying in Edinburgh, I came to the realization that I was writing my doctorate more for him than for me.
But now I have an adult relationship with Dad. We are more vulnerable with each other – we talk politics, and books, and sports and matters of the heart. And I not only love him, I really like him. The older I get, the more I understand how much I am like him, have inherited so much from him, and want to be more like him – such faithfulness, still such interest in life, in the midst of growing old. He amazes me.
I know that our relationship with God is different from our relationship with our earthly fathers. I know that for some the father relationship is not a good one; or there is no father to have a relationship with … and you know me, I am just as comfortable using Mother language about God as Father language.
The point I am trying to make is this: we change in our relationships; as we grow up our relationships grow and deepen giving us new insights into ourselves and into the one we are having a relationship with. It is called maturing, being set free, living into our inheritance.
Too many are stuck in immature relationships. Too many are stuck in baby religion. The Galatians are caught in the peer pressure of trying to fit in; fulfilling the expectations of others. They still want to follow the rules of the other “in-group.” They want to make sure they are doing everything right and by the rules. They still see God as a controlling parent; and they have to make sure to please him or else. Like that 57-year-old pastor, they don’t want to get out of bed and face reality.
But Jesus Christ gives you a spirit of boldness – you are not to return to “weak and beggarly elemental spirits.” So, wean yourself from formula and expectation. Paul will come back to this theme in another letter. You know the one. In first Corinthians 13:11; “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”
So what does this look like, feel like? What am I – and what is Paul – talking about?
We’re talking about what makes you adult. What is maturity?
The first thing I think of is self-awareness. You come to know your strengths and your weaknesses – you are willing to look honestly at your own stuff and sort through it and move beyond it. You bind yourself to things that matter but are not bound to things that don’t.
Next is honesty – you speak your truth in love to yourself and to others. No cover ups. You can be an extrovert or an introvert – but you know you are not alone, nor do you want to be. You understand you are one among many. No Lone Rangers.
And don’t forget humor – oh my gosh, you have to laugh at yourself and laugh at the world. Or at least give heed to the inconsistencies and not be so tight. Loosen up! Don’t take things so seriously and certainly don’t take things personally. Always being aware of possibly being slighted is not a sign of maturity. Worrying about what the other person has is so 6th grade! If you don’t get your way, don’t pout, it is unbecoming of an adult!
I simply can’t believe that it is being mature in Christ to read the Bible literally, or to think that God delivers prizes and punishment according to what you do or don’t do. That is childish.
Christ did not come for you and for me to see the Gospel as a new law to be followed or ELSE – we have been set free from childish ways… from slavish obedience to a master.
Being in Christ means you get a “new mind for a new age” and freedom to live in the fullness of community. It means looking at life as a canvas of abundance and possibility.
Being in Christ means using your imagination and giving thanks always.
We are living in the fullness of time – Paul writes – how can we not be constantly amazed and full of wonder even as we involve ourselves in the hurt and dirt of the world. Adults can hold both ends of the tension, and move faithfully into the heart of it all. “Expect nothing and live frugally on surprise.” Now, that is grown-up faith. That is mature faith – the ability find contentment in the ambiguity.
So let’s all keep growing up. Get out of bed, go to church, make your pledge too, for God loves a cheerful giver. And give thanks to God for each breath.
We are not children anymore.