Coming of Age

by David Baer, June 4, 2017

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Text: Galatians 4:1-7

We’ve been reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians over the last few weeks. This was a church struggling with a sense of identity. What does it take to be a full-fledged member of the family of God? they wondered. Some outside teachers brought them what seemed like a compelling answer. Since almost all of the original Christians came from the Jewish faith, they said, the way to become a mature Christian is to adopt the practices that set the Jewish people apart: keep kosher, celebrate Passover and all the Jewish holidays, and above all circumcise all the men and boys.

But Paul says this is nonsense. For those who are believers in Jesus to have their relationship with God defined by these external markers is like living as a child under the protection of a guardian—no better than a slave. When we receive the gift of the Spirit, on the other hand, it frees our hearts to turn to God not in slavish obedience to extrinsic rules, but in trust and love, crying out, “Abba! Father!” “You are no longer a slave but a child,” Paul says, “and if a child then also an heir.”

Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church. But with the scripture we heard today, maybe we want to think of it as something like the eighteenth birthday of the church, the day when the church came of age. It’s the day when baby disciples, the ones Jesus was always chiding for their “little faith,” received the Spirit and found themselves uttering eloquent foreign words that were not their own and doing miracles that came from somewhere beyond the poor natural abilities of these simple fishermen and farmers from Galilee. It’s the day they came into their inheritance as God’s children, receiving a share of blessing to share good news and call out God’s kingdom there in Jerusalem and all over the world.

This is an especially appropriate day to celebrate confirmation with Jacob, Liam, Randi, and Sophia. All of you guys have been baptized and have received the care and teaching of the church. Now it’s time for you to come into your own. It’s a moment of powerful blessing, but also awesome responsibility. God has given you a growing faith and gifts that are unique to each one of you. And it’s no longer going to be for the sake of your parents or me or someone else that you participate in the life of the church. You’ve begun to discover for yourselves that God is good to you, that Christ died and rose for you, that the Spirit is alive in you. I can’t tell you how that’s going to shape your life, because I don’t know. This community can pray for you, support you, help you discover what it is for you to follow God. But the path you walk is your own, and it starts here today.

“Abba! Father!” That’s the way Jesus addressed God. It’s familiar, intimate, trusting, secure. And when the Spirit adopts us as his brothers and sisters, it’s how we can approach God too. It’s a gift that doesn’t depend on us and what we do or don’t do. The Spirit has made us family with God and one another, and has brought us to maturity, setting us free to lead lives that please God, not to earn a place that belongs to us already, but out of love and gratitude. Thanks be to God. Amen.