Adoption Not Abstraction
Galatians 4:4-7 (Is. 61:10-62:3 & Luke 2:22-40)
When the Santa Ana winds blow in the California desert, you get events like the Thomas Fire that began on December 4. It is now considered the largest wildfire in the history of California. Coincidentally, Maurice White came up with a new name for his 1970’s band based on his astrological sign, Sagittarius. It is one of the signs associated with fire. He auditioned band members in Los Angeles. His band, Earth, Wind, and Fire.
It is hardly fair to talk about wind in other parts of the Country when we are all too familiar with tornadoes. It is almost a given that we will face high winds at any given time of the year. What does it mean that a local meteorologist chose @tornadopayne for his Twitter handle?
One wonders if David Payne has ever referred to a storm here in the midwest as a bombogenesis? This sort of windstorm occurs when barometric pressure takes a steep dive in the middle of a storm. The result is a rapid increase in wind speeds. A bombogenesis happened in October in the Northeast. The span of high winds ran from Washington, D.C. to Maine. And we thought high winds were our claim to fame.
When oil and gas exploration began using fracturing, or fracking, to extract oil and gas from hard to reach formations, we noticed a spike in earthquakes. We no longer can make sport of Californians for the San Andreas Fault. We have our own faults. Things recently got so bad in Bridgecreek that the Corporation Commission ordered companies to reduce pressures used to cut down on the number of quakes. Despite the increase in earthquakes in our State, 26 quakes worldwide have been recorded measuring stronger than a 5.5. Not one of those occurred in Oklahoma.
August flooding in South Asia claimed the lives of 1200 and put 1.8 million children out of school and affected 40 million people. We have faced areas of flooding but not to that degree. Researchers claim the East Coast, not the West Coast is slowly slipping into the Atlantic increasing the risk of coastal flooding.
Wind, water, earth, and fire – These four materials were long thought to be the building blocks of the world. And, in these instances, The Thomas Fire, New England windstorms, earthquakes, and South Asia flooding leave us well aware how subject we are to these elements.
Long before Abraham, people viewed these elements that held power over them as gods. Over time they personified these elements and worshipped them.
When we read Paul describe the “elements of the world,” he is referring to those things under which human beings labor. Farmers, as well as hunter-gatherers, knew well they did not control earth, wind, fire, and water.
Natural laws, the laws of nature, serve not just to remind us of our limitations, but also to make us well aware of what it is like to be subjected, to be slaves. We may not consider that as such, but when you think twice about going outdoors over the next 48 hours, that arctic air will most likely keep you in the house – a slave to its winds.
Over time other laws became natural. Divisions kept and continued to keep human beings from realizing how connected we are. Paul understood these sorts of laws to be as powerful as the elements of this world. For Paul not only are we subject to earth, wind, fire, and air, we are slaves to divisive markers that create hostilities – Jew-Greek, Slave-Free, Male-Female, Law-No Law, Circumcision-Uncircumcision.
Rather than aim at those whose social marker included the slave, Paul is making the case that all human beings are slaves. Our slavery is to the elements of this world that keep us antagonistic and anxious. Some people play into these realities for their gain further enslaving us emotionally and calling it great.
Paul’s Good News is that while these laws have affected our earthly home, we could say these realities have invaded our sense of who we are and whose we are. No one wants their home invaded. We install alarm systems, create neighborhood watch groups, and work to make our homes as secure as possible.
But, the imagery Paul uses about the Good News is just that, an invasion. This time, however, it was God sending his Son to invade our antagonistic and anxious planet to redeem human beings out of slavery so that we might receive. Those are the two words that shape Paul’s Good News – Redeem and Receive.
Redeem those under the law. Any law. Some want to view the law, Law, as helpful. But, the law is more tyrant than a teacher. It serves to cruelly remind us of our slavery to the elements – natural and naturally occurring when people set up pairs over which we will quickly divide.
Democrat-Republican. White-Black. Citizen-Immigrant. Rich-Poor. White Collar-Blue Collar. Have-Have Not. And on and on we could go.
Each category comes with its laws. Step out of bounds and the commandments of the group will be invoked and the shaming begins. There is very little tolerance for variations in these categories. The law demands strict observance.
Under those conditions, that is a world where we continuously invoke the Rule of Law; we read Paul pointing to the sending of the Son – into the world – born of a woman – human, born under the Law – into the same conditions we live. Our home. Our native atmosphere. Our preference where we pretend we are free.
And now we may more readily understand how Paul uses the phrase – the Power of Sin is the Law in 1 Corinthians 15.
Over time human beings came to like their home, like the divisions, enjoy the antagonism, expect the anxiety. Anytime someone would attempt to disrupt that form of life they were breaking the laws of our home. Even the secondary laws represented in our preferences, which incidentally are the laws we lose our minds over when someone breaks them.
The very phrase, “sent his Son” into the same conditions but for different results would lead us to experience an invasive force. Paul writes that Jesus entered the terms of our world, those elements, with the aim of redeeming those under the law. The way Paul sets up the argument emphasizes that Jesus came for all human beings because all human beings are under the tyranny of the law.
Consider this another way, the prior way; Paul described the Good News. In Romans, he will claim “all have sinned.” Here he does not want anyone to make a recommitment to a new law unless it is the law of Love.
Everyone is under the law – the elements of this world. These laws cover every arena of our lives.
Redeem. We are not talking about money for a coupon, a discount on a product. Paul uses a familiar metaphor to convey that God’s aim is nothing short of liberty – freedom from the tyranny of the law that dominates our lives.
For Paul, this is the Cross. In the moment of his death, killed by human beings, people chose their cherished laws over love. They murdered the Invader. And, since we demonstrate the same passion for our laws, it is safe to say that despite our progress, or thinking that we have progressed, we would kill the Invader today.
God sent his Son to redeem, to set free, those under the tyranny of the law – Law.
The group of Teachers that arrived in Galatia began leading Christians there to submit to a new law that was an old law. Paul was having none of it for it became Bad News and not Good News. Going back to the law means back to captivity, slavery.
What Paul highlights here is that the liberty brought by the Invading Jesus is to claim us as his own. The law/Law fractures family and friendships, it leaves people searching for their group, their people. What God does in Jesus is to bring people into his family.
Paul describes that as receiving adoption as sons. Don’t be put off by the reference to sons – we are well aware today that the metaphor calls for sons but that it is inclusive language, not exclusive language. If all are under the law, then redemption is for all – not just one particularly gendered group.
Remember, Paul set us up – There is no Jew or Greek . . . Male or Female, all are one in Christ.
Adoption here is not an abstract notion; it is a real thing. It means to become an heir. Paul wants those then, and by the Spirit us today, to live in the reality that Jesus was sent into the world to redeem that we might receive a new name, a new family, a new home. Don’t think of home as a place. Think of home in the way we make a distinction between a house and a home. A house is merely a place, structure. A home is where we are loved and cared. The emphasis is often missed. We are given a new home – a new name, a new family, and a new love.
Here is the new connection. God sends the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, and that Spirit in us cries, Abba, Father. The most endearing picture – no longer a slave but a son, an heir.
My young friend Jason, who has been with us a couple of times, adopted a young boy when it was only to be a period of respite. Respite care is a time of rest from a given life situation. What began as a short-term period of care became an adoption. The conditions under which the child had lived could well fit the under the law. The conditions under which the child lived were antagonistic and anxiety-laden.
When he was adopted Jason and Ali told him every night, “ we love you, and we are not going to leave you.”
Adoption is incorporation into the family, into the people of God, sons, and daughters.
And where there is liberty there is freedom, “to love.”
Adoption is not an abstract idea – it is incorporation in real time.
*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions to the preached version.