Shall We Ever Grow Up?

Shall We Ever Grow Up?

Coralyn Medyesy – Hungary
Scripture: Galatians 4:1-9 (NRSV)
Text: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”(Gals. 4:7)

Disclaimer: This sermon assumes that each of you here this morning at some time in your life made a decision to be a Christian, a commitment to follow Jesus Christ’s teachings and to live in that love and inspiration.

Scripture: Galatians 4:1-9 (NRSV)
Text: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”(Gals. 4:7)

Disclaimer: This sermon assumes that each of you here this morning at some time in your life made a decision to be a Christian, a commitment to follow Jesus Christ’s teachings and to live in that love and inspiration.

On one of the Sundays before I left for Hungary, our family was lying around, not feeling well because of a virus. Our young Barbara found us a good Worship Service on TV, one from New Haven. An absolutely adorable little girl, all dressed up in white with blue hair ribbons and a blue sash, was singing:

  1. If anybody asks me who I am, who I am, who I am – If anybody asks me who I am, I tell ‘em I am a child of God!

Here, in this song, in Romans 8, and in today’s Scripture, we see that this is a very sound theology. We get to call God ‘Abba’ (Father, Dad) as Jesus did, and as the early church did. And this whole idea of us being God’s children is what we’ll look at today. It is worth singing about; it is worth rejoicing about!!!

I. We’re faced in this Scripture with a very new congregation of very new Christians who are backsliding. Galatia then was the interior of what is now Turkey, and surprisingly it was settled by Celtic people from central Europe from the 3rd c. BC. Before these people had met the One True God or been encountered by God (thanks to Paul’s good missionary work among them), they had been ruled, he says, by belief in the “rudiments”, the elementary rudiments – which could mean either the pagan notion of earth-wind-fire-and water being their controlling powers or, he meant they’d been ruled by the immense number of religious Laws – as the dominant guide to their living.

There were real tensions in those days between the Gospel that Paul was preaching to the Gentiles – both between it and pagan roots, and between it and the old laws that were still so important to Jewish Christians. (Remember that until Paul, almost all the first Christians were Jewish people!) He was called to missionarize non-Jews, peoples quite different from those ministered to by the Jerusalem-centered early Church leaders.

The Jews had been and the Galatians were now being slaves to the old religious ways, Paul is saying. You and I have known powers that controlled us before we became convinced of the love and hope and reality of the Lord God which Jesus Christ shows us constantly. We maybe were controlled by our own under-age perspectives of the world; we may have been entirely impressed by our own ideas; we may have trusted in what that strong personality or successful authority or reasonable philosophy espoused. We may have been living by some “laws” rather than by faith in Christ’s God. We may have been living by laws rather than realizing we’d been accepted by God, adopted by God through faith.

Laws are all right in the old physical world, Paul is saying, though if we live obedient to an authoritarian God, we live little different from a slave and slaveholder relationship. (Credit to Rev. Jozsef Farkas) In the newer messianic era, a newer spiritual way of living is available to the Galatians (and to us!). As God’s children rather than under-aged heirs or even slaves, we can live by faith!

Now this is a hard teaching. Those Ten Commandments are mighty helpful. We humans often look for directives. Whole societies depend on social rules and mores and codes of ethics just to get along. We can look at “the law” as if it’s a guardian, keeping us children under restraint until we come of age (Oxford Companion To The Bible, 1993, p. 239). But the laws between living by law and living by faith get fuzzy sometimes, don’t they? – just like the lines between spiritual childhood and spiritual adulthood?

You certainly have your own examples of times when you were faced with “laws” and had to make mature or immature decisions because of them. Well, there was a year when our children were small that I was driving four times a week from Bloomington to Indianapolis (in Indiana) for Clinical Pastoral training. About two mornings of each week the traffic would clog up terribly on Interstate 65 and slow us down too much. One morning I was able to get up toward the front to see what the trouble was. As I pulled up alongside the lead car, I saw it was a State Patrol vehicle driving just under the speed limit. It crossed my mind that I could legally get ahead of him and arrive at my training with time to spare. But then I heard, “Hello! This is your good shepherd, trying to keep you safe. Please, get back into line!” The trooper’s bullhorn came across amazingly well on that highway, and I dropped back into line, smiling! The trooper had spoken to me in an exceedingly caring way and I was willing, that day, to comply with his reading of “the law”. For other days, I’d just leave earlier!

But what do such moments tell us? That there are ethical laws for those who are ethically “young”? and moral laws for those who are morally young? And spiritual laws for those who are spiritually young?

Some preaching on our Scripture was done in 1998 by a Hungarian Reformed minister, the Rev. Dr. Farkas (Jozsef) in Budapest. He suggested that Hungarians, who become Christians by a “head decision”, by the rational, dogmatic, logical approach, tend to be more conservative and obedient Christians. Those who find a “heart” conviction, i.e. their emotions and spirits being touched by God’s love or Christ’s sacrifice, tend to be more liberal Christians. He invited his church members to decide which path had been theirs.

Here in our country, we invite our Christians to explore both avenues to spiritual growth, both the “book-learned” and objective, and the spirit-based, experiential, and even mystic approach. This is a real issue in these days, isn’t it? In our own north and south! And not just in Christianity, but in Islam, and Judaism, and other major belief systems!

I. Recent archaeological discoveries and conclusions want us to consider that man, human beings, existed in European areas 400,000-550,000 years ago. Not all of the “finds” are Homo Sapiens. ‘Homo erectus’ is the name given to the new skeletal pieces from Spain, France, and Germany. But in 1997, National Geographic reported on humans located in Italy, dating back some 900,000 years! ‘Homo Ceprano’ is what these oldest folks are being called. Now, we modern men and women would like to know that we are a superior form of humanity, that there has been some kind of progression of civilizations and human development, both collectively and individually, from whatever our origins were.

And our Scripture points to this in things spiritual, – that we may begin as slaves to the Law, and grow into being God’s children. Or, perhaps at first we just wait, as under-age heirs, to receive in maturity the fullness of God’s Fatherhood toward us. Rev. Farkas points out that there are Hungarians Christians who prefer a God who completely controls them. ‘Don’t think, don’t feel, don’t dream, don’t initiate. Do just as you’re directed to do!’ “But, in fact”, he asks, “just what kind of God does humankind carry in its collective mind, from inside and outside of the Bible?” because he was so sure that there has been a God-seeking by humankind always! He suggests that there has never been a group of people who did not attempt to find God. And have we humans made progress in doing this? Paul was so saddened that his Galatian Christians had started walking on the Christ-directed road and then were turning back to the world of laws and regulations of an earlier time and to a quite unthinking obedience.

III. It is Paul’s teaching in Galatians 4 that Christians can find a freedom in living with God. Rome’s new Pope, in a 1996 interview, surprised some of us when he said, “There are as many ways to God as there are people on the earth.” (A Fold Soja, p. 6) This does not mean that those ways are not through Jesus Christ! And we hear Rev. Farkas adding that, “Each Christian reflects a unique variation of God’s freeing of us!” As you know, folks who lived behind the Iron Curtain from 1948 to 1989 tend to know something about freedom – which most of us don’t know – even from within prisons!

As Paul himself experienced, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer witnessed during the Nazi years, so have Hungarian Christians found freedom even from behind bars and while under mindless oppression. Bishop Kalman Csia, from southeastern Hungary, wrote an entire book of poetry while Ceausescu’s Rumanians had him imprisoned, entitled Light Through The Bars. In Hungarian or English it is a magnificent testimony to human faith and God-supplied freedom. A related freedom was demonstrated by the lay leaders of many Reformed churches in Sub-Carpathia, the Hungarian part of Ukraine. When almost every one of their ministers were rounded up and transported off to rather permanent internment camps in northern Russia, the church people there opened their church doors, illegally, Sunday after Sunday for years (some of them at night only, for safety), to pray and sing hymns together in faithfulness – without their well-loved clergy – until the 1970’s when requirements eased up and Bishops and ministers were again gradually allowed in the land.

As we know from Jesus’ example, there can be risks to being a Son or Daughter of God’s. But Scripture and our own spiritual journeys remind us of the freedoms also (for example):

Freedom from – religious legalisms, paganisms, religious law; our baser selves; limited thinking, limited lives; unnecessary personal binds i.e. jealousy, fear, low self-worth; fear of damnation, and death.

Freedom to – return to the Father as a child, over and over again; be our best (in God’s Image); explore ideas, history, and the world; find out more of what God is; learn how to love as God loves; live fully, abundantly; embrace strangers and learn from them.

Like the Galatians, we are being invited in this Scripture to be in the process of growing as children of God’s, ‘adopted’ children, Paul says, which makes us sons and daughters, spiritual sisters and brothers.

And this allows us to sing verses two and three with the young girl in New Haven:

2.  If anybody asks you who you are, who you are, who you are – If anybody asks you who you are, just tell ‘em, I am a child of God! and

3.  If anybody asks you whose you are . . . ., just tell ‘em, I am a child of God!

Let’s rejoice in this expectation from Paul. Let’s move on and grow and progress – into a closer relationship with that ‘Abba’ who is ours and out of any slaveries that hold us back. Amen.

(Rev. Dr.) Coralyn T. Medyesy
Coralyn Medyesy serves with the Reformed Church of Hungary. Coralyn is a Teacher of Social Work and Diakonia at the Nagy Koros School.