Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas
December 28, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Galatians 4:4-7
Sermon Theme: “’Abba! Father’! The Best Daddy of All”
(Sources: Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Art Linkletter tells about his all-time favorite religious encounter with a child. Two nuns brought some four-year-olds for a visit to the studio where he filmed his shows. One of the tiny girls explained to Linkletter before the audience that the thing she liked most about the Catholic school she attended was when one of the nuns told Bible stories. Linkletter asked the youngster which story was her favorite.
“The story of Edam and Ave,” she announced.
“What happened to them?” he asked.
“God was mad at them and He was going to punish them. But they hided under a bench. But they couldn’t fool God and He found them.”
“Go on,” Linkletter pleaded.
“So God decided to punish them twice,” she continued.
“Twice?” Art asked.
“Yes. First, He sent them both straight down to hell,” she said, pausing for the audience to realize the significance of that punishment before adding the final horror. “And then He changed them into Protestants!”
How wonderful that God has taken us, alienated from Him, by our slavery to sin, and turned us into children – Protestant and Roman Catholic. You see, we are not naturally God’s own children; we were slaves to sin. Our adoption came with a huge price. It was the price of Christ’s death on the cross. Expensive? Yes! Yet, we who were slaves became heirs!
Our sermon text about this is short and simple: When the time was right, God sent His Son, fully human, to redeem sinful humanity and make us God’s children. God has given His Spirit to those who are His own and through His Spirit we cry out to God as our dear Father. We are no longer slave to sin, but children of God.
A proud grandmother was showing off photos of her new grandchild at a church covered dish dinner. When asked which parent the new baby more closely resembled – her mother or her father – the new grandmother laughed and said, “We don’t know because she’s adopted.” And then she added, “But I’m betting she’ll grow up to be gorgeous, just like me!”
She went on to share some stories about the adoption process as she passed the photos around the table. One of the most trying times came right after the baby was born. Her new family was called immediately with information about the birth, but they could not visit the hospital to see her for two long days, until the paper chase between courtrooms and lawyers’ offices was finished and all the right signatures were in place.
Paul reminds us in our text that we are God’s children by virtue of adoption. God initiated the process; God reached out to us. No human legal procedures are required. All we have to do is accept God’s offer. Saying yes to God means that we have all the rights and responsibilities that come along with being God’s child, an heir to all God gives us.
It’s official. God loves us so much God has adopted us, made us part of the family. For those who bear the scars of growing up in abusive human family situations, being part of God’s family can provide new opportunities for healthy ways of living in relationship to ourselves and to others.
We can experience healing and growth beyond what we may have come to expect from life. We have been given a rich heritage and promised an inheritance beyond our wildest dreams – and it doesn’t matter who we look like in the family tree!
The picture language Paul uses in this short text helps to get across to us the awesomeness, the incredible truth of this text. The words, “slave” and “slavery” have lost some of their impact in our Land of Freedom in the 21st Century. In the ancient world, slavery was an accepted fact, and a slave had no rights or status.
One Roman emperor had a slave thrown into a fish pond to be drowned and eaten by the fish simply for breaking a wine goblet. There is also a case of a wealthy slave-owner giving twenty-two salves for one good hunting dog.
How different it is for a member of the family! A son or daughter has all the rights and privileges of being part of the family. There is a loving relationship. And there is also an inheritance. In the ancient world, the relationship between a father and son was especially close.
The first words that come out of most English-speaking babies are “da-da” and “ma-ma.” The parents are the most important elements in a baby’s life. Many of the churches which Paul oversaw in Asia-Minor were made up of Greek-speaking people. The first word learned by a baby in a Greek-speaking family would have been, “Ab-ba,” which is the English equivalent of “da-da.” The infant seems to know that he or she depends solely on daddy or mommy.
That fact helps to explain Paul’s statement in the text, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying,’ Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” So, because of Christ, our relationship with our Father in heaven, as adopted children, becomes so intimate, we can call Him , “Da-da,” knowing we are solely dependent on Him.
And, of course, Paul knew that under Roman law, a legally adopted child became totally and completely a son or daughter of those adopting him or her. Legally, in the Roman Empire, there was no difference whatsoever between an adopted child and a biological child.
Paul tells the Galatians that we have been adopted into God’s family as His beloved sons and daughters through His own Son, Jesus Christ. Since we are no longer slaves, but God’s children, then we also are inheritors of all His gifts. We are family, not property. We are God’s children, not His slaves.
Every parent of an adopted child – particularly if the child was adopted at a very young age – faces this question. When do you tell your child that he or she is adopted? And how do you do it?
For some parents, it is a smooth process and ongoing conversation. For others, it is a more dramatic and memorable moment. And the children respond differently too. Some take the news in stride, while others are traumatized. From God’s perspective, there is no difference between an adopted child and a biological child, neither from the perspective of inheritance rights and from the point of view of being deeply loved.
Most church folks I know operate with the assumption that they are God’s children. For them, the designation comes with being human. They would say, “We are all God’s children, aren’t we?” But there is a difference between being a “creature” of God and being a “child” of God. Our adoption came at a huge price to our Savior, but for us it comes simply by saying “yes” to Jesus, as our salvation is by grace through faith. Adoption means the “creature” becomes the “child.”
“You are no longer a slave but a child,” Paul writes. The ransom paid frees us from our slavery, liberates us from the power of another. And the adoption brings us into a new and loving relationship, embraced and beloved as children of God. For us, it becomes “Abba, Father,” the best Daddy of them all. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.