"Welcome to the Family!"#88-17
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 27, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Anthony (Tony) Cook, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Galatians 4:4-7
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Please join me for a word of prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, we come to You this day as heirs in Jesus Christ. We are Your promised children. Born not of the Law, but of Your Spirit of grace. Empower us, we pray, to embrace our new identity as sons and daughters in Jesus Christ, born of Your love. In Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.
For many, family is relative. I am an only child, but that doesn't mean I don't have brothers and sisters. In fact, I have three sisters and one brother. I have a step-sister, two half-sisters, and an adopted brother. It's confusing, I know. Just try explaining you have two fathers and two mothers when you are 10 years old. It's beautifully messy. Now obviously, you probably figured out I come from a divorced family, but I don't tend to see it that way. Family for me is not simply determined by the bonds of blood, but by the bonds of love. And while many I consider family are not connected by blood; they are my family none-the-less.
But in God's family, both of these things are true. For as the children of promise we are both adopted and connected by blood—not the blood of our earthly parents, but by the blood of Jesus. And this was the promise all along.
It was a covenant made by God Himself and, ultimately, made possible in Jesus. It was a promise made to our spiritual forefather, Abraham, known at that time as Abram—and it was a big promise to keep. At that time, Abram was without an heir, and fearing that he would die without a child, he believed his estate would pass to his head steward. God had a different plan.
In Genesis 15:4-6 we read that: "... the word of the Lord came to him (Abram): 'This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.' Then He took Abram outside and said, 'Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.' Then He said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Abram believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Abram had faith in God's resolute promise. A promise that would be kept generation after generation, until the time was right, and Jesus would be born. In the book of Galatians 4:4-7, we read these words: "But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are His sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are His child, God has made you also an heir."
You are the sons and daughters of God. You have the very Spirit of God within you—a Spirit that that cries out to God, "Father, Father!" You are God's child, his eternal heir, and no one can ever take that away. And how do we become the children of Abraham and heirs of God? In the same way that Abraham did, by the gift of faith.
In Galatians 3:7-9, we read, "Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith."
But until Jesus came, we, like Abraham's house, were under a steward. This steward however was not a man. Instead, it was the Law. In Galatians 3:23-25 we read, "Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the Law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the Law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian."
This is one of the most beautiful-yet-difficult truths to grasp as Christians. Just like Abraham, we are people of faith, not people of works. We are people of grace, not people of the Law. But as I look back over this particularly strange year, I am amazed and saddened at how quickly I forget this wonderful truth. I am convicted by the times I fell back into the grip of the guardian, allowing myself to be locked up again, not simply in my house by a pandemic, but in my spirit, by the Law. It is during these times, times of doubt and temptation, times when my faith is weak and the law looms over me, that I return to the words written in Galatians 3:10-14: "For all who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly, no one who relies on the Law is justified before God, because 'the righteous will live by faith.' The Law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, 'The person who does these things will live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.' He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."
Jesus has truly redeemed you. He has redeemed you from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse Himself. For all our sin and failure, Jesus allowed Himself to be bound, to be beaten, to be killed, to be crucified, so that we might have an eternal family in the house of God. Jesus provides forgiveness. Jesus provides a way back home. And through Him, we are saved.
In Galatians 3:26-29 it says, "So in Christ Jesus you are all the children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
You are a promise fulfilled. A promise given to our father Abraham. A promise that through Jesus, his offspring, God would create a nation—a nation that outnumbered the stars, a nation that would bless the world. A nation clothed with Jesus in the waters of Baptism. A nation that belongs to Him. You belong to Him. You are the children of the promise, the children of Abraham. You are God's mighty nation dressed in white robes of righteousness washed clean in Jesus' blood.
And God's nation is unlike all others. For it is not bound by geography, race, or political affiliation—a nation in which no ballots are cast, but eternal election is secured. This nation, God's nation, finds its unity in the promised offspring, in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And in this Christian unity we become a kingdom of priests, a holy people, a family of grace, bound together in Jesus, and Jesus alone. This is a promise for you and for your children. It is a promise made to all who have the gift: faith in the promised Son of God.
As we reflect on this past year, and look forward to the next, we are reminded of our identity as God's adopted children, as children of the promise, as heirs to His kingdom. I encourage you to move forward in this baptismal faith, clinging to God's unending grace. Embrace the freedom Jesus won. Strive in faith to maintain the bonds of our family: God's family.
And what does this look like? What are the hallmarks of our new adopted family? The book of Galatians gives us a glimpse. It describes our Christian family as one that stands firm in Christ's freedom, walks united in the Spirit, and bears one another's burdens in love.
While each of these characteristics is vital to the health of our Christian family, without the first—standing firm in Christ's freedom—the others will fail. Everything we are called to be and do as adopted children of God is rooted in the freedom we have received in Christ. To fall back under the Law, or to drive our brothers and sisters by the Law, is fatal to the Christian family on earth. In fact, it is the very thing that Paul was concerned about when he wrote the letter to the church in Galatia. Old habits die hard, but falling back into this old habit brings death. This is not to say that the Law has no purpose in the life of God's children. The Law still shows us God's will and what it is to live our daily lives faithfully before Him, but it's no longer who we are. No longer are we held captive by it, or defined by it. We have a new identity, one that is rooted in Christ. It can take a lifetime to embrace this transformation, to see ourselves and one another as forgiven children of God who yet sin, but are not defined by it. This is a deep Christian mystery.
However, it is only by clinging to this liberation that Paul describes that we can begin to walk united in the Spirit. Each and every day we are presented with two very different roads to travel. The first is defined by the desires of the flesh and the second is defined by the fruits of the Spirit. The road of desire is a familiar one. It is an easy road to follow. Along the way we find all of the things that our pre-adopted selves were defined by: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the list goes on. And that seemingly never-ending list is the very reason the Law exists. But there is another road—the one defined not by our flesh's desire, but by the Spirit's fruits. Along this road we find very different things. On the road of the Spirit we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This list is the one that the Law knows nothing about. In fact, against these things there is no Law. It is a road where we follow the Spirit, united with our brothers and sisters, leaving all conceit, provocation, and envy behind.
But as you might expect, there will be times, just like in every family, when sin and conflicts arise, when the walk is not as unified as we would like. It's in times like these that Paul calls us to bear one another's burdens in love. Even when we try with all of our might to guard ourselves from temptation, sin still lives in our bones. Sin happens, and as family we are called to handle it as God's children. In any and every transgression, we are called to restore our brother or sister in a spirit of gentleness, a gift provided by the Spirit Himself, for those who are keeping track. To bear the burden of one another is one of the greatest expressions of love itself. It's what Jesus did for you, bearing the burden of our sin on the cross so that we might be set free to be the people of God. And to bear one another's burdens, it takes all the fruits of the Spirit combined with humbly recognizing who we are and what we have been given as God's adopted children.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the year we have been through together. 2020 has had a mind of its own, and it hasn't been easy. Fear, anger, depression, division, death—during times like these, it can be easy to forget. To forget who we are. To forget that we are loved by God. To forget that we are heirs to a glorious Kingdom made possible by God's Son. If you're tempted to listen to the call of the Law, I want you to know that Jesus has set you free. If you feel worthless, know that God considered you to be worth the life of His Son. If you feel unloved, I proclaim to you that God's love for you in Jesus is deeper than any you have ever experienced. It is eternal. You will always be loved by Him. There is no need to fear. For in Jesus, God is on your side. He is your Father and you are His child. You can cry out to him "Father!" and He will hear. I cannot think of a greater message that is needed in our world today, especially as this new year begins. But even if 2021 looks more like 2020, there is one thing that will never change. God loves you as His adopted son or daughter—a truth that no virus or civil strife can ever take away. Welcome to the family! Amen.
Reflections for December 27, 2020
Title: Welcome to the Family!
Mark Eischer: For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, please go to lutheranhour.org. We're joined now by our Lutheran Hour Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. I'm getting to visit with Jennifer Prophete today. Jennifer is a co-worker of mine at Lutheran Hour Ministries. She works as the community manager for a new project that Lutheran Hour Ministries is launching. It's called the Hopeful Neighborhood Project. It's a collaborative network committed to improving community well-being all around the world. Thanks for joining us to talk about the Hopeful Neighborhood Project, Jennifer.
Jennifer Prophete: Thanks so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Mike Zeigler: Just start with words and definitions. We call this the Hopeful Neighborhood Project, and I noticed it's not hopeful community. It's Hopeful Neighborhood. So how are we defining neighborhood here?
Jennifer Prophete: For some people, if you live in a small town, maybe, that's your whole neighborhood. For others of us, maybe we live in a subdivision. So that's our neighborhood. Some people, live in an urban context, so their neighborhood might be, you know, just a block or two around them. We're asking people just to think about some defined boundaries that would be kind of agreed upon in their context and think about that as their neighborhood.
Mike Zeigler: And this is the third part of a longer project that we have been working as Lutheran Hour Ministries with the Barna Group. Jennifer, as you have worked with the research that Barna has done in partnership with Lutheran Hour Ministries, what are some, maybe, just a couple of key insights that have been helpful in this project?
Jennifer Prophete: The guiding principles that helped define the question was this concept of viewing people as gifts, that God has given each person a gift, you're a gift. Your neighbors are a gift, and each gift has gifts to share. And so that kind of helps guide our research and the questions that we ask and kind of our whole philosophy of the Hopeful Neighborhood Project.
Mike Zeigler: I've heard that there is a gift inventory that people can be a part of. Tell us more about that.
Jennifer Prophete: That's really step one of getting involved in your neighborhood is understanding your own gifts because we don't all have the gifts of hospitality; we don't all have the gifts of finding funds; we don't all have the gifts of building houses. And so, if you want to make an impact for your neighbors and share your gifts, step one is knowing what your gifts are. And so, we created an inventory that would help you understand what your gifts are. We didn't stop there. We said, well, how would you share those gifts? So, a part of the inventory helps you discern which things are you good at teaching; then what things would you like to learn? So, after you've taken your own gift inventory, we encourage people to go to their neighbors and ask them to take a gift inventory also, and then do something, that we lovingly call it a "gift exchange," where then you see what your neighbors are good at, what they would like to teach, and what they would like to learn. And we're finding then there's lots of synergies where the collection of gifts could do something really impactful and positive for your neighborhood.
Mike Zeigler: And if you wanted to take this survey, it's available online at hopefulneighborhood.org, and it's a free survey. Anybody can take it; it takes about 10 minutes, right?
Jennifer Prophete: It depends on how long it takes you to take these kinds of things, depending on how long you take to read and contemplate the questions.
Mike Zeigler: All right. So that's one of the free resources that are offered through the Hopeful Neighborhood Project to help increase neighborhood well-being. It's just understanding what your own gifts are and how you might be able to work with the giftings of your neighbors who live nearby.
I am supposing that as you've been involved in this project, you've seen some examples of things that have risen to the top. What would be some simple things that people might be able to do to improve the common good in their neighborhoods? What are some ideas that you've seen that seemed to take well?
Jennifer Prophete: Some things that have risen to the top are a collaboration in a smaller town between a bookstore and a library to do an entire town reading program. That's a bigger project. There's been smaller projects. Some neighbors put together a math tutoring club, for example. Other smaller projects are things like helping fix up a neighbor's home that needed some fixing, and the neighbor wasn't able to do it.
Mike Zeigler: So, if you want to learn more about this—again the website is hopefulneighborhood.org, and learn about how to discover the gifts that God has given you and the gifts that He's placed around you in your neighborhood to collaborate with your neighbors and pursue the common good together, and to do so in the Name of Jesus.
Jennifer Prophete: Then we have another book published called, The Hopeful Neighborhood: What Happens When Christians Pursue the Common Good. That was just released by InterVarsity Press in November. In that book, Don Everts really writes an inspirational piece, really exploring place and how God uses place in the Bible—how place is so important and how in America today, we've kind of started living above place. We work in one place; we go to school in another place; we maybe go to church in another place; we shop in a fourth place—an inspiring piece about what does that look like to really connect and live and know thy place. It's a fantastic read also. And the new book, the Field Guide, which will kind of set people up to do a project in their neighborhood will be available there as well—and is available for pre-order now.
Mike Zeigler: So, you've got some free resources at hopefulneighborhood.org—that gift inventory, and some others, and then available for purchase would be Better Together from Barna. And then the book, The Hopeful Neighborhood by Don Everts, and more to come. Thank you for making time to visit with us about this.
Jennifer Prophete: It's my pleasure. I'm so excited. And God's blessings to you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Let All Together Praise Our God" arranged by Richard Gieseke. From Glad Tidings: the Music of Christmas in Word & Song (arrangement © Concordia Publishing House)
"Let All Together Praise Our God" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)