Galatians 4:1-7

Full Text: 

I remember walking with a friend once, and she complained about how her feet hurt.  I asked her why she didn’t wear more comfortable shoes.  She said: “Because I’m a slave to fashion, that’s why.”  I had to admit, her shoes were stylish.  …but I’m unwilling to sacrifice the comfort of my feet to look good. 

We have another wordy Paul letter today.  This reading talks about heirs, and slaves, and trustees, and adoption—words none of us would put together in the same breath.  Not to mention for us the word slave is loaded and brings up one of our nation’s original sins.  So again, reading Paul can be tricky. 

But here we go anyway…

Heirs, until they come of age, don’t really have any say or freedom in what they do with their position or inheritance.  The first episode of Masterpiece’s “Victoria” comes to my mind.  All kinds of people with positions and names I can’t remember schemed to find a way to negate Queen Victoria’s power and be in a position of control since she was young and female.  Until an heir comes of age, it’s all controlled by an appointed guardian.  Paul goes so far as to say minors have the same amount of control as a slave.  Paul compares the time before Jesus to a period where everyone was like a not-yet-of-age heir.  Before Jesus, we were controlled by the “elemental spirits of the world.”  After Jesus, we were freed to fully enjoy all that being children of God offers. 

…Still tricky.  We struggle with metaphors like this today.  The examples and the language are so foreign to us nearly 2000 years later, but let’s persevere.  There is some profound truth buried in here. 

Let’s go back to my friend with the fashionable yet painful shoes.  Rather than literal slavery, Paul describes something more like my friend’s being a slave to fashion.  There are things, or forces that seem to control us and get us to do things that aren’t always in our best interest—like wearing painful shoes. 

So the question for us is, what are we slaves to, or what seems to control us?  And why does Jesus make a difference? 

On the surface, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with being “a slave to fashion” as the expression goes.  Some people are creative and artistic and like to express themselves through their clothing.  It’s part of their personality and who they are. 

But, I’m willing to bet for most of us, there are other forces that control our clothing more than we realize…

and the consequences may not always be as benign.  There’s advertising and peer-pressure no matter your age or group. 

The catalogues, the commercials, the adds that pop up on your computer based on your browsing history….

There’s pressure to keep up with trends. 

There’s pressure to look a certain way. 

Even children’s fashion has disturbing ways of controlling our ideas of gender roles. 

There’s always something new and better out there.  There’s endless appeals to our desire to get a good deal, and sales that often just get us to buy more than we might otherwise. 

Many of us end up with over-stuffed closets and dressers, and we hardly know how we ended up with all of it. 

Plus, there’s the underside to the fashion forces

and the questionable labor and environmental practices employed to give us an endless supply of cheap clothing. Perhaps, one could say, it’s out of control…  

Being fashionable isn’t necessarily bad, but there are these other forces that try to control what we do…and it’s not all good. 

And that’s just one little example.  

We may enjoy a great deal of freedom in this country, but even here, we still find ways to let other things control us. 

There are things like technology, that are supposed to make our lives easier.  Email can be a great way to send information.  Facebook can be a fun way to keep in touch with friends or relatives who live far away.  And yet, I feel like many of us are at the point where we serve the demands of technology rather than the technology being there to help us.  The mindless Facebook scrolling, the endless inbox, the need to always have something to watch or read on a screen, our discomfort with no distractions. 

It can become life-draining instead of life giving.  I believe God wants something different for us…

 There’s the infinite quest for more—more money, more things, more titles, more activities, more space, more, more, more.  There’s an elusive and empty promise out there that if we have more of whatever, we will be happy.  And yet, studies have shown that after our basic needs are met, more money doesn’t equal more happiness.  We tend to chase after this empty promise of more anyway, and in the chase, we often miss out on the things that really give life meaning. 

And then there’s the domineering motivator—fear.  We often react out of fear—fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear for the future, fear of not having enough, fear of not being enough, fear of rejection, fear of retaliation, fear of what other people will say.  But do you know what the most often repeated command in the Bible is…?  Be not afraid!  Fear leads to all kinds of bad stuff.  Fear has its place if we’re being attacked by a bear or something, but other than that it just wreaks havoc on us.  God didn’t create us to cower to fear. 

There are all kinds of forces that find a way to control us.  Paul sometimes calls this sin.  We can try to limit these things.  God gave a whole set of commandments to help curb these forces.  A lot of good can come from seeking to love God and love our neighbor as our self.  But humanity is still stuck. 

God doesn’t want us to be stuck.  Jesus was born into our world so we could get un-stuck.  When we say Jesus died for our sins, it’s not so much that God has some divine chart that gives us another little tic mark every time we do something naughty and somehow Jesus dying erases them.  It’s not so much that God was angry and wrathful and demanded that someone had to die for all the things we’ve done wrong.  It’s more that humans have let these other life-squelching forces take control, and God let the unfortunate consequences follow. 

Jesus came to put things back into balance.  Jesus came not only to defeat death, but also to overcome all these forces that diminish life.  He came to give us a way that is different, a way of life that frees us from all the things that too easily control us.   

To be a child of God means that we are loved beyond measure just because, and we are freed from our need to prove ourselves. 

Jesus helps us let go of the fear

and the distractions

and the empty promises of more,

and helps us to live the way God created us to live. 

 

Jesus helps us to see the gift of enough

and learn how to love and accept ourselves

so we can better love our neighbor. 

 

Jesus faced all our fears—even death—so we don’t have to face any of them alone. 

 

In our baptisms, all that controlling stuff drowns and something new emerges. 

We are joined to Jesus and joined to one another as we learn and grow together. 

The Spirit sets us on a journey to be the children God created us to be. 

We can start to see ourselves with the grace and compassion God sees us through.   

We can start to experience the peace the world cannot give and live into the fullness of life God intended. 

We can start to live as children of God

who share this compassion and this peace,

who seek to heal divides and care for the wounds of the world,

who cast out fear and care for all creation. 

 

 

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts, crying, "Mother!  Father!" 7 So you are no longer controlled by these forces, but you are a beloved child of God.