Midweek Lent 2009
I recently had the pleasure of seeing all of my very good friends who I went to seminary with. We all had met together at the annual Rural Ministry Conference hosted by my seminary that I recently graduated from, Wartburg, and the Center for Theology and Land. And while it was great to see the people I forged such great relationships in the place that holds so many wonderful memories of those friendships, I also got see my Godson, Martin. I first got to know Martin when he just an infant totally dependant on his mom and dad. I even got to see him grow in his first year of life during my last year at seminary. But, since we all graduated last May and went to our respective first I’ve only gotten to see a grand total of three times. So, when I saw him for the first time in almost six months, I was surprised by how much he has become a little boy who runs around with great energy, exploring his entire world around him. No longer was he an infant who was totally dependant upon the people who took care of him.
Now, he’s a little boy who climbs up and down stairs. Now, he’s a little boy who plays racks of greeting cards on display in the bookstore at my old seminary. Now, he’s a little boy who wanders to and fro getting into things exploring every nook and cranny he can find. Now instead of trying to get him to do things like play with toys with me, I found myself telling to be careful as he went down the hard steps in chapel. I found myself telling him to stay in the bookstore while his mommy was away making a phone call, even running to get him as he started to wander off into the hall. In a way, I was holding him and guarding him from dangers in his life. I’m going to go ahead and guess on this, and I suspect that it is a pretty good guess even though I don’t have children of my own: every parent has had to do this for their children throughout their lives. Every parent has had to guide, protect, and hold their children from danger. Every parent has had to set boundaries for their children to help protect them and raise them in their lives. Every parent has had to discipline their children when those boundaries were tested and broken. And every parent has had to eventually let that go as their children grow up and lead their lives for themselves.
Paul in his letter to the Galatians says that that was much the same relationship that God had with humanity and the rest of creation. “Before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law.” I think that when one hears the word “imprisoned,” one thinks that someone must have done something wrong to deserve the punishment of being thrown into prison; yet even though we have rebelled and crossed the boundaries that God has set before us, the imprisonment here is the rules and the bounds that God had set for us so that we might be safe. And, it’s not simply imprisonment that Paul is talking about. He’s also uses the language of guarded like a parent guards a child from dangers and cares for us. But, all of this was before faith came. We are no longer under a law that protects and guides us.
So, what is faith? Paul implies here that, now that faith has come, the old system of guidance and care under the law is no longer for us. How is faith then setting us free from imprisonment under the law? The key is to recognize from where faith comes. Faith comes to us when Christ comes to us. Faith is revealed in who Christ is and what Christ does. Rules we can follow. Laws we can obey. Or, at least laws and rules can in theory be followed and obeyed. Sadly, in all these laws and rules we all too often forsake them and turn away from how they want us to live our lives as we cross the boundaries that God has set before us in our lives. We hurt others. We grab for only ourselves. We worship upon other idols have no ability to give us life. We even let other things control whether or not we see the worth in ourselves.
But faith comes to us. Faith seeks us out in our inability to follow all the rules and laws set before us in our lives. And this faith comes to us through the faithfulness of Christ Jesus who comes to us in our sin and brokenness. This faith is the life centering trust in God who is the sole source of life for us. In this faith, we become the children of God. We are the children of a God who cares for and loves us with an unending faithfulness that follows us wherever we might stray. Our faith, our trust is in a God who never failing comes to us in every part of our lives. Our faith, our trust is in a God who comes to us even when break rules and laws and cross the boundaries that have been set up for us. Our faith, our trust is in a God who gives a new identity that changes the very core of who we are. Our faith, our trust is in a God who becomes our sin and death by going to the cross faithfully, loving us too much to abandon us in our sin and death.
No longer are we defined by our nationality as we are all Children of God who have put on Christ. No longer are we defined by our social status as we are all Children of God who have put on Christ. No longer are we defined by our gender differences as we are all Children of God who have put on Christ. No longer are we defined by our deaths, for in Jesus’ death on the cross, we are united with Christ raised into new life. All of this is because of God’s self-giving love who comes to us, not because we can ever give it back perfectly to God, but because God’s chooses us. All the other things that separate us from God and each other no longer should separate us, because Jesus loves us equally, dies for us equally, and raises us to new life equally.
Jesus’ faith is not a trust in that we can become something better ourselves. Jesus’ faith is not like a parent learning to trust a child to make decisions for him or herself. Jesus’ faith is the constant promise that he will always come to us even in our failings no matter what we might do or where we might go. I look at my relationship with my Godson, Martin, and I see that my perception of him will have to change as he grows older. I will have to trust him more and more. But, I will have to trust that God is there in his life just as much as God is in my life. Martin is a child of God. I’m a Child of God. You all are children of God. This is revelation of faith. This is what Christ brings to us in our lives. This is the never-ending faithful promise of God for all of creation.