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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, June 5, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Galatians 3:23—4:11

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted. (NRSV)

Paul says some lovely things here, about faith and the law, being children of God, with barriers removed between us. Lovely things. And then he basically turns to the Galatians and says, “But you people . . . I’ve had it with you.”

He’s pretty ticked off. The Galatians, having heard the good news of the gospel, had been slipping back into the trappings of their old observances. They had been having their own sort of golden calf moment, turning back again to “the weak and beggarly elemental spirits.”

I mean, how stupid can they get?

In her brilliant book The March of Folly, historian Barbara Tuchman describes a particular kind of misgovernance where actions are taken that are (a) perceived as counter-productive in their own time; (b) taken in spite of available feasible alternative courses; and (c) taken as a group action, not an individual one. Paul is catching the Galatians in one of these moments of folly. “How can you do this? How can you want this?” Pointing out their own folly, directly, without soft-pedaling.

They’re so foolish. They’re so human.

We humans hate uncertainty. We have a bias to the negative that causes us to expect that things will go wrong, a bias that tends to keep us stuck in old patterns. For instance, it makes legalism very attractive—if you follow the law, you know God will be pleased with you. Observe those special days, and months, and seasons. There’s a feeling of certainty there. There’s a comforting structure.

It also makes faith a very scary thing. Faith replaces the thirty-page contract, with all its clauses and sub-clauses, with a couple of agreements and a handshake. It’s the opposite of certainty. And that can get really uncomfortable, so of course we always tend to slide away from the enormous possibility and toward the small, the familiar, and the comfortable. We go back to our old ways. When we can’t see the leader who led us out of a terrible situation, we turn to a golden calf.

Faith is hard, but when we act out of fear, we lose the gospel.

Lord, remind us that we are called to live out of our hopes and not our fears. Give us the courage to hold to the good and live out of our faith in you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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