An Adult in Faith

Galatians 4:1-7

Sunday, June 2, 2017

At what point to you think you became an adult?  I suppose that varies to a certain extent from generation to generation, for that answer may be somewhat contextual.  We first start thinking about that when the digits in our age start to number 2.  That you see is the age that we can see the big number 16 approaching when we can get our  driver’s license.  It is difficult for me to remember that back in Kansas where I grew up the age for a driver’s license was 14.  Now there were some restrictions on that but it was the freedom to drive to school or work or with a parent in the car.

The laws in Indiana are a lot more complicated.  To the disappointment of most teenagers in Indiana one must be at least 16 years old.  Then you are eligible for a provisional license.). At 17 1/2 years old you are allowed to apply for a provisional permit without taking driver’s education. At 18 years old and older you can apply for a driver’s license without getting a learner’s permit.  However, you may not drive with passengers for 180 days after getting your probationary license, unless you are also accompanied in the front seat by a licensed instructor, an individual with a valid driver’s license who is at least 25 years of age or a spouse who is at least 21 years of age.  Boy those kids from agricultural states sure had it a lot easier!

Some of us are old enough to remember when a person was not an adult and able to vote  until we were 21.  The 26th amendment passed in March of 1971 primarily due to the fact that military draft age was 18  and the young me who were being drafted then had no voice on who it would be who would set the policies that would send them into war.

The church, at least the Presbyterian Church, has set the time of confirmation as the age at which a person becomes an adult.  That age is not universal but is an age determined by each local congregation.  I understand that here at Faith the age falls sometime when a person is in Junior High.  Again in my  home rural state of Kansas I was confirmed in the 6th  grade. That is why I could dazzle my present wife when my father became the minister of a different church where they confirmed kids in 9th grade.  He used to have me stand in front of the confirmation class to recite all the bible verses that I had to learn when I was confirmed.

While the ancient world was much more male dominated, there were more specific ways when a boy became a man.  In the Jewish culture it was of course the Bar Mitzvah which was offered on the first Sabbath after a child’s 12th birthday.  In the Roman culture it was called the TOGA VIRILIS which allowed a young man to wear a white toga after the age of 15.  The greek culture had the AN APATOURIA which took place anywhere between the 15th and the 18th birthday.

Paul uses two different images to compare life before adulthood to life as an adult: Slave and minors.  Both of these images carry with them the notion that the person is not free to make his or her own decisions.  Now in each case there may come a time when greater freedom to make decision is granted but in each case the amount of that freedom and the timing of that gift is something that is under the control of their master.

We know exactly what that is like as parents.  We don’t  let our children play unsupervised until they have learned not to leave the yard or cross the street.  We don’t give them complete freedom to choose what they would like to eat lest they choose Twinkies and junk food all the time.  And we certainly don’t let them drive the car or stay out late at night until we are confident that the responsibilities of that behavior have become part of their person.

When Princess Diana died in 1997, she left a sizable inheritance for her two sons, William and Harry, in the amount of $20.4 million. With investments and interest, that amount grew during their teens and twenties to $31.4 million. But the provision was such that William and Harry were only able to inherit this considerable estate after their 30th birthdays. In June, 2012, William turned 30 and received his portion of the inheritance. Later, Harry received his portion on his 30th birthday as well. (Frank Lovelace, “Prince William turns 30, inherits share of Diana estate,” (Newsday, 6-20-12;    You see, you don’t give a child nearly $16 million! No! You wait until he or she is old enough to make responsible decisions!

The same was and my still be of an heir.  In ancient times an heir was under a guardianship until the time came that the terms of the trust had been fulfilled and that person was considered an adult.  Until that time there were and still are limited privileges and responsibilities that were incumbent on the  heir.  In other words according to Paul that person still lived under the law, when there were specific responsibilities , rules or norms for most situations in life.   Today we might call that micro managing.  It is  one thing to live like that in our business relationships or world but quite a different thing to live like that in our personal relations that are to be ruled by the law of New Covenant and not of the law of the Old Covenant.  And that is very hard for some people.  They tend to want a list of does and don’t so that they will know all the time whether they were right or wrong in the decisions of their life.

One spring afternoon, our door bell rang about the time our family was sitting down for dinner.  When I answered the door a young couple from my church stood on the porch.  The wife was very animated and the husband looked rather dejected.  She said to me, “We need to talk.”

I then started to ask her in, but she interrupted. “Not here.”

“Well I can meet you at my office in about half an hour.”

I rather quickly ate dinner wondering what was so important that they had to speak with me right away.

When I arrived at the church I found them waiting. When they sat down in my office the woman started talking without any prompting.  She told me the tail of how her husband had fallen off the wagon not from alcohol but from prescription drugs and that this was the second time.  The conversation with not so much angry as it was sad.  He was rather guarded and didn’t say very much.  We talked about a lot of things: trust,  the loss of trust, mistakes, and even sin.  We talked of treatment plans and what this meant for the two of them as well as for their three children.  I told them also that in the next two weeks I would like to meet with them individually.

When it came time to talk with the husband we went for a long walk through the neighborhood.  And what I heard was really a story of the inability to accept the grace of God and live as an adult in Christ.  This young man was so convicted by all of the things that he had done, that making choices to live a faithful life was something the he just could not understand.  All of the don’ts of life had become glass walls that he just had to break.

But if we are to be heirs of Christ as Paul writes then the law has to take on a new meaning, and be something that doesn’t convict us but frees  us.

I supposed that I was fortunate in the development of my theology.  My early theological training took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when our culture was going through a lot of changes, and there was pushing against the law and tradition from many sides.  Shortly after my ordination I was passing through the church library in Milwaukee when my eye caught a  small paper pack book in the youth section of the library.  And since my major job was youth and education ministry I took it out.  To this day I have no real clue what there was that was so appealing about that book  and I cannot remember the author.   But the name of that book was “I Never Promised You a Disneyland.”

One of the chapter was on the 10 Commandments, subtitled the Law.  After a brief description of  each of the commandment, the author made this statement which has stayed with me for more than 40 years.  She said, “God didn’t give you the ten commandments because he wanted you to miss out of something in life.  God gave you those commandments because he loves you and he does not want you to be hurt.  Because if you break any of those commandments you will get hurt.”

That is what being an adult in Christ is all about.  It is about being able to choose the right action or activity not because you have been told to do so but because you see the rightness of it and its value to God’s people.

Last Thursday my wife sent me a copy of something that she had received on Facebook.  Now we all know that Facebook is a great way to pass on information.  When we have gone on our Mission trips to Mexico it has more than once saved our lives.  But this particular message merely said, “Better slow down there are policemen all over 126th street.”  Isn’t speeding the perfect metaphor for life under the law and life under Christ.  All you like me, speeders beware.  If I see speed limits as those things that have been imposed on me by my legislators then they become obstacles preventing me from getting where I want to when I want to.  Then I can choose to obey it because I don’t want to get a ticket or  I can see it as something superimposed on me from outside sources.  That is the Old Law.  But if I see it a something is there to save lives, and one of them might be mine well that then becomes the new law of Christ.

I don’t know if any of you have ever heard of Desmond Doss.  Desmond was born in Lynchburg, Virginia back in 1916.  In April of 1942 Desmond began his  military training at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina.  He was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, of B Company, the first Battalion.  And like many of his generation he went off to serve his country.  He was raised the in seventh-day Adventist church the product of a somewhat dysfunctional family.  Through a near tragic event that almost took the life of his brother which Desmond was holding a gun he promised himself and the Lord that he would never hold a rifle again.

He always had had a yearning to study medicine, so he wanted to serve his country as a medic, but at the time his training personnel were prone to force him to be part of the infantry. As a matter of faith he kept insisting that he would never carry a gun.  And he kept insisting on his right to serve his country and the military as a Conscientious Objector; one who is opposed to the taking of a life under any situation.  One can only imagine the difficulty this produced for him during his training and the names that he was called by his fellow soldiers as they saw this as cowardice while he saw it as a strength.  After a long struggle with his superiors he was finally  allowed to complete his training and deploy with his comrades as a medic.  While serving with his platoon in 1944 on the island of Guam he was awarded the Bronze Star for aiding wounded soldiers under fire.    During the battle of Okinawa he saved the lives of 75 wounded infantry men atop the Maeda escarpment only to ultimately be wounded and taken to the USS Mercy in early 1945.

However it was  just 5 months later that he stood before President Truman to be the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Medal of Honor.  He is one of only three, all medics who have received this honor and the only one who did not lose their life in battle.

Now I do not want anyone to think that I am making a value judgment about which type of military service is more honorable, noble, or appreciated by our country, for there are truly many different types of service that make our country great and the men and women who serve her heroic.  But I am saying that an adult in faith as Paul describes it, struggles to do what they feel is right because they have an understanding of the laws and rules that govern them and inform their behaviors that is based on their adoption by Christ as one of the Lord’s people.

Moving from being a heir or slave to being a mature person in faith is really a very easy shift for us to make as Christians if we are willing to make it.  It is doing what is right because it is right, and not because the law requires us.  Is the law good?  Of course it is, but if that is all that it is then we have become enslaved to it and our natural desire will be to escape from it or break it.

So I guess that the choice will always be ours whether we choose to live as heirs and slaves of the law or as those set free in the Law and love of Jesus Christ.  Amen