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Galatians 4:8-20

 

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

 

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (ESV)

 

Wicked Stepchild

Tuesday of Pentecost 11

26 August 2014

Some years ago when I took a call from one parish to another, members of the parish I was leaving were extremely upset because I was leaving, and they predicted all manner of mischief that they were sure would arise if I left them to lead another flock. Of course, they meant this in a way that was intended to be flattering. While I did not tell them this, I took their prediction of disaster as something of an affront to my pastoral care. If I had indeed led them into the clear waters and green pastures of the divine Word while I was among them, who could move them from the Lord's immovable Word? But perhaps their pessimism was well placed.

 

What made me think that I had a leg up on the very apostles of our Lord who lamented over the weakness and unbelief they saw in the parishes that they established here and there over the ancient Mediterranean world? Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, watched the Galatian Christians subvert the preaching of the Gospel in favor of the law; the law of circumcision. That legal requirement was added to the preaching of Christ by eager beavers from Jerusalem: "Yes, yes, Jesus is really great! But something must be added. You must show your commitment to the Lord by being circumcised. You don't think that Jesus is going to forgive you absolutely freely do you?" And with that little legalism the gospel was overturned among them.

 

Much that an orthodox preacher might do in a Christian congregation over many years and with tear-filled labor could be undone in a sermon or two when the preaching bends to the will of the human heart. These little legalisms resonate with old Adam who wants to "do something" to prove to God that he is really serious about his faith. "All Jesus needs is your heartfelt commitment to Him and He will gladly forgive your sins." Uh, oh. The law has slipped in unawares where faith becomes your commitment to God. When anything becomes a meritorious condition of God's mercy, it overthrows grace. But this sounds so good and pious and is preached by the new, exciting preacher that has such zeal for the work of the Lord, so that we do not notice, or prefer not to notice, his invitation to a self-generated holiness. This is a "gospel" that is to be condemned, even if it has been dropped out of heaven on golden plates by the angels themselves (Gal 1:8-9).

 

Luther predicted that fanaticism would triumph in the church to which he reintroduced the gospel. Perhaps we are living through the fulfillment of that prophecy in our day in America. Many congregations that are Lutheran in name have succumbed to the other "gospel" which is not gospel at all. The law has slipped in with all the bureaucratic fixes to the church's ills. "If we could just organize ourselves efficiently our church would grow. God's grace will become effective where we are doing things to make it so." And where God's grace is banished there is every possibility that the church is not being grown, no matter if we say so. This is not so shocking where the gospel has been shoved into a corner like the wicked stepchild.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Paul is deeply shocked that those who already know God through the gospel have been seduced by the false apostles and turn back again so quickly to the weak and beggarly elements (Gal 4:9). In the same way I would regard it as surprising if our church (which has, by the grace of God, been beautifully established in the pure and sound doctrine and faith) were to be subverted by some sermon or other from a fanatic and thus were to refuse to acknowledge me as its teacher any longer. And this is what will happen someday, if not while we are living, then after we are gone. Then many who want to be teachers will arise. Under the pretext of piety they will teach perverse doctrines, and in a little while they will undo everything that we have built up over a long period of time and with great effort. We are no better than the apostles, who while they were living saw with sorrow the overthrow of the churches that they had planted by their ministry. Therefore it is no wonder if we are forced to witness the same evil today in the churches where the sectarians reign. They are occupied in preparing to take over our churches after we are dead, and will infect them with their poison and overthrow them. Nevertheless, Christ will continue to reign until the end of the world, and in a wondrous way, just as He did under the papacy."  

 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.9
 
Prayer

Lord Jesus, send your gospel to us despite our unworthiness so that we might never be taken captive to the law again. Amen.

 

For Kim Cheng, who will be undergoing cancer surgery, that the Lord would grant her strength and relief

 

For all doctors, nurses and medical staff, that the Lord would strengthen them in their service to those who are suffering

 

For Pastor Charles Wokoma, that the Lord Jesus would give fruit to his labor

Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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