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Galatians 4:21-31

 

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband." Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

(ESV)

 

Stay With Our Mother

Thursday of Pentecost 14 

18 September 2014

Being a mother is a difficult job. Just ask one. Giving birth is physically taxing and sometimes terrifying; but that is the easiest part of mothering. What makes bringing up children difficult is the next 18 or more years of labor. It is far more painful than the labor of childbirth. For example, young mothers struggle with the way the first years of child rearing are so restricting. I was reminded of this while watching a young family with a baby getting on an airplane. Mothers are weighed down with baby bag, stroller, formula, baby car seat, and other paraphernalia for the first few years of a child's life. But all of that is needed because a child is completely dependent on his or her mother. A child separated from his or her mother is presumed to be lost. A child who is lost is in enormous danger. A mother and her child should never be separated. The most ferocious creature on earth is a female who senses a threat to her young. There is no separating her from her young.

 

This is all the more true for the relationship between our mother, the church, and her children. To separate the children from the mother is deadly to the children. But first we must presume that she is where the children are. They are born from her, so she needs to be present where they are born. Her children are on earth, therefore the church is on earth. This does not mean that she is earthly. She is heavenly, though she exists on earth. Like her children, she is in the world, not of it. The church is not some super-spiritual construct stuck in the clouds, as though it would far from us. No, the church is where her children are, where they gather around the spiritual gifts that sustain the life which she has given them. There are many accoutrements that she carries to share with her children: among them Supper, water, and Scripture. This is why we seek her everywhere in the world, but we only identify her presence by pointing to the things that feed and sustain her children: Word and Sacraments. She exists in Perm, Phnom Penh, Peoria, and Pretoria, because her children are there.

 

If the children run away from their mother, they are in terrible peril, like a lost child. Therefore, church membership retention is not just a matter of institutional health, it is a life and death matter for the church's children. If we flee our mother, we will fall into the clutches of our enemy the devil, or starve to death for lack of the baby formula in the Supper of the Lord (1Pt 2:2). The church chases her children not to keep buildings full but to assure that the children of the church do not lose their spiritual life. Unfortunately, this idea is lost to moderns who believe that what is on earth cannot be spiritual and that they can leave the "institutional church" because they don't believe in "organized religion" (such people have never been involved with a real Christian church, if they can describe it as "organized religion"). To such people the church on earth is purely earthly and cannot partake of spiritual things, nor convey the true spiritual gifts.

 

The church on earth does actually claim that she has spiritual gifts to convey in her teaching of the incarnation: God became flesh and dwelt among us for a while (Jn 1:14), that is, heaven came to earth in the person of Christ. He sets the pattern for the church's whole life and ministry. She shares His Word and they are spirit and they are life (Jn 6:63). Let's stay with our mother and really live.

 

Martin Luther

 

"It is necessary that the church, this mother of ours, like the birth she gives, to be on earth among men. However, she gives birth in the Spirit, by the ministry of the Word and of the sacraments, not in flesh. I say this to keep us from being taken away by our thoughts into heaven. We should know that Paul is contrasting the Jerusalem that is above with the earthly Jerusalem, not spatially but spiritually. Spiritual things are distinct from physical or earthly things. Spiritual things are 'above'; earthly things are 'below.' Thus the Jerusalem that is above is distinguished from the physical and temporal Jerusalem that is below, as I have said, not spatially but spiritually. For the spiritual Jerusalem, which began in the physical Jerusalem, has no prescribed location, as the one in Judea does; but it is scattered throughout the world and can be in Babylonia, Turkey, Tartary, Scythia, India, Italy, or Germany, on the islands of the sea, on mountains, in valleys, and everywhere in the world where there are men who have the gospel and believe in Christ.

 

"Therefore Sarah, or Jerusalem, our free mother, is the church, the bride of Christ from whom we all are born. She goes on giving birth to children without stopping until the end of the world, as long as she exercises the ministry of the Word, that is, while she preaches and propagates the gospel; for this is what it means for her to give birth. She teaches the gospel in such a way that we are set free from the curse of the law, from sin, death, and other evils, not through the law and works but through Christ. Therefore the Jerusalem that is above, that is, the church, is not subject to the law and works; but she is free and is a mother without law, sin, or death. And as the mother is, so are the children to whom she gives birth." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.26
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, we have been born of water and Spirit in our mother, the church. Keep us close to her so that we might never be lost or without the food she provides. Help us to call those who have abandoned her back to their true home and family. Amen.

 

For Pastor Charles and Janet Froh, Professors at Matongo Theological College, Kenya, that the Lord Jesus would grant them grace to share His truth and love with the students under their stewardship

 

For Joanna Karner, that she would be comforted by the Spirit of Christ as she continues to deal with a chronic disease

 

For Wayne Murray, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and healing according to His good and gracious will
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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