Reparations or Freedom?
Friday in Pentecost 26
18 November 2016
A few years ago, there arose a great deal of talk about slave reparations, as though mere financial payments could undo injustices done to past generations. How far back could this go? Should the government or the United States give back Manhattan to the so called native peoples of this continent? Perhaps the Dutch might also stake a claim on it. I myself, following this reparation logic and being of Scottish extraction, thought it might be lucrative to sue the government of Great Britain for the feudal oppression that made my forebears medieval serfs, who were no better than slaves. The Irish should sue her majesty's government, since the British government did nothing to alleviate the suffering caused by the potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century. If we are due reparations for every form of slavery, everybody should get a piece of the action. The problem is, if everyone gets reparations, who will pay?
But money cannot undo slavery. There are examples of fabulously rich slaves, who were still in bondage in Roman times. Only freedom undoes slavery. Apart from Christ we are slaves of the law, oppressed by God's wrath and judgment against our sin, and under the sentence of death. The law lays its rod upon our backs. Under its strokes we are no better than slaves and serfs; driven by the law. The law's power to drive all before it leads only to rebellion or despair apart from Christ. Bondage either incites rage against its constraint or hopeless despondence under its iron grip.
For those who rage against the law or who fold in on themselves in despair there is no seeing emancipation. Christ frees from the law, but the law drives us to see the need for Christ. Both Christ and the law are necessary and are preached together, but always distinguished, so that Christ saves and the law does not; the law drives us and Christ carries us; the law demands of us and Christ gives to us; the law demands reparations and Christ gives us freedom. The law's proper work is to bring us to despair that Christ might rescue us from despair and give hope. The law is to increase sin, that Christ might take it away. The law is to take away righteousness, that Christ might give it. The law is to take away life and bring death, that Christ might take away death and bring life. Who will pay the reparations? Christ. He alone sets us free.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"'When we were children, we were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world' (Gal 4:3); that is, the law was dominant over us and oppressed us with harsh slavery as serfs and captives. In the first place, it was a political restraint upon uncivilized and carnal men to keep them from rushing headlong into all sorts of crimes. The law threatens transgressors with punishment; and if they were not afraid of this, they would do nothing but commit evil. Those who are restrained by the law this way are dominated by the law. In the second place, the law accused, terrified, killed, and condemned us before God spiritually or theologically. This was the chief dominion of the law over us. Therefore, just as an heir who is subject to guardians is whipped and forced to obey their rules and to carry out their orders carefully, so consciences before Christ are oppressed by the harsh tyranny of the law; that is, they are accused, terrified, and condemned by the law. Now this dominion, or rather tyranny, of the law is not permanent but is supposed to last only until the time of grace. Therefore, the function of the law is indeed to denounce and to increase sin, but for the purpose of righteousness; and to kill, but for the purpose of life. For the law is a custodian until Christ comes.
"Therefore just as guardians treat a young heir harshly, lording it over him and giving him orders, and just as he is compelled to be subject to them, so the law accuses, humbles, and enslaves us, so that we are slaves to sin, death, and the wrath of God, which is surely the most miserable and terrible form of slavery. But just as the domination of the guardians and the subjection and slavery of the young heir are not permanent but last only until the date set by the father, when he no longer needs the protection of trustees and is no longer subject to them but can enjoy his inheritance from his father as he pleases, so the law dominates us, and we are forced to be slaves and captives under its dominion, but not permanently. For an additional phrase is appended: 'until the date set by the father' (Gal 4:2). And the Christ who was promised came and redeemed us who were being oppressed by the tyranny of the law.
"On the other hand, Christ did not come for the smug hypocrites and the openly wicked despisers; nor did He come for the despairing, who think that there is nothing left but the terrors of the law which they are experiencing. He was not given for such people, and He is useless to both groups. But He is useful to those who have been troubled and terrified by the law for a time; for they do not despair amid the grave terrors caused by the law, but they confidently draw near to Christ, the throne of grace, who has redeemed them from the curse of the law by being made a curse for them; and here they obtain mercy and find grace.
"Therefore the emphasis lies on the phrase 'we were slaves,' as though he were saying: 'Our conscience was subject to the law, which exercised its tyranny over us with all its might, it whipped us as a tyrant whips his captive slave. It held us confined and captive; that is, it made us fearful, sad, pale, and desperate, by threatening us with eternal death and damnation.' This theological slavery is very harsh-not permanently, however, but as long as it lasts, as long as we are children, that is, until Christ comes. So long as He is absent, we are slaves, confined under the law, lacking grace, faith, and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But after Christ comes, the imprisonment and slavery of the law come to an end." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.3
Galatians 4:1-7

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (ESV)
O Lord Christ, it is for freedom that You have set us free. Grant grace to us, that we might live in that freedom so as to serve others in their need. Amen.
For Marcheta Beasley, who is recovering from surgery, that God would grant strength and health

For all medical researchers, that new cures and therapies would be brought to the market so that suffering would be alleviated
For those struggling with marriages in conflict, that they might find a way to forgive and serve one another in love
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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