May 23, 2021
Acts 2: 1-4; Galatians 4: 1-7, 5:16-26
Among the most-used channels on the television in our house are the movie channels.
Today’s portion of the letter to the Galatians brings to mind a movie I’ve seen a few times – the first being when the kids were … well … kids.
Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ is based on a series of young adult novels.
The movie tells the story of fourteen-year-old Violet Baudelaire, her twelve-year-old brother, Klaus, and their baby sister, Sunny. The story is narrated by investigator Lemony Snicket.
The three children are orphaned after a fire destroys their home and kills their parents. Mr. Poe, the family’s banker, manages their affairs and leaves them in the care of their geographically-closest relative … stage actor, Count Olaf.
Olaf wants their family fortune, which will remain in the custody of the bank until Violet comes of age. Olaf forces the children to do unnecessary chores … he belittles them … and he even leaves them in a car parked on train tracks while he is shopping.
After that last incident, Mr. Poe takes the children from Olaf and leaves them with other relatives during the course of the movie. Each time, Count Olaf shows up in disguise and tries to gain the inheritance from the three children.
And each time, he is foiled by the children.
Olaf is finally arrested, but we are told that he later disappears.
At the end of the movie, Snicket says that despite the unfortunate events, the children were fortunate to have each other.
They are, after all, a family.
Back in Paul’s time there was a Roman inheritance law called tutela impuberis … which translates into “tutelage of youth.”
It was also known as “tutela testamentaria” … which translates into “tutelage by will.”
Under this law, an underage heir was placed under the guidance of tutor or guardian who has been selected by the father. This arrangement would remain in place until the boy reached the age of fourteen.
Then, the youth would be considered free from the guardian’s oversight … BUT … the city magistrate could and usually did appoint a curator who provided oversight over the heir and the inheritance until the youth reached the ripe old age of 25.
Greeks followed similar inheritance practices.
All this is to protect the inheritor from being taken advantage of … and to ensure that the inheritance is received as was intended and protected from the Count Olafs of the day.
Today’s section of Paul’s letter centres on the people’s inheritance and the benefits it holds for the inheritor and, ultimately, for the world.
Paul tells the Galatians that through baptism everyone is made a child of God. And because we are children, God has sent the Spirit into our hearts … and that Spirit … given to us through grace … carries the inheritance … evokes the inheritance … that we are to live into.
Today is Pentecost.
It’s a time when we recall the moment when the flames of the Spirit touches the group in Jerusalem … fills their hearts … and ignites the call of discipleship within them … and fulfils a promise made by Jesus.
The beautiful, loving act at the table is that the people seated there can share the message of the gospel in the language of the people they meet in their travels … it doesn’t mean that everyone speaks the same language … the differences remain … but the message is shared and understood regardless of context.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds the Galatian congregations of the gifts they have received through Christ.
Paul believes those who are following the false gods of the world or following the false teachers are at risk of becoming orphaned … at risk of losing their faith family and inheritance.
Paul recognized that the gifts of the Spirit unite us and point us beyond the gifts themselves … toward God and toward life with one another … toward a life as a vested, involved member of a community … of a family.
Christ changes orphans into adopted children … and because we have been adopted, we become heirs.
The Spirit goes where the people are in Luke’s recounting of what happens at the table in Jerusalem… and the Spirit bestows a multitude of gifts upon them … and upon us … through our faith.
And these gifts … the fruits as Paul calls them … are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are all fruits that shape our relationship with one another and that mark our life in Christ.
Of today’s passage, theologian John Frederick once wrote:
“Holiness doesn’t happen on spiritual autopilot.”
“No,” Frederick continues, “we are sanctified by actively following in the footsteps of the faithful obedience of the Son. We do this not to earn our salvation, but to demonstrate it through our works, and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling by the power that God provides through the Holy Spirit.”
“Holiness doesn’t happen on Spiritual autopilot.”
Being on autopilot is what happens when we follow tradition … or in the Galatians’ case … the law … and believe that is all we need to do … that’s all that we are called to do. While Paul believed the law helped protect the children as they grew spiritually, he argued that it wasn’t what led to righteousness, as some of the Pharisees and teachers argued.
The actions of the Spirit are what made things possible.
During a podcast on today’s portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Lutheran scholar Craig Koester points out that the Spirit and not the law makes faith and love possible.
Love cannot be legislated, love has to be evoked and that is what God does through the gospel. Something has to awaken joy within us … something has to call it forth in us … a sense of goodness … a sense of promise … a sense of something more.
This is when we live into and fully realize the inheritance we’ve received … it’s when we move from simply being a child … into being something more … into being someone whose actions are guided by love.
This leaves each of us with a question that’s acutely appropriate for Pentecost … “How do I live out the gifts that God has given me through the coming of the Spirit?”
This means turning off the autopilot … getting our hands dirty … both spiritually and physically … it means that the gift we’ve received … the gift of God’s expansive, unconditional love … the gift of grace … this inheritance is the connective tissue between the children … between each of us.
Today’s prayer of the day opened with two words … “Abba Father” … “dear Father.”
Words that affirm our place in the family as children of God … and affirm our connection to our brothers and sisters … a reminder and an affirmation that we are not alone and we belong.
Two words that point us toward something beyond ourselves … toward love-filled … joy-filled … lives inspired and evoked by the Spirit within our hearts … an inheritance that we are called to share with all.