Summary: We are all one in Christ Jesus, and as a unified body, we are empowered to fulfill our responsibilities as the children of God!
As a child, my sister and I spent many of our days (and some evenings too) under the watchful care of a babysitter. I still remember those babysitters well. The first one was Mimi, who took care of us every weekday until we started preschool. She would often watch us in the afternoons after preschool and in the summers, too. I remember riding big wheels in Mimi’s carport, taking naps in her living room, and looking at her collection of Barbie dolls in the basement. After Mimi, there was Mel, who was a friend of Mimi’s and conveniently lived less than a block from my elementary school. I would walk to Mel’s house after school and play there until my Mom or Dad came to pick me up. When I got older, my sister and I would spend our summers with Rebecca, a high schooler and church friend, who came to our house each day to watch us and play with us. She would also watch us sometimes in the evenings when our parents went out to special parties or events. We played board games, watched movies, and went swimming at the pool on those hot summer days. By the time I was in high school, I was babysitting in the summer too. I remember helping Amy with math drills and eating Moose Tracks ice cream with Amy and her sister Kelly.
Mimi, Mel, Rebecca, and I are all very different people. We are different ages, we live different lives, and we have different interests. What links us all together is the fact that we have all done some babysitting in our lives. And one of the roles of babysitters is to act as the disciplinarian of the children in the absence of the parents or guardians. It’s something every babysitter has to do sometimes, even in the midst of play and fun there’s the occasional timeout or a firm, “No.” It just comes with the territory.
Such “territory” is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the law as our “disciplinarian.” See, in Paul’s time, it was common that families would have a slave whose task it was to look after the children day by day on the parents’ behalf, caring for their needs and making sure the children behave; much like a babysitter functions in today’s society (except with pay, of course). What Paul is seeking to convey to the Galatians, and to us, in this passage is that the law has functioned for Israel like a babysitter or disciplinarian until Israel should grow up. Paul’s basic point is about the story of Israel between the time of Moses and the coming of the Messiah. During this time, Israel was still a child and needed special looking after, that’s why God gave Moses the law. But what Paul goes on to claim throughout this letter to the Galatians is that, with the coming of Jesus, Israel was a last God’s grown-up child. Israel had reached the age of responsibility or trustworthiness. And the word for “trustworthiness” is the same as “faith.” The faithfulness of Jesus himself is the sign that here at last is a mature Israelite, come to bring God’s promises to fulfillment. The answering faith of the believer is the sign that this person, no matter what their background, is a full and complete member of God’s family. All of you, says Paul, are children of God!
We are all God’s children! We have been freed from the law through the sacrifice of Christ, and together we belong to a particular community, the new royal family, the grown-up children, Christ’s people. As God’s children, we are all one in Christ Jesus, and the badge of God’s free people is that we are entrusted with responsibility: we are to believe the gospel that has freed us and be a people of faith and trust. And to a great extent, this is what we celebrate in this place today. We celebrate that we are children of God! We celebrate that we have been freed through the sacrifice of God’s son, and that we are all one in Christ Jesus. And today especially we celebrate our growth in Christ as we are united in a new relationship with the congregation of Middle Valley/Grace United Methodist Church! We are all one!
It has been a sad truth of Christianity that our history has been marked more by division than by unity. In fact, many of Paul’s letters, including this one to the Galatians, were written to speak to the church in the midst of disagreements and division. The letter to the Galatians specifically addresses the question of who should be included in the church because there were many who felt that only the circumcised Jews were included in the saving work of Jesus Christ. Since the time of Paul, the church has divided over disagreements on baptism and communion. We have split because of differing beliefs about the importance of good works in salvation. The church has split because of theological differences regarding predestination and free will. We have divided because of slavery and war. And we have divided along ethnic, cultural, and denominational lines. The result, as we know, is a varied spectrum of Christian churches; everything from “low-church” Pentecostal to “high-church” Catholicism to extreme fundamentalism. And here in the south, at least, it seems that we have a church on every corner…probably because we do!