“No more training wheels”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Zechariah 12:7-10
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 9:18-24

When you were a kid, did your first bike have training wheels? Mine didn’t. By the time I got a bike of my own, I already knew how to ride one. I once read a great comparison of training wheels to the Christian faith. The author told children, “As you get older, you’ll have to learn new ways to pray, new songs about Jesus,” etc. Just as riding a bicycle without training wheels is both more risky and more fun, so a mature faith is more risky and yet more fulfilling.

In this Sunday’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul wrote: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” In the Greek, Paul called the law our “pedagogue.”

Today, that word usually refers to a teacher of children. In Paul’s day, however, a pedagogue was a specific individual. In Roman and Greek families, the pedagogue was a slave whose entire job was to supervise young children, in and out of the home. The pedagogue was not so much a teacher as an enforcer, making sure strict rules of discipline and correct behavior were practiced. That is not a pleasant, gentle word picture. The law served to prepare people for the time of Christ, when the time for being justified by faith would finally come.

I believe that, in this and a few other passages, Paul consciously included women in his use of the phrase “sons of God.” Paul was unabashed in limiting the role of women when that was appropriate. He also expanded that role when appropriate, as in the case of Priscilla. In this lesson, after noting that we are no longer under the law’s supervision, Paul wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Children or little ones could not inherit. Daughters did not inherit either, so he could not write, “You are all children of God” or “You are all sons and daughters of God.” That would not have the same meaning as the phrase “sons of God.” The words that follow make it obvious that there is no distinction between male and female in this matter, so the key is to know that, in his day, only “sons” inherited. That adds great power and meaning to his next sentence to the Galatian Gentiles: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Leonard Sweet once noted that Paul’s elimination of those distinctions did even more than make daughters into sons and Gentiles into Abraham’s seed. He wrote, “Dissolving these differences also suggests that in Christ there is no hierarchy–morally (Jew/Gentile), economically (free/slave) or socially (male/female).” I am not sure that Paul would agree with that entirely. It would certainly depend on the definition and implications of “hierarchy.” Paul was not as troubled as we are today, if concerned at all, about discrimination or some imagined perfect equality.

We have probably all heard the expression, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” I always wondered why anyone would want to skin one, but I understand that nearly everything we learn to do we learn in some prescribed manner. In most circumstances, once we learn one way, we eventually learn what we might call “our way” through experimentation or trial and error. The law provided no such freedom. Faith does.

The experience of riding a bike with training wheels provides an interesting illustration. The wheels make sharp turns dangerous. When you attempt to lean into the turn, the wheels prevent it and … look out! Once the wheels have been removed, you can lean in and take turns at much greater speeds. The result is exhilarating, but falling is potentially more injurious. Risk and reward often come hand in hand.

Speaking of hand in hand–I recently had a wedding where the father of the bride placed his daughter’s hand into the groom’s hand in a very ceremonious, if not hesitant, manner. It is hard to let go of the past because it is comfortable and familiar–the future is uncertain. But the future is filled with possibilities, the past only with memories. Risk and reward only apply to what lies ahead.

With faith and the Christian life, however, the risk is limited, but the possibilities are not. Once the law is no longer in charge of us, we are free from the impossibility of trying to win God’s approval or merit His favor. The ultimate outcome of the Christian faith and life is part of our inheritance–life eternal with our Father and our Brother, Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave His life on the cross for you so that you might have eternal life. With faith, that life is yours right now, not just at the end of physical life. In His own words, “He that believes in me has eternal life.” It changes how we live as well as how we die.

St. Paul knew the very real risks of living in the freedom of the Christian faith. Christ’s enemies became Paul’s enemies and they were still bloodthirsty. He also knew that faith did not provide him with some rose garden life in which danger and disaster could never touch him. Many years ago, a Scottish preacher by the odd name of Gossip noted the risk and the security of his faith in much the same way as Paul. After the dramatic and sudden death of Arthur John Gossip’s wife, he preached a now famous sermon titled, “But when life tumbles in, what then?”

He compared his despair and despondency to that of the Old Testament characters Jeremiah and Job. Like those Biblical people, Gossip prevailed. He arose from an abyss that he compared to the waters of the Jordan. Closing his sermon, he announced triumphantly: “For, standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold to the heart with its dreadful chill and very conscious of the terror of its rushing, I … can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, ‘Be of good cheer … for I feel the bottom and it is sound.'”

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