I wish you could see my Bible right now. I have it open to the book of Galatians, and it is all marked up. There are circles, lots of underlines, arrows and marks in the margins, and notes scribbled in where I can fit them. As I'm reading through Paul's letter for each of these episodes, I have my pencil in my hand and am going slowly, over and over each line, to help me understand.
But you all get to hear it differently. I wonder if listening to this letter on a podcast is similar to the way the Galatian Christians heard it so long ago? Not on a speaker or earphones, of course, but out loud, with someone reading it to them? I wonder if they had to make the reader stop every now and then so they could ask questions, or just take in and reflect on what Paul was saying? If you've made it this far, I'm so proud of you. There are so many good promises in these words, and I'm praying that the Holy Spirit will speak to each of us as we receive them.
Today's reading is Galatians chapter 3 verses 15 through 18.
15 Brothers and sisters, let me give you an example from everyday life. No one can get rid of an official agreement, like a will, between people. No one can add to it. It can't be changed after it has been made. It is the same with God's covenant agreement. 16 The promises were made to Abraham. They were also given to his seed. Scripture does not say, "and to seeds." That means many people. It says, "and to your seed." That means one person. And that one person is Christ. 17 Here is what I mean. The law came 430 years after the promise. But the law does not get rid of the God's covenant and promise. The covenant had already been made by God. So the law does not do away with the promise. 18 The great gift that God has for us does not depend on the law. If it did, it would no longer depend on the promise. But God gave it to Abraham as a free gift through a promise.
As we listened to those words, did you notice a word that Paul used a lot? It really stuck out to me. That's right: the word "promise." It seems like a very important word to him. I wonder why?
Well, he also gave us a word picture to help us understand. Do you know what a will is? I have one: it explains who will get my things when I die. A will is a kind of promise - a mother might promise her daughter her most special jewelry, or a grandfather might promise his only grandson his house. Once a will is written down and signed, no one can change it except for the person who made it. And once a person dies, no one can change the will at all. The promises in that will come true when the person dies. The family gathers to hear what is written down. The daughter inherits the jewelry, or the grandson inherits the house.
Paul says that God's promise to Abraham is like a will: no one can change it but God. And then he says something else that's very interesting: God's promise is to Abraham, and to his seed — his descendant. Jesus is the descendant who makes God's promises — God's will to Abraham — finally come true. Jesus is the one who dies, but he is also the one who rises again. Now the will has been read, and Jesus receives the inheritance.
But what was in this will? What did God promise to Abraham? The inheritance that Abraham was promised, and that Jesus receives, is a family. This is the family that will bless the whole world. This family will be full of people made new, people who love God and each other the way we were always meant to. And everyone who belongs to Jesus gets to come into it. We don't come into it by obeying special rules or laws: this new creation family is a free gift from God. We are a part of Abraham's family because God keeps his promises, and he has faithfully brought us in.
Let's get ready to wonder about God's good words together.
Loving God: make our minds curious, our hearts open, and our bodies at peace. Thank you for inviting us to wonder about your words. Amen.
God made a promise to Abraham thousands of years ago. God promised Abraham a family, and he promised that Abraham's family would be like a home where all people could belong and be blessed. I wonder why God chose to rescue our world by making a family?
What do I feel when I hear the word "family"? Is that a good, safe word for me? Is it a complicated word, or a hard word? Can I talk with God about what it's like to be in my family?
Sometimes families are hard. We don't always get along. Sometimes we don't want to spend time together, or we are unkind to each other. I wonder how the family God is making in Jesus is different from my family?
Sometimes families don't include everyone. Sometimes we might feel like we're not accepted if we do something wrong, or if we don't act the way others want us to. Churches — the places where God's family gathers — can do the same thing. But NOTHING can separate us from the love God has shown us in Jesus. God does not cast us out when we mess up, or don't fit. Can I ask God to help me believe that right now, and always?
Paul talks a lot in this letter about Abraham's family, and the family that God is creating. God wants all of his children to be safe and to be loved. But sometimes our human families or our churches let us down. If someone in your family or church is hurting you, or doing something that doesn't feel right, please find a safe grownup who will believe you, and tell them. God loves you, you are special to God, and it's not okay for anyone to take that away.
Loving God, thank you for Paul's words to the Galatians, and thank you that somehow by your Spirit, they are also your words to us. Give us the wisdom and understanding that come from your Holy Spirit so that we can know you better. Show us the faithfulness of Jesus, and help us to put our trust and hope in him alone. In his beautiful name, Amen.