Not slaves, but heirs

Believe it or not, we are children of God, heirs with Jesus.  Baptism makes it so!

Full Text: 

Not slaves, but heirs

May 19, 2013 – Galatians 4:1-7


            I was born February 9, 1953, at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. 

            I was baptized March 22, 1953, at Windsor Heights Lutheran Church, in Des Moines, Iowa.

            I don’t remember either one of these events.  I have no recollection of being in my mother’s womb and coming down the birth canal and being lifted out by the doctor.  I have no remembrance of the pastor taking me and splashing water on my head three times and saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Nevertheless, both my birth and my baptism continue to be significant in my life.

            My parents, Leon and Betty Thompson, took me home, raised me, nurtured me, provided for me in many and various ways, first in Des Moines and then on the family farm and then in Ames.  Eventually they sent me on my way.  It’s been over 40 years since I have lived in Iowa.  And my parents are no longer living.  Yet my birth remains one of the most important events in my life.

            I was baptized by Pastor A.C. Schumacher.  After leaving Windsor Heights, Ace came to Madison, and served St. John’s Lutheran Church.  He eventually became District President, as we called them in those days.  When I graduated from seminary, he drafted me to serve in the Southern Wisconsin District.  That was many years ago.

When I first came to Hope, Ace was still living and he would occasionally visit on Sunday mornings.  After he died, he was buried next to his first wife, Olivia, in Hope’s cemetery.  When I take my afternoon cemetery stroll, I go by their plot.  But that’s not the reason my baptism is still important to me, although it’s a nice connection. 

Yes, I grew up in the church and I was confirmed and I went to a Lutheran college and eventually went to seminary and became a pastor.  I’ve been a pastor for over 30 years and plan to be one until I retire.  But that’s not the reason my baptism is important to me, although it’s part of it.

My baptism is important because it is the physical, concrete sign that I am adopted by God as a child, a son; and if a son, then an heir to all the wonders of God. 

Now you might say, wouldn’t it be better if you were baptized when you were older?  Then you would remember for yourself that you are baptized and it would hold more meaning for you.

Yes, there would be some advantage to that.  Some churches do wait until children are older so that they can participate actively in their baptism.  And I myself have baptized children who are older.

But the nice thing about being baptized when I was a baby was that I know there is nothing I did to earn that baptism.  Nobody said, “Chris is such a good boy.  Let’s baptize him.”  Nobody said, “He loves to read the Bible.  Let’s baptize him.”  Nobody said, “He’s always in Sunday School.  Let’s baptize him.”

No, I did nothing to earn my baptism.  I did nothing to qualify for my baptism.  I didn’t have to put together a portfolio.  I didn’t have to submit my BPA (Bible Point Average).  I didn’t have to get references.  I didn’t have to interview.  I wasn’t selected out of a pool of candidates.

I was just a baby.  I had nothing to offer.  Even so, God adopted me in baptism, because God had something to offer me.

This adoption means that I am an heir.  I am not a slave with no future.  I am not an employee with a nice pension plan.  No, I am a son – a child of the Father with a full inheritance.

And this is the way it is with you.  You also have been baptized – adopted as God’s children, God’s own sons and daughters.  If you were baptized as a baby or even a toddler, you don’t remember your own baptism.  Nevertheless, it is important and valid because it is God’s action for you.  It is God’s adoption of you.  You are a son – you are a daughter – of God.

That can be easy to forget.  Paul says that once you were slaves to “the elemental spirits of the world.”  I’m not sure what that means. I’m not sure anyone knows what it means.  But I do know that there are many things vying for your attention.  There are many things vying for your allegiance.  There are many things that want to try to tell you who you really are. 

There may be an experience you have had that seems so big that it defines who you are.  There may be a story you tell yourself that seems so powerful that it tells you what your life will be like.  There may be thoughts you have or feelings you have over and over again that continually captivate your attention.

Yes, you are those things.  But you are also much, much more.  You are much more than any of those things.  You are even much more than all of those things put together. 

I am talking about baptism today because this service is called the Affirmation of Baptism.  I am also talking about baptism today because one of you raised that issue in your faith statement. 

One of you also said that your favorite Bible story was about Jesus in the boat with the disciples.  They are out together one night in the boat and a storm blows in.  The disciples are scared out of their wits.  All they can see is the storm.  All they can see is their fear.  They can’t see Jesus.  Of course, it doesn’t help that Jesus is sleeping in the bottom of the boat.  But even when it seems that way with us, Jesus is still there.  And Jesus will get us through.

You are not a slave.  You are a son, you are a daughter of God.  That is who you really are.  You are a child.  And if you are a child, then you are an heir, an heir with Jesus to all the wonders of God.

You may not remember it, but it started here – at your baptism.  You’ve had people to remind you all along the way – parents, sponsors, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, confirmation leaders, pastors.  You’ll still have those people.  And you will still need reminding from time to time. We all do.  Even I need reminding now and again. 

But today you confirmands stand and say, “Yes, I am a child of God.  I am a son, I am a daughter of God.”  You may feel as though you’ve had to earn it.  (But, come on, admit it!  You loved doing all those sermon reports!)  And, yes, in some ways we’ve made you earn it. 

But you have never had to earn God’s love.  You’ve never had to qualify for God’s love.  And you never will.  You could even ask, “Why does God love me?” but there is no answer.  There is no “why.”  And there never will be.  No matter what happens, no matter how awful it seems at the time, nothing can ever separate you from God’s love.  Nothing.

You will always be God’s child.  You will always be God’s son.  You will always be God’s daughter.