“Tuning Ourselves to the Gospel: Gotcha Day — February 11, 2018”
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Tuning Ourselves to the Gospel: Gotcha Day

Galatians 3:23- 4:7
February 11, 2018
Rev. Laurel Neal

Download the PDF document format of this sermon: Gotcha Day.


Galatians 3:23- 4:7 (NIV)

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.  The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.  So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces[ of the world.  But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.


I know you’ve never heard of anything called, Gotcha Day — so let me explain. This is the Ziegler Family: Geordie Ziegler, the dad, has been an Associate Pastor at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver since 2013. And there’s Geordie’s wife, Sharon; their sons, Andrew and Brennan — and their daughter, KaiLi.

KaiLi is the reason behind Gotcha Day — and she’s given me her permission to tell you her story today. KaiLi was born in China — in July 2003. Within five days, her parents abandoned her — either because she was a girl, or because they couldn’t care for her, or both. But they did this in such a way that she was sure to be found and cared for by others.

A farmer discovered KaiLi along a roadside, swaddled in a piece of red silk, and brought her into town. From there, KaiLi was fortunate to be placed in a foster home with loving foster parents instead of in an orphanage.

Meanwhile, back in California, the Zieglers had decided to adopt a child from China — and were making arrangements to do so. Geordie and Sharon had lived in China for a time in the early 1990s and knew about the epidemic there in abandoned baby girls. They meditated on this need while proceeding to have two children of their own — and God placed in their hearts a desire to adopt one of those abandoned babies. So, in November 2003, Geordie and Sharon began filling out adoption paperwork — for a child who turned out to be KaiLi.

October 11, 2004 was the big day — the day Geordie and Sharon presented themselves to the foster care authorities in Hunan Province and claimed KaiLi as their daughter. They gave that day — the day they got KaiLi — a name: Gotcha Day.

There’s even a video of Gotcha Day, along with a scrapbook of KaiLi’s life — and the Zieglers’ life — before and after October 11, 2004. Both are part of a Gotcha Day celebration that happens every year.

But, as Geordie has said, reflecting back on Gotcha Day 2004:

[That] initial meeting and handover were far from joyous. Frankly, [KaiLi’s] vacant stare shocked and scared us. She seemed completely absent of all emotional affect. I’d never seen this before, and her blank face rekindled all my worries about attachment disorders and the inability [of some adopted children] to bond. What, I wondered, had we gotten ourselves into? Were we really ready for this? What if this vacant gaze [of KaiLi’s] is all there is?

We could see what Geordie meant when we first watched the video as part of Gotcha Day 2013: there’s 15-month-old KaiLi with a vacant stare in her eyes. But then comes the footage of Geordie, Sharon, and KaiLi eating in a restaurant, visiting the zoo, relaxing in their hotel room, playing a game of Hide and Seek. Footage of KaiLi beginning to smile and laugh, cuddle and trust. “I loved her before I knew her,” Geordie says; “yet I also fell in love with her and the person she slowly revealed herself to be.”

It’s accurate to say that Gotcha Day changed everything — for KaiLi and for the Zieglers. Which is why they celebrate it every year.

I think you’ll agree that KaiLi wasn’t in any position to save herself — which means that something that can be hard for us to see and accept about our own situations is, perhaps, easier for her. But it’s also true that KaiLi, who knows all about her rescue and adoption, loves to watch the Gotcha Day video again and again; loves looking at the scrapbook Sharon made; loves to celebrate what happened to her; loves to share her story with others.

So here’s the good news: We’ve got a Gotcha Day, too! In fact, Gotcha Day is what today’s passage is all about. Because, just like KaiLi, we’ve also been rescued and adopted into a new family. We’ve been rescued by God — out of a catastrophe of brokenness and sin. Out of a predicament we can’t escape no matter how hard we try. And we’ve been adopted by God, into the family that God himself is — as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sadly, this adoption is something most of us don’t know anything about. We know, perhaps, about our creation by God — about our redemption, justification, and sanctification. But how many of us know about our adoption? That we were all spiritual orphans — and that God has adopted us as his own daughters and sons through Jesus Christ?

Let’s think again about KaiLi’s predicament. The Zieglers could, perhaps, have helped KaiLi without adopting her into their own family. Perhaps by improving her circumstances — maybe providing for her basic physical needs and education. But this wouldn’t have qualified as adoption — because adoption is about relationship. It’s about joining a family. It’s about becoming a daughter or son, a sister or brother.

Which is what Paul’s getting at in our passage for today: becoming sons and daughters together in a new family. Not just in a church family, but in the family that God himself is as Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Paul states his main point in 3.26-28: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 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.

In other words, we’re no longer defined by the things that usually define us. Things like our ethnicity or race, our geography or culture. Realities like our economic status, our place in society, our vocation — or even our gender. It’s not that these differences don’t exist. They do. But they no longer define us. What defines us, if we’re Christians, Paul says, is this: the fact that we are in Christ.

Then Paul goes on in verses 1-7 to give an analogy from 1st-century Greco-Roman culture. The Galatians, of course, were very familiar with how their own culture worked. Last week, for example, we learned how, in wealthy Greco-Roman families, school-age children had a custodian. This custodian was usually an older slave in the household, and his job was to make sure the children got safely to school.

Here in chapter 4, Paul expands on the theme of minor children in well-to-do families. Only male children could be heirs in the 1st century, so Paul emphasizes maleness in his analogy. But we know from Galatians 3.28 that in Christ women are heirs as well as men.

So, here’s how things worked. A baby boy is born in a wealthy Greco-Roman family — and is, at the moment of his birth, the heir to the family estate. But he’s also a baby, so he needs looking after. No one looks to him to make decisions, manage funds, or run the family business. In fact, his father appoints other adults to do things like this for him until he “comes of age” — guardians and trustees who supervise the heir and train him into responsible adulthood. As a practical matter, Paul observes, this heir, as long as he’s a minor, is no different than a slave — even though, legally speaking, the entire estate belongs to him.

There’s another analogy embedded in this passage that it’s helpful to know something about. It has to do with slavery in the Greco-Roman world — which, by the way, was very different from slavery in the American south. Race, for example, wasn’t a factor in Greco-Roman slavery. Education was encouraged, and many slaves held high positions of responsibility in Greco-Roman households and businesses. Some people even sold themselves into slavery as a way to cope with debt, escape poverty, or advance themselves.

There were also legal ways for Greco-Roman slaves to obtain their freedom — to be redeemed. But they all involved money. Someone — either the slave or someone else — had to pay the price of redemption. So Greco-Roman slavery very definitely involved one person owning another. To be a slave was to be subject to others — under someone else’s authority or control. And how slaves were treated depended on the character and mood of their owners.1 In many cases, but certainly not all, it was a decent life, even a relatively good one. But even so you were still a slave, not a member of the family — and certainly not an heir.

Unless, of course, your owner didn’t have any sons. In that case, the law allowed your owner to create an heir by adopting you.

These analogies are the backdrop to what Paul says here about our status with God. And, once again, Paul is leveling the playing field between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Both Jews and Gentiles, he says, have been like minor children and slaves — up until the time that Christ came. How so? Well, he uses a strange phrase in verse 3: elemental spiritual forces of the world. What he means is a universal set of basic moral principles. That basic sense of right and wrong that all human beings seem to possess and teach to their children — regardless of ethnic background or cultural context.

For Jews these basic moral principles took the form of the Ten Commandments. But Gentiles also had a moral code — and the same is true today. Every culture — and nearly every person — has some sense of right and wrong, which they try to live by and teach to their children.

So Paul’s point is this: for all of human history, both Jews and Gentiles were simultaneously heirs — and underage minors. First heirs. Jews and Gentiles were both heirs to the promised blessing of God — to God setting the world right again. That inheritance was to come through Abraham — remember? Via the Jews without ever being limited to the Jews. Because, from the beginning, it was God’s intention to do what? To bless all the nations of the earth: Gentiles as well as Jews. That’s the heir part.

Now the underage minor part. Even though both Jews and Gentiles were heirs to the blessing of God — they’d been, until very recently, underage minors. They were immature kids, subject to others. Specifically, Paul says, both Jews and Gentiles were subject to a set of basic moral principles — about what was right and wrong, good and bad, ethical and unethical.

Jews and Gentiles alike had to learn these basic principles and how to live by them. Had to try hard, all the time, to live up to them. This is what Paul means by the phrase, “living under the law.” “Living under the law,” Paul says, is like being an underage minor — someone who has to get his act together before he can receive his inheritance. And it’s also like being a slave: someone who’s got responsibilities within a family without being a member of the family — and certainly without having any share in the family inheritance.

But, Paul says, something’s happened to change the identity of both Jews and Gentiles. Something’s happened to change their status as underage minors and their experience as slaves. And here it is, verses 4 and 5: When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.

God has rescued us, Paul says. Jews and non-Jews alike. And then God has legally adopted us. Like Geordie and Sharon, God’s filled out the paperwork and has now come and gotten us in Jesus Christ.

But there’s more. Verse 6: Because you are his sons, Paul writes, God [also] sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out,“Abba, Father.”

Remember what happened to the Zieglers on Gotcha Day 2004? KaiLi had that vacant stare in her eyes that shocked and scared them. They’d adopted her, and she was legally theirs — they’d even given their hearts to KaiLi months before — but something was missing. What was it? It was this: KaiLi had yet to give her heart to them. That happened over the next two days, as they spent time together. It was visible in KaiLi beginning to smile and laugh, cuddle and trust. In KaiLi beginning to recognize Sharon and Geordie as her mom and dad — beginning to think of them this way and beginning to love them.

God adopts us, Paul says. And then he goes a step further. He sends into our hearts the Spirit of Christ. Why? To transform us not just legally, but also experientially — from spiritual orphans into daughters and sons. To convince us that God has long since given his heart to us — and to enable us to give our hearts to him.

Paul does a very interesting thing in verse 7. Until now he’s been saying things like this: Y’all are all sons of God through faith. But in verse 7 he shifts from the plural to the singular. He gets individual and personal: Each of you, he says, is no longer a slave but God’s son. And since each of you is a son, God has also made each of you an heir.

Tuning ourselves to the gospel involves knowing who we are — personally and individually, like KaiLi does. KaiLi knows she’s an adopted, full-fledged member of the Ziegler family. She’s got the paperwork to prove it. She’s got a video that documents Geordie and Sharon’s love for her — that documents her own transformation from orphan to daughter. And she’s got a heart that exults every day in being a Ziegler.

Do you and I know that God has adopted us — or wants to? Have you and I been convinced that — long before we even knew it — God gave his heart to us? And have we, enabled by the Holy Spirit, given our hearts to him?

If the answer is no, or if we aren’t sure, then this is Job One for us. Tuning ourselves to the gospel means getting clear about this in each of our own lives.

Next, are we aware of the epidemic of spiritual orphans just outside these doors — and of what God wants to do for them? We may want to turn them into church members, but God wants to adopt them as his very own children.

If we aren’t aware of this — or don’t really care — then this is Job Two for us: aligning our own lives in practical ways — and the life of this church in practical ways — with this desire of God’s own heart: to rescue other spiritual orphans, adopt them, and make them heirs.

Tuning ourselves to the gospel means celebrating Gotcha Day for ourselves and for others: For when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as daughters and sons.

1 Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, 1030.