Pentecost is the Holy Spirit’s Big Day! It is the day that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire and people witnessing to the power of God in languages that they don’t even know. In Acts the Holy Spirit is literally ON FIRE. What a dramatic entrance! But then, we read in our Psalm that the Holy Spirit was there from the very beginning with God, creating and renewing the face of the earth. In our Gospel, we read of the Holy Spirit as Advocate – and as the Spirit of Truth. Paul writes in Romans that the Spirit is our witness – that we are indeed children of God.
One thing is clear when we read about the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit is active in the world and cannot be controlled, contained or tamed by us – instead the Holy Spirit is an advocate FOR us.
Today we will be celebrating the third baptism within the past few weeks and so the lesson from Romans caught my eye. Through baptism, we are made children of God, adopted into God’s family, made brothers and sisters of Christ.
But what does it mean to be adopted? Too often, adoption has had a second class status as if it was more desirable to be born into a family than to be adopted. But I think that adoption – especially the way that Paul talks about it – is synonymous with being chosen.
Being chosen… or not. That was my worst memory of school. Hands down. Perhaps this didn’t happen to you when you were in school – but in my school, on the playground and in phy. Ed., everytime we wanted to play a game, we had to “choose sides.” Yours truly was not athletic and so was always one of the last chosen.
Unlike kickball teams who choose one person – instead of – another, God reaches out to ALL people and individually looks into your eyes and says, “I choose YOU.” And the great thing is that there isn’t a limit. God doesn’t choose BETWEEN people. God simply chooses You AND your neighbor. It's not an either/or. God’s YES is not exclusive but is rather Inclusive.
That was not the case for the Roman culture to which Paul was writing. In that context, a person’s status was very important. People were either slaves or free, Jews or Gentiles, men or women. And those who were slaves, gentiles and women – were not equal in status. They certainly were not the first choice for to be an heir.
But Jesus’ death and resurrection turned the rules upside down. The rules that distinguished between the status in God’s kingdom between: Greeks and Jews, slaves and free, men and women were broken. Instead, as Paul writes, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
So what does it mean to be adopted by God, to be grafted onto the family tree of Christ? What kind of inheritance can we expect?
It doesn’t mean money – or any of the riches typically associated with receiving an inheritance. Becoming a child of God – a brother or sister to Christ is not a ticket to success as the world knows it.
Instead…it is something else. We get just a glimpse of what this inheritance is at the end of our reading from Romans. Paul’s sentences are very long – and yet are packed full of meaning. So turn with me, if you will, to that last sentence. We’ll take it apart together.
When we cry, “Abba! Father!"
What do children do when they are in need? They call out to their parents. Abba is “Daddy” in Aramaic, the local dialect of Jesus the name that Jesus cried out to in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying “Abba, Daddy.” So as Children of God, we are given the authority to cry out to God as Abba! Father! Daddy! Like Jesus, we can appeal to God as our Daddy.
Continuing with the passage:
it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
The Holy Spirit works in many ways – as a comforter, advocate, guide to name a few. But in this case, Paul is calling upon the Holy Spirit to be a witness. In other words, the Spirit of God bears witness that we are indeed children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ and heirs with Christ.
and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—
What does it mean to be an heir? In Roman culture, this meant everything. There was a simple but profound difference between the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, the “slaves” who got nothing more than their room and board and the “sons”. Although the NRSV has updated the language to include today’s meaning, at the time of Paul, daughters were rarely included in inheritance. And yet… Jesus turns expectations upside down. The old rules do not apply. Gender, birth, economic status do not determine inheritance. Instead, the Holy Spirit calls and gathers ALL God’s children to receive grace and mercy.
Paul ends this very long sentence with a surprise:
if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Glory sounds all right. But Suffering? That’s part of the package too?
Paul knew that being a follower of Christ, being a Christian, would not always be easy for the believers in Rome. They were going against the culture. Both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women were making big changes in the way that things had always been in daring to gather together to worship Christ. Paul reminded them that the Spirit would be with them. It wasn’t always going to be easy. Paul knew that suffering would come.
Living in a country that protects freedom of religion, we aren’t used to thinking that we might have to suffer for our faith. But, the truth is that we live in what many people call a “post-Christendom” world.
Currently, there is a great deal of anxiety as main-line church attendance falls and Sunday schools dwindle. Some wax with nostalgia about the “good old days.” Pastors routinely beat themselves up over not having crowds at the door. But the truth is that the programs that were overflowing in the past are no longer appealing to a population that now has more opportunities than time in the day.
Paul goes on in his letter to assure the believers of Rome, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Paul acknowledges the challenges of the day but also has confidence that this is not the end of the story. Instead, he describes creation as still in labor. God is not done. And so Paul urges the believers in Rome and us to dare to hope.
Hope. Hope is not a concrete plan. Hope does not have objective goals. Hope may not be “realistic.” And yet…because the Holy Spirit bears witness that we are indeed adopted, chosen children of God, heirs with Christ we dare to not only hope but to have confidence in the promises of Jesus.
Here are a few examples of why I dare to hope:
1) Working with the youth in the puppet musical – our youth give me hope for the future. They are learning the important elements of faith.
2) Interviewing interns has been a great joy for me. This year I interviewed 9 interns – each with a story to tell and each with a desire to serve.
3) Yesterday I met a man with a hat that said, “Jesus is Lord.” I asked him about his hat. He told me that because of his hat, he has had opportunity to speak to a lot of people about his faith. He lives in a nursing home in Wisconsin. But he is not done sharing his joy in Jesus’ love and grace.
4) People that I haven’t seen in a year are contacting me to go to camp. Opportunistic? Maybe. But it also is an opportunity to grow in faith.
These are just a few. The key is this: We dare to hope. And not only that – but we dare to be bold enough to claim the promises of Jesus..”
Paul concludes this section with one of my favorite verses in Romans, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
I believe that – not only is God active and alive in our world today, encouraging us and inviting us to LEAN IN to be led by the Spirit but also that the Holy Spirit is interceding for us, advocating for us and praying for us with “sighs too deep for words.”
The good news is that we are not alone. God is up to something in this world – and as followers of Christ, it is our task to lean into the guidance of the Holy Spirit with hope, confident that the one who gave us the promise of New Life in Christ will be faithful now and forever. Amen.