SERVICE of the LORD’S DAY
We worship the God who inhabits our world and indwells our lives. We need not look up to find God, we need only to look around: within ourselves, beyond ourselves, into the eyes of another. We need not listen for a distant thunder to find God, we need only listen to the music of life, the words of children, the questions of the curious, the rhythm of a heartbeat. We worship the God who inhabits our world and who indwells our lives.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voice but your own, that, hearing, we may also obey your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Romans 8:12-25
12So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Family is important, and I have been blessed with a wonderful family that continues to love and care for each other to this day. One of my favorite relatives is Leland Park. Uncle Leland was my extra uncle. He had been my father’s roommate at Davidson College and had been adopted into the Oehler family. Until his death, last February, we could count on birthday gifts, cards on anniversaries and Leland’s famous ornaments. Our Christmas Tree is decorated with 50 years of beautiful glass and crystal ornaments that he sent each December. On several occasions, he hosted family members or me at his home at Davidson, NC. He loved us, as if, we were blood relatives. In his obituary, it stated that “Having no children of his own, Dr. Park leaves many heirs: students, faculty and friends.” Uncle Leland adopted my family, and I am thankful for that gift!
Now, imagine with me for a moment, the delight you would experience in discovering that you had a long-lost uncle or aunt who had made you the heir to their estate. Can you see it? You’d wake up one morning and discover that they had left you riches beyond count, that your major financial worries were over, and that you really didn’t have to worry all that much about the future.
If that scenario happened, how would you feel? What would you do? Or, more to the point, what would you do differently? And here I don’t mean what would you run out and buy – though I suspect that most of us would treat ourselves to something – but I mean something more along the lines of, what would be different about your day-to-day attitudes, practices, habits, and outlook? How would knowing that your future is absolutely secure change your present?
I ask because it’s just this scenario that the Apostle Paul is describing in these few verses of his Letter to the Church in Rome. Note the language, from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, “The Message”: This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
According to Paul, we are not only God’s children, but also heirs, and not just heirs, but co-heirs with Christ. Now, stop here for just a moment and think about what Paul is really saying. That God considers us co-heirs – that is, equal inheritors of all God has to give – with Christ, God’s only begotten Son. An unbelievable inheritance!
Not only that, but Paul goes on to describe the difference it makes. Rather than being afraid – of the future, of what people may think of us, of our status, of our standing with God – Paul invites us instead to imagine a life of courage, the courage of those who have been adopted by God and invited into the full measure of God’s blessings and riches.
Jesus says much the same to Nicodemus, inviting him to image that we have the opportunity through our life in the Spirit to be born anew, born from above as God’s children, those so precious God was willing to give his only Son as testament to how much God loves all of us.
All of which brings me to the Trinity. Yes, the Trinity! Look, here’s the thing: I don’t for a moment pretend to understand the Trinity, and quite frankly I don’t frankly trust those who say they do. But I do know this: at the heart of our understanding of God as somehow three-in-one is the notion that you can’t fully or finally understand God without talking about relationship. Professor David Lose states, “That God is so full of love that there has to be some way of talking about that loved shared in and through profound relationships. Some say that’s why God created the cosmos and humanity in the first place, to have more people to love. But the Trinity goes even further, saying that from the very beginning of time the dynamic power of love that is at the heart of God’s identity and character can only be captured – and that dimly! – by thinking of the love that is shared. And so God’s essential and core being has always been a giving and receiving and sharing of love that finally spills out into the whole of the universe and invites all of us into it. First through creation and God’s series of covenants, then and pre-eminently in the sending of God’s Son to demonstrate in word and deed just how much God loves us, and now as the Spirit bears witness to God’s ongoing love for us and all creation.”
Which means, I think, that when we talk about the Trinity as God being three-in-one, we really haven’t captured the heart of the doctrine and reality unless we recognize that God is three-in-one in order always to add one more – and that’s us, all of us, an infinite “plus one” through which God’s love is made complete in relationship with all of God’s children. And that’s what this passage testify to – the profound love of God that draws us into relationship with God, with each other, and with the whole of creation and the cosmos. It’s all about relationship!!
About a month after Uncle Leland’s death, my parents received a certified letter from a law office in Charlotte, NC. It was a copy of Leland’s will and a check for several thousand dollars. My mom and dad were shocked at this generous gift. Even in death, my extra Uncle had showed love to my family. Not an unbelievable inheritance, but a wonderful reminder of our relationship with a beloved family member.
So I’ll ask again: what does it mean for us to live knowing we are God’s beloved children, adopted and chosen and named co-heirs with Christ? And when I ask this, I’m not actually doing the heaven-and-hell-thing, as if you can sum up our life as Christians as a get-out-of-hell card. Rather, I mean what difference does it make NOW? What difference does it make to know that you are unconditionally loved? That you have immeasurable value in God’s eyes? That no matter what to do – or is done to you – and no matter where you go, yet God always loves you and cares about you?
I sometimes wonder if part of the reason so many of us have a hard time connecting faith to everyday life is simply because we don’t take God’s promises seriously enough. Hear again, the good news that we are all born anew through the Spirit and declared co-heirs with Christ. An incredible promise from our loving God! An incredible inheritance!!
If we take that proclamation seriously: what decisions might we make this week knowing we have God’s unconditional love and confidence?
How might our relationships look different in light of God’s promises?
How might the challenges at school or work be put in perspective when we remember that we are co-heirs with Christ?
And what kind of risks might they take in their relationships or careers knowing that the creator and sustain of the universe has their back?
Let us pray. We give you thanks, O Holy God, for you are our reason to hope. Give us strength to put all our faith in you and give us eyes to see our world as you see it. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, we pray. Amen.
Commentary provided by Arland J. Hultgren, David Lose, Scott Hoezee, J.R. Daniel Kirk, Mark Tranvik, Audrey West, Joe Evans, Beverly Gaventa, and Mary Hinkle Shore.
THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of the seasons,
God of the years,
God of the eons,
Alpha and Omega,
before us and after us.
You promise and we wait:
we wait with eager longing,
we wait amid doubt and anxiety,
we wait with patience thin
and then doubt,
and then we take life into our own hands.
We wait because you are the one and the only one.
We wait for your peace and your mercy,
for your justice and your good rule.
Give us your spirit that we may wait
obediently and with discernment,
caringly and without passivity,
trustingly and without cynicism
honestly and without utopianism,
Grant that our wait may be appropriate to your coming
soon and very soon,
soon and not late,
late but not too late.
We wait while the world groans in eager longing.
As you go from here into the week ahead,
with whatever joys and challenges it holds,
do not be discouraged or disheartened.
Remember the glory that awaits you as a child of God.
Hold on to that truth;
live in that hope.
And may the peace of God,
the blessing of Jesus Christ,
and the presence of the Holy Spirit
be with you and among you.