Trinity B 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
Most of us learn early on where babies come from. Our parents may have tried to keep us in the dark for a time in our early childhood, with stories of deliveries by stork or finding children under the leaves of the cabbage patch, but soon enough we are ushered into the company of the birds and the bees, if not something more explicit. The long and the short of it, as we ultimately learn, is that babies come from their parents — from their father and mother. This is the most elementary of the “facts of life.”
As far as we know, there are two only exceptions to this rule, and both of them are in the Bible. The first appears in the second chapter of Genesis. It tells us that Eve — whom Adam calls the “Mother of all living” had no mother herself; she came from Adam’s side. You all remember the story: God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and cast him into a deep sleep; then God took that rib from his side and made it into the one designed as Adam’s companion — bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
The second exception to the general rule about fathers and mothers concerns the second Adam — Jesus Christ. Just as Eve came out of Adam without a mother being involved, so too Jesus was born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary without no earthly father being involved — he was conceived by God, of the flesh of the Virgin Mary, working through the power of the Holy Spirit.
These are, as I said, exceptional instances. Everyone else who has ever lived is born of a father and a mother, and in many cases — perhaps most, but certainly not all — children are also raised by their father and their mother. There are many circumstances in which children are not raised by one or both of their biological parents. Tragedies can happen, leaving the child as an orphan. Other unfortunate events can also take place, and many families experience divorce or separation which often leaves the children in a painful and delicate situation. And in both of these and in many other cases, the concept of adoption comes in. Someone who is not the child’s biological father or mother takes the child as their own — in some cases joining with a remaining biological parent, or in some cases with a new couple replacing both of the child’s original parents — and in each case putting the child under their protection and in their care. This is legally recognized, an action that has existed in many human cultures for thousands of years — for the reality that children are sometimes left without one or both parents has been true for as long as there have been human families.
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But just as there are few exceptions to the rule of parenthood and the facts of life, there is one exceptional human family into which no one is ever born, and in which every single member is adopted — and that is the church, the family of God. Although people will sometimes say, “I was born an Anglican,” that is not literally true. No one is born a Christian of any sort — you become one through baptism. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, you join that household of God by water and the Holy Spirit; that is the way into this “kingdom of God.” All of us are adopted into God’s family, the church. None of us is here by nature of our birth. (Although it does help if our biological or adoptive parents — your family, your grandparents — are already members of the church, and they, together with the godparents, see to it that you are baptized — brought into the church at an early age; so the earthly family is important in extending the heavenly family.)
Becoming a member of the kingdom of God is not like being born the citizen of a nation — that is more or less automatic. If you are born in the United States of America — with a very few special exceptions, like a diplomat from another country whose wife may have a child here in the US — with those few exceptions you are automatically a United States citizen. But becoming a member of the household of God, the family of God, the kingdom of God, is a process more like that required to become an American citizen if you were born in another country. All us born in this earthly realm have to apply for citizenship in the heavenly one. We need the water and the Holy Spirit to become citizens of the kingdom of God.
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I mentioned that our biological or adopted family, and the already existing family of the church, play a role in this process; the most important role — for it is through this family that the family grows. But supporting this work, the work of God which we could not do on our own — is the work of God working through us, through the power of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: which is one of the reasons that that’s how we baptize — those are the words we use. We baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Trinity is the major worker in this — we’re just the assistants.
That short reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans sums this up in a few choice words. Notice how all three persons of the Holy Trinity are involved. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent in this work — and I use the word agent as I would to describe someone who assists me in obtaining citizenship or arranging for an adoption. Any of you who have done either of those things knows the amount of paperwork you need to go through, and how helpful and even necessary it is to have an agent working with you, to help you in that process. The Holy Spirit is our great helper: we sing about “God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come...” Well, the Holy Spirit is the primary helper, the Comforter, the one who works through us and with us to help us do all God aks of us. And that begins, right at the start, at Baptism. The Holy Spirit helps guide through the process, to set up all that is needed. The text of Romans uses the term “adoption” specifically — and it is the Holy Spirit that Paul calls “the spirit of adoption,” the one who cries out through us, naming the one whom we desire to be our parent — one who is not our parent by nature but only by choice and adoption — as the Holy Spirit, working in us, gives us the power to call out, “Abba! Father!” to God above — something we would have no right to do on our own, if the Holy Spirit were not working within us. This is a cry that is part of the testimony, the documentation, in order to be adopted by our new Father in heaven, becoming God’s children.
And, so the text tells us, if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Just as an adopted child becomes an inheritor in the estate of her adoptive parents, so too do Christians become inheritors along with their new brother, the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who becomes our brother when we are joined into his family through baptism.
So it is that all three — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit — are involved in this work of adoption, and it is through their action — working through the church, the family of God — that we are added to this great assembled body that is the Body of Christ; the kingdom of God, the family of God.
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And this action of the church, the family of God, through which God acts by means of the Spirit, brings me to my last point. Once you have become a member of this new family, you are expected to take on new responsibilities— there are chores to do in any household, and the household of God is no different.
And it isn’t as if some of us were the natural children and all the others were like the step-children, like Cinderella who got all the dirty jobs and no chance to go to the ball — until she was aided by her fairy godmother (and isn’t it interesting that even in a fairy tale the language of baptism makes its way into this story of a girl who starts out cleaning up the fireplace, but rises to become a princess! The godmother is the crucial figure in that story.) No, in God’s family all of us are stepchildren, but all have also been blessed by the Holy Spirit, the BGE: the Best Godmother Ever, and raised from the cinders to the throne, brought into the family of God, heirs with Christ, joint-heirs, princes and princesses each and every one of us in the kingdom of God.
But we still have work to do — chores in this household, even for the royals, such as us. You’ve seen them on TV: Harry and William have their jobs to do; they’re out there dedicating supermarkets, opening bridges, christening boats — everybody’s got a job no matter how royal they are. And that counts for all of us too, in this royal kingdom of God, in which we are part of the royal family.
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Fortunately the Spirit continues to help us in this work. The Spirit may be like a wind that blows where it chooses, so that we hear the sound but cannot tell its source or destination, but when we are moved by that Spirit we share in its motion, we can sense its direction. You can’t tell where the wind is blowing all by itself; but if you see a leaf flying through the air, you can tell that’s the way the wind is blowing. And so it is with those who are moved by the Spirit — when we are moved by the Spirit we can tell where we are moving, and we can tell where we are going. That’s what God does for us: invisible and yet made seen by the movement of the church itself.
The primary chore of this church, this royal family, is to serve as God’s hands and feet, as each of us, filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, spread God’s word and bring others into this household, this royal family, helping the kingdom to grow by acting as agents ourselves, agents of God filling up the number of those to be adopted. Our task is to assist others to be made citizens in God’s kingdom, new princes and princesses in God’s royal family — the one into which no one is born, but where all are welcome.
This is our task, my friends — you and I and all of God’s children by adoption, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — to spread the word as free and as far as the invisible wind. This is our mission — our assignment and our task, our chore in the household of God. May the Lord find us hard at work when he comes in the glory of his kingdom.+