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June 7, 2020 Romans 8:14-17
The Sunday after Pentecost is traditionally dubbed Holy Trinity Sunday, and if you want a real snoozer of a sermon, we could walk through thousands of pages of dense theologizing that try to explain the trinitarian nature of God.
Let’s not, but you might ask, is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit –
three separate gods?
No, but …
Well then, is the Trinity three natures of the one God?
Kinda, but …
Okay, so is the Trinity three ways God expresses Himself to us?
Not exactly, but …
The Holy Trinity is a core mystery of Christianity, a doctrine ultimately beyond comprehension but that reveals much about God’s nature to us.
The temptation is that in trying to understand it we over-intellectualize it, and then it loses its meaning – it just becomes head stuff rather than more fully engaging us with God.
It would be a little like taking a lovely piece of chocolate cupcake to the chemistry lab and separating it into its constituent parts.
On the lab table would be some salt, some flour, some butter, some sugar, but the experience of chocolate cake would be lost – and that would be a tragedy.
I’ve grown comfortable seeking to be faithful to what I do understand while allowing the mysteries to be with God.
And what I do understand is that the essential nature of God is love.
How many times have you heard, God is love ?
Actually, the whole verse expands that a little:
1 John 4:16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
Love requires relationship.
Without being in relationship, we may experience feelings of sentimentality but real love requires involvement, caring and sacrifice of someone real.
That’s why theologians speculate that what they call the Godhead is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit living in a dynamic, loving relationship from the beginning of time.
Imagine love continually circulating around and between them.
I know that is hard to grasp, but it is what Andrei Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity tries to depict – the three equal persons of the Trinity sitting around a table together, love passing among them.
Now this is important: love by nature always reaches out.
If people only love and care for their family members, we call them a clan.
On the other hand, real love can’t help but extend itself– it is always trying to extend relationship.
Paul used the concept of adoption into God’s family as a way of expressing how God is constantly reaching out to welcome us into that circle of love.
Romans 8:15-17a For 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!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Paul’s choice of the metaphor of adoption is packed with meaning.
To begin with, God not only cherishes you from a distance as part of His creation, He actually loves you intimately in the way a parent loves a child.
That was a radical departure from the gentile gods who were thought to keep their distance from humans.
Oh, they might manipulate people as pawns in their divine dramas, or they might condescend to grant fertility or good crops if they were adequately bribed by sacrifices.
And it was a radical departure from the Hebrew concept of an involved God who none the less was too holy to lay eyes upon and who demanded constant blood sacrifices.
Paul was breaking new ground by telling us that God has made you heir to all God has to give.
There’s nothing you have to prove.
There’s nothing you’ve done to mess it up.
You’re in … you are part of the family to the extent you want to participate.
Let me give you a little context to explain why this was a shocking statement in Paul’s time.
First, understand that in Paul’s Hebrew culture, adoption didn’t exist.
There was no Jewish adoption law; bloodline was what mattered.
Did you know that if a man died without male offspring to continue his line, his closest male relative was commanded to sleep with his widow to produce an heir?
By the way, if you want to mess with someone who is saying that what America needs is a return to the godly family values of the Bible, just share that little tidbit with them.
On the other hand, Paul’s gentile audience would have understood a bit of his meaning because, under certain circumstances, Roman law allowed a man to adopt an heir from outside his family.
You see, the Roman household was a worshiping unit that needed a male head of the household to act a bit like a priest to offer prayers and sacrifices to the family gods.
The adoptee then got a new identity and all his old obligations and debts were wiped out.
With that little bit of background, maybe you can hear with fresh ears the early church’s striking message of forgiveness of sins.
Accept God’s adoption into His family and your slate is wiped clean.
That’s what Paul means when he writes, For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.
So, the Trinity is really more than three … it is the Trinity plus you adopted into the Holy Family.
So, rather than feeling crippled by some mistake you’ve made, or crushed by shame for who you are – start with a clean slate and receive the full measure of God’s blessings and riches of a child of God here and now.
Rather than worrying about your future, rather than being held back by some demon in your life, rather than obsessing about what people may think of you, Paul invites you to let go and receive the full measure of God’s blessings and riches of a child of God here and now.
I remember the distant, naïve days of late 2019.
Many of us were so exhausted from the hostile cultural divide that we did a New Year’s toast for a fresh start for a better 2020 – we chuckled that it just had to be a better year.
Simpler times just over five months ago.
Since then, the sudden pandemic has claimed over 110,000 American lives.
Massive layoffs, worries of economic depression some of us isolated at home others working from home, maybe with the added burden of teaching their own children.
The world feels like it is spinning out of control while we have a warped sense of time.
Do you know that it was only 2-1/2 months ago that Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down and local prosecutors thought it was unnoteworthy and not worth prosecuting?
Early in my life, staring back in 1963, I was heavily involved in the civil rights movement.
I participated in dozens of demonstrations, was arrested several times,
and faced violence from civilians and police.
Some was potentially lethal.
This week, in the later part of my life it feels like de ja vu.
How could we have made such little progress?
So much keeps happening and it seems to be accelerating.
Then came the video of George Floyd’s murder followed by the days and days of protests in almost every city – large and small – all across the country.
Then came the destruction caused by looters and the president continuing to stir the pot.
This sponge is very absorbent – but it can only suck up so much water before it is saturated and can’t hold any more.
Some of us have reached that point – we can’t hold any more.
Some have lashed out in anger, righteous anger and misplaced anger.
Some of us are internalizing it – feeling anxious or depressed all the time.
Some of us are outraged but not sure what to do.
So, this is a moment to come together with God.
To remember Jesus’ words.
To remember Jesus’ pain when he experienced human injustice.
To remember Jesus’ presence with us whenever we serve in his name whenever we speak up against evil.
- Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper