John 3: 1-17 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Romans 8: 12-17 May 27, 2018
“For you did not receive the spirit of slaver to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Prayer: Holy One, please breathe your Spirit into us as we seek to hear and understand your Word to us today. Amen.
One of the more memorable youth events I’ve done over the years in ministry was the one where we somewhat playfully practiced what happens at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. At AA meetings, whenever individuals start to speak, they identify themselves by saying their name and then then saying “I’m an alcoholic.” To which the whole group responds by saying, “Hi” and you say that person’s name. Well, I don’t even remember the theme of that youth event, but I do remember that the youth leadership team wanted all the youth who came to dig into what it meant to identify as a Christian person. So, in our sharing times, whenever someone wanted to speak, the introduction was like this: “Hi. My name is Galen, and I’m a Christian.” And everybody said, “Hi Galen!” So we identify ourselves as God’s people. But what does that mean to us?
To identify as a Christian is to say who you are, and what you believe, right? And, there are many ways to say that. The true Christian is, for example, a person who believes that God became human in Jesus of Nazareth and lived among humanity. True, but being a Christian is more than just believing that. A Christian claims that Jesus is God’s Son, and through his life, death, and resurrection, he became the Christ, or the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Again, true, but it’s more that that, too. One might say that a Christian is someone who follows Christ Jesus’ ways. Yup. A Christian knows God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, power and presence. A Christian is someone born of water and of Spirit, even baptized by the Spirit. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
All these are true and filled with deep meaning for me, but one more description means an awful lot. I identify myself as a Christian because I receive Christ’s heart and spirit all the time. We all do, if we let it in. I live a new life because Christ’s holiness becomes me It becomes us. I am in Christ. You are in Christ. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5: 17— “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
The trouble is, I know all that’s true, but it’s hard to live that way consistently, isn’t it? When Barb and I were in Rome, Italy now about a month ago, on the first day I was cordial and tolerant of the vendors selling anything and everything. But, honestly, they were aggressive and pushy, and after three days of aggressiveness, I found myself not being very Christian anymore. “Do you want to buy a selfie stick?” “No!” I grumbled. “Are you from Africa?” “Do I look like I’m from Africa?” And, Barb was like, “Galen!” I know. I sounded gruff and rude. Had a bad attitude like living my old life. So much for living with a new Christ-like spirit within, huh?
We learned the hard way, too… like the time when two men dressed as Roman centurions from the first century invited us to take pictures with them on our cell phones. Sure! That’ll be fun. [click] OK… 10 Euro, please. Wait, What? What just happened? And, I grumbled some more, gruffly tried to bargain down, but ended up paying the full 10 Euro. Thankfully, God is merciful and forgiving when we live and act inconsistently with what we’ve received from God.
What we’ve received from God, as Paul says, is not a spirit of slavery where master lords it over the servants, and those servants live in fear of the master’s wrath. Instead, we receive Christ’s life and holiness in us, and this sense that our powerful holy God has adopted us, has taken us in as full-fledged members of God’s family, with all the rights and privileges that any family member has. We, the whole human race, receive from the Spirit what God works into us; the love, the power, the protection, the care, the tender mercy, grace, hope, acceptance, the adoption of God. I believe we’re all called to work those out in our lives.
Leighton Farrell tells the story of a couple who wanted to adopt a 6 year old little boy. They had visited several adoption agencies and finally found a child that was a wonderful match for their family. As they visited with the child, the wife said to the boy, “If you would come and live with us, you could have your own private room, a nice yard with play equipment and all the toys and clothes you could ever want. Would you like to come and live with us?” The little boy hesitated a moment and said, “No, I don’t think so.” The couple was stunned. The husband said to the boy, “We’ve offered you everything anyone could want. What more do you want?” In words far beyond his years, the child replied, “I just want someone to love me” (Farrell, Cries From the Cross, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994, p. 36). It was almost like, “well, that goes without saying.” Well, no...no, it doesn’t. You gotta say it.
We have received the spirit of love from God. This is what God has worked into our lives, we gotta say it. We gotta live it. It is up to us to work out what God has worked in. We have received the spirit of adoption—it’s up to us to work out what God has worked in. We have received the spirit of welcome and hospitality and acceptance from God. It’s up to us to work out what God has worked in. We affirm at every baptism, every confirmation, and every time new members join our church that God from the very start gives us a spirit of reception—that God has named and claimed everyone of us a child of God. It’s up to us to work out what God has worked in.
We work out what God has worked in when we engage in best practices as inclusive people…as an all-inclusive church. Having stubborn determination to mirror God’s full-range of hospitality and welcome for all people comes especially with the effort to extend the welcome to specific groups of marginalized people, like members of the LGBTQ community, like people who are in racial minorities in our country, like people who are undocumented immigrants, and like people who have been dispatched by other faith communities.
We work out the spirit of grace and love that God has worked in when we build a strong sense of community right here within our congregation for our kids and youth. Over and over, study after study shows that the youth who continue in the church after confirmation and high school and college do so because they found an extended family here. Combined with loving, supportive parents, the additional moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents and friends are found in the church, each working out the spirit of adoption that God has worked in—that is what leads these youth not only to profess their faith in a loving God revealed in Jesus Christ, but to have hope in what it means to say “I’m a Christian,” and to live out the Christian faith. They, too, learn to work out what God has worked into their lives.
So, what spirit have we received? Simply put, Christ’s living heart and spirit. Which is the Holy Spirit, which shows up as a spirit of love, of adoption, of hospitality and acceptance, of holiness. We receive these from God all the time, and if we let them, they will transform our lives. And, we work out in our actions, in our daily living, and in our thoughts the very same spirit of love, adoption, hospitality, acceptance and holiness that God already worked into us. In my view, we identify most as Christians, as sons and daughters of God that we are, when we live out our lives from the Spirit we’ve received. Amen.