(A sermon based on Romans 8:12-17 for Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2012)
Family life is something of a dance; it’s more of an art than it is a science. When you are part of a family you experience the good times and the bad, the happy and the sad, the easy and the trying—and you experience it all together, as a family.
There is a sense in which when we speak of God as Trinity we speak of God as an eternal family. While God as Trinity, God as three-in-one and one-in-three, is a mystery with which we have to live— precisely because it is intended to be a mystery—I am nonetheless comfortable saying this: to speak of God as Trinity, of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to say that God has always had as God’s essence the reality of relationship. God is, after all, love, and one way we can think about that reality is to think about the three persons of the one God being in an eternal loving relationship with each other within the one God.
From the beginning of human history, God has sought to enlarge God’s family, to bring more people into God’s family. God created us human beings with the ability to relate to God; you and I have that ability. Even when we refuse God’s magnificently magnanimous offer to include us in God’s family, God never stops making the offer to include us and to make that inclusion possible.
It is so grace-filled as to be completely mind-boggling.
“Here is your family,” Almighty God, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit says to us. “Come home. I will adopt you. You can come live with us and we will come live with you.”
How does this adoption language strike you? “You have received a spirit of adoption,” Paul said (v. 15). We were not born into God’s family; we are brought into it, we are adopted into it.
We tend to draw a distinction in our thinking between “biological” and “adopted” children. So, we say that if a couple becomes pregnant through the customary method or some variation of it, the resulting child is their biological child. But if a couple or individual takes someone else’s biological child into their home and gives that child legal standing in their family, then that child is their adopted child.
I would suggest, though, that all children who really feel deep in their hearts that they are their parents’ children, who really know way down deep that they are their parents’ beloved children, are in fact adopted children, whether they are technically biological or legally adopted.
I was talking once with an elderly man about one of his sons and that son’s children. The grandfather, who had taken a strong role in raising those children, shook his head as he said to me, “My son produced three children and he doesn’t have $50 invested in any of them.” That was his way of saying that his son had never really received or treated his biological children as his real children, as children whom he received as a gift and a responsibility and to whom he gave himself as freely and fully as he could. The money he didn’t invest represented the self he didn’t invest.
Not all people who produce offspring really become parents and not all offspring who are produced really become children. All parents have to make an intentional decision as to whether or not they are going to receive and accept fully their offspring as their children. In effect, once a baby comes into the world and into a household, and really all along through that child’s life, her parents must make the intentional and purposeful decision that this will really and truly be their child and they will really and truly be her parents.
It’s a spiritual thing, really. It’s one thing to have biological children; it’s another thing entirely to pour your spirit, your love, everything that you are capable of pouring, into that relationship.
God has made and continues to make the decision to pour God’s self into us and to allow us to pour ourselves into God’s family. God in God’s very nature is a family—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—and that family is united in an eternal dance of love. God in God’s grace adopts us into that family—and if you think about it you’ll realize that is the only way that we could come into the family of God.
That we get to share in the dance is grace beyond grace.
But we do because God pours God’s Spirit into us; that Spirit makes us part of the family of God and when you get the Spirit you get all of God, you get all of the family. When you are really part of a family, when you are fully adopted into that family, when the spirit of that family is in you, you can live with great confidence and assurance no matter what is going on.
Being in the family of God gives us the privilege of eternal life now and in the future: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v. 13). Being in God’s family means that you have real and full life here and now and everlasting life there and then.
Being in the family of God gives us direction and purpose: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (v. 14). When our children were teenagers and were going out and about I would tell them, “Remember that you are a Ruffin.” I wanted the spirit of our family to guide them. The very Spirit of God guides us; let’s be sensitive to its direction.
Being in the family of God gives us the knowledge that we belong and so we need not be afraid: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption” (v. 15a). We don’t, thank God, practice any longer the institution of slavery in our land, but we know enough about it to know that when it was practiced a slave was property that could be discarded. We are God’s adopted and beloved children and we live in the confidence that we belong to and with God and will always belong to and with God.
Being in the family of God gives us the ability to call on God as Father: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (vv. 15b-16). The Spirit tells and reminds us that we are part of God’s family and that, being the perfectly loving parent, God can be called on with trust and confidence.
Being in the family of God gives us a heritage to anticipate: “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (v. 17a). Children, when they have good parents, want to be like those parents when they grow up. We want to be in the image of God when we become fully mature. As God’s children, we are slowly but surely growing up into who we are meant to be until one day, thanks to the grace of God, the work of the Spirit, and the death and resurrection of the Son, we will be everything we are meant to be!
Being in the family of God gives purpose to our struggles: “If, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 17b). Jesus suffered because the world was not what it should have been and because people lived so far from God and thus could not abide the ways of God that were seen in Jesus; he suffered because he knew that God would vindicate the way that he was living but that there would be a price to pay along the way. We long for what we will be, for what Creation will be, and for what God’s family will be when we are all we should be and when all is as it should be. Meanwhile, we keep growing, waiting, serving, loving and, yes, we keep hurting.
As amazing as it is, the fact is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit include us in their family. Aren’t you glad we’re a part of the family of God?