“All About the Family”
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
St. John 14:8-17, 25-27
The Spirit of Slavery
Paul is mindful of his Jewish congregation in Rome, but is also mindful of the Romans that they have become and that have joined with them. He asks them to look back in time from whence they came. The great salvation story that was the backbone of Jewish Salvation History and that serves the same purpose in the Christian Liturgical Year was the story of Israel’s redemption from its slavery in Egypt. Subsequent periods of oppression, such as the Babylonian captivity, the tyranny of Seleucid kings, and the bad treatment under the Romans always were likened to that period in Egypt. Thus Paul wants to set a base line against which he is going to measure what we have become in Christ. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” The slavery he will subsequently discuss will be of an altogether different nature, but the emotion impact of the word and its notions will serve his purpose well.
We should not think that this is a concept that has been left behind in our time. We have slaves all about us, and we have our own history with this institution that seems to be rearing its ugly head again in our political discussion and discourse. The slavery of our time can be both overt and subtle, as we see ourselves in slavery to consumerism and convenience. Those would have tempted Paul’s people as well, but he was more concerned about their sense of self, and their actual condition under the Law (and here I begin to revert to some very solid Lutheran roots). Paul is not pleased with the Law because it gives us a wrong sense of who we are in Christ. Laboring with a burden of guilt or unrealized forgiveness we may not have the joy that is part and parcel of being a follower of Jesus.
On being Adopted.
Noble’s family gathered at the door just now to bring their child to baptism. They made promises there and they and the priests signed him with a new sign – the sign of the cross. Paul would have us, would have Noble, would have his parents and sponsor, and would have all of us understand three subsequent modes of being once we have been anointed by the Spirit. There are three of them mentioned in the second lesson for today. The first is that we are adopted; the second that we are children, and the third is that we are heirs.
Adoption in the ancient world, was mainly concerned with the families of elites and the succession of wealth from one generation to another. In the Jewish world this was largely handled through adoption and levirate marriage, but again the emphasis was on economic and social concerns. The Roman world was quite familiar with the idea of adoption, so Paul’s development would have found a knowledgeable audience. He takes it in a different direction however. In some sense Paul poses it as a contrast to slavery. It is an altered condition where the relationship of an individual to a parent or family is fundamentally changed. Thus, at the doors of the church, Noble is adopted into our family, into our community. It is not only entrance; it is inclusion.
We are children of God.
Paul leads us by the hand to a further understanding. “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” It is a redefining of what we mean by family. For many in the ancient world, members of the family were defined and respected in relationship to their economic and political value for the family. When Peter quotes the prophet Joel in his sermon to the crowd at Pentecost, he raises the notion of a radically different understanding of people. It is an understanding that the spirit does not discriminate, that the Spirit is a prodigal as well, broadcasting her wisdom and knowledge widely and with broad effect. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
So we lead Noble to become a child of God. As we witness this act of washing with water, anointing with oil, and praying for the Spirit, we need to recognize that we are children as well, belonging to the same family that see God as not only creator, but parent and care-taker. Jesus reminds the disciples in the Gospel for today that they have an intimate knowledge of that relationship with God, “You know the Sprit, because that Spirit abides with you, and will be in you.”
Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Paul closes today’s pericope with this statement, “we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” The suffering will happen in a moment, for Noble is to be baptized into the death of Jesus. The glory will also happen in a moment for Noble is to be baptized into the resurrection of Jesus. Baptism makes us heirs. And now we have the whole progression: slave, adopted, child, heir. In our world, we may not have seen this development in our own being and understanding of ourselves. At the end of the liturgy we will welcome Noble and his family into our midst. Here is the hard part, however, we must always welcome any who come into our midst as heirs of Christ. Most of all we must welcome ourselves as a redeemed and forgiven people. At the peace, when you greet the people around your remember that you share a status with them – that you are family with them, for we are all heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ. So I say it for one last time during this season of Spirit, and on this day of baptism – The Lord is Risen Alleluia – He is Risen Indeed Alleluia!