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Relationship of Love

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 5/27/2018 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Romans 8:12-17

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is something we will never fully understand in this life because it is a mystery. So, I’m not going to try to explain it. However, I love how the mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, who lived from 1099-1179, described the Trinity as “sound and life…wondrous splendor…and which is life in all things.” How does that “sound and life” infuse us and infuse the church? It all starts with the work of the Holy Spirit. That is how God’s people become so intimate with God.

By the Spirit, the deeds of the body are put to deathHere “death” points us beyond mere physical death. We will all die someday. However, Paul is talking about the life-destroying power of death that in partnership with sin and the law, keeps life from being what God created it to be (Boring & Craddock).

Paul contrasts two ways of life with two different results. Living according to the flesh ends in death while living by the Spirit’s power leads to life. Living “according to the flesh” is to live for that which is transient, pursuing self-interests at the expense of others, completely disregarding God’s presence. Flesh is being used metaphorically for the human tendency to seek immediate satisfaction of one’s own desires, without thought of God’s perspective. 

The life of the Spirit is life that is truly life, what God desires and intends for his own, one led by the Spirit. 
In other words, Christians should become what they already are.  

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. That means we are co-heirs with Christ, our “elder brother” (Romans 8:29). One way to paraphrase this is, “Christian life is life in the Spirit because people led by the Spirit are children of God” (Soards, Dozeman & McCabe). 

Paul is writing about Christian identity and self-understanding. He then goes on to tell us how this plays out. Life in the Spirit is more than an identity, but it is a relationship with God which has come as a gift by God’s grace—completely undeserved and unearned.

Because of our new relationship with God, we cry “Abba, Father” and the Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are God’s children. An image I will never forget is that of Jewish families walking with their young children on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. The entire street was made into a plaza, which only allows pedestrian traffic. People are relaxed as they walk and maybe stop at one of the outdoor cafes. Very small children in strollers reach up both arms to their fathers saying, “Abba,” which means “Daddy.” It demonstrates a very intimate relationship between Father and child. It is that degree of relationship which Paul writes of in the passage from Romans. 

There is intricate cooperation between the Spirit and our spirit. The Spirit doesn’t put words into our mouths and spirits, but mysteriously works in and with our spirits until we are actually able to call the almighty God, “Abba, Daddy, Father.” To cry out to God in the language a child would use is to confess both need and to claim relationship.

Martin Luther, in his introduction to the Lord’s Prayer wrote, “With these words God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving Father” (The Small Catechism). I appreciate Luther’s emphasis on God’s love and its initiation in our relationship with God. 

If we are children then…there’s a whole lot of good things God has in store for us. As heirs, we have an image that captures the already/not yet reality of Christian existence.

We have become joint heirs with Christ. God has made his children equal inheritors of all God has to give—with Christ, God’s only begotten Son. No one can fully understand God without talking about relationship. In the Holy Trinity, we see one big love relationship. God is so full of love that it is shared in and through profound relationships—within the Godhead and with humanity. It is this love through the Holy Spirit, that enables us in our relationships to reflect God’s love with each other. Such love draws people to God and into fellowship with us.

David Lose explains that “God’s essential and core being has always been a giving and receiving and sharing of love that finally spills out into the whole of the universe and invites all of us into it.” God did this first through creation, then through his various covenants or agreements and then through the ultimate display of God’s love in sending Jesus to demonstrate just how much God loves us.

As Christians, we can have full confidence in belonging to God’s family as those whose full inheritance lies in the future at the end of the age. In 1 Peter, our inheritance is described in this way, “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5). Being children of God means that each member of the new community of faith shares equally in the inheritance.

An unavoidable aspect of discipleship is suffering. The Roman believers were well aware of this. They continued to experience adversity and affliction in the aftermath of the Edict of Claudius, somewhere between 41 AD and 53 AD.  “…we suffer together with” Christ. This was an ongoing experience, one from which we do not escape. The suffering of a disciple arises out of one’s loyalty to Christ in everything. 

Life in the Spirit transforms Christian suffering into meaningful suffering. Paul isn’t talking about health or financial troubles. Our suffering for Christ is like our Lord’s own suffering—an anticipation of the glory to which God will bring us. Whatever believers may suffer, it pales in comparison to what believers ultimately stand to gain. 

What does it mean for us to live knowing we are God’s beloved children; adopted and chosen and named joint heirs with Christ? I’m not talking about the heaven and hell thing, but what difference does it make right now—to know we are unconditionally loved, that we have immeasurable value in God’s eyes—that no matter what we do or is done to us, no matter where we go, God always loves and cares about us? Can you imagine how we might live if we really believed this? What decisions might we make this week knowing we have God’s unconditional love and how might this change the world of our friends, neighbors, and parishioners?

Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at last week’s royal wedding beautifully sums up the difference such love makes:

When love is the way, poverty would become history. 
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. 
When love is the way, we will lay our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty of room for all of God’s children. 
When love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. 
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters and children of God. Brothers and sisters — that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. 

Amen.

References

M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People's New Testament Commentary

Charles B. Cousar, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B

Bishop Michael Curry, sermon at the royal wedding, 5/19/2018

Arland Hultgren, workingpreacher.org

Robert Jewett, Romans: A Short Commentary

Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

Stan Mast, calvinseminary.edu

Marion Soards, Thomas Dozeman & Kendall McCabe, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year B, After Pentecost 1

Sundays and Seasons

Pixabay pictures

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