Sunday, May 1, 2016

Year C, Pentecost: Children of God

"but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God," (Romans 8: 15-16)

Where we start will determine where we end up.

I struggle with these texts for Pentecost and the way we have traditionally spoken of them.  Often we have celebrated Pentecost, remembering God's gift of the Holy Spirit on that day, as though somehow the Spirit had simply been resting idle in heaven's back stage from the beginning till Pentecost, and then, as a Johnny come lately, showed up that day in Jerusalem.  Not so.

And even more so I struggle with the theological implications of adoption language.  I do not like it as an image for baptism.  That God "adopts us" implies not only that we have become children of God, but also that there was a point when we were not children of God.  The image of adoption distinguishes between birth parent and adoptive parent.  It opens the door for a profoundly judgmental position that asserts that the baptized, and the baptized alone, are adopted as children of God.  It is as though we were created by another, and then subsequently, claimed by God.  And for everyone that God claims as his own, via the adoption of baptism, there are many more who simply remain 'unclaimed'.  The lost.

I remember Linnea, crying in my office following a funeral sermon that I had just preached.  The sermon was offered at the funeral of a young girl who I had baptized in the emergency room following an auto accident.  She died shortly thereafter.  In the sermon I focused on the promises of God tied to baptism.  I thought it was a rich, Gospel based sermon.  But Linnea cried.  She was filled with deep grief, and to a degree, with anger.

Her second born child died unexpectedly at the age of about two weeks.  Not expecting that Randall would die, they had not had him baptized.  And their pastor simply said "what a tragedy".  The child was lost.  (I tend to believe that if ever there were grounds for charging a pastor with 'clergy malpractice, this would be one of them.)  If baptism is adoption, then the unbaptized are not.  It's a logical position.  And it turns the grace of God and the promises of God into laws that condemn.

I don't like that.

In the beginning it was the Spirit of God that moved over the face of the waters, and was present in creation, breathing the breath of life into all of life.  If we must speak of a beginning point for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the lets talk of the 'ruach', the wind, the breathe of God, his Spirit, that brings life itself to us.  And having received this gift of the Spirit, the very breathe of life, we are born children of God.

One of my seminary professors, a charismatic, was invited to speak at an assembly of charismatic Christians.  The requested topic was the Spirit in the Bible.  He related that the group was surprised because, rather than focus on Pentecost, the bulk of his study was on Creation.

As the Spirit of God rushed through that place at Pentecost, it was a continuation of the work of the Spirit begun in creation.  It is a time to remember that the Spirit of God has been with us from the beginning and remains with us til the end.

And that we are indeed Children of God, because by the power of the Holy Spirit we were created, and filled with the very breathe of God.

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