A sermon, based on Romans 8.14-17, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Day of Pentecost, June 9, 2019
Note: God Friended Me is a CBS network drama series, September 30, 2018 to the present, set in New York City, revolving around a podcaster, Miles, who, an atheist at odds with his preacher father, Arthur, receives a social media friend request from God. Miles, considering the godly friend request a hoax, nevertheless, plays along and finds himself helping those whom God sends as friend suggestions and, thus, learning about himself.
The Day of Pentecost. Christianity’s annual commemoration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s indwelling presence, on the first disciples empowering them to become apostles to be sent into the world to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus.
In nearly forty-two years of ordained ministry, many times, on this day, I have preached on the text from the Acts of the Apostles.(1) Its description of the coming of the Holy Spirit abounds with astoundingly graphic ear-splitting, eye-catching elements. A house-filling violent wind! Divided head-alighting tongues of fire! Miraculously conferred all-other-languages-speaking ability, which, though mistaken as the result of vino-intoxication, truly, was the fruit of spiritual-inspiration in the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.
However, today, I focus on Romans. For this brief passage, all eighty-five words of it (though I will use and already have used far more!), sums up the message and the meaning of receiving the Holy Spirit. That message and meaning, I believe, are essential for us to grasp, lest the coming of the Holy Spirit seems more like some heavenly hocus-pocus of little or no consequence to us and less like the life-changing reality that it is and can be for us.
And every once in a while, I like, as I term it, “to walk through” a biblical passage or as a Pentecostal preacher I once knew oft said, “to take a text line by line, precept by precept,” seeking to answer the questions: What does it say? What does it mean?
So, let’s get to it!
Our text reads “children of God.” A modern translation in keeping with our contemporary idea of gender-equality. The ancient text reads “sons of God,” which, in Paul’s first-century day and time, reflected the role and responsibility of sons, who were expected not only to embrace their father’s work, to do what he did, but to embody his values, to be who he was.
Therefore, Paul understood that Jesus is the Son of God because in his life and ministry, death and resurrection he embraced and embodied the Self-sacrificial Love of who and what God is and does.
Therefore, when we choose not to follow our human, always self-interested will and way, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, who, Jesus tells us, reminds us of everything he teaches us,(2) then we, too, embrace and embody God’s Self-sacrificial Love. One way to characterize it, that is, what it looks like when we’re doing God’s love, in the words of our Baptismal Covenant, is to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,” to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving (our neighbors) as (ourselves),” to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”(3)
Even more, God, through the Holy Spirit, not only leads us, but also adopts us, which is another way of saying that we’re God’s children.
To be adopted means that we can call God and call on God, whether in moments of greatest joy or in times of gravest need, with the same term of endearment that Jesus used, “Abba! Father!” when praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he was crucified.(4)
And to be adopted means that we, like Jesus, our brother, are heirs of God’s fortune. Not worldly, much less material glory, but rather the opportunity, the responsibility to share in Jesus’ self-sacrificial life. Again, bearing witness to Jesus, loving and serving him in all people, and respecting everyone’s human dignity.
A final word. As I’m wont to say, God will not drag us kickin’ and screamin’ against our will into the kingdom. Rather God, who loves us, who is Love, desires that we, knowing that we are loved, choose daily to receive the greatest gift that God can give: the gift of God’s Self.
God, most likely, will not send us a social media friend request. But God has sent, does and will send the Holy Spirit to us, upon us, to dwell in us to lead and to adopt us.
(1) Acts 2.1-21
(2) John 14.26
(3) From the Baptismal Covenant, The Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305
(4) Mark 14.36
Illustration: Pentecost (1596), Doménikos Theotokópoulos (El Greco) (1541-1614), Museo del Prado, Madrid.