by Pr. Cherie Johnson
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Today is Pentecost, the day we commemorate and celebrate when the Holy Spirit first came to the disciples, this person or part of God, this member of the Trinity. Perhaps more importantly, we are going to talk about the difference having the Spirit makes in our lives.
When Jesus prepared the disciples for his eventual departure, he talked about it in John 14.
Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14: 15-17)
This is part of the gift that we receive by being in Christ. This day of Pentecost is the day that we remember when this kind of personal contact with the Holy Spirit was first offered or given to a wider group of people.
Pentecost is such a strange word. Why do we use it? The meaning of the word has no direct connection with the Holy Spirit. It means fifty. The name comes from our Jewish Heritage. It came fifty days after Passover. Both of these were/are very important on the Jewish calendar. Passover, celebrates God rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. We equate that with what Jesus did for us, rescued us from slavery to and death.
Fifty days later is Pentecost, a harvest festival, the first harvest of the new season. It represents a new beginning when the freed Israelites slaves were given the law, when they begin to be formed as a people with God teaching them how to live as free people.
Pentecost represents a new beginning for us too, where the Spirit of God begin to interact with us in a more personal way. The Prophet Jeremiah talks about it in 31:33 and elsewhere. “This is the Covenant I will make with the people of Israel […] declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be there God, and they will be my people.”
And God says through the prophet Ezekiel chapter 36, “I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit in you. I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you.”
This is the day it starts, Pentecost. The people were so giddy with excitement that the people around them thought that they were drunk. Peter says they weren’t. It was an unfair charge, but in a manner of speaking they were drunk, drunk with excitement, drunk with his new feeling. All of this is great, but what does it have to do with us, today? It is great to remember and celebrate. It’s a good excuse to have a party, but is there something more?
That’s where today’s passage from Romans comes in. For the last several weeks, we’ve been talking about the new life we can receive through Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection.
For those who accept and believe in Jesus, those who are in Christ, what is true of him is true of you. You are dead to sin, redeemed from slavery to sin, and are given new life and the Holy Spirit through which Christ can live in and through you. It is how we can be freed from the law as Jeremiah and Ezekiel said because it is the Spirit that changes our hearts. It is what is with us and guides us to allow us to stay in step with Jesus.
But it does something more. It is what confirms our adoption into the family of God. When we are in Christ, what is true of Christ is true of us, and Jesus Christ is God’s son. So naturally, that makes us children of God. Again, this is not some figurative language that gets watered down because of time and space and so many people can be included. San Augustine said, “God loves each of us, as if there were only one of us.” If we think about that, God’s love is so vast and Limitless. We don’t have to be jealous of anyone else or scared that God doesn’t, couldn’t really, love us. Quite the contrary, God loves us so much, each one of us, as if there was only one of us.
It is meant to represent a close personal parental relationship. Not a stern disciplinarian, though we may receive discipline from time to time, but someone who wants to take care of you and protect you from harm, to teach you how to have a good life that glorifies God.
In today’s scripture passage the Apostle Paul, uses the term “Abba, Father.” “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
You may recognize it as the name Jesus uses for God the night he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night he was arrested. (Mark 14: 6) “Abba” is an informal Aramaic word for “father,” but really more like “Daddy” or “Papa.” Since the New Testament authors were writing in Greek, they used the Aramaic word, and immediately provided the Greek translation.
Perhaps to foster this familiar relationship, “Abba, Father” is how God was addressed in churches founded by Paul.(CEB Note, page 288 New Testament.) When we are in Christ and receive the Holy Spirit, we receive full adoption into God’s Family.
Paul says in verse 15, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship…” for both men and women. “And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 14:15-16)
When we think of adoption today, we think of a very special experience with children or babies are placed with families. The children have had to experience some kind of trauma or tragedy, and hopefully they are matched with a loving family.
In many cases, prospective parents must go through an extensive vetting process. It can take years, especially in international adoptions. So, the idea of God adopting us under those kinds of circumstances can seem to us very special and wonderful, a very warm and fuzzy kind of moment with our contemporary eyes.
Adoption in Paul’s day in the Roman Empire was very different. If we think about it, it can be even more powerful and meaningful as it applies to God’s adoption of us. In Paul’s time in the Roman world no one adopted babies or young children. The infant mortality rate was too high. The cost of raising a child that may not live to adulthood was too high. Rich and powerful families would adopt adults or nearly grown boys. There were a variety of reasons for this. One is if they were looking for an heir, they wanted to be confident that he – and it was almost always a he – would live to inherit. Another is to insure in the case of a powerful family that the child was educated and smart enough to maintain the family’s assets, to be a leader. This did not only apply to families with no male heir. A father may adopt because he did not trust his biological children to be good stewards of all he had built up.
What are the most famous of these adoptions was Julius Caesar’s adoption of Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, whose name was Gaius Octavius at the Time.
When Paul is talking about adoption, this is the kind of adoption he’s talking about. Not adopting some unknown quantity, not knowing how we’re going to turn out, powerful Romans would adopt someone that they thought was worthy. And yet, because of the Holy Spirit, with all our faults and failures, completely unworthy in ourselves to be adopted by God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Being in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, we are regarded as worthy.
When God looks at us, we are redeemed and forgiven, bought out of slavery to sin, no longer a slave under the law. The nature of the relationship that God wants to have with us is as one of God’s beloved children. God adopts us, knowing everything we have done and everything we will do, all of the promises we have broken to God, to ourselves, to others. This relationship is so close that we are invited to relate to God as “Abba,” or “Papa” or “Dad”.
Having a relationship with God by being filled with the Holy Spirit allows it to be personal in a way that it can never be with a set of rules. You no longer have to look at God through the lens of what you have done, but who you are, his child. Your primary identity has changed. God sent his son, so that you could become his child.
As I have been saying these last several weeks, it can be hard to change the way we think of ourselves. We may still pray as a slave. God I know, I broke this rule or that rule. I know it was wrong. I knew it when I did it. Please, forgive me. Tomorrow, I’ll try harder.
God has invited us into something far greater. We may still view ourselves as a slave, but God does not. So instead we can be so bold as to pray, “I got out of step with you today God. Forgive me. Help me to do better. I know I can’t, but you can.”
That is why the Christian celebration of Pentecost is so important. It reminds us of the close relationship we can have with God through the Holy Spirit. In this case, I mean close in physical proximity.
The Holy Spirit is sometimes called the mysterious person of the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach. It also means wind or breath. The Greek word is pneuma. Like the wind, the Holy Spirit goes where it will. Sometimes it will blow hard and others it will be gentle and soft. It is always around us, God’s breath. We breathe it in. It is a part of us, but we may not even notice. Yet, like all the air we breathe, we would immediately notice its absence.
It is wild and mysterious. It cannot be changed, but it changes. It can make all our hair stand on end. It can gently lull us to sleep. It is what testifies to our place in God’s family. It teaches us how to live in the new creation. It will show us the new colors of the freedom we have through Christ Jesus.
In the Methodist Church in Pocatello, they sing a song each week during the greeting time. “The Spirit in me greets the Spirit in you, alleluia. God’s in us, and we’re in God, alleluia!”
That’s how we get beyond it being all about us. We start seeing God in the people around us, even the people who get on our nerves. “The Spirit in me greets the Spirit in you.” We become this mutually supporting community. We support each other in our walk with God. We work together the way the parts of a body work together to complete a task, inspired by the Holy Spirit, acting as the body of Christ. We can think of these things as metaphors, or merely as things we say because we heard it somewhere before, but if we really think about it in a more literal way, we each on our own personal Journey with God, developing our relationship, acting in concert, doing the things Jesus did and greater. (John 14:12) Mutually supporting, mutually uplifting, very much like the nature of the Trinity of God itself. It is the Spirit that allows us to do so.
Having the Holy Spirit with us allows us to participate in the new creation, reveal God’s kingdom, now, as we still live in this broken world. It helps us to be transforming agents as we are being transformed. We are not held captive to the rules of the world. The Spirit will help us to stay in step with God, but we have to listen. We have to remember that we have it as a resource, and that it will always be there for us. We have to accept our identity as a God’s adopted children that when we are in Christ Jesus, what is true of Christ really is true of us, even when we forget.
When God says he will never leave us or forsake us, the gift of the Holy Spirit is part of what it means. We always have access. We will never be abandoned. We can ignore it, forget about it, but the moment we are ready to turn around, God will be right there waiting for us welcoming us back with open arms. Pentecost is the day it became truer than it has ever been. Thanks be to God!