Sunday, May 19, 2013

Joint Heirs with Christ - A Sermon for Pentecost, Year C, 2013

A Homily for Pentecost, Year C, 2013
Sunday, May 19th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 8:14-17

“For all who are led by the Spirit are children of God.”
Romans 8:14

If we are to truly comprehend the great mystery that is Pentecost, we must not simply rest in hearing once again the story of the Holy Spirit falling on the disciples of Jesus that first Christian Pentecost.  As important as it is to meditate on the event that was Pentecost for the Apostles, it is even more important for us to meditate on our own Pentecost, on our own experience of the Holy Spirit, and what we are given in the Pentecost of our faith.  If  the story of tongues of fire and the sudden understanding of foreign languages seems foreign to our experience, then ought we not to probe more fully into the activity of the Spirit of God in our own lives to truly comprehend what the gift of the Holy Spirit might mean?   In fact, this is precisely what St. Paul does in these four short verses in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. 

St. Paul begins with these words, “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”   This is a powerful assertion of who we are in Christ.   In Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit, we become God’s children.  I am a child of God. You are a child of God.  What makes this so?  It is the Holy Spirit of God.  The English translation, though, makes the Spirit sound somewhat passive.  When Paul speaks of the Spirit of God leading us, it sounds as though the Spirit is passing by and we choose to join in, to follow along.  Yet, when Paul speaks of being led by the Spirit, this might be more properly understood as being driven by the Spirit, moved by the Spirit.  This sounds much more akin to that first Pentecost when the Spirit falls upon the early Christians and they begin to uncontrollably utter strange tongues.  The Spirit is not a gentle breeze that blows by, but a wind that rages through, or flame that burns passionately.  The Spirit is anything but passive, it does not simply burn, but blazes; it does not simply blow, but rather rushes like a gale-force wind.  All of this is to say that Spirit comes to us with great power, a power to awaken us, to enliven us, to move us in a different direction, to change us.

And this is precisely, according to Paul, what the Spirit does.  When we are led, nay driven! by the Holy Spirit, our very identity changes.  The Spirit that falls upon us, burns within us, rushes through us, is not a spirit that subjects us once again to slavery, or even to a new slavery, but delivers us once and for all from all slavery, bringing us into a new-found freedom as children of God.  Slavery is what we knew before Christ; being a child of God is what we know in Christ.

Pentecost is the answer to one of the great questions that is begged by the Christ event, namely “how does the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, his passion, his resurrection, and his ascension do anything for me?”  How does what happens to Jesus affect me? It is an interesting question.  When we say “Jesus died for my sins,” or “Jesus rose from the dead and gave me new life,” what are we saying, and how do those actions of Jesus transfer to me? What difference does God becoming human make for me?  How does the death of Jesus on the cross take away my sins?  How is it that I am to receive the benefits of his passion? How does his resurrection give me new life?  What is it that connects Jesus with me and me with Jesus?

It is the Holy Spirit.

Consider for a moment the story of St. Mary the virgin. How does God enter into humanity?  How does God, who is above and beyond all creation, become a part of creation?  How does God take human flesh? It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit who falls upon her that humanity is joined to divinity in unconfused perfection.  In her womb, the Holy Spirit knits together humanity and divinity. Through the Spirit of God, God comes to us, as one of us, that our humanity might be joined to his divinity.  Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus is merely a man.  With the Holy Spirit, he is the Word of God, the Logos, bringing God’s redemption not only to the race of humanity, but to the entire cosmos.  It is through the work of the Spirit that God is with us.

But more than God being with us, we are brought into the life of God in a new and startling way.  Where once we were slaves to sin, where once we relied solely on the flawed works of our own flesh, where once death meant despair, in the new reality of Pentecost, we become part of God’s family, freed from the slavery of sin, relieved of working out our salvation on our own merit, delivered from the fear of death, all because we are children of the living God.

The Holy Spirit joins us to Christ in a new and profound way.  His sonship becomes ours sonship.  Where he is a child of God by the power of the Spirit, so too, do we become children of God.  We are no longer captives to the Spirit of slavery, no longer simple retainers in the household or even hired hands, but members of the family.   

And this is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  This is the one prayer that Jesus taught us and it begins with our bold proclamation of the new reality we find when we are joined with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It boldly proclaims that God is our father.  We do not pray to him as “our master,” but as “our father.”  This is how Jesus taught us to pray, and he taught us to pray thus because when we are in Christ Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are God’s sons and daughters. This is why St. Paul says, “when we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  You see, the Holy Spirit leads, or perhaps more poignantly, drives our spirit in that bold proclamation that God is our father, that we are his children.  When under our own power we would dare not make that claim, and in our own weakness perhaps we cannot claim it, the Holy Spirit gives us the grace and strength to own it with all our being.

And that is why, St. Paul continues, “if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”  Being an heir is a vastly different thing than being a slave.  We do not assume our role as heir on our own though.  When we are once in slavery, it is near impossible to find ourselves free again.  It is near impossible for a slave to earn their way out of slavery, nor is it ever likely that a slave will have the means to buy themselves out of slavery.  If we are slaves we must rely on the grace of another.  That other is none other than Jesus, the true Son of God, who through the working of the Holy Spirit joins us for a moment in our slavery that we might for all time find freedom as sons and daughters of God.  Through the Holy Spirit he joins us in the slavery of our humanity, that we me might join him in the freedom of his sonship.  This is what St. Paul means when he talks about us suffering with Christ that we might also be glorified with him.  He is with us in the depths, that we might be raised with him in the family of God, not only as sons and daughters, but as joint heirs.  We are not even second- or third-born children who might be passed by, but like Jesus, we are first born and privy to all the glory that that privilege brings.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ brings us into the family of God  not in some partial or imperfect way, but in glorious excellence and marvellous egalitarian love.  Christ share his firstborn life with us, every one of us, when we are led and moved by the Spirit.

This is the deeper meaning of Pentecost in our lives, that the work of Christ is not some objective work of God that we gaze upon from a distance, but a work that transforms our very identity from being slaves to sin, and striving, and death, to deliverance, to freedom and life.  And that work of God in Christ is made the work that transforms us, by the power of the Holy Spirit placing Christ in us that we might dwell evermore in him.