Spirit of God, Children of God

Sunday, June 9, 2019
Pastor Megan Torgerson 

Romans 8:14-29

We rejoice today, along with the entire Christian church around the world, on the festival of Pentecost.  Today, we remember the event described in Acts, chapter 2, which says that the apostles had come together for a festival in Jerusalem.  While there, Acts says, “there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  (Acts 2:2-4)

In this incredible event, God fulfills the promises made by Jesus before his crucifixion.  Jesus says in John’s gospel that God will send “another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:17).  It is the same Spirit that came to Jesus in his baptism, as Matthew’s gospel describes, “descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).  It is that same Spirit that, in the book of Genesis,  was like a wind that “swept over the face of the waters” at the beginning of all things (Genesis 1:2).  Church art often represents the Spirit as fire, or a dove, or as wind or even breath, for all these reasons.

We confess in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life… who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.”  The Spirit has been, is now, and will be.  We trust that the Spirit is God’s true presence with us now, and that together with God our Creator and God our Savior it makes up the Triune God that we worship and claim.  The Spirit’s arrival and continuing work on earth is what we celebrate and give thanks for on Pentecost.

For the Apostle Paul, writing this letter to the church in Rome that we read today, the work of the Spirit is not a theory or idea.  It is a lived reality.  This Spirit that came unexpectedly to the disciples and sent them out to proclaim to gospel in all languages to all people – this same Spirit empowers Paul as he travels around the known world to make Christ known.  It is only because of the Spirit that diverse people become children of God.  Paul trusts the Spirit to do its work, and Paul trusts the Spirit to work through him while he travels and teaches.

So, great.  That’s all great.  I have given you a theological and historical soundbite on Pentecost and the Holy Spirit, and those things have great worth.  But as always, we must ask ourselves: so what?  What does this mean for people of faith, for us, today?

When we hear Christians talk about the Holy Spirit, we too often allow a limited few to prescribe a narrow vision of what the Spirit is for and what the Spirit does.  Perhaps you have heard of the gift of speaking in tongues.  Just as the disciples spoke in a variety of languages through the power of the Spirit at the first Pentecost, so too do Christians rightly affirm that the Spirit can so powerfully dwell in us that we say things that we don’t even understand.  In some traditions, you aren’t even actually a Christian unless this happens to you.  But too often, this ends our conversations around the Spirit.

To we who feel a touch of Spirit-phobia, Paul offers us a gracious invitation into the life of the Spirit: “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”  He continues to say that “When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God”.  In other words: the reason we can claim such an intimacy with God, a closeness with our Creator and Redeemer that leads us to see our God as a loving and beloved, the reason that we can speak to our God with trust and relationship like a little child with her kind and loving daddy, we can do this because of the Spirit.

Look, the Holy Spirit isn’t some spooky indwelling that forces you to lose control and run your mouth – or rather, it is exactly that, but not only that.  The Holy Spirit is at work in you, because the Holy Spirit is what makes you a child of God, and you, beloved, you listening here today, you are indeed a child of God.  It is a cyclical argument that takes your failings or frustrations or worthiness or work out of the equation.  You are a child of God because of the Spirit of God because the Spirit of God is what makes you a child of God.  What comes first?  The answer is: yes.  The Holy Spirit shows us that you are in God and God is in you.

Because you are in God and God is in you, you can wait patiently, have hope, and endure suffering.  Being a child of God does not mean freedom from suffering and trials in this life, but it does mean that we have God’s continuing power and presence in our lives to endure and know we are not alone.

Because you are in God and God is in you, you can know that God hears you when you pray, or even when you cannot find words for prayer.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  Whatever you say in faith, however you say it, God hears it and responds in God’s time.

Because you are in God and God is in you, and precisely because it is God’s work and not yours, you can trust that nothing can separate you from God.  You do not have to worry that the gift of God’s Spirit will be taken from you, because God has promised to always be with you, and God made that promise before you deserved it.  There is no deserving.  There is only God’s love for you.

In other words, my beloved family of God, my sisters and brothers and siblings with Christ, the Spirit remains as God’s abiding presence with you.  It is not passive, but powerfully active, connecting you with God and God with you for the sake of the world and your neighbor who needs you.  God goes with you, and so you are free – free from worry, free from obligation, but also free to love God and love others with abandon.  This is the Spirit of God, at work in the children of God; thanks be to God.  Amen.

Romans 3:28-30, 5:1-11

Romans is the Apostle Paul’s longest, weightiest and most important letter in the New Testament. He lays out in this letter the full richness of his experience with Jesus. We heard the main theme of Romans last week in chapter 1:16-17 where Paul says – For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.

The theological term for what Paul is speaking about here is called justification. It means we are saved, justified before God, made righteous in God’s eyes not by what we do or don’t do in this world but on the basis of faith in Jesus. Faith alone.

In chapters 1, 2, and 3 the Apostle Paul makes the argument that God deals with all people on the same basis – all are sinners – all are under the power of sin. Paul is simply telling the truth here. He is saying out loud what all of us know about ourselves and the brokenness that is present in our lives. We are sinners and that is the truth, plain and simple.

In chapter 5, where we land today, we hear the pay off, the ‘so what’ of justification. The answer to the question of why does this matter and what difference does it make in my life and your life.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.

That is such a great verse!

Therefore we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore we have peace with ourselves, in our hearts and in the depths of our soul.

Therefore we have the peace which passes all human understanding.

This is what it means when Paul says we are justified by faith.

To be justified by faith means we don’t have to justify ourselves. We no longer have to make excuses. We’ve all done it. We try and justify our actions, our words, our choices and our behavior. We do it because we want to be right. We do it because we think it will make us feel better. But deep down we know better.

It means we can stop trying to make ourselves worthy of God’s love.

It means we can stop feeling guilty that we don’t measure up to some standard that we or someone else has created for our lives.

I was listening to a podcast this week on a site called Working Preacher. It comes out of Luther Seminary. Professor Craig Koester, who teaches New Testament at Luther spoke about the term, justifying the margins, as it relates to word processing. Do you know that term?

As someone who didn’t take keyboarding in high school, don’t ask me why, and who is basically self-taught on the key board, I had to look this up to better understand why Professor Koester would use this term as it relates to the reading today from Romans.

“Justifying in margins has to do with where the text is aligned. Justification refers to whether the rows of text on a page appear straight up and down in line with the margin or show a ragged edge. Margin justification works in Microsoft Office programs the same way it does with other printed and on-screen text, but it’s much easier to justify margins in an Office program than it is using a typewriter for example.”[1]

I kind of like that example Dr. Koester uses. The margins of my life are aligned, straightened out and it is God who aligns my margins.

There is no longer a ragged edge. We could use that as a definition for sin couldn’t we.

My margins are justified. Your life is in alignment with God. Our edges are no longer ragged.

This is God’s work in Jesus. This is the God who is always seeking me out in order to straighten the relationship and make it right. This is good news. This is the gospel.

Paul keeps pushing the point in chapter 5. He reminds us what it means to be standing in grace and how much God does for us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

God justifies the margins at the right time. Think about that. What does that look like for you?

We think of salvation as a onetime event and that is true. Jesus died on the cross and God raised him from the dead and it happened once. It only needed to happen once and this is what Paul is referring to when he says at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

But what do your margins look like today?

Are they ragged? And if they are ragged what is the cause of them being ragged? What is it today that you are struggling with in your life that is causing you to be out of alignment with God’s purposes in your life, with God’s plan in your life, with God’s direction in your life?

Can you name what this might be for you, today? Take a look at what it is that keeps you from experiencing God’s peace and what do you need to do about it?

Confess it? Make amends with someone? Do the thing you have been putting off doing? Make the change in your life that will give you wholeness instead of ragged margins. You are the only person who can answer these questions.

And let me remind you of where you stand – what Paul tells us – Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand

For while we are still weak, at the right time, God has the power to align our margins and straighten things out. The right time is today. Or tomorrow. Or next week.

Because God justifies our margins we have access to this grace in which we stand and we can boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God.

This is truly where faith meets life.

At the right time God will empower us to do what we need to do.

At the right time God will give us what we need the most.

At the right time God will eliminate the ragged edges of our lives and bring us into alignment with His purpose and plan.

This is hope. This is peace. This is God’s justification.

Thanks be to God. Amen

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