Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church,July 20, 2014

Children of God…Follow the Spirit
[Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25]

            In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 8, we find ourselves in the middle of Paul’s exploration of God’s gift of freedom through Jesus Christ:  freedom from condemnation, freedom from sin, and freedom from death.
            This letter to the Christians in Rome is Paul’s most complete summary of the Gospel…how anyone and everyone can be saved through Jesus Christ. The letter was written to a community of Christians he had not met.   It is Paul’s “last will and testament” – as he puts into words what is MOST IMPORTANT about our faith. It was also one of the last letters Paul wrote, for we he was martyred in Rome.
            Even in the early years of the church (54-68 AD) the church in Rome was a mixture of Jews, proselytes (who are God fearers, attending but not fully committed) and other non-Jews, many not native to Rome. The church included people of all social strata, drawing heavily from lower classes, including slaves and freed people.
            You can imagine there was a lot of “jockeying for power” in the early church between Jews and non-Jews, because the two groups had been separate for hundreds of years because of strict Jewish laws which prevented Jews from associating with Gentiles.  Jews were expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius around 49 AD, including Paul’s close friends Aquila and Priscila, but under Nero, who reversed this edict, many Jews returned to Rome, as a “minority” group in the church.
            Paul’s letter establishes early on that BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES were equally loved by God.  For the Jews, this may have been a slight “slap in the face” – since their whole tradition set them apart as “God’s special people.” However, in Rome, the Jews were the persecuted minority. Gentiles had taken over leadership in the church while the Jews were exiled. Therefore, Paul admonishes the Gentiles that God will never reject the Jews, so neither should they.
            And the reason they were all equal is because ALL PEOPLE, not just some, FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Not a single person on earth can justify himself or herself before God as “good enough” based on his or her own merit.  Romans 1:16-17 puts it clearly. Paul writes:  “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. 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.’”
            None of us are justified by our own works, but by faith in the Son of God, whom God raised from the dead. In the early chapters of Romans, Paul explains the sinfulness of the Gentiles first (that means all the non-Jews). He says they are accountable for their failure to recognize and failure to be grateful for God’s presence in their lives. Then Paul explains the sinfulness of the Jews, who though blessed and called to be instruments of salvation for the whole world, they had also fallen short of their calling. 
            Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles have excuses for their failure to recognize God and their failure to honor God through holy living.  We talked several weeks ago about the dilemma Paul describes in Romans 7… that despite our BEST intentions Christians fail to do what we want to do and we do the things we don’t want to do.
            On the heels of this age-old human dilemma of our failing to meet both God’s and our own expectations, Paul declares in Romans 8:  Hold on a minute!  I have a solution for all of you. And that solution is Christ Jesus… the Son of God… who was raised from the dead, so that every single person who puts their faith in Jesus Christ can be free of condemnation, sin and death!
            Just as Jesus humbled himself to become a human being and wear our “flesh” – so also if we humble ourselves and commit our lives to Jesus Christ, we inherit “God’s Spirit” right here and now. The Spirit will literally enter our flesh and infuse our lives with the life of God.  Now that is GOOD NEWS if I ever heard any! That’s something to sing and dance about!
            Listen to Romans 8:1-11: which are the words leading up to today’s Scripture: 
            There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
            I pause here to emphasize Paul’s point. ANYONE in the flesh, whether they are raised as Jews or Gentiles, or Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, humanists, pacifists, activists, Pentecostals, Quakers, agnostics, Americans, Iraqis, Africans, Europeans… WHATEVER… cannot please God in their flesh! There are no “reserved seats,” “box seats,” or “VIP seats” in the Kingdom of God.
            Paul continues:  “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
            In other words… if you invite the Spirit of God… who is also the Spirit of Christ… into your bodies, as we do when we are baptized, then the Spirit of LIFE lives in you and you will never die.  This is not a hope for the sweet bye and bye of eternity; this is a hope for the PRESENT.  We may be full of cancer, riddled with rheumatoid arthritis, bent over with osteoporosis, but if the Spirit of Christ dwells in us we will NEVER DIE SPIRITUALLY, despite the fact our physical bodies ARE EXPIRING EVERY DAY.
            So today’s New Testament Scripture builds from that solid foundation, saying:  “We are indebted to the Spirit. Let’s not look back; let’s lean forward.  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  Don’t fall back into a spirit of slavery and despair. Heaven forbid!  When we cry out to God: “Abba! Father!” – it’s the Spirit of God speaking through us, reaching out to pick us up and hold us in God’s arms, because we are now children of God. If children, we are also heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ!
            The Psalm for today shows how a child of God communicates with God. The Psalmist writes:  “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.”
            The words that leap out to me from this Psalm are these:  “Give me an undivided heart to revere God’s name!” What a beautiful metaphor for faith… that we might have an “undivided heart” – literally loving God with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole life.
            As heirs of Christ, what does our inheritance look like?  There are two sides to it, so let’s start with what appears to be bad news.  We first INHERIT SUFFERING AS CHILDREN OF GOD.  Why? Because if we follow the Spirit of God, the path will include suffering, just as Jesus suffered. If we refuse to suffer with Christ, we will not inherit the other side of our inheritance, which is God’s glory.  These are two sides of one coin.
            Therefore, don’t be surprised by it, Paul warns, and at the same time don’t let suffering overwhelm you.  For the sufferings we experience are “labor pains” … for the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have experienced the first fruits of the Spirit, still groan inwardly while we wait for the redemption of our bodies.
            But like a mother in labor (and I speak from experience – why doesn’t anyone warn us how difficult labor is?) the labor pains are helping “birth” a new life. They are necessary. A mother’s uterus works hard to push that new life through the birth canal into the light of day. When that newborn baby’s umbilical cord is cut, and the child is laid in her mother’s arms, labor pains evaporate like mist.  God’s new creation cries out with life!  There is no greater moment of ecstasy.
The sufferings of Christians are labor pains, as God moves us through the birth canal of life in the Spirit into God’s eternal glory. As long as we live on this side of physical death, we will suffer, but the pain we bear now doesn’t compare to the life we inherit. When I see Naomi Johnson singing hymns without looking at the words, I see a child of God following the Spirit for 90+ years, patiently waiting to see Jesus face-to-face and hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Humble woman that she is, Naomi often says: “I don’t know why I’m still here. I’m such a mess.”
For me, Naomi is a living witness of Christian hope, a living work of art, entitled, “Holy Patience.”  Let’s follow the same Spirit which infuses her life, sisters and brothers in Christ, all the way home to our Father and Mother God! The journey may be short or long, smooth or rugged, at times even tragic.  But we are never alone when guided by the Spirit and the destination is sure: we are bound for glory, the land of those who are alive in Christ.
 Let us pray.

       Karen Chakoian, “Exegetical Perspective on Romans 8:12-25,” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, p. 255.