12 So then, brothers and sisters,[a] we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba![b] Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness[c] with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8: 12-17
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
May 31, 2015
There had been a big fight. Doug was 12 years old and he had lived with my parents a little over a month.
He was officially in the foster care system now and he was upset. He wondered: What was his place? Who was he? WHOSE was he? Was there anywhere he belonged? And so, there was a fight. It included a fair amount of yelling and some slammed doors. Later that night as my mother was reading in bed, a slip of paper came—woosh!—under the bedroom door. Silently she went and picked it up. Three words were scrawled on the paper: “Forget you Mom.” Except, the word was not “forget” but its uglier and more hurtful four-letter cousin. “Forget—- you—– Mom——.”
When she saw the words she began to cry. She sank to the edge of the bed because she was overjoyed. Her joy came from two things: the first was that every word of the note was spelled correctly. See, Doug had mental and developmental delays, and so my mother was thrilled as she thought to herself, “Just imagine was he can do if he can spell this word! Why, he can spell ‘duck’ and ‘luck’ and ‘truck!’” Of course the second reason for her joy is obvious. It was on her lips as she poked my father awake. “Look Jim,” she said as she thrust the hurtful note in front of his bleary eyes. “Look! He’s called me mom!”
What made him call her mom?
It couldn’t have been because they had spent the evening in familial bliss snuggling on the couch singing nursery rhymes. It couldn’t have been because the relationship just felt so natural. It couldn’t have been because this was all so easy. Yet here, after this fight, he says it for the first time. What made him call her mom?
Paul says that when this happens in our faith, it is the Holy Spirit at work. That when the Spirit of God leads us, we will find ourselves calling out, “Abba, Father!” “Abba,” as many of you know, is a scandalous name for God. It means “Daddy.” It is the most familiar term you can think of. But if the Holy Spirit leads us, we will find ourselves calling God of heaven and earth “Daddy”. It could be out of joy or fear or helplessness or even frustration and anger but, when we know him as our dad, that is when we become his children.
On this Trinity Sunday it is good to remember: the Trinity is not just infinite mystery; the Trinity is a family.
That is what Paul describes here in Romans 8. He says that we can be led by two different spirits in our lives. We can be led by our own human spirit—what he calls the flesh—or we can be led by God’s spirit. The way of our spirit is the way of slavery. We will be slave to every whim of our humanity. In that direction there is only death. If we are led by God’s Spirit, though, we are led to glory AND we are not replacing one slavery with another. Instead, down this way we find adoption. As much as our own spirit would lead us astray, God’s Spirit is reaching out to draw us in as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus.
So when we hold up an apple and tell children, “See the seeds and the flesh and the skin, that is like the Trinity.” Or when we simply repeat: “You know, it is 1 in 3 and 3 in 1” , we lose the power and the point. The trinity is not a math problem; the trinity is a family.
Here is how one of the earliest Church Fathers, Augustine, described it over 1600 years ago. He said that the Trinity is made up of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the bond of love between them. The Spirit is their love for each other. Paul would agree but he would go further. For there is so much love between them that it spills over, outside themselves, and flows into us. This is no typical family with foibles and faults. This family is of complete unity. It is perfect love: within itself, for itself and busting out of itself. The Trinity is not a formula; it is a family.
What do we know about this family? What does Paul tell us? First and foremost, we need to know that all children in this family are adopted. God does not promise to make us all little gods and goddesses running around. No, there is one eternal Father and one eternal Son. The rest of us are adopted. And adoption matters. When I think of Doug, he was not an easy child. He was not always much fun. In fact, if I’m being honest, he wasn’t even that cute. But none of that mattered because it wasn’t about him. He was adopted, not because he was perfect. He was adopted because my mother needed to be a mother. Every child brought into God’s family is adopted. None of us get in on our looks. We get in because of the character of God, because he needs to be a Father.
In this family there are standards to be met. We could all offer a list of family standards we grew up with: “In this family we get good grades!” or “in this family we don’t talk back” or “in this family we don’t use 4-letter words like ‘forget’”. This is what Doug was reacting to, of course. He wasn’t sure he could meet his new family’s standards. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to try. Paul could have offered a list too. Instead he chose one standard. Of all the things he could have listed, he chose fear. “In this family,” he says, “we are not afraid. Other families can do what they want but, in ours, we are not a slave to fear.”
And one last thing we know about God’s family: Paul tells us there will be suffering in this family. There will be suffering because of who our Father and Brother are. And, in very real ways, there will be suffering because of how many siblings we have. Several of you who come from large families have bemoaned this truth to me. When you have 6, 7, 8 siblings you increase your troubles exponentially. In a very real way, we will suffer in this family in ways we would not if we were not a part of it. Christians who get forced off of boats half a world away, their plight makes us suffer because they are our brothers and sisters. Suffering is part of the package in this family. To be really honest, my own family suffered more because Doug was in our lives. We suffered because of his adoption. But how can anything we might have suffered be compared to his note slipped under a bedroom door?
The Trinity: it is not some theological concept out there; the Trinity is family right here.
Can you imagine our God that way? Our God, the Father and his Son and the Spirit of love between them and pouring out of them. Can you imagine our God that way? Imagine the joy in him when he pokes Jesus and says, “Look what is possible in this one! Consider all I can help him become! For see here, he has finally called me Dad!” Amen.