Romans 8:14–17 (NRSV)
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! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness 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.
Today is the day of Pentecost. Today is the day that we celebrate the birth of the church. It was on this day approximately 1,983 years ago the disciples of Jesus had an experience that totally took them by surprise. As they gathered together in a room to wait and pray a great wind come over them and the fire of the spirit rested on each of them. It was on that day that Peter gave his powerful sermon that brought approximately three thousand people into the journey that has lead each of us here today.
I want us to think about that for a moment. What was started one day nearly 2,000 years ago directly relates to each of us being in this meeting house on this very day. The Spirit of God empowered Peter and the other apostles to move forward in faith, their faithfulness encouraged others to follow that same spirit, which caused others to question their own lives and they too began to turn and journey toward the kingdom of God. Each generation gathering people for the kingdom, and with each progressing generation more. Until one day someone was faithful in their own lives to listen to the leading of the Spirit and they met with us and because of that day we are included in this great lineage of faithful. Let that sink in for a moment.
While we have that idea in mind, consider also the word of Paul to those of Rome. “For all who are led by the Spirit are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adaption.”
Imagine this for a bit. You have been held against your will. Chained. Your arms and legs having limited mobility and you are forced to do things for others against your will. Your will. That is a funny thing because you really do not realize that you have a will, you have been born into this condition, born a slave. Conditioned to fear. Fear, do not think do not question only fear. If you begin to question then you will be punished. If you begin to think and try different method you will be flogged and made into a spectacle. You were born a slave to walk lock step with everyone around you, human cogs in the machine.
Slavery is a terrible thing. Slavery is the most inhumane and dehumanizing practice anyone can participate in. By the very definition it is dehumanizing because those that hold others in bondage do not see them as human. They are simply cattle, animals to use to assist in the production of goods. To hold one in bondage is to say I am greater than other, and to allow one’s self to be sold is to say that I am less than human.
The sad thing about slavery is that it is a practice that continues to this very day. Millions of people live in exploited situations. Millions of women, children and even men are forced into lifestyles where they are forced to labor with little hope of profit. They are trapped in a downward spiral of exploitation where the only known options are to continue in bondage. Prostitutes, sweatshops, mines, coffee fields and chocolate production, most products we buy contain the sweat of the exploited within. They are trapped. They were sold, forced, or manipulated in some way to enter this lifestyle. But all exist simply to fulfill the desires carnal desires of other. The lusts of the flesh or the pockets of the greedy. And they are too afraid to think or even consider the possibility of thinking.
Fear is a trap. It holds us in bondage limits our perception and activity. Fear paralyses our ability to dream or imagine. It tells us that we are less, we are not worthy, and we must listen only to others. Fear is a power tool. Those who can master this deadly weapon can rule the masses. And if you are the one that can place the fear into people you hold the key and the chains.
Paul tells these people of Rome that if you are led by the Sprit you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. For most of us we are unable to fully grasp these concepts because slavery is no longer openly practiced. But for most of human history slavery was common. It affected all people in some form or another. And is a practice that will most likely continue for centuries. Because people will always be lead into and held in bondage by fear.
The wife of an abusive husband is little more than a slave. Children of abusive parent are often easy prey for those that wish to exploit. Those that are hungry can quite easily be manipulated into servitude by the promise of bread. Some do not even have a threat, but someone tell them that their lifestyle is threatened and suddenly they are afraid of losing their job or their values and they too will give all their freedom to others with the empty promise of security.
We did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Jesus tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. Fear is an emotion of bondage, where the emotions of love empower. Consider the story of Samson. Samson was a man who was to live his life fully devoted to God. Often we see that he was forced into this lifestyle, but no the life of a Nazirite was one of choice. To live a life set apart in such a manner you must choose it. Men that took on this life would be deeply devoted to God. They ate, drank, and lived life fully engaged in the will of God. Samson did not fully understand his positon. His strength came from God. He believed that the strength came from the religious practices, the Law of not eating or drinking certain foods, by not cutting his hair, by living a pure life. He was able to do amazing things as long as he focused on God. But he began to allow bondage to set in. His wife, who was from a nation at war with Israel, was able to place fear in Samson. She made him believe that if he did not confide the secret of his strength to her she would leave. The very thought of losing his wife distracted Samson from God, and his love for God. The spirit once coursed through his body making him unstoppable when he pursued justice for his people, but the thought of being left alone scared him. So he told her that his strength came from his hair. What he was saying was that he had strength because he fully relied on God which was testified by the fact that he would not cut his hair. So when the blade touched his hair, when Samson desired his wife over God, when Samson allowed fear to rule instead of God, he became weak, and was held in bondage. You might think I am reading all that into the story, but hear me out. Samson was afraid of losing his wife, because of his devotion to God so he turned away, and in the end that fear held him in bondage. Only when he again trusted in God, and again rededicated his life to his ways was he able to regain the strength he once had to overcome the enemy.
Fear holds us in bondage but we are not given a spirit of slavery to fear but we are given a spirit of adoption. Adoption is the opposite of slavery. Slavery rejects the humanity of others, where adoption reestablishes it. Adoption welcomes the stranger into the family. It brings them in as equals. Those that were fatherless in ancient times faced two avenues, either someone took them in as an equal or they would be sold into slavery. They were sold so that the basic necessities of life would be taken care of in exchange for their undivided devotion. When the fatherless were adopted it was a great thing. The child would be well taken care of as well as having hope for a future.
When Paul says that we were received the spirit of adoption he is saying quite literally that fear is no longer an option for us if we live by the Spirit, because we cannot be a slave for we are children. Whatever the father has is ours as well. Consider that. Everything the Father has is ours. What does the Father have? He has everything because he created it all.
So what do we fear? There is only one thing that we have left to consider. In ancient times inheritance was done a bit differently than today. Everything went to the eldest son when the father died. The eldest son would then take on the role of care giver to the family. How this care was provide was up to the eldest brother. This is a generality because there are exceptions to this in scripture, like the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors. So if Jesus is the Son, and we are adopted we are God’s children, siblings of Jesus, and our inheritance is Jesus. He is the first born, or the eldest and because of that our inheritance is wrapped up to his will. So when we consider the spirit that we received when we are being led by the Spirit of God, our understanding and our relationship with Jesus dictates how we live our lives.
What do we fear? Jesus called us to follow him, to enter into a life and lifestyle which he showed us. He showed us how to live devoted to God. He made it his custom to worship in the meeting places, He withdrew often to isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the needs of others. This is the personality of Christ, and He is the one that oversees our inheritance. Just prior to His ascension to Heaven to become our advocate at the right hand of the Father, just prior to Him going to the Father’s house to prepare a place for us. He told his disciple to do one thing. Wait.
He told them to wait for the Spirit. He told them to pray and to seek direction and understanding. He told them to meet together in corporate prayer because the Spirit would come and meet them there to empower them to do even more than He did while he walked among them. He told them to wait so that they could become more. When we wait, and when we seek the leading of the Spirit it does not come back to us empty. If we perceive that it does in many cases it is because our voice has drown out the voice of the one speaking to our very souls. The Spirit will speak to those that wait, and the Spirit did speak to them. The Spirit rushed upon them like a mighty wind and tongues of fire rested over their heads. Giving them the power to continue what Jesus started.
That day nearly 2000 years ago, one person was empowered to live fully devoted to the lifestyle of Christ, and they spoke in word and deed to someone. That person saw the value of this alternative lifestyle that Jesus exemplified for us lived through one of those that experienced that miraculous day and thy too decided to live according to the lifestyle of Christ. Person by person the kingdom expanded. But as time moved on those that were strengthened by the Spirit began to look at the beauty of the world and they became afraid that they would lose what they loved of it so they allowed the world to cut off their hair and they became bound again, like Samson. They allowed their eyes to drift from life with God as sons and became like the younger son of the Jesus’ parable. They spent their inheritance with fast living and the desires of the flesh. But what does that give us? We were once living life in abundance all that the father had was ours but now we have nothing. What do we fear?
Jesus did not call us to fear, but to live. He did not call us to slavery but he called us to live as brothers and sister, as friends of God. Knowing the will of the Father because we have a relationship with Him. That is our inheritance, but are we afraid to reach for it? I have to admit that often I am afraid. When John Harkness and I first came to this community we were filled with excitement and goals that we hoped to see fulfilled. I will say that we have made a start toward those goals, but they are still a long way off. And to be honest the longer I have been here the more afraid I become that those goals those hopes that I felt that God placed in my heart would not be established. Yet there is glimmers of hope. I hope that we as a meeting would be fundamental in the encouragement of planting five churches in the Kansas City Metro area. That Willow Creek would be a center for the training and encouraging of apostles to be sent out into the surrounding communities to minister to the needs of those around us. We have made steps toward that goal. We have resources that we can use that will assist in that goal. But after five years we as a meeting have not made much progress.
Why not? Part of it is because I myself am afraid. I am afraid that I will not have the strength to lead, that my family will not have the resources to survive so I go back to plan B. Peter went back to plan B once too. After Jesus died and rose Peter during the 40 days of waiting between Easter morning to the day that Jesus ascended into Heaven got up off the mat gave up on praying and said I’m going to go fishing. And by saying that he was saying I give up, I’m going back to my old life. But Jesus met him on the beach and cooked breakfast for him. What do we fear? Are we afraid that Jesus will not do what he says he will do? Are we afraid that God will not provide? The answer is yes that is exactly what I fear.
If I do not have control then I am afraid. The first step is to wait, to pray to seek the direction that God has for us. The second is to listen and respond when we hear that calling. The third step is to boldly go not as slave but as brothers and sister of Jesus, God’s first born child, because Jesus our elder brother is saying this is your inheritance. Will it be easy no, Jesus did not promise that. But it will be glorious. If we boldly go with hope, faith and love we will see greater things then even Jesus showed his disciples. But as Paul reminds us the greatest of these is love. As we enter into this time of open worship and communion with God in the manner of Friends, let us hope, and let us dream, let us wait and receive the power and strength of God’s Spirit to boldly move forward into our future and our inheritance. Let us remember that we have nothing to fear, because we are children of God, children of the King, joint heirs with Jesus the Lord of all creation whose kingdom is to come on Earth as it is in Heaven.