This week, my wife Christin and I are leaving right after Sunday’s worship service for a week-long mission trip through CSM in Chicago. Sunday’s service includes a sending for the mission trip group. The lectionary texts this week include Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Isaiah 44;6-8, and the primary text for this sermon, Romans 8:12-25.
I have some great news to share with you today! I checked my email this week, and I discovered a wonderful fellow from Uganda needs my help with a simple business deal. He has 38 million dollars tied up in a bank account and since he’s from out of the country, he got my name from a mutual friend and trusts me to manage the money for him until he retires. I can have the money in just 72 hours!
Not only that, but I have another email letting me know I’ve won precisely 815,810 euros in the “Spanish Sweepstakes” from the “International Lotto Commission.” All I need to do to claim it is send my ID to the included email address. This is great! No one else needs to donate towards the elevator fund. I can cover it all!
Sadly, although I really did get both of those emails just this week, both of them were spam, trying to steal my identity or involve me in money laundering. If you get emails from princes in Nigeria claiming they need your help, they’re fake. Also, Microsoft or Windows will never call you about a computer. It’s always a scam. So I guess I’d appreciate it if you turn in your own pledges to the elevator fund. There’s no free money coming in any of our emails.
We know better, because the world just doesn’t work like that. But, here’s the thing: That’s kind of the way God works. In our reading from Romans 8, Paul writes, “All who are led by the Spirit of God 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 adoption…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
There was a new Christian who got really confused the first time someone told him he was a child of God. He said, “I thought Jesus was the only Son of God? If Jesus is God’s only Son, and I’m not Jesus, then how can you tell me I’m a child of God?”
The answer, of course, is that we are adopted children. God has chosen each of us to be adopted as children of God. I once heard a speaker talk about a little girl who was getting teased on the playground because she was adopted, and she responded, “Well, your parents got stuck with you. My parents chose me.”
This is the good news of the Gospel: You have been chosen and claimed by God. You are an adopted child of the King of Kings. All the riches of heaven await you, because you are an heir of the King. When you picture the very best way a parent loves their child, it’s only a dim shadow of the way your heavenly Father loves you.
Of course, there are a few challenges to this good news. First, even as we get the good news we’ve been adopted into God’s family, we still remain in this world. My grandfather has dual citizenship. He lives in Canada, but he’s still a US citizen. It’s like we have dual citizenship for now, as we wait for God’s kingdom to fully come.
I was at the courthouse in Allison earlier this week to renew my driver’s license, and when the lady there asked me if I was an American citizen, I proudly said yes. But our primary identity, even more important than our identity as Americans is as citizens of God’s kingdom. Our national identity only lasts for this life, but our citizenship in heaven lasts forever.
Another challenge of our faith is that being a citizen of God’s kingdom requires patience. It requires patience because it’s not self-evident that we’re living in God’s kingdom. There is plenty of pain and suffering in our world, far too much for this to be God’s kingdom. There are floods and droughts, wars and famines, all of the things we see on the news and pray for every week in worship.
Paul describes it as the whole creation groaning as it waits, groaning as if with labor pains. In faith, we believe that somehow, all of the suffering in our broken world will give birth to God’s new kingdom. Verse 21: “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
When God’s kingdom is fully in place, our sufferings are not even worth remembering or comparing, but for now, God’s kingdom is promised, but it’s not yet realized. For now, as Jesus illustrated it, the wheat and the weeds are growing together, intermingled.
As Paul puts it, “We have the first fruits of the Spirit.” The promise of eternal life in God’s kingdom is already ours, yet for now, we patiently and hopefully wait for the day when all our tears will be wiped away.
In a few minutes, we’ll pray the words Jesus once prayed with his disciples, asking for God’s kingdom to come among us, on earth as it is in heaven. We pray in confidence that God’s kingdom is coming, and we wait with hope, but as our reading today concludes, what we hope for is not yet seen. We’re living in the in-between, where we know God’s kingdom is coming, we know how the story ends.
As Isaiah says, “We are witnesses to the One who has announced from old the things to come. We witness to the one who is the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” We know Jesus has won the victory, but it’s not complete yet.
While we are waiting, we work to prepare the way for God’s kingdom. You and I are ambassadors, carrying the good news from God’s kingdom to this world. We can’t just ignore the present because we know everything will eventually work out. We can’t just ignore this world.
Instead, our confident hope shapes the way we live and serve here and now. We are called to tend and care for the whole creation in its groaning. We look forward not just to our own redemption, but to the whole creation being set free and restored by God.
One more challenge to this kind of faith is simply that it sounds too good to be true. It can sound like some kind of pie-in-the-sky, feel-good cliché nonsense, or like it’s one of those scam emails. Some of those outside the church definitely believe it’s a scam. All you need to do to get God to adopt you is send in your money to the church and God will bless you ten-fold!
But that’s not how it works at all! God has already claimed you. All you can do is trust it’s true. Believing in God’s forgiveness and grace is hard, because as weird as it seems, we like feeling guilty. We like the idea that we need to do our part, to work hard enough. We want to make God love us, and so we keep going back into that spirit of slavery, falling back into fear, instead of truly believing God loves us enough to adopt us.
In fact, it really is too good of news for us to believe on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. We need to be told this good news over and over, lest we dismiss it as a scam, or a hopelessly naive fantasy, or simply too good to be true.
I think the cynicism and skepticism of our world is often what makes sharing the Gospel so hard. We’re so used to people trying to cheat or scam us that we’re not willing to accept when something truly is a free gift. And yet, the news of the Gospel is so good that we can’t help sharing it.
That’s why our group is going to Chicago this week. We’re going because we want to share the good news of God’s kingdom, the good news of God’s love. We’re not going to save Chicago, or convert anyone, but we do hope to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom. It’s the same reason all of us serve in various ministries, the reason we make quilts to send around the world, or give food to our neighbors. Our goal as a church is to share the good news of our adoption into God’s family, to allow the Holy Spirit to bear witness in, to, and through our lives and work.
How much easier would it make evangelism if we stopped thinking about it as trying to guilt or scare or condemn people into going to church, and started thinking about it as simply sharing the good news we know? If you saw a notice in the paper this Wednesday that someone you know is entitled to a billion dollar inheritance, how could you keep yourself from telling them?*
That’s the kind of good news we’re sharing. This inheritance will change your life forever, and it’s yours free. For real. May you be blessed to believe it.
* Credit for this image of evangelism to David Lose at Working Preacher