Thursday, May 12, 2016

Reflections on Pentecost, Year C

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. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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 8:14-17
Did you know you can BUY nobility,
at least the title itself?
I was a young seminarian in Greek class when I first heard the word "heir" with new ears. To think of someone being called an heir is to imagine, literally, some form of entitlement. A title. Heirs become ladies and lords, marchionesses and dukes, viscountesses and baronets. How can a common person be an heir, other than in a technical sense: that when someone dies, what is left behind is distributed to designated survivors. Beyond a name and a story, that latter point is about the most that the greater number of humanity might be able to realize in our lives.

But the heritage that was being talked about, the status being applied when Paul draws down on Jesus' own language about us being adopted as children of God has a lot more to say than a simple offering of earthly heritage, or even entitlement. In fact, the whole concept of becoming an heir in Paul's context actually undoes a lot of the earthly stigmas of entitlements and the inevitable redistribution of things that dead people once owned.

There is an identity being grafted into us, an indelible connection being forged between us and God through God's Son, Jesus. To boot, that grafting finds fulfillment in our willing embrace and participation in relationship with the Divine by being active followers of the Spirit of God.

The funny thing is, back in ancient days the naming of the heir was the fiat of the paterfamilias. The male head of the household named his heir. This was done in public, before witnesses. Once done, it identified the person named as living within the agency of the paterfamilias. On top of that, the heir has presumptive authority in the home, even over elder siblings (or if the heir named was not biologically related to the paterfamilias, over his biological children to boot!). It was also transferable, and revocable. One could fall from favor. One could be cast off, and out.

The calculus Paul offers is something radically different. First and foremost, when one says "yes" to God, and is thus led by the Spirit of God one only has to call "Abba! (an intimate term for Father)" to be known and claimed as God's own. That acceptance is expressed in us by the Spirit, through us by its agency and for us, for ever by the grace of God's abject love for us.

We join Christ, the true heir of the Father's glory, and stand as beloved in the presence of the Holy. We are raised, not to earthly might and entitlement, but to something much more profound. We become God's even as God proclaims for us.

This leads us to Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. That means release to the slave, freedom to the prisoner, justice for the oppressed, liberation for the captive, hope for those who despair and service for those who have to those who have not. It means everyone is a joint heir alongside us...noble or base it doesn't matter. We are peers, and all receive a full-to-overflowing measure of God's love.

That is what it must have felt like, back on that day of Shavuot, when the disciples gathered FELT the Spirit of God on and flowing through them. That is what is must have been like to HEAR every language spoken and heard with clear ears as the Gospel was proclaimed without filter or prejudice. That is what the root of God's love and devotion the disciples tapped into must have formed in full measure as the goad and mantle of apostleship that drove them from a hidden, upper room to the far corners of the known world in their day.

How can you keep the good news of our adoption a secret? It won't be fulfilled until everyone, everywhere, everywhen knows....God's love has made us all God's children. We are all related. We are all peers of the Kingdom of God. We are joint heirs with Christ. All of us.

No exceptions.

No exclusions.

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