Sermon text: Romans 8:12-17
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. That line from Paul reminds me of my favorite part of the baptismal rite, as I apply olive oil on the child’s brow in the shape of a cross and say, “You, child of God, have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
There is something profound about baptizing an infant, frankly about baptizing anyone, and saying those words. For in that moment the child is preaching to me, to us, a reminder that God claims us even when we’ve done absolutely nothing to try to earn that status. In that sacrament we first experience the power of being God’s, of being claimed.
Paul tells us that not only are we claimed by God, we are adopted. God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has become our legal guardian. We, like Jesus, can call out to God as Abba, Father, in prayer. We can rest secure knowing that a mothering God is brooding over us. Paul uses this legal term of adoption to let us know that we are officially on equal footing with Jesus the Son. We are heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ.
An heir is a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another on that person’s death. Think about the implications of what Paul is saying here. It’s one thing to be adopted by your Great-Aunt Beatrice and upon her death you inherit a chest of costume jewelry, a Davenport that smells of mothballs, and seventeen cats. It’s another thing entirely to be an heir of God. Should God happen to die does that mean the Kingdom of Heaven is ours? Do we each have a stake in the jeweled walls and the golden street of the new Jerusalem? What does it mean for us to inherit the Kingdom?
As heirs we are also incorporated into the flowing nature of the Holy Trinity, which we honor on this festival day. One of my favorite images of the mystical Trinity is a dance, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in constant connection and relation with each other like dance partners twirling around a room doing a holy waltz. The Trinity weaves itself together like the endless lines of a Celtic knot. As heirs we are invited to become part of this holy and fluid relationship, adopted into this family of the Triune God.
I’ve adopted animals four times in my adult life. Two cats and two dogs. The latest happened in the summer of 2015 with my dog Otto, who, at the time, was named Scooter. Following the early and tragic death of my first dog Wally, who died of lymphoma at the age of two and a half, I began walking dogs at the Somerset Humane Society. It was a good way to deal with the grief, I got some exercise, and I was happy to give the dogs my love and attention.
One day a new collection of dogs came into the Humane Society. A hoarder/breeder surrendered two adult males, four adult females, and 32 puppies from four separate litters. I was finished walking dogs at the Human Society on my day off and the staff, knowing my story, invited me to take a look at all the new puppies.
I have a picture saved of that first encounter. Twenty of these puppies were in side-by-side cages, the other twelve were a week older and held in another room. It was a rolling sea of fur and cuteness. But oh, the smell–this putrid mixture of food and urine and feces—it was rank in the summer heat, but it was easily overlooked because of the twenty adorable lab puppies. They were black, yellow, and red fox colored and they varied a little in size.
Most of the puppies were sleeping in big clumps of fur, but when I stood at the end of the cages one puppy had his eyes open, he saw me, stepped on the bodies and faces of his sleeping brothers and sisters, climbed over them, and came directly to me. He looked at me with his brown eyes, gave me a tail wag, a small cry, and mouthed my hand as I gave him a head rub. The connection was instant. The name on his collar said Scooter and I said, “That will have to change.” And after a few moments together he went to chew on the ear of his cousin and I went to the front desk to reserve my new best friend.
Even though they call it animal adoption, it’s really the animal who adopts you…or at least that’s been my experience with all four of my pets. There’s a lot of wisdom in that pithy animal paw bumper sticker that asks: Who rescued who? In that moment there is something so deeply powerful in the fact that you have been chosen, you have been claimed, and you had nothing to do with it. You only showed up. You were a passenger on this ride. It’s a passive role. Otto chose me. He claimed me. I will be your dog and you will be by people.
If you have ever been chosen, if you have adopted, you know the power and emotion that comes from the experience. It’s an amazing feeling. The very same thing happens to us when God the Father looks at us. We are adopted, we are chosen, claimed, and valued, simply for who we are.
How much different would the world be if we operated by the same principle? God looks at us and sees worth. We are cherished not for what we can do but for who we are. Can we use the very same lens? Can we welcome, adopt, and make a person a part of this family of God regardless of who they are? As a body of Christ, can we adopt into the family people who look, think, and identify differently than we do? Whether they are on welfare or have a trust fund, whether they are dark skinned or light skinned, whether they have a masters degree or a GED, whether they have a criminal past or a spotless record, whether they vote for conservatives or liberals…no matter who they love, no matter the gender they claim, no matter what year they were born in, no matter what home they live in or the place of their ancestry…who are our joint heirs with Christ? Can we love like God? Heck, can we even love like my dog? Simply for who a person is, for being present, for sharing the same air and the same space?
It can be a lifechanging experience to be chosen, and it is our story, it is our purpose, to let others know that God chooses them. If there is space for God to exist as Three in One and One in Three, then there is certainly space in the church for a few more siblings in Christ. There’s always space for more heirs of the Kingdom. The church can be their forever home AMEN