The blogger strikes back! Here’s a sermon from several weeks ago, I thought it would be appropriate to share here, since it deals with some very nerdy illustrations. Enjoy!
The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow
Romans 8: 12-25
12 So then, brothers and sisters,* we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13for 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. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.15For 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!’16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and 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.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
When I say the word “orphan,” what do you think of? I bet a whole bunch of different images just ran through your head. I’ll tell you what I think of.
“Please sir, I want some more!”
That’s right, my imagination has been stolen by Charles Dickens. Seriously though, it’s hard for me not to think of Oliver when I hear the word orphan. Nothing quite sticks in my head like a plucky young boy with a cockney accent picking pockets in Victorian England. I blame my 4th grade teacher for taking us to see the musical “Oliver!” But what’s so special about this story? Why do I remember it? It’s about a young boy, abandoned by his parents, forced into a workhouse, working for disgusting gruel. Eventually, he’s kicked out of the workhouse, and lives on the streets. He’s given the opportunity to become a pickpocket and a thief, but manages to retain his innocence, and through many a harrowing adventure, receives the fairy tale family he always wanted without giving into a life of crime. Essentially, it’s a story about sticking to your morals and what’s right and wrong.
There must be something fascinating about orphan heroes. Our culture, our mythologies are littered with these virtuous orphan heroes. Don’t believe me? Let’s just go with the big ones, eh? Let’s start with, I don’t know… Superman? The last son of a dying world, sent to earth and adopted by two kindly farmers, and grew up to be the beacon of truth, justice and the American way!
Still not convinced? How about Batman? Bruce Wayne, young son of the very wealthy Thomas and Martha Wayne, saw his parents lives taken away from him when they were mugged and eventually killed, and was orphaned. His butler Alfred took care of him from then on, as an adopted son. Profoundly changed by what he had seen and what was taken from him, he became Batman, a Dark Knight dedicated to fighting injustice.
Still not convinced? Okay, how about Spiderman? Peter Parker’s parents died in a plane crash, and he was adopted by his Aunt and Uncle. Through a series of strange events, Peter was given an opportunity to stop a criminal and didn’t, and because of that, his uncle was killed. Peter went through the painful experience of becoming an orphan not once, but twice! Feeling responsible, Peter took up the mantle of Spiderman, and dedicated his life to using his powers to make right the wrongs of the world.
Over and over, we see this pattern. Children with innocence taken away from them by force, one way or another, but still retain the virtue that keeps things together, which is significant. Why? Because we know all too well that sometimes, in fact most of the time, these stories don’t usually have a fairy tale ending. For every Oliver, there’s countless other orphans stuck in the work house, or driven to crime. For every Superman who winds up in the hands of a loving family, there’s another kid who is left alone with no way of defending himself. For every Bruce Wayne, an orphan trust fund kid with a chip on his shoulder, instead of fighting for justice there’s another one who turns to take his anger out on the world and on his loved ones. For every friendly neighborhood Spiderman, there’s a kid lost in the cracks.
So why do we have so many orphans in our culture? Because culture is a reflection of our view of reality. I realize I’m treading on thin ice talking about this, so forgive me if I sound insensitive, but I only talk about his because it is such serious business. We know there are orphans out in the world, and it is profoundly sad whenever we hear about them, because there’s something about orphans, or the act of being orphaned that hits us right to the core. It’s because we know that in order for there to be an orphan, there is usually some great loss.
It may be sickness. It may be death. It may be poverty. It may be war. A child without parents is the end result of everything in this world that we fear, that we don’t like. The reason we feel for orphans is because we’ve all faced great loss at some point or another, and we all know how fragile the good things in life are. We know how easy it is for everything we know to be taken away from us. It’s no small coincidence that one of the greatest prophets in the Hebrew Bible, Moses, was an orphan.
Again, we all know the story. Once upon a time, a slave child was laid in a basket on a river. This child was found by someone in the house of the pharaoh of Egypt, and was taken in by the Pharaoh as a son. This son grew up to be someone like a prince in the land. One day he saw a Hebrew slave being abused, and in defense of the slave wound up killing the Egyptian abuser. He ran away into exile, and became a shepherd for a man named Jethro. At some point, he was up on a mountain called Sinai, and there he had a life changing encounter with the presence of God. From then on, he went back to Egypt to confront the pharaoh and to free his mother tribe, the Hebrews.
In many ways, his is a very heroic story. It’s also a very lucky story. Remember, the reason he was put in a basket and abandoned was because the Pharaoh was killing all the newborn children of the Hebrew slaves so that they could establish pecking order and make sure they were able to overpower the slaves if there was an uprising. He could have ended up with the same fate of so many other Hebrew children.
But he didn’t.
He could have wholeheartedly adopted the oppressive culture of the Egyptians and not intervened on the part of a slave.
But he didn’t.
He could have stayed an exile and lived the very happy life of a shepherd, with no greater ambitions.
But he didn’t.
He could have ignored God and not gone back to save his people.
But he didn’t.
Moses was a hero, partly because of his luck, but mostly because of something else. He knew exactly what was at stake when he saw the abused slave, because it could have been him. He knew what was at stake when God told him to deliver his people from Egypt, because he knew what kind of life his people were living. He knew loss, and so he was able to see what would happen if he didn’t act. And it was because of this spirit, this inspiration to be merciful and to embrace justice; we have the tradition that produced a savior. But what was this spirit?
This, my brothers and sisters, is the spirit of adoption. The spirit of adoption is what God extends to God’s children, simply because he loves us, and so God raises us out of a much worse situation. Because Moses knew what it was like to be saved, to be spared a much worse life than he had any right to have, he went back and led his people to freedom.
You may be wondering why, if the scripture passage is from Romans, why the heck am I talking about Moses? Because to understand Romans, you need to understand Jewish history, and if you understand the basics of Jewish history, you can begin to understand Paul.
Otherwise, when we read this passage in Romans, it can be very confusing. Paul throws out a lot of big ideas at his audience all at once, and we’re only reading this part in the middle of a very complex letter. The reason Paul is able to throw these ideas around is because he’s using a common language that the Jews used in the realm of their faith. Faith, law, spirit and flesh, are all part and parcel of the Jewish understanding of what it means to be a Jew and a faithful follower of God. But what caught my eye when I read this letter was a very distinct idea, and that was adoption. Even more important is that he contrasts it with slavery. Paul was a Jew, through and through, a Pharisee and a follower of Christ. The story of Judaism is the story of liberation from slavery, and the adoption of a nation as the children of God. If we can understand the spirit of adoption as a driving force of liberation, of freedom, we can understand what it means to be children of God.
There are always two parties in an adoption: an adoptee, someone who is in need of adoption, and someone who feels called to adopt. The Hebrew people were in a bad way. These were people that were downtrodden. These were people who were thrown into slavery. When they were slaves, they had no rights. They had no legs to stand on. The Egyptians kept them down, forced them to work with no pay and no rights. This was a people in need of help. God saw these people, helpless and broken, and took them as his own children.
This is the spirit of adoption that Paul is talking about, and he does it for a good reason. The followers of Jesus at the time were up against a very powerful force, the force of empire, the force of injustice, the force of slavery. Paul says this is a culture that lives according to the flesh, and because of this it will die. It must die. The flesh is immoral; the flesh is unjust. He encourages us not to give in to this world’s problems. We must not live of the flesh, but of the spirit, specifically adoption. The whole world is in need of this spirit. It’s groaning in labor for a day when there will no longer be any pain, no slavery, and no oppression. We are not slaves, my brothers and sisters, but children of God, chosen by God so that we might reflect the love God gave us to the world.
We live in a world that is not perfect. We live in a world still full of orphans. We live in a world that makes orphans. We still have war. We still have sickness. We still have poverty. But, my brothers and sisters, it will not always be this way, because we always have hope. Hope for a brighter day. Hope for a future of joy, a future of love, and a future of life.
Hope is a powerful weapon. Yes, I said weapon. Hope is what keeps people going when everything else in their lives is falling apart. Hope is the engine of the American dream. Without hope for a better tomorrow, a better future, what point is any of this? Why get up out of bed in the morning? You know that there is something greater, something powerful, something far more beautiful than you can imagine just over the horizon. We may live in a materialistic world, but we do not have to live as materialistic people. We are children of the spirit, and that is something worth living for, worth hoping for.
I’m reminded of just one more famous orphan, one by the name of Annie, and a song she sang to herself when she had no hope. I’m not going to sing, so I’ll spare you the tune but I bet you all know it. The lyrics are “The sun’ll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun! Just thinking about tomorrow clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow ‘til there’s none.”
We have hope. We have the promise of a better tomorrow. We have been adopted by God as his children, and it’s our job to show the rest of the world the love that we have been shown by God. For in hope, my brothers and sisters, we are saved. Amen.