Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
We live in a constant stream of self help books and web sites. We lived constantly feeling guilty that we have not done so well as we might. We are told that we need to get up earlier and work all the time. We need to be totally dedicated to our work, our friends, our relationships and our God all the time. But we fail again and again. We just do not have the bandwidth, the time and the ability to become a super human being. After a while we think maybe I cannot save myself.
After explaining how helpless we are in saving ourselves, either by the Torah or by our own efforts, because of the reigning power of sin, in this section of his letter Paul declares good news for believers. Rescue has come from the outside. Christ has set us free for a life in the Spirit, the apostle states. For all who feel weighed down by guilt because they cannot keep all the rules or live up to the expectations and demands of others, he says, "You don't have to." Whatever penalty from God there might be for breaking laws Christ has already paid it. In chapter 8 the apostle says that God has rescued us from the outside, so he rescues our inner lives.
Paul's readers live at the center of power, the capital of the Roman Empire, so they are constantly hemmed in by the powers that be. The Gentile members of the Roman church might not be as familiar with the Jewish law and its demands, but they are well aware of the dictates of society and government. Some of them are high born, many are slaves; some might have taken part in the infamous Roman bacchanals or gone to the bloody games in the arena, but now that they are in Christ they have a new freedom, won for them by Christ's coming into the world and offering himself up for sin. They no longer need to feel compelled to give in to the dictates of society.
As the Iraqi war ended a member of the press asked the Centcom Commander General Tommy Franks a hard question. It was not about the looting or weapons but about the men and women who served under him. He was asked about those members of the armed forces who had been forced to take a human life. He was asked how they should feel. He struggled and after a few seconds said they should be comforted in the fact that they had done their duty and freed many people. But you could see in his face that his answer was not comforting for him. In matters of life and death human answers never seem adequate. Paul knew that he offered something beyond empty human reason. Paul had something beyond the limited choices we have as human beings. Paul knew there was more to life than kill or be killed.
Paul sets the life in "the Spirit of Christ." over against life in the flesh, pointing out that the first leads to life, and the second to death. But we need not fear death, for we "are in the Spirit." We must be, he affirms, or we could not belong to Christ. This joyful news leads Paul in the following verses to declare that we now call God "Father." in the hopeful assurance that all of creation will witness the saving love in Christ that nothing in all of creation can take away or destroy. This is just as good news for us living in such an age of anxiety. Go into any bookstore, and you will see myriads of books promising us health, wealth and happiness if we follow the authors' prescriptions. TV and radio gurus solve people's deepest problems with psychological and ethical advice. In between callers and guests, the programs' sponsors promise that their product, and only theirs, will enable us to enjoy the Good Life. Clearly the preacher proclaiming the good news as interpreted by Paul has lots of competitors beyond the sanctuary walls. But preachers also have the assurance that what they offer has stood the test of time. By living "in the life of the Spirit." themselves, as well as preaching it, the church's leaders need never fear the outcome.
Paul gives us an answer that shows us something beyond our world of objects and thoughts, beyond of our world of feelings and time. Paul shows us that life in the Spirit something that is outside of ourselves that can transform our lives.
There are many times in human history that we have thought we had reached the pinnacle of knowledge. Every generation thinks that some how we are about to reach complete knowledge or at least we will be able to invent the technology that will help us understand everything about ourselves and world.
The trouble is that every generation falls into this trap and again and again we find our limits. We can only do so much, we need a hand to get up the final stair to find a wonderful life. Jesus is reaching down and telling us that he knows our limits and that the love of God takes them away.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Scientific American published the following in 2014. It's true that when we take note of the impossibly brief sliver of time that our entire species has inhabited compared to the billions of years before, and the untold billions ahead, one can feel refreshingly small. But for me nothing compares to the perspective, the shock, or the excitement, of being reminded of what we don't know.
We don't know why the universe exists. This is unfair and could be grounds for doubting that the cosmos knows what it’s doing. But in terms of physics, although there are some very appealing, very promising, theoretical frameworks that begin to answer the question, the simple truth is that we're not sure which might be right. It may be that the universe springs from an inherently unstable 'nothingness'. The most void-like void, prone to spontaneous generation of matter and energy in proportions that always balance out to zero (yep, really, read Lawrence Krauss's great book on this). Furthermore, this may not be the only universe (a terrible linguistic fail, I know), but rather one of a vast array, part of a multiverse of more than 10 to the power of 10 to the power of 16 distinguishable realities. But a big piece of the problem is that we're still waiting for the next generation of cosmic measurements to chip away at the models, and we're still waiting for theories that provide more readily testable hypotheses, not just mathematical elegance. So, we don't know why the heck all of this exists. Sorry.
We don't know what dark matter, or dark energy, is. Big problem, honking big problem. Normal matter, the stuff of you, the stuff of me, planets, stars, and cheese sandwiches, amounts to only about 4.9% of the total matter and energy content of the universe. 26.8% of matter is 'dark', we know it's there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating 'stuff' that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles. Except we really have no idea what these particles truly are - a situation beautifully summarized recently by Mario Livio and Joe Silk. That's nasty, but perhaps nastier is dark energy. Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn't used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe.
We don't know whether life exists anywhere else. This one is close to my heart. Here we are, sentient beings on a planet seething with life (although perhaps not as seething as it could be) that's been busy sculpting and re-sculpting the physical and chemical environment for much of the past 5 billion years. And now we're confident that there are lots of planets out there, and that many of them could have an equal shot at playing host to life. But we still don't know whether we're alone. No clue.
We haven't really figured out the quantum world. What!? While it's true that our present mathematical framework of quantum mechanics can do wonders, from describing atoms and molecules to the bizarre nature of entanglement and qubits, that doesn't mean that we've nailed the case shut. Quite the contrary. One need only cast a look over the literature to see that the most fundamental aspects of the quantum nature of the universe are still causing headaches and disagreements.
We don't understand our own biology our own life process. It's not too radical to say this, after all, if we did understand every detail of how we worked we'd presumably be able to eliminate disease (assuming that's better for us, which it clearly is individually, but perhaps not as a species). We'd also be able to customize ourselves by reaching into to those 3 billion or so nucleic acids in our DNA and doing a spot of molecular engineering, getting those purple earlobes we've always wanted. But we're not close to doing this any better than we can come up with 'engineered' crops - lots of misses and a few hits. Want a good example of our pitiful lack of knowledge? It's the microbiome. Our ten trillion human cells are augmented, exploited, nurtured, by a hundred trillion microbial cells - a couple of pounds of bacteria and archaea that we all carry around and can't live without.
We don't know how the Earth works. Let's lurch back to a grander scale. No human, or robot, has ever physically traveled deeper than a few miles into the Earth's crust, everything else is extrapolation and interpolation from 'remote sensing' and clever physical analyses. It took us a ridiculously long time to figure out that the outer planetary skin is moving and sliding around; plate tectonics was not generally accepted until the mid-20th century! We're still not sure exactly how the inner dynamo works, how rolls of convecting, conducting material in the outer core generate our planetary magnetic field. There's also so much mess after 4.5 billion years of geophysics that some of our best information about the planet's origins come from meteorites and the cratering of other worlds - outsourced. Speaking of other worlds, we're not even sure we understand where the Moon came from, maybe it was a giant impact, maybe not. For an allegedly clever species on a small rocky planet this is a bit of an epic fail.
We can't prove or solve many of our own mathematical conjectures and problems: Ouch. Lest mathematics thinks it can escape this festival of ignorance, just remind yourself that there's a long list of unproven, unsolved problems and unproven conjectures.
We don't know how to make an artificial intelligence. I'm putting this here because it's a perennial problem, and one that speaks to both our desire to understand ourselves (if you can make an artificial being you may find the secret sauce behind your own intelligence, even if ultimately it's just an emergent phenomenon) as well as to understand what might be 'out there' in the vastness of the cosmos, wrought by billions of years of alien evolution, and really quite depressed by it all. Although we've come a long way with our machines, it's not clear that predictive text or automated suggestions for shopping and movie streaming are really assembling information in any way that resembles how our minds generate ideas. This is truly a frontier.
The conclusion? There's an awful lot we don't know (far more than just the examples here). After the hundreds of thousands of years that Homo sapiens has loped around, the cosmos can still elude our fidgety, inquisitive minds, easily outracing our considerable imaginations. How wonderful. (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/life-unbounded/this-is-what-we-done28099t-know-about-the-universe/)
From the world of self-help here are 10 simple ways to save yourself from messing up your life.
1, Stop taking so much notice of how you feel. How you feel is how you feel. It’ll pass soon. What you’re thinking is what you’re thinking. It’ll go too. Tell yourself that whatever you feel, you feel; whatever you think, you think. Since you can’t stop yourself thinking, or prevent emotions from arising in your mind, it makes no sense to be proud or ashamed of either.
2. Let go of worrying. It often makes things worse. The more you think about something bad, the more likely it is to happen. When you’re hair-trigger primed to notice the first sign of trouble, you’ll surely find something close enough to convince yourself it’s come.
3, Ease up on the internal life commentary. If you want to be happy, stop telling yourself you’re miserable. People are always telling themselves how they feel, what they’re thinking, what others feel about them, what this or that event really means. Most of its imagination. The rest is equal parts lies and misunderstandings. Whatever you tell yourself will be make-believe.
4. Take no notice of your inner critic. Judging yourself is pointless. Judging others is half-witted. Judging others is foolish since you cannot know all the facts, cannot create a reliable or objective scale, have no means of knowing whether your criteria match anyone else’s, and cannot have more than a limited and extremely partial view of the other person. Who cares about your opinion anyway?
5. Give up on feeling guilty. Guilt changes nothing. It may make you feel you’re accepting responsibility, but it can’t produce anything new in your life. If you feel guilty about something you’ve done, either do something to put it right or accept you screwed up and try not to do so again. Then let it go. If you’re feeling guilty about what someone else did, see a psychiatrist. That’s insane.
6. Stop being concerned what the rest of the world says about you. Nasty people can’t make you mad. Nice people can’t make you happy. Events or people are simply events or people. They can’t make you anything.
7. Stop keeping score. Numbers are just numbers. They don’t have mystical powers. Because something is expressed as a number, a ratio or any other numerical pattern doesn’t mean it’s true.
8. Don’t be concerned that your life and career aren’t working out the way you planned. The closer you stick to any plan, the quicker you’ll go wrong. The world changes constantly. However carefully you analyzed the situation when you made the plan, if it’s more than a few days old, things will already be different.
9. Don’t let others use you to avoid being responsible for their own decisions. To hold yourself responsible for someone else’s success and happiness demeans them and proves you’ve lost the plot. It’s their life. Only control-freaks and some others with a less serious mental disability fail to understand this.
10. Don’t worry about your personality. You don’t really have one. Personality, like ego, is a concept invented by your mind. It doesn’t exist in the real world.
(Adrian Savage https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/10-simple-ways-to-save-yourself-from-messing-up-your-life.html)
There is no medical evidence to support 'cough CPR', which suggests you can help yourself by coughing vigorously if you think you're having a heart attack and are alone. A heart attack is when the blood supply to your heart muscle is interrupted; this is most commonly due to a blood clot. There is no saving yourself from a heart attack.
While this concept is often viewed from afar as an abstract concept, it’s much more than that. Jesus coming to save mankind is a spiritual reality and the greatest fact of life. His incarnation into the world is even the marker by which we determine what year it is in western culture. While this fact of Jesus coming to earth to save mankind is well-known in a vague sense, it’s not as well-known in a specific since. By specific I mean in detail. While many in the world understand that Jesus did come to save mankind, not as many understand why.
Perhaps the second most well-known Bible verse is Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Thus, two basic facts of Christianity are understood even from afar: 1) Jesus Christ came to save mankind, and 2) you cannot save yourself. If the question of John 3:16 is “Why did Jesus come to save mankind?” the answer is found in Ephesians 2:8-9: “Because you cannot save yourself.”
But why can’t I save myself? We can’t save ourselves because of the three following reasons.
First we are the problem. It is a popular thought that good people will go to heaven. If you live a life full of good works and deeds, then you are good to go. There are a few things wrong with this thought. Firstly, we are not as good as we think we are. Secondly, good people don’t go to heaven; saved people go to heaven. One cannot earn a place in heaven by his good works: “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). Salvation is not offered through doing charitable works; it is offered through Jesus Christ: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
Nothing we do is good enough to work our way to heaven. Beyond that, for all of the good we do; we do a lot of bad. And even a little bit of bad falls utterly short of the God who “is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “Sin” is often seen as a bad word, but it literally means to “miss the mark” and is something we do when we break the rules that God has made (see 1 John 3:4).
Sinning is something that we choose to do (James 1:13-15) and the consequences of those actions are spiritual death and separation from God (Romans 6:23; Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin is universal in nature: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That is why Jesus Christ came to earth—to deal with sin—and essentially save us from ourselves.
Secondly “There Is A God, You Are Not Him”. God is infinitely superior to humans in both His moral and non-moral attributes. Yet, He seeks a relationship with each one of us. He is superior in every conceivable way and always will be: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isiah 55:9). Feeble humans cannot bridge the gap between themselves and God alone. They need help. They need a mediator. Job made this very same point describing his distance from God, and the lack of ways to fill the difference: “For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both” (Job 9:32-33). Job needed a go-between to make a defense to God. God’s magnitude is part of the reason why we cannot save ourselves, especially when we account the factor of our sin distancing us from God.
Jesus bridges this gap for us: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). He is the only mediator available to access God the Father: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).
Thirdly Christ would have died for no reason. If salvation was possible for me to achieve based upon my own good deeds, then Jesus didn’t need to die. He didn’t need to leave heaven, live a life of poverty, volunteer to be spat on, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a piece of wood. This is the same point Paul writes to the Christians in Galatia: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21). When we believe that we can somehow save ourselves through our own goodness, we make void God’s grace and empty Christ’s death of its meaning. Christ died because we can’t save ourselves—no matter how hard we try. Thus, “It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33).
We cannot save ourselves, but such does not mean that there is nothing we have to do to accept the grace of God. Jesus is still “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:9). The fact that we cannot save ourselves did not keep the apostle Peter from telling those Jews on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38).
We cannot save ourselves, but we can accept the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ by doing what he has told us to do! Even when we submit to God and perform the good works that he has called us to do (see Ephesians 2:10), all we can say is “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
Thank God who saves us not because of our goodness, but in spite of our badness!
We don’t “save ourselves” and salvation isn’t “self-improvement”
In both of the film adaptations of Tolkien's classic Lord of the Rings books little Frodo has to bear in mind the truth underlying the words which the apostle Paul addressed to the Romans: "To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace." Frodo, a member of the diminutive race known as Hobbits, of course lived during the time of Middle Earth, a long time before Jesus and Paul lived, but the meaning is the same in regard to his desire to hold onto the ring which he has vowed to destroy. Created in the fiery forge of the wicked Sauron, the ring, one of several that were made, bestows great power on its wearer. But it also brings disaster, ending with doom of the wearer. The owner is corrupted by the growing desire for power until his original nature is totally depraved and she is willing to do anything to keep it. As a walking example of this almost total depravity there is Gollum/Smeagol, from whom Frodo's Uncle Bilbo Baggins had taken the ring. Once a Hobbit-like creature, Gollum had become so disfigured in character and physique that he would scarcely be recognizable to those who once knew him. Frodo several times must not only steel himself from keeping the ring—he also must protect it from a couple of his companions who would take it in the mistaken belief that they can use its power in their war against Sauron. Frodo does not know any Christian nomenclature, but his mission and his membership in the Fellowship of the Ring is very much like Paul's "life in the Spirit." He no longer lives for himself, but for his mission.
Warren Schmidt, although he does not realize it, is very close to the "life in the Spirit." at the conclusion of the movie About Schmidt. Warren has retired from the insurance company, where he had worked as an actuary, under the mistaken assumption that the company still needs his knowledge and skills. He is quickly disabused of this when, the day after his retirement dinner, he visits his former office and tries to offer advice to his replacement—and the guy shows him to the door as quickly as it is possible and remain polite. Warren has no hobbies, just a wife, whom he wonders about, and who suddenly dies. When his daughter and sleazy fiancé come for the funeral, Warren tries to talk her out of her marriage plans, but she rebuffs him. His trip to the wedding in far off Denver, made in the RV his wife had talked him into buying involves a humiliating experience on the way in route. His plan to talk his daughter out of what he sees will be a bad marriage does not work out as he had hoped. Back home Warren reflects that his life has been meaningless, that he has made no difference in the world whatever. The arrival of a letter suggests otherwise. Earlier, before leaving for Denver, Warren had been sitting listlessly watching television when a public service announcement caught his attention. It was a plea from a Catholic charity inviting viewers to send a monthly check to support a child in Africa. Warren had done so and received back a packet with the name and picture of a little boy, along with suggestions for writing the boy. Much of the film thereafter consists of Warren's words addressed to the boy, forming the film's narration. Warren goes into such elaborate details of his anxieties and life that we think he must not really have sent any of the letters. How could a young child understand his adult ruminations? The arrival of that letter near the end of the film shows that Warren had indeed sent them, and that the kind nun responding on behalf of the boy overlooks Warren's confessions and such. She simply thanks him and tells him what a difference his kindness in supporting the boy is making in the lad's life. Warren's face relaxes as he reads the missive, and perhaps he is thinking that his life has not been so pointless after all.
If we have once quit the sensual life, is it not evident that, by surrendering to the Holy Spirit, and by uniting ourselves to the Holy Spirit, we are changed into a heavenly image and transformed, to a certain extent, into another nature? (St. Cyril of Alexander, In Joan: I, 11, 5th century)
Just as transparent substances, when subjected to light themselves glitter and
give off light, so does the soul, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, give light to
others and itself becomes spiritual. (St. Basil, De Spir, Sancto IX, c.375)
The life of the spirit is not our life, but the life of God within us. (St.
Teresa of Avila, Life Written By Herself, 1565)
Do you know when people really become spiritual? It is when they become the
slaves of God and are branded with His sign, which is the sign of the Cross, in
token that they have given Him their freedom. (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior
I believe that the apostle Paul would agree that William H. Foulkes' beautiful hymn "Take Thou Our Minds, Dear Lord." captures well what it means to live in the Spirit. The hymn is a prayer that God will take our minds, hearts, wills, and ourselves, leading us into "the truth that sets us free." so that we will follow God's mission "to make the earth like heaven above." The hymn began its route into our hymnals at a train station, at Stony Brook, Long Island, in 1918. The author told of how a fellow Presbyterian minister, Rev. Calvin Laufer (whose own wonderful hymn "We Thank Thee, Lord." has shamefully been omitted from some recent hymnals!) approached him while humming a tune. Stating that he needed a hymn to challenge the young people at the evening service, he asked if Foulkes would write "a few verses." for such a hymn. They hummed together the tune that Laufer had composed so that Foulkes would remember it. On the train into New York City, the author reported, the words came to him "almost spontaneously. That evening he gave his three-verse poem to his friend, who immediately set it to his music, Two years later, while he was at a youth conference, Dr. Foulkes wrote the fourth verse, which he felt well summarized the first three. Since then the hymn has continued to inspire adults, as well as youth, to live the life in the Spirit.
Doing what's right is becoming more difficult, because whole new industries are springing up to assist you to do what's wrong. If you are upset about paying higher and higher cable bills for your television, there are now businesses that will help you secretly tap into cable and satellite systems so that you can avoid having to pay anything. Other firms assist consumers obtain free utilities and telephone service. One research firm estimates that the number of people stealing satellite TV service will increase from 400,000 in 2000 to 5.4 million in 2009. Cable companies figure they lose about $6.8 billion each year to theft. Illegal copying of music from CDs has been widely reported in recent years. Websites, such as Napster, have been forced to shut down, because those sites have been largely used to illegally duplicate copyrighted music. When surveyed, about half of all consumers think it is OK to do that kind of copying. When asked, though, whether it is OK to steal a can of soda, nearly everyone agreed it is wrong to do that. Apparently people differentiate between the theft of services and intellectual property and the theft of tangible goods.
Sometimes the way of the flesh and the ways of the Spirit come into close proximity with one another. The Vatican, which many people would consider to be one of the more holy places on Earth, has one of the highest crime rates on the face of the planet. On paper, the statistics indicate that 87.2% of the Vatican's population was charged with civil offenses, and 133.6% were arrested for various crimes. But don't worry: the pope's neighborhood isn't quite as crime-ridden as those numbers might lead you to believe. In 2002, there were 397 civil offenses and 608 penal offenses in Vatican City. The crime rate percentages end up being so high because there are only 455 who permanently live there. Almost all of the offenses were committed by a relatively small number of the millions of tourists who visit the Vatican. Most of the crimes were purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and petty theft from the souvenir stores.
To believe in the way of the Spirit means to live in the way of the Spirit. Yet sometimes there is a divergence between what we profess and what we actually do. In the Middle East country of Bahrain, nearly half of the sports teachers are overweight. A report by a local newspaper criticized the obese educators, pointing out that they should be role models to their students.
When we insist on going in the wrong direction, we injure not only ourselves, but others. A woman in France drove almost twelve miles on the wrong side of a highway. She ended up causing seven different collisions involving 18 vehicles as the oncoming traffic attempted to swerve out of her way. Police said that two people were slightly injured, but miraculously no one was killed. Officers eventually took the woman into custody when she exited the highway near Bordeaux.
Friedrich Nietzsche said that humans are "beasts with red cheeks." In his opinion, value judgments about right and wrong are merely human creations. According to Nietzsche, "good." and "bad." are simply labels that human beings assign at will to the world around them.
Sometimes deciding between the ways of the flesh and the ways of the Spirit involve some difficult choices. The Salvation Army in Naples, Florida, declined a donation of $100,000. The donor had won the money in a lottery, but local Salvation Army officials decided they didn't want to accept money that was associated with gambling, for fear that accepting the money would seem to condone the playing of the lottery. Other local charities, however, including Habitat for Humanity and the Rotary Club quickly accepted the man's money.
Part of the challenge in learning to walk in the way of the Spirit is developing the self-control to say no to the other desires that try to tempt us. A step in that direction is to do what we can to avoid being tempted by those desires in the first place. Researchers in Sweden have found that the mere sight of food often has the effect of tempting people to overeat. In a study, a group of obese volunteers were blindfolded and then had plates of food set in front of them. When they couldn't see how much was in front of them, they tended to eat one-quarter less food than those who were able to see what was on their plate, but the blindfolded diners reported that they were full when they finished.
This passage is largely a warning not to walk in the way of the flesh, but to walk in the way of the Spirit. Not everyone, though, is good at recognizing warnings when they're set before them. In 2001, a Minnesota woman filed a federal lawsuit against the Little Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, seeking damages for injuries she suffered when she tripped over an orange traffic cone. The judge in the case dismissed the action, commenting that the law does not expect people to be warned that there is a warning coming up ahead.
As we follow Jesus, we discover that the Spirit often leads us in directions that we might not have expected. Someone once asked Mother Teresa, "How did you receive your call to serve the poor?" She replied, "My call is not to serve the poor. My call is to follow Jesus. I have followed him to the poor."
"It is a wise father that knows his own child." (William Shakespeare)
"I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection." (Sigmund Freud)
"Morality or virtue is the end, faith only a means to obtain that end: and if the end be obtained, it is no matter by what means." (Benjamin Franklin)
"Our well-known national inability to engage in moral conversation means that once a right exists, nobody seems to feel comfortable urging that it not be exercised." (Stephen L. Carter)
"Meditate on three things and you will be spared from the power of sin: Consider whence you came, and whither you are going, and before whom you are destined to give an accounting." (Talmud)
Paul's use of the image of adoption to describe our relationship with God means a great deal to many adoptive families. We understand the gift of being invited to call God by the most intimate of family names to signify that relationship. Our daughter, Leah, came to us by adoption, from South Korea two weeks before her first birthday. Leah was a very verbal child, and so spoke already in sentences, in Korean, of course. We were concerned for how she would adapt to our family, how long it would take her to bond with us. We need not have feared. On the second day, my husband walked out of the room and she suddenly toddled after him shouting "Apba, Apba, "the Korean word for "Daddy." which, coincidentally, is pronounced very much like the Aramaic "Abba." Her use of that term confirmed for us that we were indeed a family.
My mother learned at age 81 that she had been adopted. Though she then became curious about her birth parents, by then all who could shed any light on them were gone. While at first a shock, the realization of who her parents were, that is, those who had raised her, deepened into profound admiration and appreciation. Adoption is a powerful thing: someone chooses you, and cares and sacrifices on your behalf, not out of obligation but out of free choice. They choose to make you their heir. This is what Christ did for us.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Give to God the glory due God's name.
People: Worship the Lord in holy splendor.
Leader: The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
People: The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.
Leader: May the Lord give strength to the people!
People: May the Lord bless the people with peace!
We confess, O searching God, that we sometimes shrink from your Spirit, and fail to heed your guidance. Though we are your children, we do not obey you. Though you have gifted us with freedom, we sometimes are slaves to our own fantasies, wishes and desires, ignoring your wisdom. We gladly receive your blessings, but are unwilling to suffer for our convictions, or risk for your kingdom. Remind us we are joint heirs with Christ_ who are, if it is our calling, willing to suffer with him that we may also share his glory, in the power of his Spirit. Amen.
In gratitude, O God, for your gift of adoption, for calling us into the family of Christ, we give to you this portion of our substance. As thankful children, we render unto you, our loving parent, these gifts, that you may use them to set others free in the glorious freedom of the children of God, through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Gracious God, known to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, we ask your guidance for the demanding tasks of birthing, rearing, and guiding children toward the joy of your kingdom. Just as you have called us all to new birth in your Son, Jesus Christ, so those among us who are parents face the rewarding and difficult task of guiding those children you have placed in our care. Those of us who are not parents pray for those who are, and we commit ourselves to our sacred opportunity, to care for all the children in this congregation, that each may know your love, hear your word, trust in you, and find fulfillment in your service.
So nurture the life of this congregation that we may reflect the love you are in your very essence, as three in one. Remind us that it is in community that we know love: we cannot love in isolation. Just as Jesus, our Lord, invited Nicodemus to be born from above, so we pray to embody in this community of faith the newness of life that is your gift in Christ. Fill this sanctuary with the laughter and tears of people loving each other in your name. Cement a bond between us, help us to be inviting and welcoming, that visitors may meet you in this place. May each one find here a place to use their gifts, that we may all be built up in your Spirit, to your honor and glory, O great Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.