In the weeks since Easter, we have looked at the early years of the Christian Church, starting with a few frightened people in a locked room and ending up some twenty years later a quickly growing movement spreading across the Roman Empire and beyond. When we started, I told you that we needed to assume something in order for this amazing change to make any sense at all. That thing is the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Without the Spirit, none of it would have happened. The disciples would have gone to the grave with pleasant memories of Jesus and nothing to show for them.
So what exactly is Pentecost and what really happened? Well, the day is described pretty clearly in our first lesson from the Book of Acts. The Holy Spirit came rushing like a wind into the room where the disciples were gathered. Flames of fire burned above their heads. And they spoke in languages that they had never before known. People heard the disciples ecstatically preaching in these various languages and they were either amazed, or they were cynical, guessing that the disciples were drunk. Peter responds to the naysayers by preaching the first sermon of the Christian Church, and then we’re off to the races.
In other words, the Holy Spirit is amazing. It turned a few fearful Galileans and turned them into the most amazing missionaries the world has ever seen. How did the Spirit do that?
There are many things to learn about the work of the Holy Spirit, and I invite you to pray for and pursue more knowledge on this, but I’d like to focus on what the Apostle Paul says about the Spirit in our lesson from his Letter to the Romans. It’s very short, really. But it gets at two things our minds can understand: fear and belonging.
Paul writes, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” This should be very, very clear to us from the past weeks. Before Pentecost, before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were in fear. But after they received the Holy Spirit, they were no longer fearful at all. The authorities threatened them: it didn’t matter, the disciples kept preaching. The authorities beat them: it didn’t matter, the disciples kept telling everyone about Jesus. The authorities persecuted and even killed them: it didn’t matter, the disciples were NOT afraid. The Holy Spirit had taken away the crippling fear that had kept them locked in that room. So the Holy Spirit has everything to do with overcoming fear.
Paul continues, “You have received a spirit of adoption.” Now, given the amazing things that these disciples would soon accomplish, we might perhaps expect the Spirit to give them something a bit flashier than “adoption.” But that’s exactly what the Spirit of God is about; it’s about adoption; it’s about belonging. And there is a great deal of power in it.
Perhaps some of you have heard about Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers? On draft day in 2005, Rodgers was widely expected to be drafted early, maybe even with the first pick. Along with some other top prospects he was invited to await his selection on camera. But he wasn’t drafted first that day. Or second, or third, or fourth. He waited in front of the cameras that day, increasingly humiliated, until finally he was chosen with the twenty-fourth pick. He was humiliated because the message he was getting was this, “We don’t want you. You don’t belong on our team.” To be wanted, to belong, is a very powerful thing.
To receive the Spirit of Adoption is to be told and to know deeply that God is your Father and you are his son or daughter. To receive the Spirit of Adoption is to become an heir and to be included in the family inheritance.
How many of you now live, or have lived, through a time when you were just scraping by? How many of you have feared that if things didn’t break right, maybe you’d lose the house or the farm? How many of you have had to ask for help, either from your parents or from the government because you weren’t going to be able to feed yourself or your family? To have an inheritance at such a time would be the assurance that you would make it through the difficulty and prosper on the other side of it.
For the disciples, this Spirit that they received, was the ultimate assurance that God would take care of everything. Whatever might seem to go wrong, they were sons and daughters of God, heirs with Christ to a vast heavenly fortune. Why fear? And why not begin to spend the fortune? And so spend it they did, boldly and fearlessly. But instead of using it up, the pile of loot just grew larger. The church grew, knowledge of Jesus Christ spread, and people who had been living in fear came to know that God was their Father, Jesus was their brother and that they too were heirs to this great spiritual fortune.
And so we come to us, both the congregations of St. Peter and Christ. Where do we stand? Do we live with a spirit of fear or one of adoption? To whom do we belong: to the god of our parents and grandparents? Or to the God who made heaven and earth and who moves now because there are people who desperately need to hear that Jesus Christ isn’t a cultural artifact, but the very hope upon which they can build a new life. Our children and grandchildren depend on us to tell them that it is the latter God whom we serve. We have been adopted by him, we BELONG to him, and so we are willing to do whatever it takes so that they might know this as well.
Paul goes on to say, “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.”
The work of the church is no easy task. And these are busy times. But let us not be afraid of doing what is right. Amen.