Reading: Romans 8:15-18
They introduced themselves. They both were tense, their hearts pounding. But they had prepared themselves emotionally for this meeting. They were going to be mature and adult about this. No public displays of emotion at the airport. No dramatics. No tears please…
And this plan to keep everything cool and sensible and free of emotion worked; until this she looked him in the eye and spoke the one word she had never and could never have spoken to any other man: Father…
How deep is that bond: parent to child. Though separated by time and thousands of miles, and in that case, by having never even known one another, there is deep attachment.
Many people, who have been adopted and raised by parents other than their biological ones find that, at some point in their lives, they feel the need to find their biological parents. Although they have never met them, they nevertheless deeply connected to them and this is deeply felt. It is part of their journey to find out who they are, what their origins are, where their looks and abilities and nature comes from, in whose footsteps they are following, where they belong in the world. And so people begin to search.
And as is so often the case, what happens here on the human level, with children and parents, happens also at the even deeper spiritual level of our lives. Part of being human, created by the eternal Father, is that, whether people realise it or not, they are in many ways constantly searching for home, constantly looking for the one who has Fathered them. People are trying to connect with their origin and their identity. Searching…
The famous Christian Theologian and Bishop of the Early Church, St Augustine, lived most of his life deeply feeling this. He felt something fundamental missing in his life and went searching. He tried everything to satisfy that search – booze, sexual promiscuity, academic fame and fortune, until finally one day he sat down under a tree exhausted and empty and cried out to God. He later wrote one of the oldest and best known prayers of the Christian Church: Lord, you have made us for yourself and we are restless until we rest in thee.
To rest in him is to find peace in being beloved children of our heavenly Father. He is our Dad. He has Fathered us, in baptism – brought us to birth as new people, holy people, through the work of the Holy Spirit. His bond with us reaches right to our core, our spirit. As Paul says here in verse 15, when we call out to God: “Abba – Father” (as he wants us to), his Spirit bears witness with, locks together with and embraces our spirit – and that bond between our spirit and God’s Holy Spirit is made stronger.
God wants us to know him and love him and relate to him as our loving Father, because he has made us his own children through his own son, Jesus, by the power of the Spirit. He wants us to live in that deep loving bond of his Spirit to ours.
And Paul wants to tell us some important things about this bond and what it means for our lives, to encourage us and uplift us.
We can cry out to God: Abba, Father
“Daddy!” One thing I know I share with every other Dad in this church today is what happens to your heart when your child calls out for you in distress, “Daddy!” In that cry is that beautiful, deep and unashamed trust of a child for its father. They cry out without thinking – they flee to the safest place they know – Dad’s arms. They know you will not turn them away.
And that is what our Father invites us to do – cry out to him in our pain, or when we are afraid. Ask him for what we need, speak to him with complete confidence and trust, because we live in that bond with him.
If we are children of the Father, then we are also heirs, and – just think of this if you can – joint heirs with Christ.
God has lifted us up to be Jesus’ brothers and sisters. That deep bond we share with God the Father, as his Spirit draws us, is the same bond that Jesus Christ shares with him. Paul is using as his analogy here the practice of adoption in the Roman world – it was common for Romans to adopt children and the rules for adoption were that you had to treat your adopted children just as if they were your natural children – they had to take your name, and they had to inherit an equal share of the parent’s estate. They had to truly become your child.
Paul is saying that we have been adopted in the same way – the Father treats us exactly as he treats Christ. We are made part of the intimate family circle, drawn into the very heart of God, loved not just like sons and daughters, but as sons and daughters.
And so, along with Jesus, we are heirs to God’s riches, and his kingdom. As God’s inheritors, we get the great treasures God has prepared for his children: forgiveness of our sins, a new and eternal life, and we get to share in God’s glory. We are rich beyond our wildest dreams.
We share Jesus’ suffering and his glory.
Part of the life we now live as God the Father’s children, is sharing his son’s cross. There is no crown without the cross. The English translation at this point almost makes it sound like suffering with Jesus is a condition of our sharing in His glory – you will inherit Christ’s glory if you suffer too. The sense of Paul’s words in the original text here is rather that since we share in Christ’s suffering, we also will share in his glory.
Suffering in this life is a fact. We have to live with the reality of the old broken world we still live in: broken relationships, sickness, pain, trouble and conflict. As Paul says, we groan along with all creation under the weight of this.
This suffering can seem to us (when it’s us right in the thick of it) like it is completely filling up our whole world. We can feel that it’s all-encompassing, blotting out everything else. But, Paul says, it’s not. The cross leads to Easter morning. This suffering we are putting up with is leading to a new day – to God’s kingdom being fully realised and revealed in its glory. And so Paul goes on to say: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” That glory will be revealed in you too.
I often wonder what would happen in the church if we really understood who we were – if we could fully grasp the wonderful things we have been given and the amazing grace of God poured out into and onto us each day. To God, you are the child for whom he has searched and the one for whom he gave Christ’s life. You are bonded to him by love so deep that no words can express it. And so in joy and hope we cry: Abba Father!
This is the word of the Lord.