Message preached June 3,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Romans 8:14-17
Order of Worship
This is a very "adult" gathering today, isnít it? Weíre missing our children. (Our "Alleluia" - childrenís - choir is singing at the Brethren Home, a retirement Community) Does it seem strange to you not having them here, full of energy - sometimes in excess?... Pentecost is a birthday party, you know, and who gets more excited about a party than children? Tessaís 7th birthday is coming up at the end of July. Sheís been talking about it since last August. "I canít wait until my birthday," she began saying almost the day after her last one, dreaming of everything she wants to do as part of it - a constantly changing list.
When was the last time you had that kind of excitement? Dave and Ann Fouts took off for Nigeria on Friday, and early yesterday morning the Wolf family began their five week trek out west. This all reminded me of the eager anticipation I had leading up to our familyís big trip in 1997. It was almost like I was a kid again.
Almost like I was a kid again... As I was meditating upon this morningís scripture from Paulís letter to the Romans, it dawned on me that I have always had one particular "take" on his statement about how Godís Spirit bears witness in us when we cry out to our "Abba! Father!" The image Iíve had in my head while reading this passage in the past has been one of a little child crying out in the night to her Daddy or Mommy, a nightmare having disrupted her sleep.
Such a picture is fitting. One of the first words a little one learns in life is the name of a parent. In Aramaic, the language most people spoke where Jesus grew up, "Abba" and "Imma" were intimate words for "Father" and "Mother." Easy to say, such names (Daddy! Mommy!) still flow readily off the tongue, especially in times of need, when fears and tears pull at the fabric of life.
That has been how I have heard this passage in the past. Such a reading is true to the scripture, which is good, for there are plenty of times when all Godís children (even/especially those who are much bigger and older now) need to cry out to their heavenly "abba" when fears and tears threaten to pull apart the fabric of life.
This reminds me of another journey, actually the lead-up to it. Godís people, the children of Israel, were trapped in slavery long ago - living pitiful lives under the Pharaoh of Egypt. One of the saddest passages of scripture is the first part of Exodus 2:23, where it says that it got so bad for these people, that they "groaned under their slavery, and cried out." Why this, in particular, is so sad is because these descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who no doubt lived with the stories of Godís call, blessing, and promise, simply "cried out" in their bondage. They didnít cry out to anyone. They just cried out, having lost or forgotten any connection to this One who cared for them. The saddest picture in life is of a child who has no parent to call upon in time of need, even an adopted Daddy or Mommy.
Of course, we know the rest of that verse, as we know the rest of the story. Immediately after it says that they "cried out" comes this sentence, "Out of slavery their cry for help rose up to God." In response, the Lord called forth a savior named Moses, who eventually convinced Pharaoh to let these people go, and he led them out of slavery toward the promised land.
That our cry for help is heard by God, who will respond; that we are not children who have no heavenly "Mommy" or "Daddy" to turn to in time of need, is an important message - no matter how "grown up" we have become. Are we so "mature" that we see little need of a higher power in life, to whom we can turn as a child might turn to a parent? Then maybe we have either grown up too much, or not enough. With our children away today, perhaps we need to examine our own status as children of God, ourselves. Yes, the apostle Paul called for a maturity of faith, of putting an end to childish ways (1 Corinthians 13:11), but he also, with "Abba! Father!" faith, wrote that we are, and will always be "children of God" (Romans 8:16-17).
Furthermore, as Jesus himself said with a child in his lap, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). In fact, when the early church listened to what our Lord then said about not causing little ones to stumble, they didnít hear him speaking only about people under a certain age or height. Like the word "sheep," the phrase "little ones" or the word "children" in the New Testament refers also to those who believe in the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Therefore, we are all children.
Yes, we are all children, who have an "Abba! Father!" to whom we can cry out. This is true! Of course, as I said - the picture of a crying child reaching out to her parent in the night has been the image behind my reading of this passage, as well as a similar one in Galatians 4:4-7. I wonder, though, is this the only snapshot brought forth by the imagination as we read these words?
In preparation for this message, I turned to Eugene Petersonís paraphrase of this scripture in "The Message." There I discovered a very different take on this "Abba! Father!" faith. Instead of a frightened child crying out to a parent in the middle of a nightmare, comes a picture of a little girl who just canít wait for her next birthday. Instead of "Daddy, Iím scared!," I hear the voice of a wide-eyed little one asking, "Whatís next, Papa?" The paraphrase, which you see printed at the top of your bulletin, includes the description, "adventurously expectant." Isnít that a marvelous way of putting it?
Mind you, I believe both images are important for our life of faith. How often, though, do we live out of the second picture when it comes to following Jesus? This is an adventure we are on. Do we live like it is? Or have our "adult" minds lost that sense of adventure, claimed only by the likes of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn? Have we gotten so "old" in our faith that weíve forgotten how to fly, unlike Peter Pan and Wendy, John, and Michael. Their "never land," you know, is but a shadow of Godís kingdom.
Itís interesting that J.M. Barrieís tale of Peter Pan would come to mind. In that story, adventure is the key to life for Peter and his cohorts. Every day offers up new opportunities to battle Indians and pirates. The downside, though, is that the "lost boys" have lost the connection to their parents. Wendy, on the verge of womanhood, answers a deep felt need for an "Imma! Mommy!" to whom they can cry. Of course, this is not a good picture of maturity - for many men never grow beyond Peter Pan, as the women in their lives might say. However, it does speak to the sense of adventure that all-too-many of us have lost, especially when it comes to our life in Christ.
We are not "lost boys" (or "little orphan Annies," for that matter). Perhaps at one time we all were - maybe some still are. The apostle Paul, in this morningís scripture lesson speaks to how we, as children of God, are all adopted. Weíre not lost. God in Jesus Christ has come to our "never land," which may be more of a nightmare world at times, and claimed us as his own. Similar to Moses, who was sent to set the children free from Pharaohís whip, Jesus stepped forward into the greatest adventure imaginable. He broke open the chains of sin and death, and led and continues to lead Godís children out of slavery - through cross and empty tomb. This is high adventure, folks! Have you lost your sense of wonder and awe, that inner stirring to step into the adventure?
On this Pentecost Sunday, the birthday celebration of the church, we need to heed Paulís words that the Spirit we have received is not one of slavery and fear. As Peterson paraphrases, "this resurrection life (we) received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. Itís adventurously expectant..." Can we greet God every day with a childlike "Whatís next, Papa?" Good question, an important one for this day when the younger portion of our fellowship is away. I wonder if many of those with whom they are sharing their gift of song at the Brethren Home this morning, havenít arrived again at that point were childlike faith is looking forward to what is next. Sometimes the older you get, the younger you become.
Let me continue Petersonís paraphrase, for it adds a new light to this text.
"Godís Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get whatís coming to us - an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then weíre certainly going to go through the good times with him!"
The Father to whom a child cries out "Abba!" in the middle of a nightmare is the same parent as the One whom we can, with adventurous expectation, greet with, "Whatís next, Papa?"
Well, children of your heavenly Father, this is still the churchís birthday party, a celebration of Godís gift of the Holy Spirit, his constant presence here and now. How about we sing the next hymn in an adventurous way, for thatís exactly what this life in Christ, this life in the Spirit is - an adventure. And you know what? Thatís what our children want and need to hear. Be sure, as you continue to pass along this faith to the next generation, that you, yourself, are filled with "adventurous expectation."
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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