Sermon preached at Cathays Methodist Church:
I want to focus for a moment on that reading from Romans –
That talks about the Spirit of adoption, being led by the Spirit, The Spirit of glory and truth and wisdom, which we focused on at Pentecost last Sunday…
Because understanding why we are a part of God’s plan, why we are promised to be led by the Sprit and have the Spirit poured out upon us is all held up in the fact that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ – lets listen again to that reading from Romans Chapter 8:
‘So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For 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!’ It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that 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’.
Hmm – How often do we fall back into fear?
How often do we fail to recognize and understand that we are children and heirs of God…
Just think about that.
An heir, is someone who inherits something – a rank, title, position, property…because of their relationship…a close relationship with someone else.
So to be heirs of God, children of God is a big deal.
And we’ve heard time and time again, those words from John’s Gospel – perhaps the most quoted part of scripture – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.
It’s funny isn’t it how the most quoted piece of scripture, what has become known as ‘The Gospel in a nutshell’ so often gets mistranslated into every day life.
Because the reality is that even though we hear that God so loved (and we should hear loves) the world, we often try and keep that love for our special little in group.
For those who understand,
For those who are committed,
For those who are serious, and willing and honest,
For those who are mature,
For those who have been baptized, or who come to church regularly, or who have progressed in the faith…
And of course of all that is absolute nonsense.
For God so loved the world – that he was born into our world, lived amongst us, died like a common criminal and rose again from the dead.
For God so loved the world that he did all that for you, and me, and every weak and senseless human being that has ever lived.
For God so loved that world that he made us to love, and be loving, and know what it means to be heirs and children of God.
For God so loved the world that he gave us, all of us, the most precious and sacrificial gift he could give, his Son, himself so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.
And you know what,
That important event we celebrated last Sunday – Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, upon the Church, upon us!
Well all of that was necessary so that we would share, preach, live that love in all the corners of the earth.
And we will be rubbish at doing that, if we don’t ourselves know that we are loved.
And the fear that St Paul talks about in Romans is probably that kind of fear, the fear that is rooted in doubt, the fear that constantly tells you:
That you are not good enough.
That you are not beautiful enough.
That you are not wise enough.
That you are not strong enough.
That you are not holy enough.
And it’s a lie.
‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.’
We are God’s children, and we are adopted by God who made us, and loved us into being.
And here’s the thing, this is what John Wesley and Charles Wesley realized – this is what we celebrate on Aldersgate Sunday.
Remember John Wesley’s words and see if they sound at all familiar: I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
And his brother, Charles, said he felt the Spirit of God striving with his spirit ‘till by degrees He chased away the darkness of my unbelief. I found myself convinced…I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. I was in a new heaven and a new earth!’
Now remember we heard from Isaiah: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord….then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, Here am I; send me!”.
The importance of that I in ALL of those accounts is absolutely essential.
You can do the things you need to do week by week, like the praying, and the coming to church, and the good works.
You can look the part, you can say the words, you can do the actions.
You can give all you want to the poor and sing hymns till the cows come home –
But if you do not realize, and feel that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again for YOU then it’s hard to tell the world that.
It’s hard to live that Pentecostal hope – that conviction.
That It was for you.
As you are.
With all your weaknesses and issues and spots, wrinkles, short tempers – whatever!
The Methodist Gospel is the Gospel, which says resoundingly:
You can be saved.
You are loved.
You are of worth.
You are beautiful.
You have potential always, with God. God is NEVER done with you, God is NEVER regretful of how he has made you. God longs for you to know that his love for the world, includes you too.
His dying on the cross in Christ Jesus, was for you too.
His rising in the tomb, was for you too!
‘All this for you, before you could know anything of it.’
And the reality is that we can never really know anything of it.
In the Trinity, what we see is a God who is, even before any human life was created, a God who was in relationship with Godself.
The Godhead is a community – of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Equal, United, Balanced – but not easily understood.
Nicodemus, like all religious people throughout the ages, believes to some extent that God is love. But he believes that God’s love is measured, and sensible and follows a set of rules. He believes that Jesus’ healings are largely, in line with the activity of God, but he has some concerns about them, which is presumably why he is here with Jesus in the Gospel reading.
And funnily enough, when Jesus tried to explain the relationship between himself and God and those who were born of the Spirit, Nicodemus echoed something many of us, if we are honest, feel about the Trinity: “How can these things be?”
Then Jesus asks Nicodemus: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” He seems to imply that someone as educated and well drenched in the history of God’s dealings with His people, someone who had worshipped God faithfully and carried out his commandments, should be able to understand. Yet Nicodemus struggles.
And we struggle. And that’s okay.
But you see, Nicodemus had to let go of all the measures that he has been using, and launch himself into the unfathomable reality of the sheer totality of God’s love.
God doesn’t love when we have met the requirements,
Or when we have changed enough to be lovable,
Or when we lucky enough to be born into a certain culture, or sex, or family.
God just loves.
And trying to measure the love of God is like trying to control the wind.
God will do anything for this world he loves, including coming himself, the Son, to die for it.
To understand this, is to be in Jesus’s words ‘born again’, to start the world again – learning to walk and speak and think and grow in a world where the love of God is the breath we breathe, so that our every response to the world around us is informed by that love.
So don’t try to measure the wind of God’s love – you will fail. It will overpower you, and surpass you. Paul says, just go with it, like those disciples filled with the holy spirit last week – let the Holy Spirit breathe through you and power you. Be filled with the vitality of God’s love. Let us acclaim with Isaiah Send us!
All we need to know, is that God Father, Son and Spirit are different dimensions of God’s love:
and strengthening us in faith.
And eternal life starts here, allowing God, Father Son and Holy Spirit to work away at our disbelief.
Our ignorance, and finally get to that place where we can accept that Jesus Christ alone can save us.
God the Father created us,
God the Son redeemed us,
God the Spirit convicts us of our sin and gives us the confidence of salvation.
If the Holy Trinity can be understood in any way, see that community of love, out of which we all came, see that image of God which we all reflect – a God who is in relationship, in fellowship and in communion with himself, but who in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit – makes us an integral part of that divine love.
God, Father Son and Holy Spirit reaches out to embrace us,
To remind us of our value and our worth and our dignity,
To embrace all that we are and all that we carry, and to draw us into that divine image which we were made to know, and reflect and live.
Our God is not distant, and alone, and separated, but here amongst us, within us, and around us.
Belief in the Trinity says that before there was anything external to God towards which God could act lovingly, God’s being was still expressed in the love between Father Son and Spirit. In a love that isn’t some abstract quality, unrecognizable by the usual marks of what we humans would call love. It is personal, dynamic, and creative. It is full of delight and generosity. It longs for the rest of the world to see the loveliness of the beloved. We, God’s creation, come to be out of the exuberance and sheer vitality of that love, and we are designed to share in it, to be drawn more and more into the reality of the loving and wonderful God.
The poet Malcolm Guite, wrote a Sonnet for Trinity Sunday, and I want to close with his words:
In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.
Friends, why wouldn’t you want to be in communion with that God –
The God, who as Father Son and Holy Spirit reaches out to each and every one of you this morning, calls you by name and asks you for your heart, your soul, your all – and who is worthy of that gift.
If we offer God all that we are, if we take Him at His word, if we allow our hearts to be broken into by his love, if we return to him his own life, then we will stand with the prophets and patriarchs, with the angels and archangels, with the martyrs and saints from all the ages – and declare, together in the glory of heaven, when we have been changed from glory into glory: “I have seen the Lord”.
In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.