“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”
With this simple song, our children invited us to celebrate Pentecost Sunday by letting the light of God’s Spirit shine through us. When the Spirit of God descended on the people of God, like a mighty wind, that Pentecost Sunday, flames danced above each head. This flame symbolizes the light of God that shines through us, lighting our pathways as we journey with God into the world. Bearing this light, we fulfill our calling to be a blessing to our neighbors – whether close by or far away.
Not only does the song remind us that God has filled us with the light of the Spirit, but it also reminds us, that even if we’re adults, we’re still children of the living God. As Paul puts it: “All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters” (Rom. 8:14 CEB).
Of course, none of us are God’s natural born children. No, we’ve been adopted into God’s family through the Spirit. And, as God’s adopted sons and daughters, we’ve become heirs of God through Christ, our elder brother (Heb. 2:11-13).
So, what does it mean to be a child of God? Above all else, it helps define our identity. We all ask this question: Who am I? Don’t you want to know who you are and why you are the way you are? Science tells us that genetics plays a role, but so does the world in which we live – our parents, our friends, our church. It’s not a question of nature versus nurture. Both are involved! And as God’s children, surely God plays a role. In Jeremiah 1, the Lord says to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you, . . .”
As we come here today to celebrate Pentecost, what does this declaration that we’re all children of God have to do with our identity? What difference does it make?
You might answer in terms of behavior, but surely there’s more to this than simply following divine law. After all, the message of Romans is that in Christ, grace supersedes law.
Perhaps the answer lies in Paul’s next statement: “You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear.” Because we’ve been made children of God in Christ, there’s no need to fear.
This is an appropriate word for our times, because there’s a lot of fear in our midst. If you don’t believe me, just check out all the conspiracy theories that get passed around through e-mails and social media. It’s bad out there!! Or, so I’ve been told!
Now, just because we’re free from bondage to fear doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be prudent about security. Just the other evening, at the stewardship meeting, we talked about this very subject. Having participated in a presentation on church security offered by the Troy Police Department to the Troy Interfaith Group, our stewardship chair decided we should talk about protecting our building and the people who come to it. Even if we sit here in one of Michigan’s safest cities, doors need to be locked when no one is here. We need to be vigilant about who is coming and going. And since we have a growing number of children, we need to make sure they’re protected. Yes, there are reasons for being careful and vigilant, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in fear.
After all, the God whom we serve is defined by love, and as the Scriptures say – “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Besides, as Paul writes later on in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us.” Yes:
35 Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
We are treated like sheep for slaughter.
37 But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. 38 I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers 39 or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
If we can accept this as a word from God; if we Believe that God will be true to this promise; if we will let the Spirit reign in our lives; then, as children of God, we’ll be ready to head out on the adventure that lies ahead of us.
I enjoy watching our little ones run around without any sense of fear exploring their environment. They seem to know that it’s okay to check things out, that their parents and grandparents and other recognizable faces are there to protect them. This childlike curiosity is a key to the Spirit-filled life. Walking in the Spirit is a spiritual adventure.
Now, this childlike curiosity is the result of trust. Our children know that their parents are nearby. It’s the kind of trust that allows us, as God’s children, to address God as “Abba! Father!”
So off we go into the world, filled with the Spirit of God, who is our parent. We go out into the world, knowing that since we’re God’s children we’re also heirs of all the promises that go with that status. Every promise God made to the children of Israel has now been passed on to us as well. We don’t replace the Jewish people, but in Christ we are now joint heirs with them of the promises made to Abraham, including that covenant calling to be a blessing to the nations.
So, as God’s children in Christ, we receive this Pentecost power that empowers us to bear witness to the good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. Death has met its match, and as a result we can now embrace the life that God has set before us. Yes, we’ve been commissioned by Jesus to go into the world and be his witnesses. And as his witnesses, we go forth with the promise that Jesus makes to his disciples on the eve of his death. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples.
Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. (John 14:11-13 CEB).
This may seem like a tall order, but as the children of God, we’ve been gifted for this work, and we’ve been given a Companion, the Spirit, who will be with us forever.
So are you ready to head out as children of God on this next adventure in the Spirit?
Now, being children of God doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges ahead. Even as Jesus faced suffering, we may face it as well. Theologian Karl Barth puts it this way:
In the Spirit, we are enabled to know the meaning of our life, as it is manifested in suffering. In the Spirit, suffering, endured and apprehended can become our advance to the glory of God. This revelation of the secret, this apprehension of God in suffering, is God’s action in us. (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 301).
As we discussed the meaning of the cross of Jesus at the Wednesday Bible Study, we talked also suffering. Although we might not know why people suffer, and though God doesn’t always come to our rescue, that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. God is still there with us, because we are children of God, and God is always present with God’s children!
So, as children of the living God, and as heirs of all the promises of God, may the light of Pentecost shine through you as you venture out into the world! Be not afraid – God is with you through the Spirit, whom Jesus has sent to us.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
May 19, 2013