You are a child of God! Come and claim your inheritance!
May 30, 2021
In the abstract, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity involves some very strange math. We are saying: 1+1+1=1 (Father + Son + Holy Spirit = one God). But what I’d like to do is to bring the meaning of the Trinity into the concrete. What does this basic tenet of our faith have to do with everyday life?
I recently read a story about a youngish boy who felt inferior and unaccepted by many. He lived with his mother, and no one seemed to know who his father was, and so a lot of people gossiped about it, and it made the boy feel uncomfortable. He grew up in the rural South, and one day he went into a church, Laurel Springs Christian Church. The place had a minister who was both attractive and frightening. He had a chiseled face and a heavy beard and a deep voice. The boy didn’t know why, but that minister did something for him. However, he was afraid that he was not welcome there because no one knew who his father was, and so he would go in just in time for the sermon, and when it was over he would move out because he was afraid that someone would say, “What’s a boy like you doing in a church?”
One Sunday some people lined up in the aisle before he could get out, and he was stopped. He felt a hand on his shoulder, a heavy hand. It was that minister. The boy trembled in fear. The minister met him eye to eye, and seemed to stare at him for a while. The boy knew what he was doing; he was going to guess who his father was. The minister then said, “Well, boy, you’re a child…” Oh, no! He knew what was coming! “You are a child…of God. I see a striking resemblance.” Then the minister swatted him on the bottom and said, “Now, you go claim your inheritance.” The boy reports leaving that church a different person. In fact, it was really the beginning of his life.
Every person’s situation is different. But we probably have all had the experience of feeling alone, or different, or unlucky, or left out. My dad died when I was a junior in high school; he died putting in a full day’s work. A blood clot hit him, and just like that, he was gone. I felt robbed, cheated. My mother lived a much longer life. But when she died a full thirty years later, I had the feeling of being orphaned. Within my immediate family, I was the only remaining member, part of the new oldest generation. It felt strange, and I felt oddly alone.
During the course of the pandemic we have been experiencing, many of you have told me of your loneliness, of how much you missed the hugs of grandchildren or grandparents, how much you missed the regular get-togethers with family and friends. The aloneness made you feel sadly orphaned, split off from the rest of the world. And, imagine, those who became seriously ill with Covid-19, those who were put into isolation in strange places on strange machines often died without the comfort of their families—again, the experience of being orphaned, cut off.
I think it is to this type of experience that St. Paul speaks so well in our second reading today. Paul writes: “Brothers and sisters, those 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 received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…”
In our moments of loneliness and fear, our God has adopted us, making us his children. The word “Abba” is from the Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, and scripture scholars tell us it is closer to “daddy” than the more formal “father”. In other words, we have been brought into an intimate relationship with God our Father and with Jesus our brother, through the working of the Holy Spirit. And not only that, we’ve been written into the will: we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” Everything Jesus has received or inherited, so have we. We’re part of the family! We belong to a community of relationship with God and with each other. We’re not alone, we’re not abandoned, we’re not orphans!
That’s good news, isn’t it? But we know there are many people in our world, and right here in the neighborhoods where we live, who do not feel wanted, or needed or loved. When we meet them, can we just ignore the way they feel? Can we be indifferent to their pain? Can we fail to respond to their need? I think not. We need to tell them: You are a child of God. Now, come and claim your inheritance. I’ll help you, and I’ll show you where the good news is preached, where the good news is practiced, where the good news is real. It’s in my heart…and it’s in my church!