To listen to Pastor Marcus’ message click on the audio player below:
To read this sermon click on “Continue reading” below.
Sermon based on Romans 8:1-16
Max Lucado in his book The Eye of the Storm retells a story by the late Clovis Chappell. Chappell was a United Methodist minister and he used to tell the story of two paddleboats and a race. They left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they traveled side-by-side, sailors on the deck of one vessel made a few remarks to sailors on the other deck about the slower pace of the other paddleboat. Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became intense as these two boats traveled to New Orleans. One boat started to fall behind because they were burning their fuel so quickly. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough to sustain such a long distance race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship’s cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the cargo burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but they burned their cargo along the way.
Chappell told this story to illustrate that God has entrusted cargo to us like our families and our church. Our job is to do our part in seeing that we respect and care for this cargo. Sometimes there are distractions in life that result in these distractions taking priority over the very ones we are called to care for most for in life. In our Scripture lesson from Romans, the apostle Paul was speaking about the wonderful freedom we receive through life in the Spirit. In these verses Paul also speaks of another blessing that comes our way as followers of Christ. This blessing is that we become part of the family of God. Membership in God’s family is a gift that becomes even greater when we rely upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul made it clear that we have received many gifts as members of God’s family. This morning we will explore what it means to us to be a part of God’s family. As a member of Gods’ family we receive these following gifts.
The first gift we receive is the gift of life in God’s family. As we speak of life, I recall reading Jules Verne’s novel, The Mysterious Island many years ago. This novel tells the story of five men who escaped a Civil War prison camp by hijacking a hot air balloon. As they rose into the air, they realized the wind was carrying them over the ocean. As they watched their homeland disappear on the horizon, they wondered how much longer the balloon could stay aloft. As the hours passed and the surface of the ocean drew closer, the men decided they needed to cast overboard some of the weight for they had no way to add more air to the balloon. Shoes, overcoats and weapons were all thrown overboard and they felt the balloon rise again. However this was only temporary as the balloon began to reach the waves of the ocean again. They threw out their food but once again the balloon began to head towards the ocean. Finally someone had an idea, they could tie the ropes that held the passenger basket together and sit on those ropes and cut away the basket. As they severed the very thing they had been standing upon the balloon started to rise again as they watched the basket drop into the ocean. Eventually they find land and maneuver the balloon to the land, this mysterious island. They were able to survive because they were able to determine the difference between what was a want and what was a need. The things they believed were needed were almost the very things that weighed them down and almost cost them their lives. This illustration reminds me of the words from the writer of Hebrews where it says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… (Hebrews 12:1)
Paul writes for us in Romans that this very gift of life comes through our relationship with the Author and Creator of life, God. In verses 12 and 13 Paul writes:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
If we are not a part of God’s family our lives can be filled with sinful living according to Paul. Paul often made reference to this in his writings by referring to this as “living in the flesh.” Living in the flesh according to Paul leads to desire to acquire gratification and glorification but ultimately leads to no satisfaction. We are challenged to discover for ourselves what are those things that hinder our relationship with God and attempt to discard these things in our lives. When Paul speaks of this subject he uses the present tense meaning that this is a continuous action. This unfortunately is not a one-time event but a continuing effort that requires our patience and perseverance.
A second gift we receive in God’s family is the gift of adoption as God’s children.Paul writes for us the following.
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. (Romans 8:14-15)
Paul uses an image from Greek and Roman culture in which a child is given full rights and privileges in a family in which the child was not a natural member. While the child had no natural or legal claim on membership in the family, they received the gift of family membership through adoption. Speaking of adoption, one of my favorite accounts of what it means to be adopted comes in this story about a class of first graders. These first graders were asked to bring a photo of their family to school one day. One child brought in their family picture and everyone noticed that the parents were a different race. One child asked why this was the case to which another child suggested their classmate was adopted. Some of the children did not know what the word adopted meant and asked the teacher. Before the teacher replied another student in class answered, “I know all about adoptions because I was adopted.” The student offered these following words, “Being adopted means you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy.” As Christians we have no natural claim on God’s family, yet God’s love was so great that he adopted us by allowing his Son, Jesus to die upon the cross for us. Despite our sinful and rebellious ways at times, we are comforted knowing that through love and grace God extends a hand and heart to us and brings us into His family. We are God’s adopted children and we are heirs, not in a material sense but in a spiritual way.
As heirs, the final gift we are given in God’s family is the gift of a future glory. Despite the peaks and valleys we experience in life, through our faith we can experience a future glory in heaven one day. Sometimes the grief, or sufferings we experience in life cause us to forget about what lies ahead. Next time we feel that our lives are difficult or getting us down in the dumps remember that our life and the future Kingdom of God is a lot like the practice of embroidery. I recall the story of a young child who would often visit with their great grandmother who embroidered. The child would often sit up from the floor and ask what she was doing. She informed the child that what she was doing was known as embroidering. The child replied that from where they sat, it looked like a mess. From the bottom or underside the child watched her work within the boundaries of the little round hoop that she held in her hand and it looked messy. She would smile and encourage the child to play and after awhile the child would come back and could view what she was working on from a different perspective. Many times she would call the child over and looking from her vantage point this child would see a beautiful flower or sunset. She would offer these words of wisdom to the child “From underneath it does look messy and jumbled, but when you realize that there is a plan or design above, we must merely follow this plan.
Remembering these words from the Psalmist:
You have searched me; Lord, and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139)
Many times through the years of our lives we have probably looked to God and wondered what are we doing with our lives. I believe that God embroiders our lives. While we may think God’s pattern is a mess to us, God’s view is obviously different. God wants us to go about our business of serving the Kingdom on earth. One day we will see the plan from God’s point of view. That is an amazing gift for each of us for we are all in the family!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
August 5, 2018