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The Freedom and Glory of the Children of God

Preached June 23, 2024 by Dr. Martin Alaichamy at All Saints Anglican Church, Shreveport, Louisiana

God offers us this morning the privilege of a joyful meditation, from his holy Word, on The Freedom and Glory of the Children of God.


Using the image of childbirth, St. Paul gives us a poetic description of “creation wait[ing] in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”


As most of you know, Tara and I are expecting our third child in August, and so we’re rediscovering, for the third time in our lives, what it is to wait in eager expectation for a child to be revealed. Tara has an app on her phone that she uses to learn about what the baby in her womb looks like, and how the baby is growing and developing, at various stages of the pregnancy. So every week the app tells us what new features our little baby has gained that week, what she physically looks like now, and how big she is getting.


This last part, about baby’s size, is a little strange to us, because the app uses a somewhat arbitrary scale of measurement: so, one week our baby was said to be the size of an orange; another week, a VHS tape, and still another week she was the size of a barbie doll. (This last week, baby was the size of a bike helmet.)


 So we read these strange measurements on Tara’s phone app from week to week, with an odd mixture of joy and ever-increasing confusion, as we try to imagine what these random analogies might mean as far as our baby is concerned. Eventually we throw up our hands in dismay and decide we’ll just wait for the monthly ultrasound to show us a little more clearly what our baby looks like: we prefer the ghostly outlines we can discern in that ultrasound image to the vague descriptions of fruit and other assorted items, as we are waiting in eager expectation for our child to be revealed to us.


And of course when St. Paul writes about the children of God being revealed, he doesn’t just mean what they will look like, though there’s some allowance for fascination and speculation as we think about what our bodies might look like when they have been redeemed from death at the resurrection. But the Apostle has in mind something deeper, and bigger: he talks repeatedly in this passage in Romans about our liberation into freedom and glory; and not only ours, but all of nature’s as well. Creation groans as in the pains of childbirth; and we groan inwardly; and in those primal, wordless groans, God’s Spirit is actively interceding for us. There’s more than fascination here: there is an urgent need to be delivered safely from this travail, so that new life can properly begin.


The intimate connection the Apostle Paul is drawing between us as God’s children, and creation in a mothering role, and most importantly God’s Spirit in an intercessory role, this intimate and complex picture reminds us that we are not God’s children by nature, but rather by election and adoption–and by the supernatural grace of sanctification. That should make us marvel at what God’s Spirit is doing with us, taking us, who were once merely children of dust, giving us the miraculous gift of eternal life, then making us fit to be adopted into the very family of God: the Eternal, All-Powerful and Holy One who rules on high in heaven. We are becoming his children, and heirs.


The Psalmist reflects on this with an appropriate measure of awe and wonder:


What is mankind that you are mindful of them,

   human beings that you care for them?

Yet you have made them (us) a little lower than the angels

   and crowned [us] with glory and honor.

You made [us] rulers over the works of your hands;

   you put everything under [our] feet:

 all flocks and herds,

   and the animals of the wild,

the birds in the sky,

   and the fish in the sea,

   all that swim the paths of the seas.


Creation groans with us because it has been made subject to us. When we fell, creation fell; when we became corrupted, creation became corrupted; when we were bound to the futility of death and decay, so was creation. But when we are redeemed from that bondage, so will creation be fully redeemed.


What is the purpose of this co-dependency? Why is creation bound to humanity in this way? The Psalmist tells us:


Lord, our Lord,

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory

    in the heavens.

Then, through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies.


From this we understand that the praise of God’s children is a matter of strategic and even cosmic significance. Creation itself, at its best, resounds with praise for God our maker. In the creation story, the Garden of Eden is described in a way that deliberately matches certain features of the Temple in Jerusalem, and vice-versa; and so we understand that creation is really intended to function as one vast Temple complex; God’s people, his Word tells us, are thus his ordained and royal priesthood; and therefore we were placed at the very pinnacle of creation.


This is what it means that we are God’s children and heirs. We are ministers, who have been highly appointed, and tasked with maintaining God’s world, not for its own sake, and certainly not for our sake; but for the sake of worship. Our duty is to gather up the praises of creation and offer them to God in continual worship.


In the ancient world, great kings often carried the title of High Priest in addition to all their royal and military titles, and so they would regularly appoint their own children to priestly roles, knowing that with these roles came great power and prestige and responsibility. Understandably, kings wanted to maintain these priestly functions within the family, as far as possible.


Similarly, we are heirs of God and we have both a royal and priestly dignity in God’s world and in his kingdom; yet, we were so recently in bondage, and our adoption, though it has been finalized, it has not yet been formalized. And so, for now, we somewhat lack the formal family resemblance to God our King and Father. St. Paul tells us that we are still waiting eagerly for our adoption to sonship, which he equates with the redemption of our bodies. At the resurrection, in our glorified bodies, the image of God in which we were originally made will be perfectly restored in us, and we will be then fully conformed to the image of the Son of God, who alone was “begotten, not made”--again, the only natural-born Son of God. Until then, this is our goal and destiny: God has predestined us, St. Paul goes on to say in the rest of this chapter, to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.


Every week, as we partake of the Lord’s body and blood, and everyday as we live out his life in the circumstances of our own lives (in the power of his Holy Spirit), we are being gradually remade in His image. Meanwhile, we can expect that the most immediate and dramatic changes will occur in our manner and our habits: no longer living and acting like slaves, but as freedmen and freedwomen; in fact, noblemen and noblewomen. Our family resemblance to the king will increase as we grow more fully into the Freedom and Glory of the Children of God.


In Matthew’s Gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us how we can be like our heavenly Father; he sums it up this way: be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Taken by itself, that’s a daunting, perhaps even a despairing, imperative. We are not perfect, much less are we perfect like God in heaven. Yet, in our Gospel reading this morning, from St. Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus gives us four ways to be like God, and they all involve becoming less rather than more.


We can do that. We must do that: as John the Baptist said, I must decrease and He must increase. It’s only hard because of our vanity, but we certainly can become smaller, in order that God might make us greater, and more like himself. St. Luke doesn’t use the scary word “perfect”--instead he records, again from a different sermon, Jesus’s command that we should “be merciful, just as our Father is merciful.”


So, according to this morning’s Gospel passage, here are the four things we must do (or rather, NOT do, as we become less in order to gain the freedom and glory of the children of God):


I. Do not Judge

The first is: Do not judge. Two things are helpful to remember, if we want to stop judging others. The first is that we are the children of God, but we are not God; and he is the final judge. There are times when, as his children, we do assist in bringing justice into our world. If we happen to be a civil magistrate of some sort, we may actually hold the title of Judge on occasion. But we must be careful to remember that this is a delegated, or even a merely deputized, role. It doesn’t properly belong to us.


Samuel, the last judge of Israel, deputized his two sons to assist him in leadership, but they over-reached their role and became corrupt. The people of Israel pointed out to Samuel the distinct lack of a family resemblance: “your sons do not walk in your ways.” They were not perfect as (in some ways, we know from Scripture) their earthly father Samuel was in fact perfect in carrying out the responsibility he held: “Not one of Samuel’s words fell to the ground,” we are told. But not so with his two sons. They didn’t walk in their father’s ways, they were not like him; and as a result the people rebelled–against them, against Samuel less directly (though he took it very personally) and above all they rebelled against God. To showcase our family resemblance to God who is the judge of all the world, we should seek always to showcase him, to shine the light back on him, to acknowledge that all power and authority are his, rather than claiming them for ourselves.


Jesus reminded his disciples about this when he said: “A student is not above his master. But everyone who is fully trained will (eventually) become like their teacher.” The goal is to become like our master, not to usurp his proper role and authority.


The other thing we do well to remember is that as the judge of all the world, God deliberately delays his judgment of the world, so that as many people as possible will have the opportunity, even if it’s very late in the story, to come to him and be saved. He makes the rain to fall on both the righteous and the unrighteous. That is a role I gladly abdicate to God: to determine how much to prosper the unrighteous, so that in God's salvific economy they might have the best possible chance of being saved–? Those are not questions I wish to grapple daily with; there is freedom in letting God be the judge. If you want to enter more fully into the freedom and glory of God’s children, do not judge. Let God be the judge.


II. Do not Condemn

The second of Jesus’s commands in this passage is: Do not condemn. Condemnation carries even more liability than judgment. It is so final. And it flies in the face of everything God has been doing in our own lives: this passage in Romans begins with that glorious summary of the Gospel: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Condemnation is the opposite of the family business, so to speak; it’s the opposite of salvation. So if we want to be like our Father in heaven, we ought to concern ourselves with the salvation of all people, knowing that even in the very last hour, a soul might experience a radical conversion. I think of the criminal on the cross who went to be with Jesus the day Paradise was opened. The Romans condemned him, but Jesus gave him a little more time, right up to the very end. I think of the Apostle Paul, who is writing this epistle to the Romans. His own radical conversion experience.


Do you ever wonder why the angels rejoice in heaven much more over the one hundredth sheep that was lost and then rescued, rather than the ninety-nine who were safe? Look at how many books were added to the Bible, and how many churches were planted, and how many Gentiles became Christian as a result of St. Paul’s conversion, late as it was, “as one untimely born.” The angels knew the score; they knew how strategic that one conversion would be; they were watching and they were waiting, not for the condemnation of Saul the Zealot from Jerusalem, but for the conversion of Paul of Tarsus, apostle to the Gentiles.


Indulge me for a moment, if you would, and imagine in your mind the very worst possible person you know (or know of): please don’t say their name out loud. But everyone has someone their mind will readily turn to if I were to say, “name the worst possible person on the planet.” Again, please don’t name them out loud. The chances are that this person bothers us so much not only because of how terrible they are, in our estimation of them, but because on top of being terrible they are also quite influential. So imagine if that influence were to be gained for God’s kingdom, instead of Satan’s.


If we leave the condemning to God, we free ourselves of the burden and liability of prosecuting against someone; but more than that, we might even be assisting in the liberation of many who, for better or worse, are currently under their influence.


It’s hard for us to pray for our enemies, because we worry: what if God should hear our prayers and prosper them? I want to be able to imagine the very best version of the very worst person I know and pray for God’s fulfillment of that vision that I have of them from him; but where does that leave me? Won’t that cause this person to become all the more proud and arrogant, at least in their treatment of me, than they have already been?


But perhaps not. Not if we are truly holding in our minds a vision of the very best this person can become. Because the very best includes their sincere repentance and transformation. Again, think of the Apostle Paul. The disciple Ananias was afraid to go and pray for this newly converted Christian; yet God had so changed Paul’s heart that Ananias, when he saw him lying in bed, blind, he was able to call him Brother and place his hands on him and pray for him.


Notice, then, the healing of his eyes. Ananias did not go to Paul with the proverbial plank of wood in his own eye, and therefore when he prayed for Paul, the scales were removed from Paul’s eyes. God does not desire that the blind should lead the blind. He therefore gives us a true vision of the true transformation he wishes to bring about in another’s life, and then we are commanded to pray accordingly.


III. Forgive (Don’t Hold a Grudge)

The third command from Jesus in this passage is to forgive. Forgiveness means not holding a grudge. There are few things more irritating than finding out you have accidentally forgotten to hold a grudge. Someone snubbed you or did something behind your back, and you may have experienced the immense satisfaction of holding it against them; even if you don’t say it out loud to them, just holding it in your heart; and thinking to yourself: I know what they’re up to. I won’t be deceived. Never again will I be taken in by them; I won’t even crack a smile at them. This grudge will be my secret weapon against them and their evil designs against me.


And you might even be right, you may have seen through them. And the first time you gave them that cold shoulder, maybe it shocked them just a little, and you remember how satisfying that felt. But then it becomes something you have to keep up. You can’t be yourself anymore around them. The joyful self that God is daily causing you to be. You’re forced to put God’s good and joy-filled purposes for you on hold every time this person comes around, and you have to pick up that old heavy grudge again and carry it around. And sometimes you forget; you slip up. They say something funny, or sweet, and you respond graciously… to them of all people; and now you have to set up the whole cold shoulder treatment again, you have to start all over…


 It’s a lot to keep up, and to carry around. Forgive them, and be free. Move on from them, you may have to move far away from them (or be patient until you can); but forgive them, then move on when God presents the opportunity for you to do so, and be free to experience God’s good purposes for you each day. You are his child. Let your face show the gladness that makes you look more like your Father in heaven.


IV. Give (Don’t Hold Back)

Lastly, Christ our Lord commands us to give. Give, and don’t hold back.  Let us all be generous in our giving, and let our giving overflow from a generous heart. Not just what we bring to God in the form of our tithes, but in all the work and planning and productivity which that one tenth portion represents, let us be generous. We are a liturgical people, and liturgy means the work of the laity. Just as we participate in the Eucharistic service and are not merely spectators, so we participate, when we leave from here, in all the work that God is doing. May we do that work with a generous spirit and bring all the bounty of it to lay before the feet of Jesus.


Jesus tells us that with the measure we use to give to others, it will be given to us. And that sounds strangely unChristian to us, perhaps; it may sound at first like karma or bribery or blackmail. Until you realize the generosity God is waiting to pour down upon you and onto your lap, if he can find the assurance that you and I will not hoard what he gives us, lest we become corrupted. If we are willing to give all of what we own to God and to the Kingdom, without reserve, to the point of exhaustion, then without reserve and inexhaustibly God will pour down his blessings upon us: that is his sincere promise. One of the verses we dare to live by as a family, and my family has held to this promise for generations past is Psalm 37 verses 25 and 26. This is King David, writing when he was an old man, presumably: “I was young and now I am old,  yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.”


We won’t become fully free in these four ways this side of eternity; and that’s why we groan inwardly, as God’s Spirit intercedes for us. But as we groan, God’s Spirit is working, working out our adoption into God’s family (already finalized, though not yet formalized), working out the family likeness that is ever emerging upon us, and working out our freedom and future glory in Christ.


Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and there’s always a bittersweetness to Father’s Day for me, because six years ago my earthly father passed away on Father’s Day. This year his anniversary was on Monday right after Father’s Day, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about him as I prepared this message. My dad died just shy of his seventieth birthday. He was on the mission field in India when he had a heart attack. They were able to stabilize him at first in a little clinic there, but he needed better treatment than they had available in that particular region where he and my mom were serving. 


I was able to go and be with him for two weeks. He and I made a two day journey together by train, because he was too sick to fly, but by the time I got him home to our part of the country where better care was available, he was too weak to receive much further treatment. But my mom and my extended family were by then able to gather around him, and I left him in their care and returned to Chicago. Almost right after I got home my dad passed away in the hospital, and I went back to India for the funeral.


From the eulogy that my uncle gave for him, two things stood out to me and to everyone else about the way my dad had died; or rather, the way he had lived up to the end. One was that when he had the initial heart attack, my brother had hurried over from the next room and found him collapsed on the ground but looking up and saying, “Lord Jesus, I am ready to come home!” My aunt later told me that some weeks before his sudden illness, my dad had said to her that he had completed all the work he was given to do in this life. Which explains his readiness to depart. 


And in fact he was so ready that when my uncles later went through my dad’s files to help my mom put everything in order they found everything already in perfect order, including: a sermon he had recently written, which my uncle read out at the funeral, titled “Death is not the end.” From beyond the grave, my dad preached to us that death is only the beginning. It is a necessary passage, through which we all must travel, shedding the last vestiges of our self-centeredness, our lack of generosity.


All of that falls away definitively in death, so that we can stand in freedom and lightness and hope before the Great Judge, our heavenly father, who has already assured us of our adoption, the future redemption of our bodies. Meanwhile, there is nothing stopping us, even now, other than sinful habits (for the power of sin is already broken in us), and we have moreover God’s Holy Spirit guiding and enabling us, even now, to begin to live in and into the freedom and glory of the children of God.


St. Paul concludes this chapter in Romans by declaring this: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


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