Brand New: Children of God

Brand New: Children of God
A Message on Romans 8:12-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

Romans 8:12-17 (NRSV)

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.

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Years ago there was a television personality and author named Art Linkletter who hosted a show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” It ran from 1952 to 1970, which is a long time in the television world. Art ended up interviewing more than 20,000 kids!

The show had a very simple format: Art would ask young kids questions and some of their responses ended up being very funny. Sometimes they would just say things that were funny.

For example, Art asked one boy what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered that he wanted to be an actor. So Art said, “Let me give you a little test. Have you ever done any acting?” “Yeah,” the boy replied. Art said, “Well, let me hear you say ‘Art Linkletter’ like you’re mad.” The boy put on an angry face and said, “Art Linkletter like your mad”!

Another time Art asked a young boy named Thomas what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a bus driver or a pilot. Art said, “Well suppose you are a pilot on a big airplane, and all of a sudden all four engines stopped. What would you say?” The boy thought for a moment, bowed his head, and said, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

He asked a little girl what her favorite Bible story was, and she said the story of Jesus turning the water to wine at a wedding. He asked her what we can learn from that story, and she replied, “The more wine we get, the better the wedding is.”

Children have a way of perceiving things that adults just don’t have. I think we all had childlike characteristics when we ourselves were children, but as we get older and have life experiences those child-like characteristics become fewer and fewer until, sometimes, they go away completely. And that’s a shame.

The scripture we read today from my favorite chapter in the Bible, Romans 8 (you knew that, didn’t you?) reminds us that in terms of our relationship with God, we are all “Children of God,” no matter how old we are.

If we go back to the first part of Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the church members in Rome (and thus the name of the book, “Romans”), we find that Paul is discussing the dichotomy of the flesh and the spirit. He says this, for example: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” — Romans 8:5

Paul is pointing out that because of Jesus Christ, we are no longer just flesh and bone subject to the natural laws of the earth. The things of the earth live, grow old, and die. The things of the earth focus on meeting our physical needs: food, water, shelter, clothing. The things of the spirit, however, see into another dimension, one not limited by time or space, one filled with light and love.

And thus Paul uses the metaphor referring to followers of Jesus Christ as “Children of God.”

Why children?

If you think about it, children are dependent on their parents, especially during the early years of their life. Babies can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. They aren’t mobile until they learn to walk and then crawl. Communication is pretty much limited to crying when they need something.

Then over time babies become children. Children start doing things by themselves but still need help. They say “I do it by MYself.” They begin to dress themselves, they get to where they can go to the bathroom by themselves. They can feed themselves. But other than simple things they can’t cook for themselves. They depend on parents for transportation. They struggle to understand abstract things.

I can remember when I was a kid thinking that the cost of something was based on the size of the object. I guess I deduced this from spending time at the toy section of the dime store in my home town of Cooper. The larger the toy was, the more expensive it was. Sounded good to me.

Then I learned about things like jewelry and diamonds, which, although small, have much value. My theory was blown to bits.

Another thing I thought was that the sun set somewhere around Commerce, Texas. I new what Commerce was west of where we lived in Klondike, Texas, and as I would watch that big, hot, sphere set on summer evenings I could see it go down in the west. So I figured it set somewhere a little north of Commerce. I thought there was a great big burned spot on the ground where it set. After all, the sun is hot, you know.

As I got older and began to understand the scale of sizes, and as I developed the ability to comprehend abstract concepts, I came to a better understanding of sunsets.

The same kind of thing happens in our spiritual walk. As children we learn Bible stories, we learn about David and Goliath, about the walls of Jericho that come crumbling down, and that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

But as we grow we learn about the Christian faith with a deeper understanding. We don’t perceive God as being an old man with a long, white beard that lives in the clouds, but, to quote Anselm’s ontological argument, we come to comprehend that God is that which there is nothing greater. (Okay, or maybe somewhere in between.)

We grow in our faith. And sometimes when our faith grows it loses some of its childlike characteristics. I think that it is a shame to lose some of those.

What are some of the characteristics that children have that adults don’t?

Children are curious. They want to know about things, how things work, what things are called.

How many of you parents remember your children going through the “why” stage. This is when they keep asking why over and over.

“Why are tree leaves green?”
“The chemicals in the leaves absorb all the colors of the spectrum except green.”
“Well, that’s just the way it is. The leaves produce the chemicals such as chlorophyll that causes them to appear to us as green.”
“Because that’s the way God made it.”
“Well that’s something you’ll have to take up with God.”

It’s good to be curious as a Christian. For example, when reading the story of David and Goliath, for example, it’s good to be curious why David picked up five smooth stones. Why five? He only needed and used one. Why five?

Why did Jesus have a breakfast of fish roasted over a charcoal fire ready for the disciples when he appeared to them on the seashore after his resurrection?

Curiosity may have killed the cat but some curiousness is good as a Christian.

Children are also trusting. They trust adults. They don’t yet have the emotional scars of being lied to, of being betrayed, of being emotionally hurt.

Instead they trust. What adults tell them is the truth. They may not understand everything (and because they are children, they probably don’t understand everything,) but they’re okay with that.

Children don’t have to know the details of something in order to believe it.

They don’t have to understand the principle of gyroscopic inertia that keeps a bicycle upright when ridden. They just ride it and have fun.

The children who got up here and sang earlier in this service don’t know about music theory and notes. They don’t know about time signatures or the difference between regular and syncopated rhythms. But as you saw that didn’t keep them from bopping up and down to the beat and singing and having fun.

As adult Christians we are reluctant to believe something unless we know all the specific details about the subject. Especially now that we have the Internet we can research topics on our own and have a plethora of information available to us. Now it’s not all true, of course, but we can sift through it to discover the truth. (Although there is a tendency for us to call “truth” that which tells us what we already want to believe.)

So you see there are childlike characteristics that we as Christians need to have. Instead of being weaknesses I think they are strengths that help us to mature in the faith. I also find ironic that childlike characteristics help us mature in our faith. I think it’s just more proof that God has a sense of humor.

Another thing I think is important about being Children of God is the relationship between children and their parents.

In the scripture we read today Paul writes, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”

Now if you were around pop music in the 70s you might think of a Swedish pop group with the name ABBA. (And you might even be singing the song “Dancing Queen” right now…) But that’s not the Abba we are talking about today.

This “Abba” is an Aramaic word for “father,” but it’s more than that. It’s not a stiff, formal term, but more of an intimate, sort-of nickname. I believe it is better translated for our East Texas culture as “Daddy” or “Papa” or other term of endearment.

Here’s the way I think of it. When our girls were little and I would get home from work, they would yell, “DADDY!!!!” and come running to me, jumping into my arms and giving me a great big hug.

I think that applies well to us as Children of God as well. Our God is one that we can be excited to experience, and we can run and jump into his arms, giving him a big hug and receiving a hug in return.

Now we also need to keep in mind that our Abba is also the God of everything, the creator of the universe, the one who transcends time and space, the one who never had a beginning and never has an end. And yet even though God is that powerful, he loves us as a father loves his children.

He loves us so much that was willing to send his own son to earth, to teach us “children” how to live, how to love each other and God, and allowed that son to be brutally killed on a cross so that all his children’s sins could be forgiven and we could be reconciled to our heavenly father.

So my challenge to you this week is to live as a “Child of God.” Bring out those childlike characteristics that can help us mature spiritually. And renew your relationship with your “Abba” Father. Have frequent conversations with your Abba (known as prayer), read his words with a renewed interest and curiosity, sit in his lap and be comforted, knowing that you are loved. Be a child of God.

After all, kids say the darndest things.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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