Click here for the verses: Romans 8:14-17
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A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"
So the Man put the son on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."
So the Man ordered his son to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."
Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he got his son up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the bridge into town, the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said:
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?"
So the they decided to get off and carry the donkey. In their attempts to lift the donkey onto their shoulders they got too close to the edge of the bridge, and the donkey toppled into the river and was washed down stream and escaped. Later in life he would bump into an ogre named Shrek but that is another story.
When we live our lives worried about multiple opinions, ideas and prescriptions it is most likely we’re going to lose our donkeys along the way. Lloyds of London has made millions off providing insurance for those who worry such as Troy Polamalu's hair for $1 million, Celine Dion's, Bob Dylan's and Bruce Springsteen's vocal cords, as well as Tina Turner’s legs. We now know even insurance counts for very little. Yet, in our world we remain committed to propping up our systems, but for what end? For fear above all else.
Jesus’ story of the soil that we read last week revealed that God is looking for good soil, that is, God is looking for dirty people to invest a treasure into. At might be said, that God is looking for those like the father and son who have lost their donkey - we’ve got nothing else to lose after all. When you’ve got nothing, insurance is worthless. But assurance? Now that is something!
Paul, who wrote this letter to the Romans, makes an important contrast and break from conventional wisdom. Positive thinking alone will not overcome fear for fear, Paul says, is something that has foot in the spiritual realm. There is no insurance against fear and the spirit of slavery, no, but there is assurance which comes from the Spirit of God, the Spirit of adoption.
For John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, this assurance of salvation became one of the defining marks of the movement. Many of the Wesleyan songs and hymns were on this theme. He implored his pastors and lay speakers to preach on it. Sermons 9, 10 and 11 in Wesley’s 52 Standard Sermons were all three based on this very passage of the Bible.
Why? Why would this assurance be so important to him? Hmmm, let’s see...in 1737 John escaped in the cover of darkness from the coast of Georgia for fear of his life. Enroute to England, the ship was cast about in a tremendous storm and worry overcame him. It was a group of Moravian Christians who prayed and sang without fear for their lives that caused Wesley to question his very calling to ministry and salvation. Months later, in a Bible Study on Aldersgate street, he recorded in his journal, “...an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
We aren’t promised protection from the storms but peace through it all. It isn’t a release to be lazy but to become loving. We are not given merely a happy face but a hopeful outlook. We come to no longer demand justice but instead begin to distribute joy. These have been the marks not merely of Methodism but of Christianity itself!
Our salvation, our decision to follow after Jesus was never intended to be a one time occurance, but an ongoing process. This Spirit of adoption which brings us into the family is one who assures us we are children of God and part of the family. How good does it feel to get that text message from a friend or a personal letter in the mail? When the phone rings and you see the name or number of your mom, your son, your spouse, do you catch a glimpse of joy? When my phone sounds off with Kenny Chesney's "She Got It All" (click for video link), I know that my best friend is calling.
It is an experience, a feeling, a reminder of being in relationship with someone else. It is an assurance that we are important - we mean something to somebody in this world. This letter of Paul to the Romans is God’s text message - Be Assured You Are My Child! And it isn’t that you are an only child!
It is in our community of faith, in the joining together as a family that we come to hear better, to understand more clearly and be transformed fully into God’s children, the heirs of God. If you’re still thinking being an heir of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett would do you more good, you’ve not been listening. Father Richard Rohr put it this way, “We are already spiritual beings; we just don’t know it.” (Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 17). But it is in being in the family AND with the family that we come to experience our full life.
You see, this isn’t about joining church - it is about adoption into a family. It isn’t about signing up for Disciple Bible Study, Disciple is about learning to eat at God’s table. It isn’t about going to Sunday School, Sunday School is about learning to get along with our brothers and sisters. It isn’t about One Great Day of Service, One Great Day is about learning to share our toys.
Surely the rains and doubts will come but there is this assurance - the Spirit promised by Jesus did come and continues to come to those who seek Him first. We can Your adoption papers have been approved, the question remains will you take them up and step out into a new life - a life assured?