Sunday, June 21, 2015

Love and Envy

Love is the power that builds up even what envy tries to tear down.

Proper 7b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul… But all Israel and Judah loved David.

Today’s reading from the First Book of Samuel is a classic example of the difference between love and envy. Two weeks ago we heard of the prophet Samuel’s warning that having a king is a bad idea; last week we heard of how Saul turned bad, and the spirit of the Lord departed from him, and Samuel set off to find a new king for Israel, the boy David. And today we hear the aftermath of young David’s first military victory — his one on one, mano a mano fight with the Philistine champion Goliath.

Saul can’t help but admire this young man, and David becomes a member of the king’s band of most trusted warriors, and their leader. Saul sends David out to battle again and again, and the young man always returns victorious — so victorious in comparison with Saul that the people come to favor David over Saul — and their cheers and their songs about David’s victories begin to ring discordantly in Saul’s ears. Even the music of the harp that David provides to soothe Saul’s vexed spirit becomes an annoyance — even David’s presence arouses Saul to thoughts and acts of mayhem, tossing a spear at David as he plays.

Here we have the very picture of green-eyed envy at its worst, at its most bitter and soul-destroying. Pride, as sins go, is often classed as the worst, but isn’t envy just a form of wounded pride? Saul has God’s favor for a time, and is proud of it. But as it drains away from him and rests on David, isn’t Saul’s resentment and anger just another form of pride? He is angry that someone else is able to do that of which he is no longer capable — and to do it better and more successfully than ever he did. And he just can’t stand it!

So much for envy! what about love? We see great love in Saul’s family too — in his son Jonathan, who, as soon as he sets eyes on David, feels his heart melt as if — as Scripture puts it — his own soul is bound to the soul of David, and he loves him as his own soul. That is powerful language, so powerful that some are embarrassed by it. It reads this way in the Hebrew Scripture, but when the Greeks got around to translating the Hebrew Scripture into their language, they seem to have been so put off by this passage that they left it out of their version of the Bible entirely.

And the urge to omit this story doesn’t stop with the Greeks. Those who prepared the Scripture reading cycle for the whole church chose to offer this passage, what we heard this morning, only as an option — so there will be many congregations who will never encounter it on a Sunday. Yet there it stands, the beginning of what some have called the greatest love story in the whole Bible.

And envy comes into this, too — for Saul knows full well that his son has taken a liking to David — to put it mildly. In succeeding chapters of First Samuel Saul will curse Jonathan on account of David, and even try to kill his own son. For it seems that Saul and Jonathan, father and son, have become rivals (at least in Saul’s mind) for David’s love and loyalty. Talk about a tragic turn to Fathers’ Day!

Of course, it starts even before David kills Goliath — though we didn’t hear that part of the account today, it tells a bit about what bothers Saul. When David first volunteers to take down Goliath, Saul tries to dress him up in his own armor, and gives him his sword. But they don’t fit — as you recall, Saul is a big fella, a mighty warrior. But David is still a boy, probably no more than fifteen or sixteen. So he rejects Saul’s armor — which doesn’t fit him — and that unwieldy sword, as I’m sure you recall. So what does he do? He uses his trusty sling and a smooth stone from the riverbed to bring down the proud giant Goliath. Then, after David’s victory, as we heard today, Jonathan, Saul’s son — also a young man about David’s age and size — is so taken with David that he strips off his robe his armor, and gives them to David, along with his sword, his bow, and his belt. Imagine how Saul felt at that moment: this David has rejected me, and chosen my son instead — and my son chooses him, and rejects me! And green-eyed envy is stirred up and Saul begins to give in to the Dark Side, even against his own son. And you’ll forgive me, I’m sure, if I say I can’t help but see an overtone of another father-son conflict involving turning from good to evil: the relationship of Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader!

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Such is the dark side of the force of envy: it cannot bear to see others have what one lacks oneself. But while envy is a powerful force — that Dark Side of the Force — it cannot do what love can do. For even in the midst of this envious struggle, love is there, conquering all, as the Roman poet said.

Think for a moment, about how much of the world is driven by these two engines, love and envy. Think how much they resemble so many of the other pairs of joys and pains, of what builds up and what tries to tear down; and how the building-up always seems to triumph in the end. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about some of these conflicting forces, and how love always manages to triumph in the end. Envy may raise obstacles, but love will knock them down, or pass right through them: for all the dark forces of affliction, hardship, calamity, beating, imprisonment, riot, labor, sleepless nights and hunger — all of these are overcome by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness, love, truth, and the power of God. All of this is better armor than a mere sword, bow and belt. These are the triumphant weapons of righteousness for a two-fisted fighter inspired with the love of God. All it takes is opening the doors of the heart — turning away from the dark side of envy and embracing true affection and love.

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For with God, and through the love of God, even the seemingly impossible is possible. With God, as the Apostle testifies, the one treated as an imposter is the one who tells the truth; the one undocumented and unknown is the chief witness; the one threatened with death and even dying is revealed to be alive and well; the one who seems to be in sorrow is lifted up with joy; the one who seems to have nothing is able to provide everything. And, as the Gospel reminds us, the one asleep in the stern of the boat is able to quell the storm and quiet even the winds and the sea.

And all of this is from the power of love, not envy — from the force that builds up and restores. Love opens doors and breaches the barricades that envy builds around a bitter heart. We will hear more of Saul and Jonathan and David in next weeks’ Scriptures — the story ends sadly for all three of them, and David laments the loss — and yet he continues to become a great king; not perfect, by any means — and we’ll hear about that as well — but one devoted to God even when he fails in how he treats others, even when he himself gives in to the envious desire to have what another possesses; even when he stoops to a criminal act worthy of punishment.

But for now, we have the image of young David — this teenager fresh from victory over Goliath, clothed in the garments of another young soldier — one who loves him as he loves his own soul — envied by Saul yet adored by the people. We have the image of the Apostle, shaming the haughtiness and closed hearts of the Corinthians by his own humility and the open-handed offer of forgiveness and love. And we have the image of our Lord himself, one who will also suffer attacks by the envious, but who will triumph in the end, as surely he triumphs over sea and wind, calming the storm and strife — not with a shout — but with a gentle word of peace.

And I will add one more sign of love’s victory over envy that we saw enacted this week, when another young man stood in blank confusion before the families of those he had so heartlessly slaughtered, and those daughters and sons, and sisters and brothers, and mothers and fathers, did not heap curses on his head, as he may have expected and deserved, but poured out a tsunami of forgiveness — a force and a power I can only hope may rend his heart in shame and bring him to repentance.

For the power of envy may stir up, but the power of love will conquer all. Even that dark force of envy itself and all the other evils that beset us, will, in the end, be calmed and quieted, and all our fears relieved; when we too place our trust in the love of God. Even if we do not see him, even if we fear he is asleep in the stern, he is the one who keeps us safe in the storm and the strife through the night; and it is to him, as is most justly due, that we ascribe all might, majesty, power and dominion, henceforth and for ever more.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Surprise Surprise Surprise

God has many surprises in store for us, and don't we love to be surprised!

Proper 6b 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

We heard in last week’s Scripture readings about how the people of Israel rejected God and asked to have a king instead. Samuel agreed, and Saul became king, but as we can see from today’s reading it didn’t take very long for the glow to fade from this particular rosebud. King Saul enjoyed a very short honeymoon, and things quickly went from bad to worse. It got so bad that God had to step in, and even while Saul was still king, set about choosing someone else to take over when the inevitable total collapse of Saul’s leadership would come to pass.

This is one of the few sections of First Samuel that we have heard in our Sunday lessons, but this time around it comes with a different twist, given the other readings that accompany it. And that twist is about the power of God to surprise even a prophet, even a saint, even the church itself.

The big surprise for Samuel — as we’ve heard before when this passage comes up — is that for king number two God doesn’t want another king like Saul. Saul is a kind of Hebrew Hercules, a strong-man military leader; but this time around, God chooses the runt of the litter, the youngest of all of Jesse’s sons; not big tall Eliab, high of stature, but the shepherd boy David — the one even his own father Jesse doesn’t think is a likely candidate to throw his yarmulke into the ring and call him home from keeping the sheep. But when the boy finally comes, God lets Samuel know that this is the one God chooses to be the new king — and Samuel anoints him in the presence of all his brothers and his father.

In addition to perhaps reminding us of the pile-up of presidential candidates we see around this time every four years, this passage should also remind us of another Scripture about younger brothers and older brothers. We read one, and studied in it in Bible Study not too long ago — the one where Joseph’s dreams are realized and he stands before his father and his brothers as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Does that ring a bell? This is a theme that runs through Scripture — God favoring the younger over the older: Abel over Cain, Jacob over Esau, Joseph over his brothers and David over his, and even, you might note, Jesus over John the Baptist (though they were more distant relatives than brothers. Jesus was younger than John by six months; and as John himself finally had to admit, “He must increase; I must decrease.”)

Still, in spite of how often it happens throughout the Scripture, this seems to come as a constant surprise — that God is not impressed with age or power or strength, but on the willingness to do as God says, and respond to God’s call. That shouldn’t surprise us, and more than that it shouldn’t have surprised Samuel or Jesse. Maybe it’s just that God knows his children, and that deep down we love surprises. And like a child who never tires of peek-a-boo, so too we always respond to God’s surprising grace, no matter how often God bestows it.

In this game of divine peek-a-boo we do, to a large extent, have our eyes closed — walking by faith and not by sight — so that when God does tell us to open our eyes and behold the surprise, we can rejoice like the children of God we are. For if anyone is in Christ — which is what it means to be a child of God — there is a new creation: we are reborn in Christ. Everything old has passed away; and see — peek-a-boo — everything has become new.

Saint Paul, while still known as Saul, experienced this himself on the road to Damascus; he thought he had God in his hip-pocket and was doing what God wanted by arresting the first Christians and sending them off to prison. He was no better than his namesake Saul the king, who thought God wanted sacrifice instead of obedience — Saul the king and Saul who later became Paul just couldn’t understand and couldn’t follow directions! God gave the second Saul a second chance — showing him in a surprising flash, a flash that blinded him for a time, how wrong he had been about his religion and his God. And, peek-a-boo, the scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight — and he saw the whole new-created world with new eyes. And everything looked new. Not just because it was new, but because he was new: he was reborn.

God is always out to surprise us, and Jesus shows us one more way God does so in the parables of the sower and of the mustard seed. The first parable emphasizes the hiddenness of God’s subterranean working. The one who sows the seeds scatters them — but does not know how it is that the seeds sprout and grow. It happens out of sight. He knows when they have grown, however, and he eagerly sets about the work of the harvest. Now that’s not so surprising, though it does emphasize that the one who sows does so in faith and not by sight — that is, much of the sprouting and growth is underground, and it is only when the stalk, the head, and the grain appear that he can truly rejoice in this new creation.

So Jesus follows up with a truly amazing parable — as if you were to take a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, and plant it, but instead of a mustard plant growing up — a mustard plant which is a bush a few feet high — up sprouts a mighty tree so big that birds can build nests in it. I mentioned Cinderella in connection with our readings last week — but this week it’s more like Jack and the Beanstalk! You wake up and look out your window and instead of a shrub you see a gigantic tree reaching for the heavens. As Jim Nabors used to say, Surprise, surprise, surprise! The kingdom of heaven is never what you expect, it is always an amazing surprise.

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Do we still have the capacity to be surprised by the grace of God? Have we become blase or accustomed to the same-old same-old and lost the wonder a child experiences when Grandma plays peek-a-boo — or more importantly, when God brings us a personal miracle, whether of healing from disease, or being delivered from an accident, or just being able to wake up in the morning and get out of bed! Isn’t that a miracle enough to give thanks for — that each new day is a new creation, and if we will let it everything will become new for us in that day? For every day is “the day that the Lord hath made” if we will open the eyes of our faith and behold God at work in every instant of our lives — every day in every way: in our journeys and our resting places, in our sitting down and rising up again. If only we can know of God’s presence, not just in the parts where our eyes are open and we can see, but even, and maybe especially, as we sleep and the deep subterranean work of God goes on we know not how, germinating and sprouting underground but preparing to burst forth in an avalanche of blessing at the harvest time? We may have to, from time to time, cry our eyes out when we go out carrying the seed; but Oh! how we can rejoice when we behold the harvest and bring in the sheaves!

Keep that spirit of readiness, my friends, that willingness to be surprised by the grace of God as it fills and forms your life — for without that grace we can do nothing at all. But with it — surprise, surprise, surprise: all that we do can be done to God’s glory, and to the praise of God’s most holy Name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

King of Shreds and Patches

Proper 5 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen. He will take the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

Two hundred thirty-nine years ago this Thursday, Thomas Jefferson sat down to begin working on a document that would come to be known as the Declaration of Independence. Every year on the Fourth of July, National Public Radio broadcasts a recitation of this whole Declaration. It is read by different people, each one reading just a line or two; sometimes it’s all the various announcers from the different NPR programs; one year it was read by a whole class of new American citizens. Most of us probably know the opening line, “When in the course of human events...” We are very likely also familiar with the opening of the second paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” and we will remember that among those rights are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Unfortunately, that’s about as much of the Declaration of Independence that most of us know. So on the Fourth of July I commend listening to NPR’s morning show for their annual reading of the whole declaration — it’s shorter than this sermon!

The reason I mention it in this sermon is due to what comes later in that Declaration. It is a list of all of the faults and failings of King George III — all of the things that the English monarch has done to upset and anger the American colonists. And it is quite a laundry list. Let me just mention a few of items, and I quote:

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies... He has combined with others ... to subject us to a jurisdiction ... unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country…

You get the idea. And I hope it also rings a bell of familiarity. For in our first reading today from the First Book of Samuel we heard a portion of a similar list, also concerning a king — but in this case predicting what he will do instead of protesting what he has done. And the irony is that while the American colonists were declaring independence from the domination of a monarch, the people of Israel are clamoring to obtain a king to rule over them in spite of all the terrible things that Samuel warns them that this king will do. So this passage of Scripture is a Declaration of Dependence!

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Or is it? Let’s look more closely. The people say they want to have a king so that they can be like the other nations. And in doing so they are submitting to a form of dependent government — one in which they will be virtual slaves; a king on whom they will depend, will protect them from foreign invaders, but in exchange, they seem to be willing to give up everything: a tenth of their crops, their sons for the army, and all of the rest.

But look more closely: what they really want is a change in the form of government they have had up to that point — which is dependence on God speaking through the prophet Samuel. So they are trying to declare independence from God, even as they accept dependence on a king; they are rejecting God, their true King for someone a little closer to home.

Their God had chosen them out of all the nations, brought them out of the land of slavery. But now they want to be slaves again — not to serve their God but to serve an earthly king, so they can be just like all of the other nations — not special, not chosen — just like everybody else; like other nations each with its human king with all his faults; and believe me, King Saul will have plenty of faults, as will nine out of ten of all the other kings of Israel and Judah to come. And we’ll be soon be hearing more about all of that.

Because today begins a new cycle of Sunday readings from the Hebrew Bible — new to us at St James, but also relatively new to the church as a whole, since the church adopted what’s called the Revised Common Lectionary. In the readings for this liturgical year, we will be hearing readings from what the Hebrew Bible calls “the Writings” — the books of poetry and history. Last year we heard from the Law, and next year we will focus on the Prophets. “Law, Prophets, and Writings” are the three main divisions of The Old Testament. So this year, we hear from the writings; in particular, over the next ten or so weeks we will be hearing passages from what some people call “the Court History” — stories of the kings from Saul to Solomon.

Why do this? I’d say rather, why didn’t we do it sooner? I think we need to hear these parts of Scripture, because they get neglected, and because I believe they still speak to us, and they speak of things we need to hear. Because what the people of Israel did when they rejected God as their true king, choosing an earthly ruler instead, is something we are all tempted to do.

Not literally about choosing a king, but about other aspects of our lives. It’s not about forms of government — monarchy or democracy, or a republic for that matter — but in the ways in which all of us are liable to try to shirk our own responsibilities as citizens, not just of a nation but of God’s kingdom. It is so easy to say, let someone else do it; that’s not my responsibility; I don’t want to have to be the one to make decisions and get to work — and the work goes undone. This is a practical lesson for us as a church, as a congregation. I know of one parish upstate that had a large cardboard cutout made in the outline of a person — and he even has a name tag: his name is “Somebody.” When anyone would notice that there was a job that needed doing, they would say, “Somebody will do it.” And so they go up to Somebody and ask him to do it, and guess what? Somebody doesn’t do it. Nobody does it; and if Nobody does it, it doesn’t get done.

There are many tasks that we all, as members of and leaders in this congregation can take up to help this church grow and survive and prosper — and it needs all hands on deck. Otherwise this too will be a house divided against itself; and that house will not stand.

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It is also no good just thinking that having a priest or pastor will solve all the problems and do all that needs to be done. That’s a little bit like asking for a king, when God actually has given each and every one of us some gift, some talent, that we could put to use for the good of this place. Why, after all, does God give gifts of skill to all of his people, if not for the good of God’s kingdom, Each of us has gifts which we are not using because we think “Somebody” will do it — either the priest or the deacon, or some other member of the church.

There is plenty of work to do, and you all know the old saying, “Many hands make light work.” It’s true; those hands need to work, though, to get the work done. I mentioned last week about how we were all the adopted members of a family — the church — and how in every family there are chores to do. Well you know there are plenty of chores to keep this church open and worshiping and praising God; God, our true King. Look around you, as Jesus did when he looked around at those who sat with him, listening to him preach and teach, and say and believe what he said about those sitting around him: “Here are my mother and my brothers.” You, my sisters and brothers, you are the family that will make this church what it is. You are also the family that will make this church what it is to be. Do not think this task you can turn over to Somebody else to do it for us. Do not be like the people of Israel who rejected the gifts God gave them, who rejected God himself. Realize instead that we have been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and a with wealth of spiritual gifts: not just life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: but those important gifts: faith, hope, and above all, love. Let us put these things to work, my friends, with all the power God provides, and we will do great things.+

Friday, June 05, 2015

Spirit of Adoption

Trinity B 2015 • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

Most of us learn early on where babies come from. Our parents may have tried to keep us in the dark for a time in our early childhood, with stories of deliveries by stork or finding children under the leaves of the cabbage patch, but soon enough we are ushered into the company of the birds and the bees, if not something more explicit. The long and the short of it, as we ultimately learn, is that babies come from their parents — from their father and mother. This is the most elementary of the “facts of life.”

As far as we know, there are two only exceptions to this rule, and both of them are in the Bible. The first appears in the second chapter of Genesis. It tells us that Eve — whom Adam calls the “Mother of all living” had no mother herself; she came from Adam’s side. You all remember the story: God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone, and cast him into a deep sleep; then God took that rib from his side and made it into the one designed as Adam’s companion — bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

The second exception to the general rule about fathers and mothers concerns the second Adam — Jesus Christ. Just as Eve came out of Adam without a mother being involved, so too Jesus was born of the flesh of the Virgin Mary without no earthly father being involved — he was conceived by God, of the flesh of the Virgin Mary, working through the power of the Holy Spirit.

These are, as I said, exceptional instances. Everyone else who has ever lived is born of a father and a mother, and in many cases — perhaps most, but certainly not all — children are also raised by their father and their mother. There are many circumstances in which children are not raised by one or both of their biological parents. Tragedies can happen, leaving the child as an orphan. Other unfortunate events can also take place, and many families experience divorce or separation which often leaves the children in a painful and delicate situation. And in both of these and in many other cases, the concept of adoption comes in. Someone who is not the child’s biological father or mother takes the child as their own — in some cases joining with a remaining biological parent, or in some cases with a new couple replacing both of the child’s original parents — and in each case putting the child under their protection and in their care. This is legally recognized, an action that has existed in many human cultures for thousands of years — for the reality that children are sometimes left without one or both parents has been true for as long as there have been human families.

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But just as there are few exceptions to the rule of parenthood and the facts of life, there is one exceptional human family into which no one is ever born, and in which every single member is adopted — and that is the church, the family of God. Although people will sometimes say, “I was born an Anglican,” that is not literally true. No one is born a Christian of any sort — you become one through baptism. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, you join that household of God by water and the Holy Spirit; that is the way into this “kingdom of God.” All of us are adopted into God’s family, the church. None of us is here by nature of our birth. (Although it does help if our biological or adoptive parents — your family, your grandparents — are already members of the church, and they, together with the godparents, see to it that you are baptized — brought into the church at an early age; so the earthly family is important in extending the heavenly family.)

Becoming a member of the kingdom of God is not like being born the citizen of a nation — that is more or less automatic. If you are born in the United States of America — with a very few special exceptions, like a diplomat from another country whose wife may have a child here in the US — with those few exceptions you are automatically a United States citizen. But becoming a member of the household of God, the family of God, the kingdom of God, is a process more like that required to become an American citizen if you were born in another country. All us born in this earthly realm have to apply for citizenship in the heavenly one. We need the water and the Holy Spirit to become citizens of the kingdom of God.

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I mentioned that our biological or adopted family, and the already existing family of the church, play a role in this process; the most important role — for it is through this family that the family grows. But supporting this work, the work of God which we could not do on our own — is the work of God working through us, through the power of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: which is one of the reasons that that’s how we baptize — those are the words we use. We baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Trinity is the major worker in this — we’re just the assistants.

That short reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans sums this up in a few choice words. Notice how all three persons of the Holy Trinity are involved. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent in this work — and I use the word agent as I would to describe someone who assists me in obtaining citizenship or arranging for an adoption. Any of you who have done either of those things knows the amount of paperwork you need to go through, and how helpful and even necessary it is to have an agent working with you, to help you in that process. The Holy Spirit is our great helper: we sing about “God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come...” Well, the Holy Spirit is the primary helper, the Comforter, the one who works through us and with us to help us do all God aks of us. And that begins, right at the start, at Baptism. The Holy Spirit helps guide through the process, to set up all that is needed. The text of Romans uses the term “adoption” specifically — and it is the Holy Spirit that Paul calls “the spirit of adoption,” the one who cries out through us, naming the one whom we desire to be our parent — one who is not our parent by nature but only by choice and adoption — as the Holy Spirit, working in us, gives us the power to call out, “Abba! Father!” to God above — something we would have no right to do on our own, if the Holy Spirit were not working within us. This is a cry that is part of the testimony, the documentation, in order to be adopted by our new Father in heaven, becoming God’s children.

And, so the text tells us, if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. Just as an adopted child becomes an inheritor in the estate of her adoptive parents, so too do Christians become inheritors along with their new brother, the only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who becomes our brother when we are joined into his family through baptism.

So it is that all three — God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit — are involved in this work of adoption, and it is through their action — working through the church, the family of God — that we are added to this great assembled body that is the Body of Christ; the kingdom of God, the family of God.

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And this action of the church, the family of God, through which God acts by means of the Spirit, brings me to my last point. Once you have become a member of this new family, you are expected to take on new responsibilities— there are chores to do in any household, and the household of God is no different.

And it isn’t as if some of us were the natural children and all the others were like the step-children, like Cinderella who got all the dirty jobs and no chance to go to the ball — until she was aided by her fairy godmother (and isn’t it interesting that even in a fairy tale the language of baptism makes its way into this story of a girl who starts out cleaning up the fireplace, but rises to become a princess! The godmother is the crucial figure in that story.) No, in God’s family all of us are stepchildren, but all have also been blessed by the Holy Spirit, the BGE: the Best Godmother Ever, and raised from the cinders to the throne, brought into the family of God, heirs with Christ, joint-heirs, princes and princesses each and every one of us in the kingdom of God.

But we still have work to do — chores in this household, even for the royals, such as us. You’ve seen them on TV: Harry and William have their jobs to do; they’re out there dedicating supermarkets, opening bridges, christening boats — everybody’s got a job no matter how royal they are. And that counts for all of us too, in this royal kingdom of God, in which we are part of the royal family.

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Fortunately the Spirit continues to help us in this work. The Spirit may be like a wind that blows where it chooses, so that we hear the sound but cannot tell its source or destination, but when we are moved by that Spirit we share in its motion, we can sense its direction. You can’t tell where the wind is blowing all by itself; but if you see a leaf flying through the air, you can tell that’s the way the wind is blowing. And so it is with those who are moved by the Spirit — when we are moved by the Spirit we can tell where we are moving, and we can tell where we are going. That’s what God does for us: invisible and yet made seen by the movement of the church itself.

The primary chore of this church, this royal family, is to serve as God’s hands and feet, as each of us, filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, spread God’s word and bring others into this household, this royal family, helping the kingdom to grow by acting as agents ourselves, agents of God filling up the number of those to be adopted. Our task is to assist others to be made citizens in God’s kingdom, new princes and princesses in God’s royal family — the one into which no one is born, but where all are welcome.

This is our task, my friends — you and I and all of God’s children by adoption, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — to spread the word as free and as far as the invisible wind. This is our mission — our assignment and our task, our chore in the household of God. May the Lord find us hard at work when he comes in the glory of his kingdom.+