Scripture: Romans 8:12-17
Relatively speaking we are a fairly young country. There are plenty of younger countries politically speaking, but when compared to places like Europe and Asia we are a young culture. Our cultural traditions do not have deep roots as a lot of other places, and this can be seen in a variety of ways. In general we tend to be a little bit more utilitarian and practical compared to the ceremonial ways of much older cultures. For instance the most lavish, ceremonial uniform we have is probably the military dress uniform. While the uniform is impressive and makes quite the statement, it is still fairly basic, constrained, and conservative. It does not for instance hold a candle on something like the Swiss guard.
That is not a costume, but an actual uniform, breastplate and all, of a fully functional military unit. The Swiss Guard uniform dates back to the 1500’s. In that time of human history warfare was fought in pitched battles, and it was important to be able to tell who was on your side and who was not. This led to bright colors and ceremonial flourishes to differentiate different units from one another. It was not until World War I that these bright colors fully disappeared from military uniforms. Yet, militaries still place a high value on uniforms because they still serve the important function of identifying who is on your side.
Uniforms in general are an interesting thing to think about from a design perspective. It does not matter if the uniform is for a military, a sports team, or a specific place of employment all uniforms have a balance to strike. First uniforms have to be functional for whatever purpose they are serving. Second, uniforms have a communicative function. Uniforms communicate something about the organization, institution, or brand they are representing. Uniforms are also often mired in history and trying to honor traditions (like the Swiss Guard). Most of all though, the point of a uniform is to give a sense of an identity, and this sense of identity is twofold. The uniform identifies to those not wearing the uniform just who the uniformed are, but the uniform also communicates to those wearing it that there is a bond that connects them. This is lifted up often as one of the benefits of school uniforms. While they are not completely unbiased, a maker of school uniforms on their FAQ page list this unity as one of the primary benefits. Their webpage argues: “Helping to build a sense of community within the school, uniforms create an atmosphere of belonging. This essence of unity can positively effect a child's attitude toward school.”
As I read this morning’s scripture, I wondered what does a Christian uniform look like. Now I am not saying we should all wear matching clothes every Sunday, because even if we had an incredible uniform I think everyone wearing the same thing would creep visitors out. I wonder though as disciples of Christ, what do we have that provides the same function as a uniform. What is it exactly that identifies who we are to the outside world as well as provides a sense of unity and belonging within? I believe this morning’s scripture does have the answer for just what Christian Spirit wear is like?
This morning’s scripture reading kind of picks up in the middle, and that is sort of by necessity. Starting with verse 12 this morning’s scripture is the conclusion of a point that Paul has been developing throughout his letter to the Romans. Going all the way back to chapter one of Romans Paul begins laying out the temptations we face, what he calls living “according to the flesh.” For chapter after chapter Paul makes the point that the Jewish law has merit because it points out to us these sinful ways, but we fall short of the glory of God, we can not follow those laws perfectly so they are not our salvation. Paul makes the case that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are saved, that our sins are forgiven, and that we are reconciled with God. Being justified by Jesus mighty acts of salvation is referred to by Paul as “living according to the Spirit.” Starting in verse 7:7, Paul bears his soul a bit and acknowledges that even those who are saved by Christ continue to have this pull between the ways of the flesh and living according to the Spirit. This morning’s scripture is the conclusion of all that.
In this final summary of living according to the flesh vs. living according to the Spirit, Paul brings out an unusual but powerful word when he writes, “Therefor, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation.” An obligation? That is word with some baggage attached to it isn’t? We do not like obligations. Obligations feel constraining, they feel like something we are forced into. We often talk about grace and forgiveness as a free gift, but if that is true then what is this talk of an obligation?
This is when Paul lays out his final point, the reason why we have an obligation. We have an obligation to God because God has adopted us. Today, it is not uncommon to hold sentiments like “we are all God’s children.” From a strictly biblical point of view, this is not right. In multiple places Paul writes about this, what makes people children of God is that they are adopted into God’s family. In this morning’s scripture and elsewhere, this is presented less as an allegory and more as the best representation of the reality of grace.
When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior who died for our sins, then we are reconciled with God. This reconciliation is not just getting back on God’s good’s side. That is more or less what following the law is portrayed as. That is also an infectious form of pop-Christianity. There are people who claim to believe in God, but it seems their idea of God is more like Karma: they just need to do more good than bad to stay in the black and be on God’s good side. That way of thinking though has more to do with living according the flesh than it does being led by the Spirit. As this morning’s scripture states, “the Spirit himself testifies that we are God’s children.”
This is the good news of grace. Grace is not just about getting God not mad at us, it is being so radically accepted by God that God says, “you are now one of us.” In this morning’s scripture Paul makes this point strongly, almost scandalously. He did this by writing, “The spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship, and by him we cry Abba, Father.” The word Abba is Aramaic. This is the language that was spoken by first century Jews. Now if you are looking in the pew bibles or likely your own bible there will be a little note that says Abba is Aramaic for father. That is technically true, but it does not give the whole picture. Abba is the informal word for father. Perhaps the better translation for abba would be daddy or even da-da. Abba is the word that children use to refer to their father. This was scandalous, because Paul was taking this informal term and applying it to God. In the Hebrew scriptures the name of God is so holy they do not write it. That is why in our English translation the Hebrew word for God is written as LORD. God was the holiest being in existence and to be treated with the utmost solemnity and respect. It would have been shocking for Paul then to use such an informal word as daddy to refer to the Great I AM. Yet is the best way to get across just how radical God’s love for us is. Because we followed the ways of the flesh we were cut off from God our creator, but out of God’s great love, the acts of Jesus, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit we have been adopted in to God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and that is our uniform, that is our Sprit wear. Members of the household of God is what the world should know us as, and it should be what creates unity and acceptance inside the church.
This brings up the question though, how do we show the world that we are adopted in to God’s family, because it is not like we got a church letter jacket when we joined to show where we belong. There is not an official uniform that clearly communicates to the world that we are part of God’s family. When we accept God’s love and we are justified through faith, there is a change but it is not an external change. The change is in our heart. It’s like I got this feeling, inside my bones. And you can’t stop the feeling, but I can’t exactly wear it on my sleeve either.
I am having a hard time putting what I want to say into words, but maybe I can illustrate it better. No doubt many of you have probably heard this song before:
However, when you remove the music from the video the images things change. Things actually get weird and seeing people dancing to a tune that you can not hear is odd as this supercut shows:
As believers in Christ, we are like the people in the first video. We hear the song, and dance accordingly. We have received the spirit, and we move when the spirit says move. We recognize the spirit in each other, we know we are brothers and sisters in Christ because we can hear the music. However, the unbelieving world around us is like the second video. They can not hear the song. Our spirit wear is not a uniform we wear but it is a rhythm of God’s love we move to, but the world does not hear that beat and so to the world around us we look like the people in the second video, they can see us moving but do not see the connection.
So how do we fix that? We teach the world the beat we hear. The love of God that has called to us, that won us over, that gave us the spirit of adoption, we take that love and we share it with the world. We live as God’s children in the world, loving others the way that God love us. This after all is our obligation as God’s children, to our honor our Father in heaven by following God’s example.
This is not a one and done strategy. We cannot just do a single good deed or one event and check loving others off our to do list. We have to consistently time and time again demonstrate that we love people because God loves them. We wear a uniform as God’s children that other people cannot see, so we have to help them hear truth that God loves them too. We have to show them what God’s love looks like put into practice, and we have to help them feel it deep inside their bones that they too can be part of God’s family.
If you consider yourself a Christian, if you believe that Christ is your Lord and Savior, then “the Spirit himself testifies that you are a child of God.” May you proudly proclaim that and may you garb yourself in that Spirit wear. May you live as one of God’s children, and may you seek to help others hear the truth that God loves them and God wants to adopt them too. May you share that message with enthusiasm until the whole word joins us in the dance of God’s love.