“Reborn, Adopted, and Called”

Trinity Sunday


May 31, 2015


Text: Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17


          Today we are confirming nine of our young people in their faith and welcoming them as professing members of this congregation and of the United Methodist Church. As we do so, it seems to me it would be good for us to consider three essential movements of life in Christ, which happen to be addressed in our Scriptures for this morning: rebirth, adoption, and calling.

First, let’s turn our attention to our Scripture from John’s Gospel. Nicodemus, a Pharisee who was one of the Jewish religious leaders, came to talk with Jesus one night. Jesus said to him, “Unless a person is born anew, it is not possible to see God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus took that statement literally, and questioned Jesus: “How can this be? A person can’t climb back inside the mother’s womb and be born a second time!”

But that isn’t what Jesus meant. The word in the original Greek that is often translated “born again” also means “born from above” or “born of God”. Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom.” Physical birth is not enough. We must also be born spiritually. God gives us this spiritual birth through faith in Jesus Christ when we trust in him for our salvation. As that familiar verse, John 3:16, says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” When we are born from above, the Holy Spirit lives and works in and through us. This means we often do not know where we are being led and guided. The Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit”, ruach and pneuma respectively, also can be translated “wind”. Jesus told Nicodemus that being born of the Spirit is a lot like being blown in the wind. Like the wind, the Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You may hear it, but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it is going. The Spirit often takes us to places and situations to which we would never choose to go ourselves. Willingness to go into those places and situations requires us to be open to God’s leading and direction.

Through this spiritual birth, we are adopted as God’s children, God’s sons and daughters. As the Apostle Paul wrote in our lesson from Romans: “If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die.   But if you put to death the actions of the body with the Spirit, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.” Now most of us do not address our male parent as “Father”. It feels too formal and distant. When we address God with the word “Father”, it may also feel formal and distant. That is why it is important that Paul included the Aramaic word “Abba”, which is what Jesus called God.   The word “Abba” was actually used more the way we use the word “Dad” or “Daddy”. When we say we are children of God, we are not talking about a formal, distant relationship. We are talking about a close, loving relationship.

There is also the matter of being “adopted”. It seems like in our society there is often the idea that being “adopted” makes a child somehow less one’s child than being someone’s child by birth. But that’s not true in the eyes of the law—an adopted child has the same rights as a natural-born child. Nor is it true in the eyes and hearts of most adoptive parents, who love their children equally well whether natural born or adopted.

When I was growing up we had neighbors who had adopted two children. These parents often reminded their children that they were special and loved because the parents had chosen them. I find this to be a helpful model for understanding what it means for us to be God’s adopted children. God has chosen us to be part of his family. God loves us with a love beyond limit or measure.

Because we are God’s children, we are God’s heirs. We stand to inherit along with Christ all that God has promised us—the glories of his rule on earth and in heaven.

In Christ we are reborn. We are adopted as God’s children. In addition, we are called to serve God. We read this morning the story of Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Now this call story is more dramatic than what most people experience. Isaiah had a vision in which he saw God in his temple sitting on a high throne, being worshiped and adored. Isaiah’s reaction to this was a sense that he was doomed. He described himself and his people as people of unclean lips, as people whose speech was not true and godly. He did not consider himself worthy to lay eyes on God. At this point one of the six-winged creatures flying around in the temple took a pair of tongs, took a burning coal from the altar, touched Isaiah’s lips, and declared that he had been cleansed from his guilt and sin.

Having thus been cleansed, Isaiah then heard the voice of God speak: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah immediately responded, “Here I am! Send me!”

Now most of us have never had that kind of a dramatic experience of God’s call in our lives. Yet I believe that God does call each and every one of us in some way. I believe that God has a purpose for every life, a way in which each life is uniquely equipped to do God’s work in the world. Our ongoing task—and this task lasts for a lifetime—is discovering what that call is and saying “yes” to it as best we can by God’s grace.

I find it interesting that Isaiah didn’t ask God for a job description first. Of course, if he had asked for a job description, he probably would not have volunteered for the job. For if we read a few verses beyond today’s lesson, we discover that Isaiah was being called to proclaim a message of judgment to God’s people that they would neither understand nor listen to. There would be many times he would be treated harshly because he proclaimed this message.

The call of God is not always easy. When Paul talks about us being heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, he also said that is the case if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him. Now I don’t like to suffer, and I believe this is true of most of us. But Jesus suffered for our sake, and if we take up our cross and follow him as he told us to do, there will be times that we suffer for his sake. Not everyone will be thrilled by our choice to follow Jesus. People don’t always get it when we seek to forgive, when we refuse to retaliate, or when we stand up for those who are mistreated. Sometimes we will be mocked, misunderstood, or mistreated because we choose to live in Jesus’ way, sometimes even by people we love. But when all is said and done, the reward we receive for being faithful is more than worth whatever suffering or hardship we may endure.

In Christ we are given new birth. We are adopted as God’s children. We are called to be in ministry on his behalf. God grant us the grace to live faithfully according to what we have been given and how we have been called.


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