“Life in the Spirit” – Romans 8:12-17
Rev. Michael J. Zehnder
July 15/16, 2023 Ascension Lutheran Church, Littleton, CO
Grace, mercy and peace…
If you’ve been attending services at Ascension or watching them online you know that Pastor Larson has been preaching a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. Each week has been a study on a different petition, such as “Thy Will be Done” or “Thy Kingdom come.” When he asked me to preach in his absence this week and next in the middle of his series while he’s on retreat with our youth group I was wondering how to keep some kind of continuity going on the subject of prayer without covering similar material. So, I looked up the assigned texts for this week and next and noticed that the Epistles for both Sunday are both from the book of Romans and deal with different aspects of prayer, this week, for instance, it says when we pray we can call him “Abba, Father.” That has special meaning for us so we’re going to be on the topic of prayer in general this week and next.
But before we get to the love of a Father for his children or a child’s love for his Father I want to tell you a story about a little boy who loved his mother. He loved to spend time with her just sitting on her lap. One day, after sitting on her lap while she read a book to him, he snuggled her face when it was finished and said, “Oh, I love you mommy.” His mother was grateful for his love but feeling a bit sorry for herself asked, “How can you love a mother who is so fat and ugly?” The boy quickly protested, “Oh, Mommy, you’re not fat and ugly. You’re fat and pretty!”
Sometimes words get you more than you were hoping for, ya know? Like the Burglar who broke into a house at night and snuck around with his flashlight. He heard a rustling sound and voice that said, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” While he’s trying to locate the person he hears the voice again, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” He lifts his flashlight higher into the room and spots a bird cage with a parrot inside and he actually sees a parrot say for a third time, “I see you and Jesus sees you.” Relieved it’s just a bird, he turns on a light switch but then he notices a great big Doberman in the room watching his every move and the parrot says, “Sick ‘em, Jesus.”
That would be scary for sure. Our Romans text actually takes up the topic of what’s scary and what’s not. It says if you have the Spirit of God living in you, there’s no need to be scared or afraid. You never need to live in fear. What fear is this passage talking about? Fear of punishment for sin. Fear that’s there’s an angry God just waiting to “get you” for things you’ve done wrong. Fear of condemnation. Sometimes you’ll hear someone say who hasn’t attended public worship in a long time say something like, “If I walked into a church the roof would cave in.” It’s a sad and unfortunate view of God as an angry, vengeful taskmaster just looking for a chance to lower the boom on us.
That’s not the God of the Bible. The hit for sin, if you will, was already carried out on the Son of God – Jesus Christ. He took the hit for sin in our place. He was the target of God’s righteous wrath for sin. Scripture says he BECAME sin for us. The pain of being forsaken by God for sin is expressed in Jesus’ very words from the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” On the cross Jesus took our place.
Quite the opposite for us our Roman’s passage says, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Romans 8:15-16
This word Abba is actually the Aramaic diminutive for Father. Abba, is an informal means of address used by little Jewish children toward their fathers and best translated “Papa” or “Daddy” or even “Da Da.” It opens the possibility of undreamed-of, unheard-of intimacy with God. It seems every language has formal and informal words for Father. In English we start with Father as the most formal which moves down to less formal words such as Dad, or Pops, then Daddy and babies say, “Da Da.” All five of my kids that was one of the first words they said probably because it is so easy to pronounce: da da da da. Same is true in Spanish starting with Padre and then moving down the ranks to Papito or Papi or just PaPaPaPa. So it was in the language of the first century, the formal word for Father was Pater, moving all the way down the ranks of familiar words to the most diminuative, Abba. Just as babies in America say Dadadada a baby in Jesus’ day affectionately said Abba, abba, a-ba-ba-ba-ba.
Are you beginning to capture the undreamed-of, unheard-of intimacy that God is saying he wants with us? Verse 16 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” That’s the whole point of being able to call him Ab-ba-ba-ba-ba. Da-da-da-da-da. What baby in the world saying da-da-da-da-da is afraid of a loving father rocking him to sleep or comforting him when afraid? No roof is about to cave in.
Remember Jesus’ saying, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if there were not I would have told you so”? The point of Life in the Spirit is that God wants you to think of Him as your home, as your dwelling place, not just in the future, but now. When David says in that beloved Psalm 23, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” he’s not yearning for a building with four walls and a roof. He’s saying he yearns to be in God’s presence wherever he is. God’s house is no house of stone. You won’t find it on a map or in a Realtor’s Guide.
God is your dwelling place because you, by the Spirit of God living in you, are already a Son, already a Daughter of your heavenly Father. He is your dwelling place when you’re cooking in your kitchen. He is your dwelling place when you’re stuck in traffic, when you’re gardening in your backyard and when you’re shopping the aisles at King Soopers or Walmart. God is not our retirement home, we live under his roof right now, so our Romans 8 text verse 15 says, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.”
As God’s dearly loved children we are assured of his love and his presence not just at the communion table but also at the dinner table. He tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) and to “pray in the Spirit at all times” (Eph. 6:18) because when we pray it’s like having a mutual conversation going at all times. God isn’t just a “Deity to discuss” or a “Creator to call on” but He is a home to reside in. He is our loving Father who invites us to be super-familiar with Him to the point of coming to Him as Ab-ba-ba-ba or Da-da-da-da-da.
And when we mess up in life, God doesn’t turn his back on us or start chasing us down and hurling thunderbolts at us. When we sin, even badly, God is STILL ABBA!!! I think my favorite parable in the Bible has got to be the one Jesus told in Luke 15 about the Prodigal son which is really about the Abba Father. Think of what a scoundrel he was. First this selfish, greedy son doesn’t help out around the house or with the family business, but demands his inheritance early and instead of sticking around to work the family farm and earn his keep he leaves his father’s home and goes off and squanders it. He doesn’t invest the money or put it to good use but spends it on wild living. The Bible is very specific in describing that he spent all his money on prostitutes, on booze and on parties for his friends. But when his money runs out so do his friends and he comes home dragging his tail hoping to at least be taken back as a servant or a slave in his dad’s house. And you know the end. The fathers runs out to greet him, dresses him up, gives him a signet ring which was then the equivalence of giving him the family credit card and then he throws a lavish banquet to celebrate his son return home. The opposite treatment of what you’d expect!
By the way, a preacher was telling his Bible class the story of the Prodigal Son and wishing to emphasize the disagreeable attitude of the elder brother on that occasion, he especially stressed this portion of the parable. After describing the rejoicing of the household over the return of the wayward son, he said, “But there was one who, in the midst of the festivities, failed to share in the jubilant spirit of the occasion.”
“Can anybody in the class,” he asked, “tell me who this was?”
A small boy, who had been listening sympathetically to the story, put up his hand.
“I know,” he said beaming. “It was the fatted calf.”
All kidding aside, this story, together with today’s Romans passage, shows us the two sides of what it means to be a son or daughter of the heavenly King. Our Romans passage assures us that Life in the Spirit means we are dearly loved by Abba Daddy, loved so much that we are heirs, co-heirs with Christ. Everything Jesus has in glory is going to also be ours, He’s holding nothing back; that’s why this passage calls us co-heirs with Christ.
And talk about an inheritance! Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:9 that this inheritance that awaits us is beyond human description or capacity to even understand: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” The very first passage of next weeks’ lesson from Romans (8:18) says, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
So it’s all ours and God is on our side. And meanwhile as we struggle with the devil, the world and our flesh on this side of heaven, we don’t have a vengeful God who wants to trap us or punish us but a loving Abba, a loving Da-da-da-da who is always ready to forgive and receive us back into the fold just as in the story of the prodigal son.
To Ab-ba-ba-ba-ba, our loving Father, be glory and honor and love forever and ever. Amen.