Putting on Heirs



Sermon Title “Putting on Heirs” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Thanks again to Eric for his sharing today, and his story for Memorial Day.  As you heard, the four chaplains were part of the military, but non-combatants.  This weekend we remember heroes in the armed forces. There are, or course, ways to make sacrifices for others, and be role models, and even be heroic which are not part of the military at all.  Although the Church of the Brethren does not have a tradition of martyrs, some of the earlier strains of Anabaptism, including Mennonites, do.  Some of you are probably familiar with The Martyr’s Mirror which was first published in Dutch in 1660.  I’m sure some of you are familiar with the story of Dirk Willems, an early Anabaptist (ana-means again — these folks defied state law by being baptized again as believers, rather than accepting their infant baptism).  Dirk escaped prison and fled across the ice of the Netherlands canals.  Because of the weight he had lost on prison rations, he crossed the ice safely.  The solider pursuing him did not, and fell through the ice and cried for help.  Dirk returned to help his pursuer, was arrested again, and eventually burned at the stake.  Not a happy story, but a very practical application of Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies.”

I’m sure many of you know — and perhaps you are — someone who has made significant sacrifices for the sake of others.  We think of missionaries who are working overseas, or working in international settings, including De Pue’s daughter and son-in-law, or people who have spent their careers working with low-income people or in under-served communities, or have worked as Christian Peacemakers and used their voices to bring attention to situations of injustice, in other countries or in the United States around issues of poverty, immigration or our prison system.  This often comes at personal cost, not only of income, but sometimes one’s own safety. Giving up one’s life doesn’t necessarily mean at the expense of your own life, but it is a significant commitment to a cause which is greater than you are.  I have been thinking of my father-in-law Wilbur the past few days, and his commitment to practice medicine in Puerto Rico and Indonesia in the 1960’s, and his work as a family doctor in small-town Indiana. Those commitments effected his life and shaped his family — including his son, Tim.  I am glad to be able to remember Wilbur’s life and acknowledge his service to others on this Memorial Day.

Our text from Romans chapter 8 is not specifically for Memorial Day, but I believe it weaves together some of the threads of sacrifice and family.  The context is not military or medical, but it relates to our identity and life together.  As I mentioned two weeks ago, the letter to the church in Rome is the mature development of Paul’s theology.  It is one of his last letters, and the church in Rome was experiencing suffering and persecution.  Paul begins this passage by encouraging the Roman Christians to live in the Spirit, not the flesh.  Those who live by the Spirit are children of God.  No matter who our biological parents are, when we are led by God’s Spirit, we are adopted into God’s family — we are children of God.

This is pretty heady stuff: as children of God we are heirs of God and heirs with Christ; entitled to the same things which Christ had.  This sounds like a wonderful deal — until we get to the fine print.  Or if you can’t read the fine print, you could read any of the four gospels, they all tell a similar story.  Yes, Jesus was resurrected and is now seated at the right hand of God for eternity, and we are heirs to that same legacy.  But that is not the entire story; what had to happen before that?  Jesus suffered and died on a cross.  We are heirs to both that suffering and that glory.

You can see how this would feel like good news to the church in Rome: they were already suffering persecution; they just had to hang on long enough to realize the promise of God’s glory.  This is a more difficult inheritance for those of us who are comfortable and have not had to make any sacrifices for our faith.  Maybe we could just keep a low profile and take it easy and pick up our inheritance when things calm down.

No one in their right mind goes looking for suffering, but here’s what I have found in my experience in life and as a pastor: suffering finds us any way.  All kinds of things happen to us or to those we love, and we get through them — or not.  Sometimes that suffering leads to death, but mostly not.  Certainly not for any of us here today.  If you are living your life for your own comfort, then your life collapses as soon as something bad happens.  If you are living your life for something bigger than yourself — living by the Spirit as a child of God — it still might be pretty rough.  But children of God have a big family; the support and care of many siblings.  Children of God have a heavenly Father, a father who knows them and loves them.  Children of God have the promise that there is an end to suffering, and it ends with glory and life with God.  This is a powerful and double-edged inheritance: suffering is inevitable, glory is only for those who are willing to live by God’s Spirit, as Jesus Christ did.This Memorial Day we give thanks for people who lived or are living for something larger than themselves.  That is what gives the memory of our lives meaning.  We give thanks for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which make life in the Spirit possible, and has made us children of God.  Never forget the love of Christ which makes this inheritance possible.  Amen.