Pentecost Sunday/Confirmation Sunday
June 9, 2019
One of our most basic needs as human beings is the need to belong. Small children cling to their parents. Teenagers want to belong to the right group of friends. As adults, we look for places where we know we will be accepted, places where people understand us, places we can call home. We all need to belong. The question is, where will we find that need satisfied?
The Apostle Paul addresses this question in the 8th chapter of his letter to the church at Rome…
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)
Paul makes his point right up front. All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Their primary identity is no longer found in the kind of work they do or the country where they were born. Their primary identity is ‘children of God.’
But what happens when we fail to claim that identity? At the root of figuring out who we are is that deep human desire to belong. That can get us into trouble when we choose the wrong things to belong to, or when we let ourselves get caught in the wrong kind of belonging.
We crave the kind of belonging that means we are welcomed and included, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. But sometimes, in an effort to find this kind of belonging, we can get sucked into a different kind. Instead of being included, we are owned, like a piece of property. We belong to something greater than ourselves, but it isn’t a healthy relationship. It’s slavery.
This kind of belonging can lead to fear. We are afraid that whatever we belong to will overpower us, that we will lose control over our own will. It can feel like a trap. We get caught in a web of commitment to the very things that can hurt us. It feels like we don’t have any choice. The irony is that, in our eagerness to be included and welcomed, we actually become isolated. We feel alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Paul writes, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Paul goes on to remind us that becoming a joint heir with Christ means more than splitting the inherited wealth. It also means sharing in Christ’s suffering. What does Paul mean by this? It goes back to what he wrote a few verses before today’s reading began. Our suffering is tied up in the tension between living in our mortal bodies and yearning for our heavenly home. It’s the tension between being owned and being welcomed.
This tension lies at the heart of living as a Christian in a world that does not call Jesus Lord. Throughout Christian history, people have attempted to separate themselves from the world in order to stay pure, following only the life of the Spirit. Throughout Christian history, those people have learned that “being of this world is an inevitable consequence of being human.” We can’t avoid this tension. We can’t avoid this suffering. Part of being human is living among other humans.
But the spirit of adoption gives us the rights and authority of an heir. We are granted the same power as the one who adopts us. This kind of belonging isn’t ownership. It’s being included, finding a home. Instead of fear, this kind of belonging instills a sense of safety, and the assurance that we will never be completely alone.
Rather than ‘belonging’ as a piece of property belongs to its owner, we belong as children belong to a family. This is where we put down our roots. This is where we grow. This is where we find our identity.
And when we claim this identity, something miraculous happens. We belong. We are not slaves – it isn’t that kind of belonging. And we aren’t suddenly members of some special secret society or club, either. We belong to God in a profoundly intimate way. We become God’s children, deeply loved, always welcome.
We have been adopted. Not conceived by accident, not born as an afterthought.
Chosen. Brought into the family on purpose.
Beloved children of God.
We become children who can call on our Heavenly Father in familiar terms, just as Jesus did. Your share in the inheritance is the same as Christ’s – it is the Kingdom of God. Your place in God’s kingdom is as a beloved child of God. You have been adopted. You belong.
Today these confirmands come before you to declare publicly that they have decided to follow Jesus. They have asked questions and been challenged. They have even learned some things through the process of Confirmation. And now they are ready to stand before you and say what they believe. They are eager to be included in the life of this congregation, not as its property, but as joint-heirs with you and with Christ, co-workers in the ministry of Christ’s body, the church. They are ready to belong.
In his first letter to the churches, John writes, “See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) Hear the Good News: in Jesus Christ, you belong.
 J Barney Hawkins IV, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 40.