31 May 2013Romans 8:12-17
"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!’" (v. 15)
I heard a story once, from a man who had been on holiday in Israel. He was strolling through Jerusalem and watching the crowds going about their business or simply enjoying their leisure (perhaps it was in a less troubled age). Ahead of him was a family, with a young boy riding a bit unsteadily on his bicycle. The little lad fell off and began to cry. He ran back to his father in tears. And this is what he said: "Abba! Abba!" (which means Daddy! Daddy!)
When people begin to take seriously God's amazing offer of unconditional love, remarkable things can happen. I have been amazed during the past year by colleagues and friends who have told of people inquiring about the possibility of coming to church. "What do I have to do before I can come?" some people ask. It's almost as if they think there's a test for admission: pass it and you will be welcome at church; fail it and you will be turned away.
One of the 20th century's great theologians, Paul Tillich, published a collection of sermons under the title The Shaking of the Foundations. In it there is one called You are Accepted, where he speaks to our fear of being rejected, our anxiety lest we be found wanting and shunned, and our dread of not fitting in. For Tillich, the heart of the gospel (the good news of Jesus) is the discovery - in total contrast to these inner anxieties - that 'you are accepted'. That God really does love you as you are. God might well - indeed probably does - long to see change in you, but God also knows that change of that kind can come only when you have realised how utterly secure you are in God's love. God is not stupid enough to imagine that you can fix yourself first.