We’ve all dreamed about it. You’re not usually a betting man but you go to Atlantic City for the weekend and win $20,000,000. Or you’re that woman who rolls her eyes at scratch-off tickets, but someone gives you one for your birthday and now you’ve got a couple million dollars to spend. Or you’re that person who’s been playing the powerball for years and years fully knowing that you have a better chance of getting struck by lightening twice than winning the lottery, but then you win and now you’re wondering just how big your yacht should be…
We’ve all had these daydreams. And, although the lottery is a fairly new thing, people have been daydreaming like this for millennia. The ancient Romans dreamed not of winning the lottery, but of adoption. Throughout Ancient Greek and Roman literature you can find piles of stories of people fantasizing about being adopted.
You see, back in those days, adoption had a different dimension to it. Now-a-days we think of adoption as the thing people do when they find out they can’t have children of their own. Or maybe what parents do when they feel moved with compassion to provide a better life for a child whose mother cannot keep him. But the main reason an ancient Roman would consider adoption is to find a suitable candidate for inheritance.
It was common for parents to adopt “children” who were already twenty or thirty years old, and there are several reasons why an ancient Roman might adopt. Perhaps you think your own children are not worthy of your wealth, so you adopt someone else who seems more responsible. Maybe you have too many children and your wealth will be spread too thinly among them. No problem! You can put your excess children up for adoption by another wealthy couple! Or, perhaps you cannot have children at all, so you look for a responsible young man among the poorer classes to adopt as the heir to your vast fortunes.
Poorer Romans fantasized about being adopted by wealthy nobles the way we fantasize about winning the lottery, and for the same reason: security. Whether it is winning the lottery or getting adopted by a rich aristocrat, wealth would provide you freedom: freedom from fear, freedom from hard labor, freedom from hunger, freedom from illness, freedom from homelessness. We long to win the lottery because, we assume, it will solve all of our problems, and give us a stable, secure, peaceful, and cushy life.
So when Paul tells his Roman readers that they have received a spirit of adoption, you can see how they might get really excited about that. Paul tells his readers that their relationship to God is like that of father and son. Paul says that “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.” God has adopted not just one of us, but all of us as God’s children; and not because we are worthy of it, but because God is compassionate. Since we are now adopted children of God, we are entitled to the rich inheritance of being one of God’s beloved children. Whatever God has given to Jesus, God has given to us. That’s what it means to be adopted by God.
To frame our relationship to God in terms of adoption was a brilliant move on Paul’s part. If you fantasized about being adopted by a rich man, think how much better it would be if you were adopted by God himself. The security you would experience in such an adoption, the stability, the peace, it would be unmatched by anything a rich nobleman could provide. Who wouldn’t want to be adopted by God!?
So if we are adopted by God, and we are granted the same inheritance as Jesus, what exactly do we inherit? Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Our inheritance as adopted children of God is nothing short of the kingdom of God. It is grace and mercy. It is love and belonging. It is peace and rest. It is resurrection and eternal life. In short, your inheritance is a relationship with God and all the good things that come from it.
While our inheritance from God brings us the spiritual security that we long for, it will not bring you the great wealth and cushy lifestyle that winning the lottery will. In fact, it might be just the opposite. In the last verse of our reading, Paul says, that we are heirs with Christ “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” The inheritance of a child of God is far better than any earthly inheritance, but it looks quite different.
To be a child of God is to walk the way of Jesus, which means that we will experience not just resurrection, but death as well. We are called to go out and tell the world that God is adopting everyone into God’s bountiful love. This is what Jesus did and the world, obviously, did not always want to hear that good news. Truthfully, sometimes we don’t want to hear that good news either. The path of Jesus is a path of death and resurrection. Whether it comes from the world around us or from ourselves, suffering will be a part of our life just as it was a part of Jesus’ life. There is nothing in our inheritance from God to indicate otherwise. But, we do know that there is a spiritual security in our adoption. Because we have been adopted as God’s children, we know that the way of the cross is also the way of resurrection. The way of suffering is also the way of joy. The heart of our inheritance is the faith, the trust, the knowledge that suffering and death do not have the last word; God’s love has the last word for all of us.
Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity means that God is and always has been one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We don’t believe in three different gods, we believe in one God. They are all one, and yet they are three. It’s a mystery.
It’s easy to get really technical and irrelevant when we start talking about the Trinity. It can seem like a purely intellectual exercise without much of a point. But, actually, the Trinity is an essential part of our faith because it shows us who God really is.
If God has always been Trinity, then God has always been in relationship. From before the beginning of time, God was Father in relationship with Son in relationship with Holy Spirit in relationship with Father. Theologians often speak of the Trinity as a divine dance, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dancing around and through each other. I think this is a beautiful way of thinking about the Trinity because it shows that God is not static or solitary, but always moving and in relationship.
This is really good news for us. If God was solitary, then it might seem strange for a God to create humanity and then invite us into a relationship. It would mean that God was lonely and decided that God needed humanity in order to feel complete. That would be a really codependent and probably abusive God. But since God is Trinity, it means that God is already in a relationship and always has been. It means that God created humanity not because God needed to fill a void in God’s life, but rather because God loves relationships and God wants to be in a loving relationship with us.
In today’s reading from Romans, Pauls says that God has adopted us and made us co-heirs with Jesus. This means that God looks upon us the same way that God looks upon Jesus. This means that God loves us with the same intense passion that God loves Jesus. This means that there is a fourth member of the Trinity, and it is you! The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who have been in relationship with each other since before the beginning of time, have reached out and invited you to join in their dance, to become tangled in their intertwining, to become part of their relationship. That is your inheritance. God doesn’t just want to be a part of your life, God wants you to be a part of God’s life! The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit saw how good it was to belong to each other and decided, out of their love and compassion, to adopt us into their loving relationship.
And that, I think, is far better than winning the lottery.