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Day of Pentecost - Romans 8:14-17

If what we believe is true—one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven of earth, of all that is, seen and unseen—then creation is one big family.

Humanity is one family unit within that.

Humanity is one family, which is dysfunctional.

Murray Bowen pioneered a way of understanding human dynamics known now as family

systems theory, which Rabbi Edwin Friedman studied, then brilliantly applied to congregations and leadership.

Family systems theory points out that systems always seek equilibrium.

If a system is unhealthy, its members remain in unhealthy roles and patterns to preserve balance and order.

Rescuers continue to overfunction; bullies continue to coerce; doormats continue to stay silent; clowns continue to crack jokes to diffuse tension; screw-ups continue to live down to

diminished expectations, and so on, all in order to maintain the equilibrium the system has achieved.

So what happens when an enormous change is introduced?

The system fights back, scrambling to return quickly to its familiar status quo.

When someone dies, or gets and stays married or sober, or remains committed to appropriate personal boundaries, the system flies into chaos and finds ways to punish whoever it deems responsible for endangering it even with positive change.

Guilt, shame, belittling, fear, victimhood, violence—other members apply whatever pressure it takes to get the system back to equilibrium, “back to normal.”

So changing an unhealthy system requires the strength to suffer.

Humanity is one dysfunctional family.

When God so loved the system that God sent his only sonnot to condemn the system but in the order that the system might be healed through him, the system punished him.

(The Greek word kosmos, usually translated world, also means ordered system.)

The kosmos challenged, then framed, then tortured, then crucified and disposed of this

divine threat.

Problem solved, equilibrium defended and restored, at least for half a weekend.

Easter shattered that short lived victory, of course, and at Pentecost, that cycle-breaking healing we often call salvation begins to go viral.

The Spirit of life and resurrection gets poured out on everyone, the whole family, which is very exciting for a few minutes before stuff gets real.

Soon the critics dismiss it as cheap wine drunkenness, the first of countless attempts in Acts to discredit, deter, and detain the Spirit of the only Son that keeps threatening the system’s

equilibrium with painful, expensive health and wholeness for everyone.

The Christians in Rome, like the Christians in America, like the Christians of pretty much every time and place, are caught in the push-pull of our dysfunctional system’s resistance to

God’s powerful, patient, persistent, tender and terrifying love.

The Romans live simultaneously in two vastly different systems: the capital city of the empire

and the family of the risen Christ it crucified.

Paul knows that sticking with Christ means massive change, which means suffering, because in Jesus’ words, This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.

Paul encourages the Romans to stick with it:

You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…

God did not bless your status quo.

God is not Pharaoh, or Caesar, or the invisible hand of the almighty market.

God did not give you to the system to prop it up and keep it comfortable.

You are not property; you are not a cog or a commodity or a consumer or a failure or a success or any other limiting label or suffocating role anyone wants to stick on you.

You are a beloved child.

You have received a spirit of adoption: 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