|Two churches celebrating Joshua’s baptism (picture by Bob Harper Photography)|
Year A, Pentecost 7
About two years ago, I wrote a newsletter article telling the parish that my husband and I were in the adoption process. People were extremely supportive and a number of people shared their own adoption stories with me. There are several people in our parish who have adopted nieces, nephews or grandchildren. I loved hearing those stories. By the time I had written that article, we had already been in the process for about a year. When you are waiting that long, it is helpful to hear about adoptions that have really happened. One of my favorite stories was from our pastoral associate Jane Price. Her granddaughter is adopted and Jane said something that made a real impact on me. She told me that the adoption of her granddaughter had brought something new into their family, something that was unique and beautiful because it was so different. She said that it was exciting because they had no idea what this child would become. Her granddaughter ended up being an extraordinary dancer and she said, “She did not get that gift from any of us!” Now surely, you all have stories of that special person in your family who broke the mold. Just recently a friend of mine was describing her children. She said that her daughter was very similar to her…but her son, she had no idea where he came from. He was not like either her or her husband. She was not complaining. She was simply marveling at his uniqueness.
I preach a lot about being children of God. It is one of my favorite images. To be a child of God means that we have a special relationship with God. It means that we are loved by God and no matter how many times we may disappoint God, no matter how many times God might disappoint us, we are family. Paul’s letter to the Romans describes how we are children of God—but Paul describes this idea a little differently. Paul writes that we are children of God because we have received the spirit of adoption. It is by this spirit that we are given the privilege and the honor to call God by his most personal name—Abba. The best translation for Abba is Daddy. We have such an intimate relationship with God, we can call him Daddy.
Before Jesus came to the earth and embodied God, people were not even able to say the name of God. Even when writing the name of God, they would leave the vowels out because to say or write the name of God was forbidden. Yet here Paul is telling the Romans that as adopted children of God, we call God Abba.
Now you might wonder, why do we need to even talk about being adopted children of God? Why can’t we just be children of God? There are a couple of reasons that Paul made this distinction. First of all, the early church was very much divided between the people of Israel/the Jews and the Gentiles. It was initially thought that Jesus’ message of salvation was only meant for the Jews. He was Jewish. He spent most of his time with other Jews. In the Old Testament/the Hebrew scriptures, it was the Jews and only the Jews who were the chosen people of God. Therefore, it seems as though Paul had to find another way to describe how all people can now become children of God, even the Gentiles. This illustration of adoption helped people see that even if you were not born a Jew, did not mean you were not a child of God, one of God’s beloved.
The other possible reason has something to do with the recipients of the letter. Paul was a citizen of Rome. He was writing to the Romans and had a pretty good sense of the Roman laws and customs. Adoption was a legal process in Rome in Paul’s time. At that time, having a son was critical to continuing the family line as well as caring for the parents as they aged. If a family did not have a son or had a son who was estranged, it was common to adopt a slave who would then become their legal son. This son would now have the rights, privileges and responsibilities of being a legal member of this family. It did not matter which social class this boy was born into. Once adopted, he was a member of this family and would inherit all that the family had. The purpose of the adoption was not necessarily to benefit the child, but to benefit the family. The hope of course would be that both the adopted child and the family would benefit from the adoption, but that was not the primary reason for it.
So it is with our adoption as children of God. Of course the adoption benefits each one of us personally, but it also benefits the whole human family. With every new person who is adopted into our Christian family, we become stronger. God has a vision for his family. God knows what his family looks like. With every new and different person, we begin to look more like this vision that God has for us.
In some ways it is easy to talk about being children of God. However, what we often forget is that if we are all children of God, than we are all brothers and sisters. We are all part of this huge, wonderful, slightly crazy family. And when we bring new people, different people into our fold, we discover new gifts and joys. We also discover new challenges. Being a part of this new family is not easy. It takes work. Not only that, it takes hope and patience.
So often with adoption, people look for similarities. Even when it is crystal clear that your child is adopted, someone will tell you how similar their mannerisms are. Those are wonderful things to hear, but I think it is helpful if we can find ways to celebrate the differences in our family, whether it is our biological family, our adopted family, or even our church family. When my husband and I were beginning to think about adoption, we talked to other people who had adopted. They said it was an incredibly difficult process, but that it was worth it in the end. That is true in life as well. Being an adopted child of God can be a difficult journey, but it is well worth it in the end.
When we finalized our adoption 4 months after we brought Joshua home with us, the judge asked us several questions and said, “You know this is a no return state.” Once those papers were signed, there was no going back. Of course we joyfully agreed as that was what we were hoping and praying for, for years. Yet that beautiful moment was not the end of the journey, it was just the beginning of another journey. In our Christian journey, we occasionally have moments of clarity, moments when we get a glimpse of the beauty of this world, the beauty of the people of God. Paul wrote, “but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly while we wait for adoption…for in hope we are saved.” That groaning is not simply groaning in pain, but in expectation. We groan in expectation because we know what could be. We know of the great gift that God has given us, the potential that each one us has. Therefore, we persevere. We keep moving forward. We do so because we know that no matter how difficult it can be, as adopted children of God, we are all bound to one another and bound to God. We can’t be returned!! Well, that is not quite true. We can be returned. We can return to God. Every time we stray from the path, God welcomes us back and rejoices in our return.