Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Adopted Children

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (July 16 2017)
Ephesians 1:1-14 (CEB) – “Adopted Children”

The Narrative Lectionary readings for the next four Sundays come from Ephesians and, taken together, they give a decent overview of the Epistle. Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible because it speaks about the presence of God in such soaring, poetic language. But it’s probably better read than heard for that very same reason, so I’m going to read it slowly so we can linger with the words. Let’s listen for God’s Wisdom and Word…

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will.
To the holy and faithful people in Christ Jesus in Ephesus.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son. This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

Did you notice all the familial imagery in that passage? Father. Son. Children. Adopted. Inheritance. That really stood out to me this time around, especially the word “adopted.”

For the past year, I’ve been studying at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. One of the classes was on Family Systems, which is a counseling theory that has been hugely popular in church circles over the last generation or so. As part of the major project for the class, we were asked to do a genogram, which is like a family tree that emphasizes the emotional relationships. I mapped out the relationships in my family, all the way from myself to each of my great-grandparents. It was fascinating, even revelatory, to see it all spread out on paper.

One of the things that I hadn’t spent much time contemplating before was the number of adoptions in my family. I knew of course, that there were a few, but it was interesting to notice a pattern across three generations. The circumstances were unique in each case. My dad legally adopted my brother when he married my mom. My (biological) step-grandfather adopted a son with his first wife, and after his first wife died, he married my grandmother (who already had three kids) and she then adopted the boy when he was eight years old. Another uncle and his wife adopted two children who have never met their birth parents, but another cousin and her husband brought a son into their family through an open adoption.

And that’s just the short version. Some of these relationships have been relatively smooth; others… well, not so much. Many of them came about at the end of a lot of heartache. Adoptions are complicated and the process can be quite expensive. But family life is messy, however people are related. Did I hear an “Amen!”?

What strikes me as supremely special about adoption is the act of choosing itself. How amazing is a love that intentionally, freely, actively chooses its recipient? Theoretically, the parent does not have to love the child because, on paper, the child doesn’t “belong” to the parent, but as many adopted parents and children will tell you, sometimes paper is thicker than blood.

One of the most meaningful relationships in my life has been with my brother’s paternal grandparents. Faye and Bill (Nanny and Pop) chose me as their grandson even after their son died and my mom remarried. They didn’t have to. I imagine my brother would say something similar about our Granny and Papa, my dad’s parents. They didn’t have to, but they did anyway because that’s just the kind of people they are.

So it is, my friends, with the Creator of heaven and earth. “God destined us to be [her] adopted children through Jesus Christ because of [her] love,” the writer of Ephesians tells us.

Let that sink in for a moment. You. Are. Loved. You are treasured by the One who peppers the sky with stars. This Parent doesn’t love us abstractly, but specifically; individually, but also as part of a wider human family. And here’s the thing: God doesn’t have to, but God chose to. One theologian put it this way: “God is who He is. He is known by whom He has freely chosen to reveal Himself to be… the One who is, and therefore does, love in freedom.” [1]

That “just because-ness” is what we call grace. It’s a free gift of forgiveness that comes with no strings attached. I think that’s why we have so much trouble wrapping our minds around grace, because it is purely gratuitous and without qualifier. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. There’s nothing we can do change it. Even if we reject it, it’s still there.

But by no means does that mean we’re off the hook. Our adoption through Christ into the same family as Abraham and Sarah came at a great cost. And, we’re reminded, that this costly love was at work long before we even knew about it: “We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design,” Ephesians says. That’s why it’s important that we carry ourselves as as heirs who are not only confident in whose we are, but who are also generous with the inheritance we’ve received. We are grateful to be included in the family of faith—so grateful, in fact, that we do our best to treat each person we meet as another sibling.

Back to that Family Systems course I was telling you about. One of my classmates, in addition to being one of the finest pastors out there, is also a mother of an adopted child. He’s eight years old, smart as a whip, and a rabid Seattle Mariners fan. Each year my colleague, her husband, and their son celebrate the date they began bringing him home. They call it “Forever Family Day.” Their “Forever Family Day” was last Thursday, and they wrote their son a letter, which the mother emailed me to share. I quote it, with her permission:

… Eight years ago today we became a family! We still remember so vividly standing in the Holt International office in Seoul, South Korea when your wonderful foster mother handed you to us and we hugged and cried and put you in the Ergo carrier on daddy’s chest. We walked several blocks back to the hotel where we were staying. You cried and then fell asleep. We laid you on the bed in our hotel room and marveled at your sweet face and beautiful spirit.

When you woke up we held you and hugged you and comforted you. You weren’t quite sure who we were yet, but from that day on we became your forever mommy and daddy and you became our forever son. We are a forever family. We are blessed by adoption and give thanks for all the people, including your birth parents, who made our family possible…

Jesus loves you and so do we…

That Font over there is the symbol of our adoption. That Table that we’ll come to in a just a little while is the banquet of God’s “Forever Family.” You might be feeling that love this morning. You might not feel it right now, or you may not have ever felt it. Either way I pray that you will taste that love that chose you, that love that will eventually enfold everything in heaven and earth. Because you, we, belong to God’s “Forever Family,” and we have since “before the creation of the world.”

We will leave that Table fed and filled with enough grace—grace that gives us peace, grace that gives us courage, grace that gives us strength—to go back into the daily grind, proudly, as God’s adopted children. We go out from that place to serve God’s other children, to do justice and love mercy, walking humbly in the example of Jesus, our brother.

May it be so…

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II:1: 328-350.

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