Sunday, May 15, 2016

“Adopted” (Romans 8:14-17)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 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!” 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—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.

At one point in my young life . . . while in junior high . . . there came a moment where all the right conditions came together to create the perfect storm.  First of all, there was the movie, My Side of the Mountain, which is about a young boy who runs away from home to live on great-gandfather’s abandoned farm in the Catskill Mountains.  He is tired of living with his family—his parents and eight siblings—in a cramped New York City apartment.  So off he goes to live on his own in the wilderness . . . to have his own adventures.  And, what wonderful adventures he has as he makes his home in an old hollowed-out tree while learning to survive and become independent.

The movie struck some cord on my heart-strings.  That was the first piece of impending storm brewing within me.  The second was . . . and I think this probably happens to all of us at some point when we are growing up . . . was the reality one day as I looked around at my family—my parents, two brothers and sister—that there must have been some terrible mistake.  These were not my people . . . these were not my parents . . . I didn’t have anything in common with this strange and crazy people who were living in the same house as me.  There was no way that these people could be my family . . . we weren’t the same.  And, as a young teenager, it was driving me crazy. 

Then it dawned on me . . . I must have been adopted. 

Now, let’s all be honest with ourselves.  I think that we all had those moments as children growing up in which we wondered whether or not we were adopted. 

Well, that was the piece of the picture that collided with the first piece creating the perfect storm.  I decided that I had to run away.  Living at the time at the Air Force Academy, in the foothills of the mountains, it made sense.  I would sneak out in the middle of the night, head for the mountains, find a hollowed-out tree, and begin my adventure towards independence and freedom from a family I did not choose.  I secretly saved what money I received, stockpiled food in my backpack, and slowly created my plan for escape. 

Of course it never happened.  Sometimes, as children, we do not take into consideration all the factors involved in decisions that we make.  For example, it was the middle of winter when I was making all of these plans.  The snow was up to my rear end on the ground . . . it was freezing cold . . . and, the blanket sleeping bag I had made wouldn’t even keep me warm on a cool summer day.  I didn’t have enough food stored up to get beyond the first teenage hunger attack . . . it would be gone in a matter of minutes as I was a bottomless pit at that age.  And, finding a hollowed-out tree in the pine tree infested wilderness of Colorado . . . big enough for a person to live in . . . in the middle of winter . . . seemed a little daunting.

So, I abandoned the dream and the storm passed by.  My parents showed me my birth certificate to prove that I wasn’t adopted . . . showed me pictures of me as an infant . . . and, assured me that I was their flesh and blood.  And, then my father told me that I had to deal with the cards that were dealt me . . . that is what families do.  Crazy and strange as I thought those individuals were, they were my family.

To be adopted is to be chosen by another.  In our minds we understand that adoption is the choosing of a child to become a part of a family and to be raised by that family as one of their own.  In adoption those who do the adopting are given all the legal and parental responsibilities of raising that child.  In the Apostle Paul’s time adoption was different.  The point of adoption had nothing to do with the interest of the person being adopted; it had to do with the interests of the person doing the adopting.  Adoption was a tool that strengthened political ties between wealthy families and created male heirs to manage estates.  It was also seen as a tool to ensure the continuity of cultural and religious practices.  In other words, it was seen as a means of insuring the desires and needs of the person doing the adopting.

In the New Revised Standard Version of the scripture, I read our passage this morning.  Unlike the earlier reading of this passage from our pew Bible which is from the New International Version, this version uses the term “adoption” . . . “. . . but you have received a spirit of adoption.”  The Apostle Paul is not talking about the form of adoption that you and me are familiar with; no, he is talking about a form of adoption that is familiar to him.  It is a form of adoption to benefit the one doing the adopting . . . to strengthen and insure the goals of the family in the world, and to create heirs who will manage the estate.  In this case, it is to fulfil the will of God.

I like the New Revised Standard Version much better than the version we use each Sunday morning.  I like it because of that word . . . “adoption”.  In this passage the apostle is telling his readers and listeners that they are “chosen” by God . . . intentionally chosen.  God wants them.  God wants them for a purpose.  That purpose is to fulfil God’s will in the world.  It is to insure that this new way of looking at faith . . . demonstrated by Jesus . . . is continued and fulfilled.  It is God’s desire that the chosen step up and receive their what God has begun . . . to step up and be the heirs that they are to the Kingdom of God.  If they fully receive this, then they too, will receive all that Jesus has shown them.

This is Paul’s understanding of what it means to be adopted.  We are chosen to become a part of God’s family for the purpose of insuring God’s will as demonstrated by Jesus.  We are chosen to work towards that Kingdom revealed by Jesus.  And, though it seems to be a cold and calculated relationship in these terms, the apostle tells us that it is actually a more intimate and intense relationship that goes beyond the formalities of adoption.  It is a relationship that is tied with the strings of the heart.  We do not enter into this relationship calling our parent the formal “Father”; no, we enter into it with the more intimate and relational term of “Abba” . . . or what we Westerners like to think of as “Daddy!”  Abba is a term of endearment acknowledging an intimacy that go far beyond the formality of a legal arrangement.

And, so . . . we are adopted . . . we are chosen by God to be the children, the sons and daughters of the Holy.  We are chosen to be the inheritors of the Kingdom to ensure that God’s will is fulfilled.  In this we find that we are desired and wanted . . . that we are necessary and needed . . . that we are God’s.  How do we know we are adopted?  That we are God’s?  The apostle tells us it is by the presence of the Spirit in our lives.  In adoption God places the Spirit into our lives.

Paul said, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God . . . it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ .”

On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate this gift of the Spirit . . . we rejoice in our “adoption”.  We acknowledge our “mark” of family.  This is truly a graceful and loving gift that has been given to us; yet, it is also a gift with expectations and responsibilities.  We are to fulfil the will of God . . . to establish God’s kingdom in this time and place . . . to pass it on to future generations.  Jesus has shown us the way.

We are adopted.

Deep down, I always knew it.  Even way back when I was a kid in junior high, I had an inkling that I was adopted.  That I was a part of another family, a bigger family . . . but, never did I imagine that it was a “holy”—a “spiritual”—family.  Only years of traveling with Jesus in the journey of life have I come to realize this family that I have been adopted into.  It is the same for all of us . . . we have all been marked by the Spirit . . . called upon to wear the family crest . . . called upon to take our rightful places in the family . . . called upon to fulfil the family name and purpose.  We are God’s, and because we are God’s we are called to a higher calling and purpose.  Let us celebrate this day of adoption and embrace our place in the family of God.  Amen.

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