Story I love to tell: Back in the late 80’s, Deb and I decided to expand our family by adopting. James was already 6, and because we didn’t want, in effect, two “only children,” we decided that we would adopt a toddler- maybe a two year old, from Korea.
We worked with LSS of MN, a terrific organization for all kinds of reasons- worked through the Korean cultural stuff that we knew we had to know, had the home visits, and were all set. Then came the Olympic Games in 1988, held in Seoul, South Korea, and along with that came accusations that Korea was “selling its children” all around the world. And overnight, adoptions stopped.
We were on hold- and who knew for how long. In December, I got a phone call from our social worker, Jack Kettlewell, who asked me “Would you be interested in a Caucasian girl- there is a two year old from the area who is ready to be placed.” After a quick consult with Deb, we agreed to pursue the conversation.
And when I stopped off at 24th and Park Avenue (where Center for Changing Lives is located) for a different meeting, I went to Jack’s office first, saw a Polaroid picture of this beautiful little girl, and immediately fell in love, forever and always, and I knew our search was over…
Now I start with that story today because in our reading, St. Paul uses the language of “adoption” to talk about your relationship (and mine) with God. As we continue our journey through the Book of Galatians, Paul is engaged in a conversation about baptism and the Christian life.
He is reminding the Galatian church that in baptism, they have been adopted by God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is reminding them that in their baptism, they have been given the very Spirit of God- of Jesus- to live in them, and that means they belong to God forever.
There are some wonderful things here to ponder and remember:
It is God who is initiates the relationship. When we adopted Alison, it was our choice, not hers… Not long after Alison came to our family, James came down the stairs one morning and announced he was the more important: “I’m the borned one,” he said. “She’s the picked one…” To which we replied “True- we had no choice with your arrival- we CHOSE her…”
God chose to make you his daughter- his son. This is not something you can elect for yourself. You had no say in God’s choice to give the world God’s only Son. There is no prayer you can pray, or words you can say or anything that you can do that can make God love you more than God already does.
In the gift of Jesus- in the cross, where Jesus took on everything that separates you from God and from each other, and in his Resurrection from the dead on the third day, God promises to love you forever- for always, through everything, both good and bad- through your life, through your death and forever.
Paul says it this way in Ephesians 1: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”
It’s about God for you… How wonderful! But almost immediately there have been problems. (It’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden: everything’s great until they have the choice to obey God or follow the temptation of the snake and eat the fruit…)
For as long as there has been a community of Christ followers, the temptation is then for us to say, “Great! We’re adopted; now let us define that for everyone else…” And we begin trying to figure out who is- and much more fun, who isn’t really part of the family- who hasn’t been really adopted. And this Spirit of Adoption that Paul talks about all of a sudden becomes this exclusive, private thing that we want to mediate!
And Paul will have none of this: he tells the Galatians, and he tells you and me, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus!”
There is a parable Jesus tells in Matthew 13, that is a cautionary tale about just this issue. There is a farmer who plants good seed, and then his enemies sow the same field with weeds.
So, first, Jesus helps explain how Good and Evil can be in the world at the same time- weeds and wheat are there at the same time, even though they come from different sources.
But Jesus also very gently reminds us about how difficult it can be to distinguish between weed and wheat. When the farmer’s helpers offer to go out and weed the field- they presume to know the difference, the farmer says, “Wait until the harvest, then we’ll separate them- otherwise, some good wheat might be damaged!”
I know how easy this can be: years ago, I remember pulling weeds in our back yard (something I hate to do, anyway!). Ten minutes later, my daughter came to me in tears, wondering what had happened to her tomato plant… Without flowers or tomatoes, it looked like weed to me…Someone has said that if you want to know which is a weed and which is a valuable plant, pull them all out. The ones that grow back are weeds…
There is always the temptation to try and figure out who are the weeds and who are the wheat in our world. The Good wheat are those who are like us, most often- and the Bad weeds are those not like us… The parable is speaking to a group of people who were absolutely sure they were the wheat, and they knew just who the weeds were… Not so fast says Jesus- that will be taken care of at the end… God knows- and it is God’s call, not yours…
That’s a good thing. You should be thankful it is not up to me… And once again, we see the theological connection with Paul and Jesus, too!
Paul, too, sees right away that the issue is about us and how we live, not about others… He knows it is about growing into our relationship with God; about what it means to respond to the incredible love we have been offered.
In Romans, (And as we work through Galatians, it is amazing to me how the theological framework of Romans is set by Galatians) Paul writes: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption…”
And it works both ways: why would you fall back into the slavery of the old ways- of living life the way you want, without God, ignoring God’s presence? Why would you live with yourself as the center of the universe, taking care of your own needs first when you KNOW that is ultimately slavery; that it is bound to fail and lead to loneliness, isolation and misery…
Or, the other side of the same coin is to live so zealously- that you follow all the rules; you try to manage and control your relationship with God; you take care of everything FOR God, and so you essentially earn God’s approval. That’s been the focus of our conversation for the last several weeks; that’s what Paul has been scolding the Galatians about!
I have a friend that calls that “functional atheism…” That is, if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. There’s no room for faith, for trust, for love- and that, brothers and sisters, is slavery, too. Indeed, it’s a return to slavery, and turning our backs on the freedom we have been given in Christ, and his sacrifice for us on the cross.
Paul says this in our reading: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba! Father!’ (remember, Abba is Aramaic for “Daddy,” a very intimate, loving address, not the more formal “father.”) So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child than an heir, through God.”
He wants us to know that is the 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…
You and I can call God “Daddy!” That’s the closeness of the relationship we are given in Christ. And when we do, it is the very Spirit of Jesus speaking through you and me!
And even though Jesus’ Spirit is right there- even though we are able to use the incredibly intimate expression for God from the very beginning- the relationship God wants to have with you, it takes time for us to accept, respond- to grow into… it is part of the journey of faith we all travel…
Our daughter Alison had to grow into her relationship with us; she had to learn she could trust us- even though we loved her with all our hearts from the day we met her…
She came from an environment in which there were no men. She had no idea what a daddy was- or what part I played in the household. So at the beginning, she called me “The Man…” “Look, it’s The Man!” she would say when I came home. “Hello, The Man,” she would say to me…
But as time passed, and she learned she could trust me, that I loved her and would always love her, she was finally able to say the word I so longed to hear, “Daddy…”
We see this journey of faith- this growing process, throughout the New Testament. For example, in all of the Gospels, we see the disciples of Jesus grow incredibly- from people who simply don’t get Jesus and what he is about to followers who both can’t wait to share the Good News of Jesus and his love for the world and who are willing to die to tell the story.
The same was true for St. Paul, as well. Following his experience with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles- the people of Asia Minor and Europe begins. Paul grows from persecutor to proclaimer!
That’s true for me- and it’s true for you: we grow, we mature. In short, we begin the process of being who God would have us be!
Each one of you has a purpose that God has given you: a ministry, a mission. Each one of you has been given the gifts to accomplish your calling- gifts you may not even know you have. We will help you discover them!
Each of you has been offered, has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit- to live in you, to comfort you- to strengthen you, to help you grow… The Spirit helps you know God’s forgiveness when you fail, and the encouragement to begin again.
As you grow in the Spirit, learn your life’s mission, you can see your life as the gift it is- the adventure it is, with twists and turns, and because you belong to God, you can know that Jesus is there for you through everything!
With Jesus’ Spirit, you can call God “Abba- Daddy- Father!” because you have learned that God can be trusted- always, forever… Let us pray:
Loving Abba- thank you for adopting us as your beloved children. Help us as we grow in our relationship with you to see you at work in the world around us. Help us to share in that work. And help us to share the Good News of your love for us in Jesus with those who are searching for love, longing for acceptance. Through us, help them know the love you have had for them from the beginning of time! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!