An Adoption People

November 20th is National Adoption Day.  Please keep all of those children waiting for families and homes in your prayers.

Matthew 12: 46-50 – While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Ephesians 1:3-14 –  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.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Romans 8:12-17, 28-30 –  So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  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. …  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

… … …

I have a story for you.  And like many such stories this one begins with a young single woman who unexpectedly finds herself pregnant in a morally strict society where unwed mothers are considered a disgrace to their family.  She takes stock of her options.  She considers having an abortion, raising the child on her own or simply abandoning the child in the hope that some charitable soul would find it and take it in.  Were she to raise the child herself or abandon it, the child would have no inheritance, no name and, most importantly, little chance at a successful future because of the stigma attached to bastard children in her society.  However, being a true believer in the power and mercy of God, she prayed “Lord, what shall I do with this child?”  And God heard her prayer and said, “Have no fear.  The child you bear belongs to me.”  And so, when the time came for the child to be born, she gave the child up to the will of God.

Thousands of miles away another woman prayed that she might have a child even though she could not bear one herself.  For three years she prayed and one day an adoption agency called and told her the good news:  A child had been born and was in need of a family.  And so the child born to the first woman in this story passed into the care of the second woman and in doing so was given a name and inheritance that would have been completely foreign to the birth mother.

As unique and singular as this story is, this is a story that I am no stranger to.  You see, this is my story.  I am that child, given at birth into the care of an orphanage run by the Holt Adoption Agency in Seoul, South Korea and adopted by a childless couple from Michigan.  My birth parents were factory workers and never completed high school.  My life parents are white, from Wisconsin and own their own physical therapy clinic.  I graduated from one of the best universities in the world and I am starting my PhD in microbiology.  In being adopted I was given a new name, a new future and a new home.  Little could my birth parents have imagined the course my life would take, but, as the proverb goes, God works in many mysterious ways.  His will can move mountains.  He probably didn’t even break a sweat for a 6 pound baby boy.

The unconditional love of God for us is a central tenant of Christian faith, but it is something of such enormous consequence that few if anyone can imagine it.  For evidence of this, I have to look no further than my own story.  I have been fortunate to experience unconditional love in this world, twice.  My birth mother loved me so completely that she let go of me.  She trusted in God’s divine plan and let me go as a living sacrifice of her love.  On the other side of the world, for three years, my life parents prayed for a child and built up their lives around a child they had yet to even know existed.  They loved me before I was even born.  It is these two instances of unconditional love that brings me here, half a world away from where I was born, to share this story with you.

But, this is not just my story.  It is yours as well.

We read in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus that God “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ…”  Now at the time Paul wrote this letter, there were growing divides in the young church between Christians of Jewish decent and Christians of Gentile decent.  Those Gentile converts were feeling inferior to their Jewish brethren; a kind of theological new-kids-on-the-block syndrome.  Paul sought to heal this schism by pointing out that Jesus died for everyone and we are all equal in God through adoption.  Anyone who believes in the love of God and believes in Jesus Christ as their savior is adopted into the multitude that is the people of God, those that God calls children.   As can be found in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus is told his mother and brothers would like to visit him, Jesus gestures to his followers and proclaims “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

But can it be that simple?  We believe and do our chores and we’re in?  Paul’s declaration of adoption to the Romans, that Christians have received a spirit of adoption instead of one of slavery, comes just before the oft quoted “We know all things work together for good for those who love God…”  I’m sure when you all saw Romans chapter 8 as the reading many of you went “Aw no, Romans 8, again?!?  It’s only the third most overused passage ever.”  But this is important because here Paul is linking Adoption by God with Predestination.  Now, I’m no theologian, I don’t pretend to fully understand predestination and, probably due to my Methodist upbringing, I’m skeptical of anything that doesn’t allow for at least a shred of human free will.  But who can deny that God chooses us, in so many ways, in the face of His unconditional love?  What if my life parents had waited until I had arrived to decide whether they loved me or not?  What if they had wanted a girl instead of a boy or a lawyer instead of a scientist?  What if my birth mother had decided that she did not love the child growing within her?  If humans can love a child before it is born, then imagine what God’s unconditional love is capable of.  It is so very simple, but it is infinitely powerful.  One of my favorite quotes on this comes from the mystic Work of the Chariot and says “When a man takes a step toward God, God takes more steps toward that man than there are sands in the worlds of time.”

Regardless of your theology, whether you are Catholic, Protestant or Reformed, whether you believe in predestination or not, whether you were born and raised in the church, born again or newly converted, God loves you.  And He loved you before you were even born.  And will love you for ever and ever.  God chooses to love you so that you may be blessed all the days of your life.  From Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”  Our inheritance is the new kingdom of God and everlasting life.

We, then, are adopted into the church according to God’s will, for adoption is a calling that is central to the church.  We Christians are called to a mission of adoption, to be an adoption people.  Adopting children is not the only way to be an adoption people.  We are called to make disciples of all people, to grow God’s family by inviting people into our family and choosing to love them even though we do not share ties of blood.

When you stop to think about it, even Jesus was adopted.  Granted, his was more of an open adoption.  Born of the Father in Heaven, his body – and soul – was nurtured for the first couple of decades on earth by Joseph and Mary, his adopted parents.  They needn’t have taken on the responsibility of raising Jesus for he was not of their blood, but they decided to adopt and history remembers them as Jesus’ life parents.   Adoption, it seems, is deeply woven into the Christian story, but sometimes we as Christians are not so good at being an adoption people.

Babies are easy to adopt.  They’re cute, make funny faces, and have all the potential in the world crammed into their tiny bodies.

Imagine a baby girl.

Would you adopt her?  What if I told you she would grow up to be a homeless single mother?  What if I told you she would grow up lesbian?  What if I told you she had a genetic disorder that necessitated lifelong medical care?  Would you still adopt her?

We are called to adopt all people and yet sometimes we fall short.  When we were adopted into God’s family, He did not put any demands on what or who we were.  God did not specify that we be white or Asian, or straight, or male or female or middle class.  He simply said “come as you are” and yet we often turn around and pass judgment on those whom we should be welcoming with open arms.

When you pass the homeless person on the street without even saying hello, are you adopting him?  When you reflexively judge a young single mother, are you adopting her?  When your child’s school sends school supplies to Haiti, but you miss the deadline because you are too busy this week to go to Target, are you adopting the children?

We are all children of God.  We have all been adopted into His family, our family, but some don’t know it yet.  It is the Church’s mission to find those people and welcome them into our family, to adopt them, to teach them of God’s gift of the spirit of adoption, and to welcome them home.

Occasionally, people ask me if I want to meet my birth mother; if I want to know what I could have been, what I was “supposed” to be.  I tell them, no, I don’t have to, because I already know the most important part of her, her endless love and sacrificial spirit.  And so it is with God.  Amen.

(c) 2011