Adopted

 Many of you know the story portrayed in the film “The Blind Side.” A runaway, homeless foster child is transformed slowly but surely into a healthy adult and a disciplined and successful National Football League lineman through the loving nurture of a family that befriends him. Michael is taken into the Tuohy home, given his own room, and shares in their life together.  In a key scene, Leigh Anne and Shawn Tuohy sit Michael down for a discussion.

  “Michael, we have something we’d like to ask you.”

  “What?”

  “Leigh Anne and I, we…Well… We’d like to become your legal guardians.”

  “What’s that mean?”

  “What it means is, that we want to know if you’d like to become a part of this family?”

  “I kinda thought I already was.” “Well all right then.”

  And with that brief exchange, Leigh Anne begins a poignant journey through Michael’s past: child protective services, an impoverished neighborhood, Michael’s drug-addicted mother. As the adoption process proceeds, there is some suffering for both Michael and his family.  But, on the other side of the suffering, there is a reward for everyone that cannot be measured in dollars, a family inheritance rich in love and joy.

  In a similar way, the New Testament describes a two-fold nature to our adoption by God in Jesus Christ. Paul says, in the eighth chapter of Romans, we “…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 … joint heirs with Christ – if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”[1] Peter, in the fourth chapter of his first letter, says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”[2]

  The lectionary’s suggested texts for this Sunday have some things to say about the two-fold nature of our adoption as God’s children.

  The sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel records a memorable story that ends in the beheading of John the Baptizer. Commentators call it a “terrible text” about “Herod’s horrible banquet,” revealing such debauchery in Herod’s palace that many preachers are tempted to skip over it, embarrassed by its salacious details. Commentators also call our attention to the way Mark sandwiches this story between the accounts of Jesus sending the disciples out to serve in his name, and their return to Jesus with a report on their ministry activities. When the disciples made their exciting missionary foray, they still believed that a new political order was within their grasp. With the Messiah as their leader, and the support of the common people, the forces of justice and love would quickly and decisively replace the old powers of oppression.  But, as the story of John’s beheading shows, God’s prophets often pay a heavy price. Writing in retrospect, and with decades of ministry experience, Mark gives many hints that baptism into the way of John and Jesus means that the disciples will share in the suffering.

  My former preaching professor Tom Long says that talk of Christian suffering may seem strangely exaggerated to our ears. “When we do the work of the church, the world rises up to call us blessed. When we preach the gospel, the world invites us to join the Kiwanis and the Rotary. When we reach out to heal, the world puts us on the hospital board.”[3]  As long as the claims of Christ and interests of culture are aligned, then everything is just fine. But what happens when the prophet raises a moral concern? When the prophet says, “This proposal enriches a few at the expense of many”? When the prophet says, “We must obey the word of God rather than the words of humans”? It’s when the prophet will not be domesticated by the king, suggests Long, that the world shows itself to be the world, and heads roll. And it’s then that the Church must prove itself to be the Church. On those occasions when the Church exerts its moral independence, we begin to really understand the beauty and the cost of religious freedom.

  Coincidentally, today we are celebrating the adoption of God’s children in two different ways: at the early service, in the reception of new members Herb & Carol VH; and, at the late service, in the baptism of Chase B. During such times of celebration, we would rather not think about suffering. But, as the apostles understood, suffering will be part of life’s journey for each one of us, and a religion that cannot speak to those inevitable moments of doubt and despair is probably not so powerful or real, after all.

  In the Greek Orthodox Church, there is a tradition associated with baptism that is very different from ours.  After the baby is baptized, the priest or bishop takes his very large metal pectoral cross, and forcefully strikes the child on its breast.  He strikes hard enough to leave a visible mark, hard enough that it hurts the child and the child cries (Aaron and Morgan, I promise I won’t be doing that to Chase today). 

  Why does the Greek Orthodox priest strike the child?  This symbolic act is meant to convey spiritual truth.  The blow indicates that the child who has been baptized into Christ must bear the cross, that the cross is not a sign of simple success or easy victory, but involves some suffering and pain. 

  Peter Gomes, former minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard, once wrote, “God does not spare us from turmoil, as even the most casual observance of the scriptures can tell us.  God strengthens us for turmoil, and we can find that in the Good Book as well.  It is a shabby faith that suggests that God is to do all the heavy lifting and that you and I are to do none.  The whole record of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, and the whole experience of the people of God from Good Friday down to and beyond September 11, suggests that faith is forged on the anvil of human adversity.  No adversity: no faith.[4]

  If the text from Mark emphasizes the suffering that accompanies adoption, then our text from the first chapter of Ephesians emphasizes its joy. In a fashion characteristic of Paul and his followers, the author paints a picture of the cosmos in which all of God’s activities are aimed at our good and accomplished for our welfare. According to Paul, our adoption as God’s children was planned before the foundation of the world. Today, we might find fault with some of the ways Presbyterians historically worked out the doctrine of Predestination, sometimes in ways that seemed condescending and judgmental.  But at the root of this theological enterprise – what they were trying to describe in their own imperfect ways – was the good news about God’s graceful intent toward us and graceful destiny in store for us. It is faith in God’s graceful intent and destiny that gives us courage to face our experiences of suffering. Adopted as God’s children through Jesus Christ, we have an inheritance. No matter how dark things look today, we know that the future is bright.


[1] Romans 8:14 ff.

[2] 1 Peter 4:12-13.

[3] Thomas G. Long, “When the Church Is the Church,” Lectionary Homiletics, 16 July 2000.

[4] Peter Gomes writes about the significance of baptism in the Eastern tradition in “Storm Center,” The Christian Century, 31 May 2003, p. 8 ff.

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~ by JohnH1962 on July 15, 2012.

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