18 May 2007

forever family

Romans 8:14-17, ". . . but you have received a spirit of adoption . . . "

Sometimes it is hard to remember why we are at church on Sunday mornings. Do you remember? You may be there for all kinds of different reasons. Some of us are there because we couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. And then there are others of us who are there because of some difficulty in our life; we are praying and hoping that God speaks to that need in our life. Some of us are here because there are people here that we know and love.

And then some of us . . . may have a hard time explaining exactly why we’ve shown up that morning . . . and that’s alright too.

When we find ourselves in particular points in time, at particular places in our lives, it can be hard to say sometimes how we got there. It’s like traveling around in an area where you haven’t been before . . . Sure there are times when we know exactly where we are going and how to get there. But then there are other times where we just stumble into a place, not real sure how it happened, but in the end . . . glad that we did.

I remember when I first moved to Richmond, Virginia, I stumbled into this little place to eat the first night I spent there called the Bellevue Diner. The place was out of the way a bit, but was close to the attic apartment I was renting just a street and a block over.

The diner itself was not anything to write home about but they had a few good sandwiches and desserts, the waitresses were nice and friendly, the booths were comfortable, and it was the kind of place where you could sit and read the paper or study for a while without feeling like you were imposing on anyone.

Well after I had lived there for about a week, gone through orientation and started my classes at seminary, there was a group of us that after our last class would go sit up at the Bellevue Diner. We’d talk about what had happened in class that day. We’d talk about what was happening in the world and in our own individual lives . . . and then we’d leave to go study, some to go home to their families, some of us, like me at the time, would go back to tiny apartments to study Greek or read some theologian or other scholar.

In a funny way, that weekly trip, sometimes more often than that, that trip to the Bellevue become a family gathering of a sort. That group of folks became pretty close during those first weeks and months of seminary . . . to the point where that is a set of folks that I still keep in touch with today . . . even though we came from various places, Cathy came from San Antonio, Texas, Nathan from outside of Nashville, Libby from West Virginia. The other Jason that gathered around the table was from Georgia like I was, but he was from Dalton and his wife from Warner Robins. And Jeff was from Alabama. But wherever we had been before, at that moment in time, we were all there together.

The people that had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost had also come from all over the place too. They had come together to celebrate this holiday called Pentecost. We have our own thoughts about what Pentecost means nowadays, in Christian terms, but originally this was a festival on the Jewish calendar where those who gathered at that time celebrated God giving the law to the children of Israel.

And people came from all over the place, faraway places, far and wide to attend this festival. This is why all these folks gathered there in that one place spoke so many different languages . . . they’ve gathered for the festival . . . sort of like a big family reunion where you’re getting together with folks from around the world who share your name, share your heritage, who are all celebrating something that has united them, that has brought all of them together . . . even though they came from lots of different places to get there.

And for the people there at that time in that place, that event to be celebrated was the giving of the law. This is why God brought the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, released them, freed them, so that they could gather in the wilderness, there at Mount Sinai to worship God and receive a word (well, or maybe ten) from God about how to be the people of God.

When God has freed you, there is a purpose there, there is a reason. God gathered them there for something important: to be the people of God, to be the children of God. This is what we read about in the book of Exodus, everyone gathering to hear a word from God.

And now, the people are all gathered there again, not at Mt. Sinai like after the Exodus, but instead at Jerusalem.

The people have been doing this for a long time now, celebrating God’s gift of instruction to them, celebrating what unites them even in the midst of hearing their different languages, these different tongues, different ways of thinking and being. But that just comes with the territory doesn’t it? I mean when I gathered with that group of folks around that table, or crammed into a booth at the Bellevue Diner in Richmond, we came from different places, we were raised in different families, and spoke different languages to an extent . . . but there we were . . . all there together. And those of us gathered in our churches, we come from different places and different families and we are different people. But there we all are . . . together . . . for whatever reason it is that brought you here.

And that’s when the miracle happens. It is a miracle about being family. It was a miracle that happened to my friends and I at seminary. It is a miracle that happens in our congregations too.

Paul talks about this in this short passage from Romans. Paul is telling us that we are all children of God. Now take note, Paul is talking specifically to the church at Rome.

The people there in that congregation would not have been of the Jewish faith prior to becoming followers of Christ. These would have been folks that would not have had that same sense of entitlement that the Jewish religious leaders of that day had about being Jews. Some of those religious leaders felt that only they were entitled to what God was doing. Paul writes over and over that what Jesus has done is to open up the love and grace of God to everyone, Jew and Gentile alike. And to explain that, to help them understand, Paul writes to these Roman Christians, that this relationship to God is just like being adopted!

And Paul writes that you and I cry out to God as Father (or Mother for that matter); that is acknowledging the family that we are a part of. And this relationship that we as Christians have with God does not mean that we are second best.

I can tell you that as someone who has adopted, that we are sensitive to how we treat both of our children, but also to how others see them and treat them. You know and I know that there is this subtle feeling in society that adopting is second best. And my wife and I have already heard comments from some well-meaning folks about how isn’t it great that you will have “one of your own” meaning our biological son as opposed to our adopted daughter. “It just isn’t like having one of your own,” they said. But our love is not like that . . . at least it shouldn’t be. And our love for our children should be like God’s love for all of us.

Because none of us belong in this family . . . but then again . . . all of us do belong in this family.

I remember being in the church that I pastored where there were folks who were directly related to some of the founding members of that church. But by far, most of the people in those pews had arrived there a lot later than 1859; they were new; they had moved to that part of the county or have come to that church from other churches.

But then . . . we all come from different places.

And Paul writes to us that we are all adopted. And that if the Holy Spirit tells us to call God Father or Mother it is that same spirit showing us that we are all children of God, that we are God’s children, that we are God’s heirs, and that all the blessings that God has in store for us are ours.

In the adoption community many families celebrate an extra day for their adopted children. We definitely celebrate our daughter’s birthday, but many families also celebrate what they call “Gotcha Day” or “Forever Family Day”.

It is a celebration of the day that this child joined that family, a day that we remember that we are all family forever . . . you celebrate that this isn’t a temporary arrangement, this isn’t a situation where we pass in and out, when families are at their best, it is forever.

When churches are at their best, it is forever.

The day that our family celebrates as our “forever family” day is the day that I stepped off of the plane with our daughter and my wife was waiting at the Atlanta airport with our son. And I have to say that with tears in our eyes, it was like some miracle had happened.

It is a miracle when we come from very different places, but will find the same language to speak. That is forever family.

Pentecost is about the beginning of the church for us as Christians. We remember that we are all here together, despite our differences, despite the places where we may speak very different languages, have different thoughts about everything. But our job here is to be family, to see what unites us, and to seek to build up, not tear down. That is the spirit that showed up that day . . . a spirit that allowed everyone to speak to everyone else . . . a spirit that united everyone.