Long, long ago God decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure God took in planning this!)
Ephesians 1:5, The Message
Have you ever had to make room for someone new in your home? We’ve been making room for dogs this summer. After a ten day visit from my sister-in-law’s dog, we had the pleasure of taking care of our music director’s Husky puppy in the afternoons for a week or so. Molly has no problem welcoming anyone, human or dog, into our household, but Sam is not quite so sure sometimes. When a person comes to visit, he barks and barks and barks. His “voice” is deep and probably sounds pretty ominous to a newcomer. I’ve never heard him growl at a person, but he definitely grumbles at other dogs when he feels they are not in their right place relative to his family’s boundaries!
One evening last week on his late-night trip to the backyard, Sam began to bark with an urgency I’ve never heard in him before. My husband went outside to see what was causing the ruckus and found a dog on the other side of the fence, sniffing around our garbage can. He grabbed a flashlight and brought the old fellow into the yard. Sam, meanwhile, was back in the house, and his barking continued, but in a different tone of voice. “Woaf!” he said. “What is this guy doing in my yard? It’s bad enough he was out by the garbage cans!!” Fortunately the dog, whose name was Bugsy, had a collar with a tag and within half an hour one of his people had arrived to take him home. Sam continued to look deeply offended until Bugsy was really, really gone. That dog did not belong to us, or anywhere near us, as far as Sam was concerned.
Sometimes in churches we feel the way Sam does. We worry about how new ideas, new ways or new people will affect us. It might be as big as the issues facing some denominations today. The Presbyterians are wrangling over the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in ordained ministry, and the Episcopalians are at odds about the selection of a woman Bishop for a powerful leadership role. These questions may seem like no-brainers to us, or they may feel very difficult. But our worries can also be as simple as wondering who is that new person sitting near us and whether we’ll be able to find something to talk about with them when we go downstairs for coffee after the worship service.
We hope, at church, that no one will start barking as Sam does! But remember that Sam isn’t mean; he’s protective of the people and the place he values. He feels responsible, and it weighs heavily on him. We’re called as people of faith to be both responsible and welcoming, sort of a little bit Sam and a little bit Molly at the same time. We need to know that it is no small thing to call someone a member of our family.
At church yesterday we welcomed a new little brother in the family of faith. His parents made promises on his behalf, and the congregation made promised to him as well. Little H. was destined for adoption before birth. His parents did not adopt him, but God has done so. His adoption was final before I poured the water on his head.. In baptizing him, we named what was already true before Little H. was born. He was destined for God’s love. We were all destined for God’s love.
We know this– we can believe this–because of the life of Jesus. He told us over and over again to reconsider what it means to be a family. In a time when blood connections meant everything, he urged those around him to forget all about them. He showed us how to build a new family and by extension how to build a new world, a world and a family in which all things are gathered up in God, drawn together in God’s divine embrace.
Many things have happened in the world this past week and this very morning that appear to contradict what I have just written. Force and violence and cruelty beyond our power to imagine are being used to gain land, resources, influence and power. Much of this is being done in the name of religion, supposedly on behalf of God.
Don’t believe it for a minute.
Remember Jesus and his message of love. Remember how he took the conventional way of understanding the world and turned it upside down as surely as he turned over the tables in the Temple. Remember how he defeated death with life through the power of God’s love.
We are called to live such a life, each in our unique way. We are called to live a life of love, destined for love and destined to love. We are yanked out of our comfortable ways of being and thinking into a new family, delivered from the womb of our culture and our traditions and named as God’s beloved children. And in that naming we are baptized into a love that is not romantic or sentimental but powerful beyond measure. The love we are destined to live changes us and enables us to change the world.
It’s no small thing we did to Little H. yesterday! We called him into a revolution of love. And I hope we remembered that we are called there, too. The good news is that no one of us has to walk the path alone. Adoption by God makes us part of a family together. And in that community we may find strength for the times that are most difficult, challenge at the times when we feel stuck and companionship in the times we find we are lonely. We are a family, responsible for one another, destined to live in and live out God’s love together.