Monday, 22 August 2016

The Power of Adoption

This sermon was preached at Evensong on Sunday 3rd April, the 2nd Sunday of Easter. The readings were Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 85 & Galatians 4:1-5. This article was used in my research.

A while ago, before Isaac was born, Jen & I talked about adopting. I guess many people who want children but, for whatever reason, do not have them, consider it, as a way to both satisfy their desire to raise a family and to be able to provide a loving, stable environment to a child in need.

Paul, in our reading from his letter to the Galatians this evening also talks about adoption, but his understanding, and our understanding of the word are really quite different. I’d like to think about that a bit tonight, and see if it can help us to understand that reading, and God, a little bit better.

I have to confess, when I read through this reading a week or so ago to prepare for tonight, I was a bit confused. Paul talks of us receiving adoption as God’s children, and my gut reaction to that was to balk, and argue against the imagery. “I’m not adopted into God’s family,” I thought, “I belong there – God is my father.”

And then, I had to stop, and take stock of what I was thinking. 

My gut reaction betrayed my subconscious thinking behind the topic – that it was better to be born into a family than it was to be adopted into it. That thinking is, of course, rubbish and, more than that – offensive. I owe a very large apology to all those people who have adopted children, or who are, themselves, adopted. For what it is worth, I am sorry for my subconscious attitudes here.

But that reaction did get me thinking further; about what Paul was trying to say here. I came up with the fact that in the process of adoption, there is choice. Parents of adopted children have seen a child, with all his or her individuality, talents, and faults, and said “yes; we will love you and welcome you into our family. You belong with us. You will be our child, and we will be your parents.” There’s a saying, that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family; but adopted children have been chosen; hand-picked, if you like, to be supported and loved, and welcomed into the family. Paul is driving his point home – we’re not just God’s children; we’re God’s adopted children; each and every one of us, chosen by God to be welcomed into his family. 

As I mentioned before, however, the way we view adoption, and the way Paul viewed it are different. The element of choice is still there, but adoption in the Roman world in which Paul lived is not as we would understand it today.

To start with, adoption for the Romans was mainly about gaining an heir. A well-off Roman man who had no children would look around for a suitable young man (and it was invariably a male in his teens rather than a child) to adopt as his son. A famous example of this was Julius Caesar, who adopted his nephew, Octavian to be his heir. Octavian changed his name, and became the Emperor Augustus Caesar; the emperor throughout Christ’s life.

In this act of adopting, a number of things happened. The first was that the state, or class of the young man being adopted immediately changed to that of their new father. If the equivalent of a working class Roman was adopted by a middle-class Roman, they immediately became middle-class. If a slave was adopted, they were immediately freed. 

Secondly, any property owned by the young man being adopted became the property of his new father, and any debts owed to him were now owed to the father. This was not an issue, as the young man was now the heir to his new father’s estate and would inherit it again. The young man’s dependents were now also dependent upon his new father too. Interestingly, any debts that that young man owed were immediately cancelled. The man no longer belonged to his old family and no longer carried his old family name. He became, in effect, a new person.

Thirdly, once adopted into a new family, the young man could not be disowned. A father could disown, or become estranged from his own, begotten son, but not from one he had adopted. In fact, the act of becoming estranged from your only begotten son would trigger a father to adopt a new heir, one that could not be lost.

I hope you can see the parallels Paul was trying to draw out.

It was only last week that we heard Christ’s cry of estrangement on the cross – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And that estrangement from his only begotten son leads God to look for new heirs to adopt; us.

And then on Easter morning, we celebrated the glorious occasion when the Father welcomed back he who was lost –when the son who was estranged on the cross was resurrected and welcomed back into the family of God, now, not only as our Lord, God and King, but our brother too.

And so, I am right to repent of my attitude towards adoption. For in losing his son, God adopts us all. He makes us all heirs to his kingdom. He gives us a new name, and a new life, cancelling our debts and forgiving us our trespasses. He frees us from our state or class or whatever labels we, or others, have placed on ourselves, giving us a single, sufficient status – Child of God. And, finally, he ensures we cannot become estranged from God again – for from that point of adoption onward, for now and always, nothing can separate us from the love of God – not death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present and nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.

And that is the power of adoption.

Amen.

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