7 Pentecost/Proper 11/Ordinary 16 Year A July 23, 2017
Luther Memorial Church Seattle, WA
The Rev. Julie Hutson
Grace and peace to you from God, who is as Father and Mother, Jesus who is our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who is our guide and advocate. Amen.
We approached the court house on that blustery morning, searching through the maze of corridors and stairwells for our assigned courtroom. When we arrived there, we discovered that we were so early, eager as we were to get this taken care of legally, that the doors to the courtroom weren’t even unlocked. The three of us sat on a bench, perched there with our thoughts, the clock on the opposite wall keeping time. Eventually others waited their turn with us as well. Young and old, came clutching files of paperwork, others wringing their hands together. Many came with their lawyers….older men who looked like Atticus Finch might have just come to life and women in power suits and heels who still had to claim their place at the table.
With only moments to go before our court appointed time, the doors to the courtroom were unlocked and we all all stood from our benches and moved in like a wave moves back to the sea. Inside the courtroom we found more benches where we would wait again, until finally the judge appeared.
One by one the cases were called and went before him. One by one people approached nervously, accompanied by those attorneys or only by their nerves. And finally it was our turn. Taylor and Bruce approached the judge, who until this point had proven to be a stern taskmaster, sending people away, imposing punishment, pronouncing judgment. This time, as he picked up our file folder, his shoulders dropped a little bit, as he visibly relaxed. He pushed away from the bench, sighed a bit, and smiled at Bruce and Taylor. The whole courtroom seemed to do the same. The young attorney in the power suit sitting behind me grinned as she leaned over and said to me “You can take pictures. It’s okay.”
This was a day long awaited, long anticipated. This was the day Bruce adopted Taylor as his daughter.
The stoic judge turned into a comedian as he reminded Bruce that being the father of a 21 year old daughter would mean there always needed to be a spare bedroom in our home and that he would always be the one to treat her to lunch, wherever she wanted to go. We laughed nervously, but with happy thanksgiving.
Paul writes poetically in today’s reading to the church at Rome that we are God’s children, not by birth, but by adoption. The Hebrew people, our Jewish sisters and brothers, would be children birthed into God’s family. We are the ones God chose to add to the family tree…grafted in with love and tenderness.
I love adoption stories. I’ve loved them long before they became a part of our story. Because when a child comes into a family through adoption, they often come in known for who they already are. When I gave birth to my children, I didn’t have any idea what they would be like once they came into the world. Would they be easy babies or anxious babies? Would they ever sleep through the night? Would they grow up to enjoy country music or classical music? Oh I loved them before I even met them….but I didn’t really know them yet.
When people are adopted into a family, they are already becoming themselves in all of their fullness and in all of their brokenness. They are already walking around in the world, full of all that makes them who they are. And then, in a beautiful moment, they become members of a family.
I could end this sermon right here and that would probably make some of us pretty happy. We could get out into the day sooner! We wouldn’t have to consider the harder pieces of this adoption metaphor: that somewhere there is a child without a parent and that not all adoptions, not all families, are places of safety. To ignore those hard realities is to only offer the fairy tale part of the metaphor Paul uses.
A part of our faith and life’s journey is to come to know this God who adopts us as parent….this God who is described throughout Scripture as both Father and Mother. This God who created us and longs to gather us as a mother hen gathers her chicks or as a Daddy loves his children.
Who is this God? How is God known to us?
If God is only a cosmic Santa Clause or a genie in a bottle to whom we offer our wish list, what do we do when we do not get the job or the mate or whatever else it is that we prayed to cosmic Santa Clause God for?
If God is a chess playing God in the sky, moving us like pawns from place to place….causing some to prosper and others to struggle, afflicting some and saving others….how can we trust such a chess playing God?
Nowhere in Scripture are we offered such a God. God is many things, but God is not one who grants our wishes or willingly afflicts people with hardship or grants them abundance.
Because God is better than that. God is love. That simple. Love that does not change. Love that does not leave. Love that does not turn away. Love that does not abandon.
Where can I go from your Spirit? asks the Psalmist, Where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.
There is nowhere we can go, no place we can be, and nothing we can do that will separate us from God’s love.
Hang onto that for a minute.
Believe it with all your heart.
Believe that it is true for you.
Believe that if you were the ONLY person in the entire world, it would still be true.
God loves us so much that God adopts us as God’s own children….becoming for us the parent we all long for, no matter our own family experiences. God loves us so much that God never leaves us.
And God loves us this much while knowing all that there is to know about us. God knows us at our very best and our absolute worst. God knows us when we are working for justice and speaking truth to power and loving God with all of our hearts. And God knows us when we respond out of our fear, when we laugh at that off color joke, when we are unkind to our neighbor or the beggar or the dog or ourselves. God knows us when we eat the last cookie and when we break it in two and share it with our friend. God loves us in every single moment.
Lord, you have searched me out, O Lord, you have known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you O Lord, know it altogether. You encompass be, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
This is a hard thing to believe, that we could be so loved. That we could be deserving of such love. And the thing is, we don’t deserve it. That’s why it’s called grace, freely given, not earned. If anyone asks you what it means to be Lutheran, or if you were wondering yourself, that’s the answer. That we rest and live in God’s abundant grace, which is a free gift, given to all people. People beloved by God. People God adopts into this wide family. People for whom God always has a place.
It is a wondrous thing, being the children of God. We experience transformed relationship. We experience saving hope. We experience unending love. Thanks be to God. And let the church say…Amen.