Even in our families of origin, it’s complicated, and fraught with loss and rejection, acceptance and favoritism. The Marriage Equality bill that was introduced into the Illinois legislature this session to grant to everyone in our state equal protection, not just opposite gendered couples, but same-sex couples too, was pulled suddenly last week when some 25 same-sex couples from around the state, life-long partners, filed two lawsuits against the Clerk of Court, that their right to marry, their human rights, were being denied them as gay and lesbian couples. Quite a week! Wherever this ends up – and hopefully, by the grace of God, it will bring marriage equality soon – we know that loving, same-sex partners, will continue to make life-long commitments to one another, and a variety of shapes and configurations of loving families will continue valiantly, struggling to be faithful to the ones they love, and to raise their families.
The pastor who performed the civil union service for Ann Marie and Patricia, tells of the couple’s six year old daughter Hailey. She is a child with special needs because of the trauma she suffered the first few months of her life, but now Hailey is thriving under the care of her new parents. Recently, Hailey was legally adopted by Ann Marie, in the next step of the process. At the hearing, the judge commented that hopefully soon it will be possible for both Ann Marie, and her wife Patricia, to adopt Hailey together, as her legal parents - parents that the judge found to be highly qualified, noting that, with a back log of some 127,000 children nationwide waiting for adoption, how tragic it was for the country, that Ann Marie and Patricia were not afforded all the legal protections and privileges opposite-sex married couples took for granted. How much healthier our society could be if little Hailey could grow up adopted by both her moms.
A seminary professor I know, recalled a story about her niece, who is an only child. The professor was at a recent family gathering when the nine-year-old cried to her mother, "I wish I was adopted, like my cousins. Then we'd have more in common with each other." Her lament may surprise some of us, but it reflects a very human concern for belonging and identity. (Audrey West, Working Preacher) Not knowing any better, to the niece, adoption looked like a stronger bond than natural born siblings.
St. Paul proclaims, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”
Most scholars agree that Paul borrowed the concept of adoption from Greek or Roman law. The Jews did not practice adoption, and the word never appears in the Hebrew scriptures. In The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris says adoption is “a useful word for Paul, for it signifies being granted the full rights and privileges of [belonging to] a family [in] which one does not belong by nature.” One is not born a Christian; one becomes a Christian. (Verity A. Jones, CC)
Do we sometimes feel like being a Christian is our birthright? Do we assume that because we choose to be here, we are natural born Christians?
We know that God loves us even when we are still sinners. But in the sacrament of baptism, here at the font, we rejoice that we have been adopted by God, and made fellow heirs with Christ, brothers and sisters in the faith. In the waters of baptism, we begin a new journey and life, becoming followers, being formed by the grace and love of God – who has chosen us. Here, our last names are all the same, Christian. We do not choose God, but in Christ we are claimed and named, and adopted into the life of the Spirit, the risen one.
No where is that more clear than in the baptism of little Gabriella Ann Fernandez today, who comes to the font in the arms of her parents, unable to answer I do for herself, or understand the depth and meaning of the sacrament of baptism. And yet, she receives as fully as any of us salty and seasoned adults, the gift of grace and love and salvation. God calls us first, just like Isaiah. And whether we respond immediately with “here I am,” or much later, we are all children of God by adoption, and not by natural birth.
Jesus was clear that his family included the faithful who surrounded him at the egalitarian meals that came to be known as the meal of holy communion, for us. And that his followers and disciples became his sisters and brothers, at the end, when he washed their feet, on the night in which he was betrayed. He adopted them, and continues to adopt us as siblings. And Jesus included a rich array of followers, from the highways and byways, even tax collectors and sinners. He called for a kingdom on earth that equally invited the marginalized and outcast. He dined with rich and poor, and lovingly fed the 5,000 pilgrims on the hillside that the disciples would have shooed away. And all those who believed, the faithful, he adopted, and called his new family.
Not that Jesus wanted to exclude his biological family. We know that, of Jesus’ many brothers, James became a key leader in the Jerusalem church. And his mother Mary was adopted into the faithful assembly too, if you will, when from the cross Jesus gave John to her as a son, and then gave Mary to John as his mother. Jesus invites all to the font, and the table, to be adopted into the family of faith, so that we may nurture and support one another in our mission to God’s world.
Single parent families, same-sex partners and parents, inter-racial couples, those divorced and re-married, there is such a host and variety of ways that we belong in the diverse family of God. Our families-of-origin are not always places where we are accepted or loved, but with God, all are welcome, loved and cared for, as adopted children. Adoption, is the common denominator. God chooses us. None of us can earn our way in. We don’t have a birthright to this family. But we are loved and cherished because God made us. And here at the font we are made heirs of God, and sisters and brothers of Christ, now and forever.