November 17, 2019
It began with a can of peaches. Jonathan was a few months into solid foods and we had finally introduced him to fruit. An elderly gentleman at our church discovered Jonathan particularly enjoyed canned peaches. The first few Sundays he would come with his sweet, token offering of one can of peaches. A few weeks later that offering expanded into 3 cans of fruit. That grew into a grocery bag with assorted grocery items that happened to be on sale on any given week. I remember the bag often included pistachios and always, one can of peaches. Todd and I were uncomfortable with this growing collection we received each week and we tried to put a stop to it on multiple occasions but Mr. Buller was not only generous, he was pretty stubborn too. And the grocery offering just kept steadily growing. In time, every Sunday without fail, he would come with a full cooler and 2-3 filled grocery bags. Our relationship grew by leaps and bounds as well. When we arrived at Bergthal, Mr. Buller was struggling with deep grief having lost his wife less than a year earlier. Interestingly, he objected to women in ministry on principle and presented a very traditional and conservative approach on all things theological and political. But loneliness drove him to seek us out in a special way and ministering to us seemed to give him renewed purpose in life. He would go grocery shopping every day to find the best deals to add to that week’s collection of groceries for our pantry. We celebrated birthdays together and he gifted the kids with incredibly thoughtful presents. Every year he spent Christmas Day with us and he became like a second grandpa to all four of us. When I received the phone call on September 30, 2010 that our dear 93 year old Mr. Buller had slipped quietly away in his sleep, I was overcome. I jumped in the car and cried my way to Hutchinson, to Todd, so I could break the news to him in person, so we could weep together. Almost 10 years later and I still miss him.
A few weeks ago, Joanne shared with me that she wanted to do a children’s story on adoption. What a perfect topic for this congregation that has had the opportunity to celebrate so many adoptions over the years! I decided I wanted to frame my message around adoption as well, so I’ve just kind of been trying to immerse myself in a whole variety of scripture texts in preparation. And if the link to my Mr. Buller story isn’t yet apparent, well, I’ll come back to that.
One of the first points I think scripture makes is that God has a special place in his heart for children who don’t have parents who can care for them and the Bible makes it very clear that if we’re following God, then we need to be looking out for kids in need. Here are a few verses from among dozens.
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 from the NRSV – For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.
Psalm 146:9 from The Message Bible – God loves good people, protects strangers, takes the side of orphans and widows, but makes short work of the wicked.
Isaiah 1:23-25 from The Living Bible – Your leaders are like rebels, companions of thieves; all of them take bribes and won’t defend the widows and orphans. Therefore, the Lord of Hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, says: I will pour out my anger on you, my enemies! I myself will melt you in a smelting pot, and skim off your slag.
And this more comforting verse from John 14:18 from the NIV – I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
In the fallen-ness of this world, we live among and we are broken and battered people. Shattered relationships abound. Deprivation and disease confront us daily. No matter how righteous we are, no matter how faithful, no one escapes this life unscathed. Now God will work to redeem that which is broken and God often has a breathtaking way of taking tragedy and restoring the pieces to a life-giving wholeness we would not think possible when we are deep in the throes of loss. But I don’t think the brokenness is necessarily part of God’s plan. God does not will for young children to lose their parents or parents to lose their children. God does not will for wives to lose their husbands prematurely or husbands to lose their wives.
But you know what God does will? What God does write large into His plan for restoration? Adoption. Adoption is one of those breathtakingly beautiful ways God takes tragedy and restores the pieces to a life-giving wholeness.
This adoption theme runs throughout scripture in its entirety. Three different threads I want to highlight. First, we have our traditional understanding of adoption. A woman and a man decide to adopt a child and in that adoption process woman and man turn into mother and father and child turns into daughter or son. Cassie (name changed) was the last child we got to celebrate being adopted in this congregation on February 28, 2018. I hope she won’t be the last one, because what a joy this is when a family is born or a family grows through the miracle of adoption.
Joanne has already talked about two scriptural examples of traditional adoption. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Jesus was adopted by Joseph. I absolutely love that our Lord and Savior was adopted by his earthly father. And I would also add that Esther was adopted by her much older cousin, Mordecai.
Then we get to the New Testament and Paul’s letters in particular where adoption takes on a whole new light. In the words of Paul, we discover that we’ve all been adopted. Wow! Three times – in the book of Romans, in Galatians and in Ephesians, Paul speaks about our own adoption. Galatians 4:4-7 from the New Living translation – “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”
God sent Jesus to buy our freedom, to make each of us available for adoption. And God has plenty of room for all of us. God wants to adopt every last one of us and call us his sons and daughters. And so God sends the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts and when we let that Spirit in, Jesus moves within us and before we know it we are calling out to God, calling God our Father, accepting the terms of this adoption fully and without reserve. And God’s going all the way here too – lifting us from slavery to the law, to our own limitations, to our sin – God is claiming us as his own and making us his fully titled heirs.
John 1:12-13 from the NIV reads, – “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
It is important to note that line, “But to all who received him…” This implies choice. Do we receive him? Do we allow ourselves to fall freely into this grace? Do we accept God’s adoption? If we let the Spirit of Jesus move in our hearts, then we are changed. And how we interact with others reveals that inner transformation. Because we have been adopted by God, we then are empowered, are inspired, are compelled to reach out with that same spirit of adoption and connect to and embrace others.
I’ve already said, God has a very special place in his heart for those children who don’t have parents who can or who will look out for them. I think God also has a very special place in his heart for parents who open their hearts and homes to children who need a family. But adoption is such a transformative experience that all of us who have been adopted by God are also empowered to reach out and experience for ourselves at least shades of the adoption miracle where “doors swing open and walls tumble down” and strangers become family.
I began this message time sharing the story of Mr. Buller. Mr. Buller was a man of great faith. He knew Jesus and loved Jesus. He lived his life generously in so many different ways. And so when this little family moved into the church with no friends in the area, he was moved to adopt us. We were like family to him. And we responded to his love and affection and we adopted him too, a beautiful circle made possible by the grace of God moving within us.
This kind of adoption manifests in so many different ways. I’m guessing all of us can name people in our lives who have somehow crossed that line from friend to family. I can’t believe how many people I meet who talk about a time in their life when their family took a young person in for a period of time and that teenager became like one of their own. I think of Lua, adopted for this year by Lynn, Lorie and Kate. Mentor relationships have often been very significant here in our church, our kids often feel like they’ve acquired another uncle or aunt. The program, Circles of Hope, is largely about creating a space where these formative relationships can develop, where a healthy, functioning adult temporarily or not, “adopts” an individual who is struggling. This also seems to be part of the success of the Omega Program where recovering addicts are able to adopt someone who is trying hard to climb out of the trenches.
Scripture also testifies to the transformational power of these more informal adoptive relationships. Eli becomes a father figure in young Samuel’s life and calls Samuel his son. In the book of Ruth, I’m not sure whom adopted whom. Together, they defy tradition after the death of Ruth’s husband and Naomi seems to adopt Ruth and Ruth adopts Naomi. A young Timothy becomes like a son to Paul and is a source of great comfort to him in his final years. In I Corinthians 4:17 Paul writes, “I am sending to you Timothy, my son, whom I love.”
Right now, our congregation may very well be in the early stages of our own informal adoption as we work to minister to three children and a mother in need of help. None of us know this family. They are strangers. But we know they are often hungry and we have felt moved to step up and help provide some food. I’m going to read Deuteronomy 10:17-18 again – For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.
You see, we have received that Spirit of Jesus within us. We have accepted our adoption and so we reach out to others and put legs on our prayers for justice, for love and we pray they too know or will come to know the same God of grace we call our Father.
We’re going to listen now to a song I think is familiar to many of us, “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying”. This is a song, that even in the title, acknowledges the truth that we have been adopted by God, we are his beloved children. And accompanying the song will be images of adoption – a reminder of what is possible when through prayer we turn the Holy Spirit loose in this place and allow the transformative power of adoption to move among us “swinging open doors, tearing down walls,” creating family within God’s love and grace. This is something to celebrate!