SUNDAY SERMON: The Spirit of Adoption

By Rev. Stephen Baldwin

NT: Romans 8.14-17

GOSPEL: John 14.8-17, 25-27

Being a parent has changed me in many ways. It used to be that I could walk through the house in the dark, because I knew where everything was. Now, if I try and walk through the house in the dark, I will literally break my legs on every toy imaginable which is always right where it’s not supposed to be. 

It used to be that I rolled my eyes when people wanted to show me every single picture of their kid they’d ever taken.  Now, I get the eye rolls when I show others every single picture of Harrison I’ve ever taken.

But it’s also changed me in more serious, sobering ways.  I pay much more attention to the plight of children than I used to. Now I better understand how fragile and dependent and vulnerable children are on their own.  News coverage of children enduring war breaks my heart, even from half a world away.

But we don’t have to go to the other side of the country or the world to find children in such dire straits. Children in our own community face similar struggles. Some 7,000 children live with someone other than their parents. Kerry mentors a student each week, and she goes on field trips and to family lunch days with her so she has an adult there for her. (She got her shoes for her birthday, but she has to keep the shoes at school or else her parent would return them.) 

What must be it like to grow up without a loving, caring adult in your life? It breaks my heart to think about, but it happens right here in our own community. 

I will never forget the student I met when I was on the Board of Education. He showed up to an expulsion hearing by himself. He was 17 years old, being expelled from school for behavioral issues, and he came before the Board all by himself. We learned that he walked to the office for the meeting. He didn’t have a place to stay every night. And it was no wonder he was struggling in school. 

So when the scripture on Pentecost, the day we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit, mentioned “adoption,” my ears perked up. Paul says all of us have received a spirit of adoption. We are all God’s children. And that means the world to those who’ve known loving parents, but it means even more perhaps to those who do not. 

Adoption in Paul’s world was exceedingly rare. Like winning the lottery rare. Because infant mortality was so low and most people were poor, it just didn’t happen very often. When it did happen, it was usually a child from very meager means who was adopted by a wealthy family to keep the family name or keep the family business alive. In other words, most ancient adoptions were a complete reversal of fortunes. That’s what Paul’s talking about. God adopts us, and it’s a complete reversal of fortunes. We move into a whole new realm of existence.  

Paul says this spirit of adoption is so strong that we call God “abba,” which has a very particular meaning. Not the famous rock & roll band…but in Aramaic, the language Jesus probably used, “abba” means not just “father” but more precisely “daddy.” It’s the most personal way imaginable of referring to a father. Daddy. Mommy.  

For Paul, that’s the way we know God. Without pretense of merit. In the confines of the most personal relationship imaginable. As if we’ve been adopted into a loving family. For we have. We have! It’s easy to forget in the ups and downs of daily life that we have been adopted! We have been saved and accepted fully into the family of God! That kind of commitment is remarkable. 

I remember the story of Sgt. O’Hara in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Gt. O’Hara was shot on the battlefield. He crumpled to the ground, alone and desperate for assistance. His fellow soldiers refused, though, to go back for him. “For God’s sake, don’t leave me!” he yelled as the rest of the soldiers ran for the cover of the trees. When he needed them most, they left him. 

Life can leave us crumpled on the ground, feeling alone and desperate for help. But God never runs for the trees; God runs towards us. We have been adopted, as children of God, heirs to the kingdom, which means God has our back no matter what. 

Would you do anything for your children? Then imagine the lengths God would go to for his. Imagine. Would God give us chance after chance? Send prophet after prophet to call us back to the right path? Send us laws to make right clear? Send his son to show us the way? Send his son to die that we might live? Send the Holy Spirit as a sign and symbol of God’s continued presence in our lives and this world once Jesus returned to the father? Yes! Yes! Yes! 

The Holy Spirit lives alongside us each and every day. On Pentecost we may expect roaring winds and shaking buildings, but the Spirit’s presence is usually more subtle. Because it is with us everyday. Guiding us towards those in need, particularly children whose existence relies on our support. Leading us to take action, even when it’s easier to take it easy. Urging us to always go deeper into our relationship with “abba,” as God’s children adopted here, now, and forever. 

On Pentecost, we remember the day God sent the Spirit to aid us, but we also, perhaps more importantly, are reminded that it’s still here…to teach us. To love us. To heal us. To make us whole. To remind us that we were adopted long, long ago. Let God’s grateful people say, Amen. 


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