Children of the Father
CHILDREN OF THE FATHER
What should the church be? What could the church be? Why do we give of our time and our money and our talents to gather here each Sunday and throughout the week? Why do we hope? Why do we pray? Why do we listen to mere mortals read the scriptures and tell us about God each week?
The Book of Ephesians tries to answer those questions. And in the first, chapter of Ephesians Paul begins with a simple fact.
We are children of the Father.
From this simply theological statement Paul builds the foundations for the church. So it is from this simply statement that we will strengthen the foundations of our church. Today I have three points.
- We are Children of the Father through the Spirit of Adoption.
- Since we are children of the Father we are given an inheritance of Grace
- We respond to this grace through prayer.
First, we are Children of the Father, through the Spirit of Adoption. To quote our text from Ephesians, “Blessed be God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” We are children of the Father, through adoption. The through adoption part is particularly important. These days it has become common to say that every person on the face of the Earth is a child of God. More liberal theologians will focus on a theology of the image of God to say we were all created in God’s image and thus bear a common dignity no matter what we believe. And that theology is true according to Genesis. But Genesis never refers to every human being as a child of God. Because God’s covenant with creation was broken by the Fall the Old Testament makes a distinction between creation in the image of God and adoption as Sons and daughters of God. God adopted Israel as a nation and called Israel his child in order that all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:2). In Ephesians Paul reveals to us that God’s adoption of Israel foreshadowed the adoption of the nations in Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to Israel and to the Gentiles. God adopts us when we accept that Christ died for us and that he is our Lord. Because in fact, there is only one who was the true Son of God, that is Jesus, we share in our sonship because of Jesus, we are children of God because of Jesus, not because God made us in His image. This may not be a popular thing to say in our culture or even in our church, but I think it is the message of the New Testament, and I think it is the message Paul has for us in Ephesians.
Adoption is not a theme that is found in the Old Testament yet is plays prominently in the New. In the Roman world it was custom if you had no heir to adopt an adult. Sometimes Master would even adopt their own slaves. Thus we see the idea of a second birth, being born again when you are old, being born into a new life, being claimed in Christ. Adoption is also a naked act of Grace. With our biological children one could say we have a natural connection if a selfish motive of seeing our biological legacy continue in our children. The desire to father and mother is deep within us. The desire to father and mother other people’s children isn’t nearly as deep, if it were there wouldn’t be any orphans in the world. By using this term adoption Paul is portraying an unusual act. An act of Grace where there is not a lot in it for the one doing the adopting. This is not your own flesh and blood. If the child is older they come with a whole lot of history that perhaps you might not want to deal with. And this is the symbol of God’s Grace for us in the New Testament.
I think adoption is the most Christian thing one can do with one’s life. I know some of you today have experience with adoption. Some of you have adopted, or are adopted yourselves. In my last congregation I knew two women who adopted. Both adopted children with special needs. They are an inspiration to me. My mentor in my first church position, the Reverend Dr. Robert Johnson, adopted a child from China named Peter. They have a biological child as well named Nathan. Both are grown now. Yet, when I first met Peter I was confused, because he was so much a part of their family, I wasn’t sure he was adopted, even though he was clearly Chinese. But that is just the type of Spirit that Robert and his wife Marianne have. They adopt people into their family. They make room in their busy lives to show hospitality. Every time I visit them I feel like part of their family. Robert even adopted me. He gave me my first job in the church. He taught me much of what I know about ministry that seminary could not teach me. He saw something in me when many did not.
I have sensed that Spirit here at Calvin. The Spirit of adoption. Many of you have been grafted into this congregation because you were welcomed like beloved children. I know some of you have literally taken in children who were not your own and raised them as your own and I am humbled by such sacrifice. I keep telling you that there is a power when we treat other people’s children like our children. And we have that opportunity. We have ninety kids in the preschool. There is nothing stopping many of you, besides a background check of course, from being involved in their lives. We are children of the Father. We were claimed by the Spirit of adoption. We have that same Spirit within us. And there is great power in that Spirit if we make room in our lives for it.
First, we are children of the Father in Christ through the Spirit of adoption. Second, we have an inheritance. And that inheritance is grace. To quote Paul, “ In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promise Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”
Inheritance has always played a role in human culture and it plays a role in our own culture as well though we like to think we form ourselves in our own image. When our inheritance benefits us we call it a blessing. When our inheritance is something negative we call it a curse. And I have heard enough people’s stories as a pastor to know that we all live with an inheritance of blessing and curses. There are things that have shaped us, that have nothing to do with our decisions that define our lives. Many of us have ambivalent feelings about the things we have inherited from our forbearers may those things be financial, emotional, or spiritual.
I have been thinking a lot about my own inheritance of late since my mom visited me a couple of weekends. Many of you described my mom as delightful. And I did tell you many of you would like my mom more than you like me and I think I have been vindicated in that prediction. I love my mom. But I got to admit she gets under my skin at times as moms do. You see my mom is very sentimental. But I am more like my dad, I am not sentimental at all. I don’t own a camera. I let other people take pictures of me. I don’t much care about family heirlooms. When I grow old and die I wouldn’t much care if my family auctioned off most my possessions. But that is not my mom. She cares about my family’s history. She cares about my inheritance.
After my grandmother on my Father’s side died, my mom went through great lengths to recover items from her estate. I loved my grandmother dearly. She had predicted that I would become a ministers when I was eleven years old, when I showed little interest in this type of life. She was a woman of few words but her life looms large over mine. But when my grandfather past he put the estate in a trust between the four children. And when my grandmother died, let us just say we had some difficulties working out the details of what to do with her estate. I wanted nothing to do with the ordeal. The memories were too painful for me. I didn’t care if they sold off everything. If it were not for my mother and her grace I would have nothing to remember my grandmother by besides my memories.
I also learned about my mother’s side of the family during her last visit. I don’t know her side of the family as well. But I discovered that Even though my mom’s family were far poorer than my father’s side they made it their mission to adopt children and be foster families. They shared what little they had with complete strangers. I was surprised and humbled by this. Since I worked with my mentor Robert, I had always wanted to adopt, if I could ever find a woman crazy enough to marry me. I had no idea that adoption was part of my heritage. I had no idea that adoption was part of my inheritance.
In a same way the grace of God came as a surprise to the Gentiles Paul is writing to. He calls it a mystery that has been revealed. Grace by it’s very nature comes as a surprise. It is not something we are looking for. Paul even says in Ephesians chapter 2 that before Christ we were dead in our trespasses. Zombies are all the rage these days. They reflect an angst in our society that things are falling apart. That life is meaningless, that we are The Walking Dead, as the title of one show puts it. Every Zombie show or movie isn’t about the Zombies. It is about everyday people trying to survive, trying to find meaning and light in despair. Paul says that is where we are before we know Christ. We are the Walking Dead. We may not realize it, we may not even care, but when we see the light we know, that the things we sought before were empty compared to the glories of his grace. We are ready to throw away our inheritance because to face the pain of our failings the void in our own lives is too much for us. There are two types of sinners in the world. Good sons, who work all their lives because they think they need to earn their Father’s inheritance, even though he is willing to throw a feast for us if we would only ask. And prodigal sons, sons who pretend like our Father is dead, go off to a foreign land away from anyone who knows who we truly all, spend all we have in wild living, and end up feeding pigs in the dirt. And still our Father is willing to run to us if He sees us in the distance. Still our Father is willing to throw a feast for us if we would just shed our religious pretentiousness and loosen up a little bit. This is our inheritance. Our inheritance is grace. And His grace is sufficient for us for His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Finally, Grace should lead us to prayer. To quote Paul, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you”. Prayer is at the heart of the letter to the Ephesians. Now you may ask why that is. If everything is preordained than what is the need to pray. I don’t know. I just know that the Bible says God saves through election and we have a role to play in that through our witness and prayers. To pray that people may know Jesus and that those who know Jesus may know Him more fully, is the pinnacle of prayer. Our churches die because we do not have the eyes to see the harvest, for it is already there. To quote Matthew 9:35-38, “ And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.” We are Children of the Father, having been called in Christ, adopted and given an inheritance of grace, and we are to pray that eyes may be opened to His glorious grace. But be warned if you begin to pray such powerful prayers. For if the Holy Spirit begins to stir a cauldron of prayer in this church, there is a risk, no a certainty, that if we ask Him for laborers to go into the harvest, that He will send us.