Thanks Dad (Message for June 19th, 2016)

Scripture:  Galatians 3:23-4:8

            My mom loves to tell the story.   I do not know my exact age, but I was young, somewhere in early elementary school.   My family was visiting my grandparents.  At grandma and grandpa Johnson’s there was some cleaning going on, and my grandmother had found a picture of my dad from his senior year of high school.   While I do not remember this, my mom says that I asked “who is that?”    My grandmother said it was my dad and she added, “you will look just like that someday.”   According to my mom, my reply was “Oh God, I hope not!”  

            I do not know what happened to that picture, so I never compared it with my own senior picture.   However, I imagine they looked fairly similar.  For that reason, I really disliked going to my grandparent’s church growing up.  This was the same church that my dad grew up in, so every time I went there, older people would call me “little Scotty”.   It aggravated me so much.   It aggravated me because I could not deny it.  A DNA test is not needed to know who I belong to, a simple mirror will do.    For better or worse, our parents help define who we are.  It just is not just physical similarities.    Even when we do not want to admit, the apple very rarely falls far from the tree.   It is somewhat unfortunate, that often we realize this in less than positive ways.  However, we forget to be thankful for our parents for our more desirable qualities as well.   For instance, I believe that creativity is one of my strongest assets, and I know that I have my dad to thank for that.   He is a very creative individual, and he modeled creativity and outside the box thinking for me daily.    We are all more than just the combined sum of our parents, but for negative or positive it cannot be denied that our parents contribute greatly to who we are.    If that is true, then this morning’s scripture should be both awe inspiring and humbling.   This scripture reminds us that through Christ, we have a Father beyond our earthly Father.   We have a Father in Heaven in Christ Jesus has claimed us, and our heavenly father also contributes greatly to who we are.  

            There is a common sentiment that all people are God’s children.   I appreciate the concept.  The idea is that all people are created by God and God deeply cares about each and every person.  However, biblically speaking the idea of everyone being God’s children is not entirely accurate.   Scripture’s like this morning speak about adoption.   Verses 4:5-4:7 of this morning’s scripture speak of how we are adopted by God and because we are adopted by God we are God’s child.   This would imply that before this adoption we are not truly God’s children, at least not in the sense this scripture is referring to.  Paul is not making a poetic statement about being God’s children.   He is making a legally binding one.     The ancient Greco-Roman world, had a slightly different understanding of family than we do today.  Like for most of us today for them, family was everything.   However, family was not traced strictly by bloodlines.   In ancient Roman culture, it was understood that the son reflected the father.    It was the desire of Romans to leave a lasting legacy, and it fell to the children to carry on this legacy from generation to generation.   For ancient Roman families immortality was achieved through a strong family line.  The son would inherit the father’s titles, roles, and responsibilities.  It was the responsibility of the son to carry on where the father left off, and in doing so bring great honor to the father’s legacy.   To ensure this adoption was a common practice.   However, most forms of adoption in the Greco-Roman were different than today.  Today it is most common for infants or very young children to be adopted.   However, in the first century young adults would regularly be adopted.   The most famous example of this, is Julius Caesar adopting his adult nephew Augustus.   This adoption made August the son of Caesar, so when he was killed, Augustus had the right to take the name Caesar for himself and carrying on his adopted father’s legacy.   It was also often the case that trusted and befriended slaves would be adopted.   This adoption would instantly free the slave and elevate their social status to that of son.   There are instance where in an instant, someone went from occupying the lowest rung of the social hierarchy to the highest because of an adoption.   The former slave both legally and culturally became the son of their former master, and the adopted son received all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a son.        

            The statement that Paul makes about being God’s children through adoption is truly profound.   It was not uncommon for adults to be adopted but that did not make it any less special.   Someone would not just adopt anyone to become their heir.   The person they adopted was someone who meant a great deal to them, who they valued, and who they trusted completely to carry on in their name.   If God is willing to adopt us as God’s children so that we can call out, “Abba, Father”, then that means God genuinely believes that we mean a great deal to God, that we are valued, and that God trust us to be God’s children.   It means that the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the entire universe cherishes us enough to make us part of God’s family.   This is not just a metaphor, but this scripture states that we are heirs.   We have full ownership of God’s eternal and heavenly kingdom.   It truly is an incredible statement!   As we consider what it means to be God’s children I think there are two things to keep in mind.  

            First, we should recognize how big God’s family is.  Not only does God have a lot of adopted children, but the family of God is a lot more diverse than the average church.   Verse 3:28 states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”   The first century Roman culture that Paul was writing to was one that was highly stratified with strict gender roles.  It was very subversive for Paul to write a statement that emphasized such unity and equality.   I think such a statement is still subversive today.  We are bombarded with messages that seek to put us vs. them.  Who the “us” is depends on who is recruiting.  The end result is that much of the general conversation, tone, and spirit of our discourse focuses on what divides us.   Today is an era where we need Paul prophetic reminder.   We need to be reminded that we are all one in Christ Jesus.   We are all God’s children, and the ground is level at the foot of the cross.   This does mean we have to be the same.  Unity does not mean uniformity.  We can still allow for and even celebrate the things that make us different.   However, we can claim what unites us is stronger.   The primary aspect of our identity should not be our political party, our church denomination, or even our national heritage.   The primary part of our identity is that ware adopted into God’s family, we are God’s children and that should be greater than every other aspect of our identity.   It does not matter if we disagree with someone on nearly every political issue, we can still be brothers and sisters in Christ.  We can even some fairly strong difference in belief like we do with some Christian denominations, we are still brothers and sisters in Christ.  As members of the household of God, we should cherish believers with whom we have differences just as much as those we connect with deeply.   We are all part of God’s family, and what unites us must be stronger than what divides us. 

            Second we can consider the way in which we are adopted.   If you know someone who has ever adopted a child, then you know there is a process.  It is not an easy process either, there are exact conditions to be met.   The transfer of parentalship is a big deal and it is not one taken lightly.    In the same way, there is a very specific process for adoption into the family of God.   Verse 3:26-27 state: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”    The process for being adopted by God is we must be clothed with Christ.   I always thought that this phrase that appears a couple of places in the scripture was a bit odd and an honestly, a little creepy sounding.   However, my daughter helped me understand this scripture better.  Callie loves to play dress up.   When she puts on a Snow White dress, she is no longer Callie.  In her mind, she is Snow White.   This is not just a princess thing.   When she puts on her Batman cape, she is no longer Callie.  She is Batman.   She allows the clothes she is wearing to influence how she acts and who she understands herself to be.   In the same way, if we are baptized and claim that Jesus is our Lord and Savior then that means we allow our faith to influence how we act and who understand ourselves to be.   We are no longer simply who we are, but we are more Christ like.  

            In John 14:11 Jesus states, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”   Jesus is the vine that connects us to God the Father because Jesus and the Father are one, so it is through Jesus we are adopted by God and it is through Jesus we become God’s children.   However, this is more than a spiritual connection.   Remember, we are our parent’s children.  In the way we think, the way we act, and the things we believe every single one of us bear the indelible impression of our parents.   We are shaped and influenced by them.   Through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we should also be shaped and influenced by our heavenly Father.   Our thoughts, our actions, our beliefs, and our words should bear the indelible impression of Jesus.   We should have compassion for others the way that Jesus did.   We should seek to honor God in all we do, seek to live an authentic faith, and we should seek to love the least of these.   When I went to visit my dad’s home church, the people there knew who my father was just by looking at me.   In the same way, we should live our lives in such a way that when people interact with us they know we belong to our Father in heaven.  As God’s children, our heavenly Father should shape and mold us.  The best parts about ourselves should be reflective of Christ.  The parts of us that are most loving, most compassionate, most patient, and most gracious should come about in our lives because we are molded and shaped by our heavenly Father.   As God’s children one of the goals of our life should be able to look into the mirror and see reflected back at us the people we know we can be.  We should be able to see all of the ways that we are a faithful disciple, and we should be able to say with gratitude “Thanks dad.” 

            May we indeed clothe ourselves in Christ Jesus.  In doing so may we claim that we are adopted by God and that we are God’s children.    May being a child of God, be the core of our identity, and may that identity unite us.   May we allow that identity to shape us, mold us, and make us more like Jesus.  Today is Father’s day, and so may we honor and celebrate our heavenly Father by giving thanks for the ways that God the Father sends His spirit into our hearts to make us heirs into God’s heavenly kingdom.  May the call of heart this day, be “Thanks dad.”