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Pentecost 8

Sunday, 23 July 2023
John Conway, Provost

God comes to us like a parent to an adopted child, offering unexpected love to heal our experiences of loss and rejection

Pentecost 8

Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

‘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 received a spirit of adoption.’

At first sight it is quite startling to observe the number of children’s books that have an adopted child at their heart. Harry Potter is perhaps the most well-known recent example, but throughout children’s literature, it is a common device for the central protagonist to be an adoptee. The reasons are perhaps fairly obvious: literature, and children’s literature in particular, is a place, a safe place, to explore what we most fear – what would life be like if both my parents had died, if the love that grounds me was suddenly removed; but literature also explores the limits and possibilities of our own resources – if I had to manage on my own, could I do it? In addition to that exploration of our most basic fears and wonderings, an orphan evokes our sympathy, particularly when, as is often the case, they become subject to an awful adoptive family. In Harry Potter’s case, that is famously the Dursleys. And so the orphan not only has to overcome the death of their parents, but also the challenge of the adopted family he or she is thrust into – thus making their eventual triumph all the more glorious. It’s easy to see why the adoptee is a favourite figure in literature. In real life, things are by no means always like that.

I have not adopted a child, but I admire hugely those who do. Those who take the risk of offering the love of a parent to a child without the biological bond that underpins so much of what we usually understand by family. It is brave and courageous, not least because of all the difficult issues that it throws up. To adopt a child opens you up to examination by the agencies that facilitate adoption, your parenting style and skills are examined in a way that no prospective natural parent undergoes. And that is only the start: to adopt is to offer a love fraught with potential difficulties, most fundamentally because it is love being offered where there had already been, by definition, an experience of loss or rejection. And then, at what point do you tell a child that they are adopted? How do you handle their questions, and that moment, if it comes, when they want to re-trace their biological parents? It may be helpful, through literature, to explore the idea of being an orphan, but the reality is far more ambivalent. For to adopt is to ask the question, ‘can my love, not dependent on any biological bond, help overcome the loss of, for whatever reason, the child’s biological parents. Can my love help overcome the stigma that society still places on an adopted child; help overcome the internal sense of rejection that the adoptee may feel?’

‘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 received a spirit of adoption.’

At the heart of our reading from Romans this morning Paul offers the metaphor of God adopting each of us, each and every person.

That metaphor is worth pondering, sitting with, especially in the light of that ambivalence, and questions, we just noted at the heart of adoption. The metaphor asks us first to identify with those who are adopted – God comes to us like a parent to an adopted child, offering unexpected love to heal our experiences of loss and rejection. But not just to heal, as if those being adopted are always those in need. To identify with the adoptee is not to turn us all into victims, it is to allow God’s love into those places we often keep hidden – the places of hurt and rejection deep inside us. God’s love comes in surprising ways to restore us even there.

The bible is full of instances of God being most known by and in those rejected or overlooked by others: Jesus himself is described of course as the stone rejected by the builders become the chief cornerstone. So most fundamentally, the metaphor of God adopting us, asks us to live in the truth that God chooses us. Adoption is a relationship not governed by biological, or supposed ‘natural’ ways of doing things. We all operate, to a greater or lesser extent, within boundaries marked out by our biological relationships. Family comes first for many, if not most of us. That is understandable, natural even. But at the heart of New Testament is an understanding of church built on the knowledge that we are all adoptees – adopted by God and therefore siblings, in new relationship with each other. That model of church, of community, asks of us something more than the preservation of biological relationships. We see that in Jesus’ uneasy relationship with his own family, and we see it in Paul’s understanding of church – as the body of people bound, not by biological ties, or cultural ties, or any of the markers that usually separate us from them, but bound together by faith, and hope, in love. God chooses, in the Spirit, to adopt us; and in that adoption we discover the love first met in Jesus Christ whose love knew no bounds; in that shared adoption we are formed as brothers and sisters. We meet around this family table to share bread and wine. And we are called, in hope, into a world being redeemed by the love we discover in our unexpected and liberating adoption. Amen.

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