2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
Frank was a brilliant physician. He was an internist, a clinician and a medical school professor. But he quit teaching and went into private practice when he got tired of teaching, or maybe because he longed for the clinical hands on work, or maybe because he wanted to make more money to support his young family. By now he and Joyce had two children in school, a boy and a girl. And then, a little later, perhaps by surprise, they had a third.
Frank was on top of the world. He and Joyce had built a home on a tract of land big enough for her to have a couple of horses. The children were healthy and enjoying school. Business was booming in the small town where he set up his practice. Another baby thrilled them. Frank was happy, if not a little bit cocky.
Then something went wrong and baby Janie ended up a premie and in Neonatal Intensive Care. And Frank’s world unraveled. He was faced with something that had not happened to him in his charmed life.
And so the family swung into crisis mode and started camping out in the NICU and the NICU waiting room and Frank found himself in a different place in the large hospital. Upstairs he was a sort of king, a mover and shaker. Downstairs, where the NICU was, he felt powerless and forlorn.
A couple of days into the crisis and the baby started improving and the prognosis was good. They relaxed and went back to the normal ways of welcoming a child. They named her, they began to dream again about her future, her life and their joy returned.
But then, on the 5th day, little Janie crashed and needed lots of attention. The nervous family waited in the waiting room to give the crew space. Frank’s anxiety was increased by his medical knowledge and he found it hard to comfort Joyce.
Then Frank did something he’d never done before. Well, not really. He prayed.
Frank was a Christmas and Easter sort of Methodist. He was a believer, and he felt respect and admiration for “The Big Guy” as he called God. But Frank rarely really prayed.
But that day, Frank slipped into a broom closet and prayed. What would he pray for? What do you say in a moment like that? He asked himself. Then, after some thought, he decided to offer the child back to God. In his pray, he realized that his children, none of them, were really his in the first place. In this moment of spiritual awakening, Frank realized that we are all adopted. We belong to God. We adopt each other.
Janie made it thorough. She grew into a lovely young lady, beloved by her family, a true Christian and a happy girl her whole life.
But Frank became ill and died in his mid-fifties. I’ve often wondered if he didn’t offer himself in Janie’s stead that night in the broom closet. He didn’t say.
What Frank realized about adoption that night though, was from today’s scripture reading from Ephesians. “(God) destined us for adoption as (God’s) children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of (God’s) will, to the praise of (God’s) glorious grace that (God) freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” The Beloved is Jesus. And we are designees in the inheritance of all the riches that come from becoming a part of this family - through adoption.
Now Ephesians is a little book in the Bible that is overlooked in some ways. Scholars agree that this letter was meant for an audience wider than the church in Ephesus - like a cover letter to introduce all of Paul’s letters. They say that the introductory salutation phrases, which are in the two verses just prior to what we’ve just read, these phrases were added later. So Dear Ephesians and Love, Paul were not in the original manuscript. They were added later when a copy was sent to the church in Ephesus. Some scholars think Paul did not directly pen this letter, that it was written by one of his disciples, maybe after Paul’s death.
But none of that really matters. What gets looked over that does matter is this Pauline theology about getting adopted by God into God’s family. God set salvation history in motion before the beginning of time, those in later generations became heirs to this promise. Here salvation is viewed as being incorporated into God’s family. We are assured that we were destined from the beginning of time to be children of God.
Well, what does that mean and what does it take to become a child of God and remain a child of God?
I’ve been enjoying a lot of summer reading of fiction this year. I’ve been catching up on novels which were talked a lot about over the past few years and which I somehow missed. Like, The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) which came out 5 years ago and won a pulitzer after sitting on the New York Times Bestseller List for the better part of 2013; and Before We Were Yours, (Lisa Wingate) which is only a year old but also spent some time on the bestseller lists; and The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins). All of these books are about children who were abused or neglected in a variety of ways. Some summer reading!
I wonder why we are flooded with such stories of children being hurt and lost. We really don’t want to think about such evil things. Why on earth do so many people want to read novels about them? Much less real life, true crime stories about such things. Those are popular too.
Here’s my theory. I think we want to be informed but we also want to have some control of our feelings of outrage when we look at the evil of child abuse. If it’s fiction, or even true but someone else’s story and so removed, then we know it’s not happening under our own roofs.
That’s the psychology behind horror movies. If I see enough of them, I’ll get less scared, more used to the fear and then I won’t feel afraid anymore. It give us a sense of control over our worst fears.
But, getting de-sensitized to evil is not the best way to cope with it. Rather, we should be strong in God, not of our own devises, when we face these realities. As a book end to this passage from the first chapter of Ephesians, I lift up a verse from the final chapter - “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of (God’s) power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” We should go into the world with faith that God will use us toward the good in all things.
And we do this through our own Baptism.
In those novels I’m reading, these abused children are resilient. That’s what makes it a compelling story. They not only survive, they learn to thrive. In the end they heal and they are reunited with loved ones and they learn to even trust and join communities that seek goodness. Good conquers evil, if only in small and unusual ways.
I also have been watching movies with similar themes. I’ve been watching The Lord of the Rings - which I somehow also never read, believe it or not. So, these stories are new and fresh for me.
I love the character Frodo who is a Hobbit. Hobbits are innocent small folk who have never left their little peaceful agricultural region called the Shire. So, they are childlike and are treated thus by the adults in the Fellowship of the Ring - a band of warriors who take four of these Hobbits on a quest. But these are adult Hobbits so they are not children. They are just innocent and joyful because they are unaware of the evils their companions have seen as warriors. It takes this innocence and joyful, hopeful, playful person of Frodo to bear the evil ring and not be tarnished.
So, how do we come to follow Jesus? Should we be warriors in Christ by “putting on the armor of God?” Should we be children who do all that we can to remain innocent and avoid facing the evils of the world? Should we stand and fight or stick our heads in the sand? Should we insist on what we are right about? Or should we wait and see?
These sorts of questions are all over the news these days. But in the church, we have one foundational answer. It is through our baptism that we are saved.
John the Baptist came from God preaching a message of repentance and baptizing believers in preparation of the coming of Jesus. In this gory story from St. Mark this morning, we are reminded of just how political and messy these followers of Rome were. They were all caught up in trying to control their own fate while keeping John the Baptizer locked in the cellar.
Jesus was no where to be seen in this story. Yet, we know he knows and that he is nearby. We know this from other passages where Jesus spoke with John and was baptized by John and then sent messengers to John to keep the faith. All is well.
These sacrifices were made for us so that we can always know that All is Well and that All Manner of things shall be well (St. Teresa) And so that we can go about doing the will of our God. We can go forth in the Spirit because we know that we saved and we know that we are loved and we know that these facts are the armor of God.
So, my friends, remember your baptism. Remember in the Eucharistic meal when:
Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, he summarized in these gestures his own life. Jesus is chosen from all eternity, blessed at his baptism in the Jordan River, broken on the cross, and given as bread to the world. Being chosen, blessed, broken, and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. When we take bread, bless it, break it, and give it with the words "This is the Body of Christ," we express our commitment to make our lives conform to the life of Christ. We too want to live as people chosen, blessed, and broken, and thus become food for the world. (Henri Nouwen)
Yesterday the vestry worked all day at a vestry retreat. We went down to Abingdon on Friday night and yesterday morning I began our work by explaining a theory of how church works at 50 members versus 150 members. We talked about how difficult the past couple of years have been and how difficult change is and we talked about growth and we did a lot of dreaming for Grace. In the middle of my power point presentation on this complicated theory on church growth I ran into this concept again. We were talking about greeting visitors and incorporating new members and the scholar we were reading said that new members, all members of the body of Christ are - adopted.
That’s when I knew the Holy Spirit was at work in us. I had written this sermon already and then turned to that work and the same message was there - first from this week’s lectionary and then from a 30 year old book on church growth.
The bottom line is, we must grow in order to sustain this beautiful church - and the church is not the building - the church is us - the body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is indeed very much alive and at work in this place. We will get through the transitions that come with changes in rectors, or lay leaders of whatever else we must face. And we can and will move through this because of our Baptism.
Because of our Faith.
Because of our Love in Christ.
Because we are the Body of Christ.