Sunday, June 7, 2015

Family ties

Isaiah 6:1-8/ Romans 8:12-17

 Family takes many different forms these days.  There is no such thing as “normal.”  The time of two parent households is no longer assumed.  There are grandparents raising grandchildren, single parent homes, step families, single people who never intend to get married or have children and find family in a close group of friends, blended families, friends raising children together, and adoptive families.  But what all these types of families have in common is a sense of belonging.  No matter what your family looks like- it is still family.  A place you feel safe, loved, and appreciated.  People you can rely on to catch you when you fall and offer you a hand back up.  You are there for each other, stand up for each other, challenge each other and support each other even through difficult times.  This is family. 
When I was driving back and forth to Atlanta each week I started listening to audio books.  The last one I listened to was a book called 13 Moons.  It is a fictional story about the mountains of North Carolina, the fight to maintain Cherokee land and resist the relocation to Oklahoma.  But it is also about family.  Will, the main character finds himself a bound boy at only 13 years old.  He was placed as a store keep on the boundary of the frontier between land that had been settled by the whites and what was still considered Cherokee.   
After years as a store keep, he becomes close with one of the tribal chiefs and the chief adopts him into his family and Will becomes part of Bear’s clan.  With this adoption came all the rights and privileges associated with being a member of the Cherokee.  It came with all those things we associate with family.  Trust, acceptance, protection and belonging in the community but it also came with obligations. 
It means something to be wanted, to feel like we have a place we belong.  It matters when we know we aren’t perfect, we make mistakes, have character flaws and yet know we are loved anyway.  We aren’t worthy of this adoption.  Will didn’t do anything to deserve being accepted into Bear’s clan and we don’t do anything to deserve being adopted into the family of God.  Isaiah expresses this feeling of awe and unworthiness in the vision of his call story in our OT scripture.  God has given him the gift of acceptance.  God has allowed Isaiah to see God’s face- something that even the seraphim who served him were unable to do- they flew around covering their bodies and their eyes with their wings- but Isaiah was blessed to look on the face of God and not die.  He drops to his knees knowing that he was unworthy- He says I am a man of unclean lips that lives in an unclean world- in other words- I am a sinner, I mess up I don’t deserve for you to want me. 
We don’t take adoption lightly; into the heavenly family or into an earthly one.  In order for people to adopt a child they take on a huge responsibility.  It is financially and emotionally costly.  It takes determination and a long term commitment.  But it is also not something the adoptee takes lightly either.  We all want to be a part of something… but we can want it for the wrong reasons.  If we want to be adopted because we think our new family is rich or so that we will receive blessings we are in for disappointment.  The same goes for being adopted into the family of God.  If we want to be a part of the church or a part of God’s family to save our own skin, because we want to make sure we get to heaven and inherit the mansion in the sky, the golden streets or whatever we imagine heave to be like we are in it for the wrong reasons. 
I have no doubt that life with Christ is full of joy and hope, freedom in Christ, the sense of belonging and being loved and accepted that we all crave.  It is indeed an honor to call God- Abba, Daddy!  There are wonderful reasons to want to be a part of a church, to call yourself Christian and to be a child of God but this doesn’t mean that it comes without obligation and responsibility on our part.  Jesus paid the adoption fee but when we accept the family name Christian, we also accept the responsibility of being a part of the family of God. 
The heirs to an estate have the responsibility to maintain the kingdom, to care for it, nurture it, make decisions that will honor the family.  There is a reputation to uphold.  How would Dad want me to spend this money?  What would Mom want me to do with the family home?  If you are executor of a person’s will.  That is an honor but it also comes with the task of distributing information, inheritance, and possessions in a way that would honor the person who owned them.  How do I share what I have inherited with others?  How can I honor the one who loved me enough to include me in their family? 
And, when life gets tough, when there are problems or changes that need to me made, we don’t just abandon our family.  No, we stand together, work through the challenges, stand up for each other and make sacrifices for each other.  We have the obligation to speak up and say as Isaiah did “Here I am!  Send me!”
In 13 Moons, Will did just that.  When the government started encroaching, Will volunteered to help his new family.  He became the go-between with the US Government and the Cherokee.  He acted as their lawyer, lobbyist and realtor and purchased land in their name so that they would not all be forced to relocate to Oklahoma.  This was not an easy task.  He could have turned his back on his adopted clan when the going got tough but instead, stood shoulder to shoulder with the people who had loved him and welcomed them into their family.    
This is what we are signing on for when we enter the waters of baptism and when we join the church as part of the family of God.  Baptism is how we sign our adoption papers and accept our position as heirs and children of God.  It is in this process that we acknowledge that we are sinful and unworthy to be claimed by God.  It is when we realize that the sacrifice of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit are what make this possible that we also promise to do our best to live into that name, use the gifts we are given responsibly and to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with love honor and respect. 
This devotion to family came at a price for Will.  Although his trading with the Cherokee made him a wealthy man, he sacrificed it all to work on their behalf.  But this wasn’t what was important to Him.  In the end he knew that he’d tried to do the best he could for his people.  He’d stood up for justice and against the suppressive forces of the government.  His wealth came not from things he owned but from the relationships in his life and from living the best, most honorable and meaningful life possible for the people he loved. 
There is a constant pull in this world between our desire to accumulate wealth, property and possessions and our commitment to God and the family.  When we join the family of God we commit to refocus our lives on what really matters; leaving earthly sin and desires behind to focus on living the life God has given us to the fullest with God as the center, Christ as our model and the Holy Spirit as our guide. 
There are rewards for being part of the family of God; always knowing that you belong, no matter how much time has passed, no matter what you have done, family will take you in.  There is safety and security knowing that you are loved and wanted.  And while the human family of the church may struggle to live into this commitment to each other, the fact that we belong to the family of God is a bond that will never be broken.  We will always be wanted by God and when we face difficulties in life, it is Christ who will be by our side and the Holy Spirit who will always stand with us and give us the strength to see our way through. 
I hope and pray that you will continuously reflect on your adoption into the family of God and what it means for you to be able to call God your parent.  I pray that you will renew your promises that you took in your baptism and bind them on your heart, doing all you can to live in to the life that God has called you to.  It is with great joy that we sign our adoption papers and with great joy that we accept the name Christian.  Let us live in a way that honors our parent, honors our brothers and sisters in Christ and honors our family.