Sunday, July 12, 2015

Destined for Adoption

Eno United Methodist Church
Oak Grove United Methodist Church           
Dickson, Tennessee
July 12, 2015
Chris O’Rear, M.Div., M.M.F.T.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ[a] before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,[b] having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this[c] is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
I don’t know if you read the Harry Potter books or saw the movies.  Some people didn’t because they did not like the fact that it dealt with magical things like wizards, witches, spells, and the like.  However, I was curious.  I read all of the books and I saw all of the movies.  I found in these stories a beautiful representation of the Gospel.  It may not be as transparent as reading C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia (which also contains “Magic”), but it portrays the power of unconditional love, the transformation that comes through the sacrifice of one person for another, and the ongoing fight between those who want to use the powers they have for good and those that want to use them for evil.  While it is not an exact allegory, I recognized the biblical parallels from the very first book. 
In the first book of the series, we are introduced to Harry Potter who has been living with his aunt, uncle and cousin for the last 11 years – since the death of Harry’s parents.  Harry is told that his parents died in a car wreck.  Harry is forced by his aunt and uncle to live in a room under the stairs.  His cousin, Dudley, is a spoiled rotten little boy while Harry is treated like a household servant who has no value at all.  As we will learn, Harry’s parents were magical people – they had powers and abilities that Harry’s aunt and uncle did not have.  Because of his aunt and uncle’s jealousy and anger, they never told Harry about his parents, about their powers, or the school that he should be attending.  Harry’s aunt and uncle did ALL they could do to keep Harry from getting his invitation to the Hogwarts School.  On Harry’s 11th Birthday, a wonderful man from the school comes to retrieve Harry and take him to school at Hogwarts.  Hagrid tells Harry that what he knows of his life is not true and that he, Harry, is already a famous wizard.  Harry is stunned in disbelief and he stammers, “But I’m just Harry”.  He does not believe there is anything special about him at all.  When he goes to school, he finds there is a whole world that he has never been told about.  He learns that he is special in so many ways and that he is so much more than “Just Harry”. 
That is a long story, I know, but I immediately thought of it when I read our passage this week.  This letter is noted to be for the Church at Ephesus, but most scholars believe it was circulated widely as message for all churches – for you and me.  The writer says we are blessed with EVERY spiritual blessing.  He says that you and I were chosen before the foundation of the earth to be holy and blameless before God in love.  He describes how through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are destined to be adopted into God’s family.  We should note that this passage does not say that we are blessed with every blessing, but with every SPIRITUAL blessing.  Our lives are not perfect in every way, but we have been given EVERY spiritual blessing.  Because of Jesus, when God looks at us, he sees us as holy and blameless.  God sees us in the fullness of our potential; the “us” that is only possible through Jesus.
Unfortunately, like Harry Potter, we often live our lives not knowing that we are destined for adoption in God’s family.  We live like we come from somewhere else.  We live in ignorance thinking we are inadequate, imperfect, and unlovable.   We make mistakes – and we have ALL made mistakes – and we sometimes get focused on our mistakes.  Or others like to remind us of the hurtful or bad things we have done.  We may start to believe that our value is in things we have done, but the good news in our reading this morning is that our life and our mistakes are not what defines us.  God chose us from the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless.  Through the love and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are chosen to be adopted into God’s family.  It is cause for joy.  It is like a huge burden is lifted from us that God loves us, has chosen us, and has adopted us into His family.  If this is true, how can we possibly think that we have no value or that we are worthless?  It is truly something to celebrate and share. 
However, if we are chosen.  If we are blessed and loved.  If we are holy and blameless before God, so is that person sitting next to you this morning.  So is that person you have trouble getting along with at work or school.  That person that can make you so mad, is also loved and blessed by God in exactly the same way that you are.  It is sometimes REALLY hard to see that person blessed and adopted by God in some people.  It is sometimes downright impossible to see others as God sees them. 
I was reminded of a country song I love by Lyle Lovett (or Patty Loveless, depending on what version you might know) – called “God Will”.  The lyrics say:
Who keeps on trusting you
When you've been cheating
And spending your nights on the town
And who keeps on saying that he still wants you
When you're through running around
And who keeps on loving you
When you've been lying
Saying things ain't what they seem
God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me

The song can make us laugh, but partially because we recognize the truth that it is very hard sometimes to see others as God sees them or to love others the way that God loves them.   It is easy to see in America these days that people are not thinking about how to speak to the image of God in another person.  More and more it seems our ways of talking to and talking about each other are characterized by how we can hurt each other and how we can exploit others’ failings to try to make ourselves look better.  I wonder how our conversations would change if when we talked about people or talked to people with whom we disagree, we spoke as if we were speaking to the person that God has called holy and blameless; the one who is adopted into the family of God as our brother or sister. 
            The writer of our passage this morning makes some interesting statements about the mystery of God that is made known to us.  It is believed that this language of mystery was used here because there were some Christians who believed that the message of God was a mystery that was revealed only to some people.  They believed that only a very few who got the mystery would be saved.  The message in Ephesians this morning, though, is that the mystery is revealed to EVERYONE.  It is not just for some, but for every person.  When we hear the truth that God has loved us and chosen us.  When we understand the reality that Jesus sacrificed himself for our benefit and we believe it, the Holy Spirit starts to work in our lives to help shape us to become the person we were destined to be.
            We sometimes like act like we who are in the church, who have confessed our belief, who have been baptized, are the special ones who carry the mystery of Christ.  We come here to this building and we sing about it.  We talk about it.  We read about it, but when we leave here the mystery stays here.  This would be like Harry Potter learning that he has special powers, but never wanting to use them except in his own room.  It would be like a super hero who only used their powers for their own benefit.  The fact that we are chosen by God and adopted into God’s family is something that should make a difference in everything we do.  It is not a secret to be kept.  It is not just for us to know, but something that is reflected in everything we do.  Living our lives for Christ is not about keeping some set of rules that feels like a job to us, it is about seeking to live into the person that God sees when he looks at us. 
            We have a dog named Jolene that we got from an animal rescue.  She is a pointer that weighs about 45 pounds and she is extremely affectionate.  When we come home from being gone, even if
we were just at the grocery store, Jolene stands at the door wiggles her whole body with excitement.  She wiggles so much it is like she might break something.  She just follows us around and always seems to want to be next to us.  Jolene thinks we are great.  I want to get one of those bumper stickers that says, “I want to be the person that my dog thinks I am.” Have you seen those? When someone loves us that much, we want to continue to try to be the person that they love.  It is not a burden.  It is not a job.  We do it because we enjoy being our best self.  We take satisfaction in being the best we can be.  We enjoy living into our fullest potential.  Maybe instead of the bumper sticker about the dog, we should have one that says, “I want to be the person that God already sees in me.” 
            Who you think you are or the things you may have done in your life do not define who you are.  Your life may feel like you are an orphan living under the stairs in a house where everyone hates you, but our passage this morning is here to tell you, you were chosen by God to be holy and blameless.  Through Christ you were destined for adoption into the family of God.  If you have heard this good news and believe it, the Holy Spirit is at work in you now to bring you to the fullness of all you can be.  Those around you are your brothers and sisters in God’s family.  Sometimes siblings disagree, but if we are all chosen and adopted by God, we should treat others as the person that God sees and loves.