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Adopted into God’s Family
Romans 8:12-25
July 19, 2020

Most of the headlines these days are related to the global impact of the Coronavirus on every aspect of life.

See if you don’t hear Romans 8:22 differently than you might have six months ago:

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.

The pandemic – and the rising voice of people of color – have placed us at a cross roads.

Something new is going to be born out of this situation – either health and justice, or a turn to very dark times.

The plague killed more than 100,000 people and many thousands were homeless.

Political corruption and mistrust of leaders reached an all-time high.

Dissent was met with violent oppression and people turned away from the church because it provided neither reasonable answers nor solace for the life of the time.

No, I’m not quoting a contemporary CNN report, but a summary of life in 17th Century England that had also just survived two civil wars and a fire that destroyed much of London.

It felt apocalyptic, but out of that turbulent world George Fox found a receptive audience for the idea of sitting in silence to make space for the Holy Spirit to speak to worshippers – giving birth to the Quaker movement.

Even though the Quakers sometimes faced violent opposition, their movement grew because participants found clarity and compassion in the midst of the chaos and near-collapse of society.

It’s been said that through their silent meetings, early Quakers “became suddenly conscious of a mysterious and loving presence in themselves and in the whole universe, only to submit everything they thought and did to the power and life of the Spirit.”

As I’ve been speaking to people in our congregation over the past couple of weeks, I’ve heard so much anxiety –worries about finances, fear of getting sick, confusion about how to care for children – and to educate them – growing tensions from living around-the-clock with someone, loneliness from living alone, and powerlessness in the face of our political turmoil.

Binging on Netflix can only distract us for so long.

But God’s promise is that He’ll see us through whatever we face … but we have a role to play, and that is to make space in our soul to recognize God and to discern what He may be up to in this situation.

That was exactly the appeal of the Quaker movement.

While they were still in the wilderness God said to the Hebrew people, I have set before you the ways of life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.

God had given the people laws for living in peace and cooperation, but time and time again they had fallen short of obeying what was best for themselves.

They fell short of how Paul’s Roman contemporaries thought Reason would save them, and from his Hebrew contemporaries who held that more rigorous adherence to the Mosaic Law would save them.

Paul realized that through Jesus, God was now trying something new.

Rather than relying on our willpower to follow God’s way –will that had been corrupted by sin – God was now offering actual adoption into His family with all the love and privileges that brings.

You and I are actually invited to be sons and daughters of God.

Romans 8:16-17a The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ….

What does that mean?

Well, we look to Jesus, the Son of God, to see what it looks like to be a child of God.

Immediately after his baptism when the voice from heaven declared him God’s son, Jesus was driven into the wilderness where he was tempted by demons.

So, we learn that adoption into God’s family does not immunize us from temptation or attack by Satan.

In Mark’s account, as Jesus faced Satan he was cared for by angels.

It may be that you are feeling weakened, angered, or impatient by this protracted pandemic.

Even worse, just when we think things are getting better it seems that we are sent back to square one.

And that can feel doubly-infuriating because our setbacks are not just caused by the virus but also by people’s rebelliousness and irresponsibility that we are powerless to control.

Jesus neither surrendered to the temptations nor did he lash out at the demons.

He waited until he found the angels who would care for him.

That’s one way it looks to be a child of God during this pandemic: know that the Divine is looking out for us.

Later in his ministry, Jesus came upon a group of lepers.

Lepers were so feared and despised that they had to call out a warning as they approached anyone.

These outcasts had been stripped of family and job … but Jesus moved toward them as others fled.

Jesus offered compassion as others turned away in contempt.

Our impulse to bow down to beauty and to move away from the less attractive is not only on display through the media, it even shows up in our parenting of our own children.

In fact, a number of studies reveal that parents take better care of their attractive children than they do their less attractive ones.

For example, one study conducted by the University of Alberta observed over 400 parents at supermarkets with their preschool-aged children.

Researchers noted that the more attractive their children were, the more likely their parents were to belt them into a grocery cart seat.

Also, homely children were more often left out of the oversight of their parents who frequently let them wander more than ten feet away while they tended to keep more attractive kids close.

Dr. W. Andrew Harrell noted, “Like lots of animals, we tend to parcel out our resources on the basis of value. There are a lot of things that make a person more valuable, and physical attractiveness may be one of them.”

It reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield.

He said, “Oh, I was an ugly kid.  When I was born, the doctor slapped by father.”

That’s a second thing we learn about being a child of God: Jesus shows that God does not rank his children this way.

Many of us grew up reminded that we were not measuring up.

Maybe you were one of the kids who sat alone at lunch or was the last chosen for teams.

Maybe you were teased because of your weight or your stutter.

Maybe you passed as normal but your homelife was a big family secret – maybe abusive, alcoholic or violent.

Whatever the scars, they follow us into adult life.

And even if we arrive safely, an abusive or unfaithful spouse, a career failure or an addiction can pull us into shame.

On the other hand, Jesus shows that God’s love for his family is not conditional.

Romans 8:15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Jesus cried out “Abba, Father” in Gethsemane, praying for deliverance from his hour of greatest anguish.

By looking at Jesus in Gethsemane, we also learn that an adopted child of God is sometimes called upon to act and to sacrifice – but our Father will use that sacrifice for a greater purpose.

Sandy Frailo is an educator who’s always had a heart for kids.

Through school and elsewhere she has worked to help young people become healthy and successful.

She and her husband have two sons of their own, and through the years also fostered three children.

Then, twenty years ago she learned through her church that during that time, because girls were an economic burden and because of China’s one child policy, many baby girls were being abandoned by their families.

Most unadopted girls could stay in the orphanage until adulthood, but life after that could be pretty rough.

That’s when she and her husband decided they could both get the daughter they wanted, and – though a sacrifice – make an enormous difference in one person’s life.

With that, instead of languishing in an orphanage, Jade was welcomed into a loving Connecticut family.

And in an interview, Jade’s adoptive mom Sandy shared her delight in bringing Jade into her family.

God delights in your being a part of His family, and God will not leave you languishing.

Maybe you’ve tried to master your fears, overcome an addiction, muster up a positive attitude – but you keep slipping back to old habits and attitudes.

Maybe, like many, you’re finding that the emotional atmosphere of the pandemic is adding to your struggle to get on top of things.

God’s gift through Jesus is that you don’t have to do this alone.

Will power alone won’t do it, and reason alone won’t talk you into being in a good place – because, as Paul reminds us – our will and reason are distorted by sin.

But, God has reached across the divide between the human and divine and adopted you into his family.

When the early Quakers allowed themselves to be still and invite God into themselves, they experienced a mysterious and loving presence greater than the turmoil of their time.

It was an experience of being in the world but not of it, of living in the midst of life’s challenges while knowing that we are children adopted into the family of God.