Text: Luke 6:20-31
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
Several years ago, long before Elijah was born, Hans and I were in a grocery store in Oregon and a bulletin board caught my attention.
The bulletin board was full of pictures of children. Their ages were from about five years up to about fifteen or sixteen years old, and the sign in the middle of the pictures said, “We are looking for our forever families.” They were children in the foster care system waiting to be adopted.
These were the “hard to adopt” kids. Babies and toddlers find adoptive parents quickly. But the older ones, kids who have been kicked around and who have behavioral issues, and kids with disabilities, may end up waiting a long time before they are adopted by their forever family.
That bulletin board, with pictures of children whose need was so great, who had already been wounded by life in ways they did not deserve and could not control, was heart-breaking to me.
It might seem obvious, but let’s pause for a moment to reflect on why it is so important for these kids to be adopted. What do they gain by being adopted that they don’t have now? After all, in foster care they have food and clothes, a place to sleep, and are going to school. Is that not enough? And we all know that the answer is no, a thousand times no.
What adoption gives them is a place in the world they can count on. Adoption gives them the assurance that someone loves them now and forever. Adoption, if it goes well, gives them the safety to allow themselves to become attached and start to love.
We can’t begin to name all the reasons why a child needs a forever family – permanence, identity, safety, tradition, but there’s no doubt that a child’s life is deeply affected by whether he or she has a family or not.
Having a forever family doesn’t guarantee that someone will be able to make it in the world, and it doesn’t remove outside obstacles. I have heard the stories, and I know the families, for whom the adopted children were so damaged that normal family life was impossible. But not having a family means that those children would have almost no chance at all.
Today is All Saints Sunday, and so we’re thinking about what it means to be a part of the family of God, to be adopted by God, and to live as member of God’s household in a great big extended family known as the communion of saints.
We are all familiar with the notion of a saint as someone who is extra good and holy, like Mother Theresa. But we’re talking about a different kind of sainthood. We’re talking about the ancient, early church understanding of what it means to be a saint.
The author of the letter to the Ephesians, in chapter 1, verse 15, refers to the love that the Ephesians have toward all the saints, and the author is referring to other Christians, including the Christians of the church in Ephesus.
These members of the church of Ephesus were not saints in the Mother Theresa kind of way. Later in this letter the author begs them to put away their old ways, including wrath, anger, slander, malice, fornication, greed, and vulgar talk. That’s quite a slate of un-saintly behavior! So what makes them saints? God decision did. God called them and adopted them and made them God’s own.
Ephesians 1 verse 13: “In Christ you also, when you 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.”
In the baptismal rite, after the child is baptized with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then the pastor says, “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked the cross of Christ forever.” That’s what makes Christians saints – it is baptism, in which we are adopted. Adoption is God’s promise to love us forever.
So who are the saints? All baptized Christians. Who are the saints? We are. As well as those who have died in the faith, and those who are yet to come.
Sainthood is both a gift and a journey. We are adopted by God and given our place in God’s family, and then we spend the rest of our lives living into it this new reality that already is, just like the members of the church in Ephesus.
Think of the hard to adopt children, the older ones, the ones with medical conditions, waiting for their forever families. Do they deserve loving and stable families? Of course. And does anyone imagine that, after they are adopted, it will be easy? Adoption isn’t magic. Years of fear and trauma and survival behavior don’t disappear overnight.
They have to grow into their new reality as members of a family. They have to learn that there will always be another meal; learn new behavior; learn to trust.
God has made you God’s forever child. God has welcomed you and me into God’s forever family, the communion of saints, and the adoption is permanent. It’s a reality. The judge has signed the adoption certificate and that is that.
What comes next is both a challenge and a blessing, and that is to live into this new reality, to not only be declared part of the family but to feel like part of the family and to act like it.
The family we have been adopted into has some really high standards. Jesus told us about them in the gospel lesson from Luke. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray or those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, if someone demands your coat, give them your shirt. Give to anyone who asks.” We have trouble praying for people who hate us, let alone doing good for them. We find loving our enemies almost unbearable. Jesus’ rules are not easy to follow.
They can also be difficult to understand. I want to address one in particular. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, but this does not mean that people in abusive situations should remain and continue to be abused.
Jesus is commanding his followers to disrupt the usual patterns of anger, and violence, and revenge. We will not hit back but we will act with non-violent firmness to stop it from happening again. Stopping an abuser from abusing is the most loving thing we can do for them.
In all these situations of conflict Jesus calls on his siblings to break the usual pattern, to do something that is completely unexpected. To pray for everyone, and to love without discrimination.
As members of the communion of saints, we will not seek revenge. We will seek the good not only for ourselves but for others. We will not do things to other people that we would find hurtful or shameful or insulting if it was done to us. Period.
Will we fail in this high calling? Yes. Will we still be saints? Yes. Will we still be members of the communion of saints? Yes. Will God expect us to do better tomorrow? Yes. Is it worth it? Are you kidding? A thousand times yes.
Becoming part of a family is hard work, but in the end, the gift of forever family takes us from lost to found, from alone to community, from no one to someone, from vulnerable to safe, from unloved to loved beyond measure.
Last Sunday, at 4 in the morning, a mandatory evacuation was declared for Western Santa Rosa, which as you know, includes the church and lot of you. Most of you left. You packed up and got the dog and as many cats as you could corral, and went to stay with family or friends, or to a community center, or a hotel.
And this is what I know because I talked many of you that morning and that afternoon and the next day. You took care of each other. You called each other. You checked in. You thought about who might help.
I know of two TLC households who took in other TLC members on Saturday, and then their houses were evacuated on Sunday. A member of a Knox household who evacuated kept in touch with others and with me all week and let me know how the most vulnerable members were doing. You know what you did? You acted like family. Adopted family.
You are a light to the world. We are saints in light. You and I are members of the community of saints. We have been adopted by God and made part of God’s forever family. We are living into a reality that has already come and grasped us and will not let us go. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.