A Spirit of Adoption


July 23, 2017

Romans 8:12-25

Can you imagine what it would be like not knowing where you came from. Wondering everyday what your past may have been like and where your family was. These thoughts can run and even ruin your current life as you know it.

Saroo was born in India. His family consisted of his mother, an older brother, and his younger sister. If you are familiar with the caste system of India (levels of society, such as poor, middle class, and wealthy), I would not place them in the bottom tier. However, they would not be very far from it. Saroo and his brother, Gaduud, had to steal coal from passing freight trains just to get some milk. That is until one day when Saroo decides to accompany his brother to work one evening. Saroo is left waiting for his brother at the train station and falls asleep. When he wakes, his brother is still nowhere in sight and he ventures onto the loan train that is sitting at the station. Since he is still quite tired, he falls asleep, only to awaken once more and realizes that the train is moving. It continues to move for two days with him as the loan passenger and the doors locked.  They travel over 1600 kilometers, or 1000 miles.

After many struggles and challenges, Saroo is welcomed into a home with open arms and love that abounds, in Australia. In this action, he is adopted and throughout the rest of his childhood and into his early adult life, he has truly come to know what true love means. A love that came to him through adoption into a family that was foreign to anything he had known as a young boy in India.

This story comes from the 2017 Oscar nominated film, Lion. I encourage you to take the time to watch it and look for glimpses of God working throughout the story.

In our selection from Romans this morning, Paul tells us, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Saroo had many opportunities to be fearful of what may happen. He was provided for when it mattered most and he found rescue also when he needed it most.

As people of God, we are not called to bend our will to those that think they know better. We are not called to toe the party line. We are called, as followers of Jesus Christ, to proclaim the Gospel good news as we have heard it through our own actions and words. We are not to fall into the spirit of slavery. Through God’s love for all of humanity, and God’s reminder of that in Jesus Christ crucified, we are reminded that we are one with and part of God’s very own creation.

The language of adoption that Paul uses is powerful! Adoption is an act of grace. It is God speaking through our times of struggles and challenges and telling us that everything is going to be alright. Adoption comes to us as an act of love that is visible for all to see. To be adopted is to be welcomed into a place that is foreign, yet very accepting. If you grew up in the church, and have always heard of the stories of Jesus Christ, then this may not resonate for you. However, for those that have not experienced church, or have come back to the church, a story of adoption is one that you may just need to hear in a setting that is foreign.

I am sure that we all can name times where we have been touched by adoption in our lives. I come from a blended family where adoptions took place and love was given to all. Perhaps, you have some close friends that have grown their family through adoption.

Saroo does eventually make it back to his home town. It was through her love for him, that Saroo’s mother, Kamla never gave up hope that one day she may see her son again. After seeing him for the first time in 25 years, she said she was “’surprised with thunder’ that her boy had come back and that the happiness in her heart was ‘as deep as the ocean.’” This does not change how he feels for his adoptive parents. His love is for all.

The triune God feels the same way when we return home. Creation is eager for us to embrace the Holy Spirit. When we open our hearts and minds to the wonder and mystery that is God, we allow the Spirit to come in and direct and guide us. In this adoption, God does not promise there will not be suffering and labor pains. God’s promise to us is that we will be surrounded by the Spirit. We will find hope in the things that we do not see as we learn to wait with patience.

In this we are reminded that we are adopted by the Spirit to go out into the world and share this hope with everyone. It is in our adoption by the Holy Spirit that we are reminded that we are loved and fully accepted where we are. Regardless of our faults and insecurities. Despite the weeds that may be presently in our lives.

You know what? This also means that those we are quick to judge and set aside are also loved and fully accepted. This is the grace that comes to us without any requirements. It is this grace that fills in the voids. It is this grace that embraces us in the here and now and promises us the kingdom to come.

Finding Rest in the No

Give it a Rest

July 9, 2017

Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

What is the two-letter word that no one ever likes to hear? NO!

We learn as children that no is usually associated with something we can’t do. When our parents want us to stop doing something, we hear the word no. Yet, we can see the looks in a child’s eyes when he hears the words no, and we realize that he is going to attempt it anyway. He may even say no right along with you while he continues to do it!

Paul reflects upon his own life for the first time in our lesson from Romans. He uses the first person and admits that he does the very thing that he knows he should not do. How many of us can relate with Paul in this issue? We know what is right and we know what is wrong, yet for some reason or the other we are still compelled to do the wrong. Perhaps it is peer pressure that drives us to do it, or perhaps it is an addiction. It may even be possible that we are doing something wrong to get ahead, even at work. I know that my job as a sales representative for a beer distributor required me to step around the law from time to time so that I could help the company’s bottom line and even the bottom line of my own paycheck. I knew it was wrong, yet I did it anyway.

Quite often in the business world, we learn that it is not a good thing to say no. At least if you are not the one in authority. If you want your job or even to move up within the company, you better do what they ask of you. We may feel like Peter from Office Space, feeling that we do not really have a say in the matter, we just better go along with it.

Doing the very things that we know draws us away from grace and experiencing life where God has intended, can bring about a heightened level of anxiety and burden. We get weighed down by the things in our lives that should not have a bearing on it, yet we allow them to. This can manifest itself in unhealthy ways in which our body negatively responds.

When we want to make the right decisions in our lives, what is laying right close at hand? Temptation. As Paul says, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.” This is when we then face that inner struggle between our heart and our mind. It is here that the anxiety and burden escalates. It is here that we see some people struggle with addictions.

It is a good thing that we are not left to our own doings. If it were completely up to us, we would most likely do those things that satisfied us in the moment. Not those things that have long lasting rewards, both here and now, and in the time to come. As a society, when left to our own doings, we have experienced what will happen. We go to war. We forget about those that need help. We look more inward than we focus outward.

This is not new to us, and Paul saw it happening in his time. Paul knows where to find hope and the promise revealed. This is the reason he is traveling and preaching the good news to the people. He knows that it is in Jesus Christ that we should give thanks. He knows that through the grace of God we experience an unending love that never fails.

Our sinning does not come to an end. We are still tempted to do those things that we know that we ought not to do. Our anxieties and burdens do not always subside. It is in the words of Paul and the gospel writer that we can find our hope.

Our lesson from the gospel of Matthew is a wonderful compliment to Paul’s letter. Jesus knows what Paul will encounter in life. Jesus knows what we will encounter in life. It is in his promise that he brings for all people that we are surrounded by God’s great love. It is in this that we are welcomed into the fold. “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

We could all use a little rest. Some rest from our daily tasks. Some rest to take time out and just be with friends and family. Some rest to take time out to be with God. Jesus knows that our lives are not easy. Remember, he was human too! Because of this, he knows the importance of rest. Rest from our anxieties and burdens. While we don’t like to hear the word, no, maybe we need to learn to say it ourselves at times when confronted with something that does not get us closer to the kingdom of God. In this we will find rest.

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Who are you serving?


July 2, 2017

Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42

It is wonderful to have the freedom to walk outside and not worry too much about our safety. Sure, we are not immune to violence and terror in our country. However, in most of our cities, we are not surrounded by it daily. Our sisters and brothers around the world are not always as fortunate.

Diana and Julio and their daughter Elena fled violence in Colombia and were on their way to seek refugee protection in Canada when Diana was arrested in Detroit because she could not show her passport, which had been stolen. Alone in a strange city, Julio happened to meet a local store owner who told him about Freedom House, a Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service partner that provides temporary housing for those seeking legal protection in the United States or Canada. The staff of Freedom House, which is partially funded through LIRS’s Asylum and Immigration grant program, was stunned by the story and immediately offered shelter to Julio and Elena. They facilitated phone calls and visits while Diana was held for four months at a women’s prison three hours away. A Freedom House attorney arranged to represent Diana and helped the family navigate the legal channels to get to their destination in Canada. When Diana was finally released, staff and other residents gathered excitedly in the Freedom House kitchen. When she entered the house, everyone began to clap and cry as Diana held her daughter and embraced her husband again.[i]

Rehema Ngoka has had the opportunity to come to the United States, specifically Northwest Arkansas. In this, he has experienced the grace of God. He came to the US from Congo and said of the US, “We are free. We are free. There is no genocide here!”

The United States has been a country of welcome and that is what the Statue of Liberty symbolizes. This long fourth of July weekend gives us the opportunity to not only give thanks for our independence, it also is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity and welcoming nature this country was built on.

While we have turned caring for the stranger into a political issue, it truly speaks to the heart of the gospel. The gospel in which Jesus Christ lived out for each one of us present here this morning. Every one that is not with us. Every one that has been created in the image of God. The gospel is for all of creation.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning he brings a message of hope. First, we must face the reality that we do live in sin as a called people of God. We are far from being perfect and as I preached last week, we will go right out and commit the same sins we did the week before. That is part of human nature. We can grow in our relationship with Christ as much as we want, however, we will still sin. It will help, but we will once again slip up and do the things we know we shouldn’t.

The problem as Paul underscores in this selection from Romans is that we are not to be slaves to sin. To be honest with ourselves, we are all slaves to something. This is a hard truth to digest when we live in a country that has had such a negative connotation to slavery. Another possible translation is servant. What are we serving in our lives? Are we serving our own personal desires, or are we caring for others and sharing when the opportunity presents itself?

The amount of support that came together for the recent Iraqi Christians that were detained in Detroit reflects the gospel. To send these undocumented immigrants back to Iraq in the current environment of their home country would most likely equate to a death sentence.

The question that we should be asking ourselves is to whom or what are we being a servant? Are we serving God through our words and actions, or are we serving something else that does not represent Christ in this world? Are we truly living out our calling as people of God in this world, or are we bowing down to those ideas and material things that benefit us most?

Christ has called each of us into a relationship with him. A relationship in which we become servants for Christ. We are called to become servants of obedience as we listen for God’s word in our life. It is this calling and Christ’s action on the cross that we have been freed from sin.

Will we still commit sin? Of course, we will. But through the grace of God, we are promised eternal life. A life that is fulfilling in this world as well. God is calling us to live into this promise today. To welcome the triune God into our daily tasks and to begin living into our true selves. This is the hope Paul brings to u in his letter.

In Matthew’s gospel this morning, we hear the promise of welcoming Christ into our lives. To welcome Christ means to welcome grace. A grace that moves beyond our sins and makes us new. This grace grows as we reach out to our brothers and sisters, for “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

On July 18 at 3:00 pm here at Trinity, we will begin a journey with our sisters and brothers in the UCC and Methodist churches. We will listen and learn how we can bring the presence of Christ to those in the Immigrant Detention Center in Port Huron. You are all welcome to come and find out more.

As a church, we are called to welcome. What is stopping us from living this in the rest of our lives?

Let us pray…

God of all creation, be with us in this time and place as we struggle to find ways that keep us safe, yet welcome the stranger. May we place our faith in your love and grace alone that to welcome in is to also welcome you. Amen.

[i] Story from Welcoming Families bulletin insert, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service