SCRIPTURE   Romans 8:12-17  So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba, Father!”  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

 MESSAGE                       “Your Family”  Rev. James Renfrew

I love studying the Bible, even better I love studying the Bible with other people around the table, people with expertise, experience, questions and answers.   Some of us met for Bible Study on Monday night to read this text from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Sometimes we are of like mind, sometimes we are coming from completely different perspectives, but the experience is always deeply rewarding, and we all edge a little closer to truth, closer to salvation and closer to eternity.

It seems like everybody that I know wants to know more about the Bible.  Some tell me out of guilt; they know there is a lot to discover, but they can never find the time to read more than a few verses.  Some have read it cover to cover, but maybe even they manage to miss what’s important.  Some are Christians, eager to learn more about faith.  Some are not Christians at all, but wonder what the Bible says.  Some are authors, some are historians, some are educators, some are artists, some are politicians, just eager to know more about a book that has shaped our world going back two thousand years.

The text we read Monday night, and again this morning, is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  It seemed to me, leading the group on Monday night – usually it’s Jim Moore – that the key concept in the text is “family”.

So before we even read the text from Paul’s letter, we spent some time doing our best to define “family”?  It’s a word that we use all of the time, but like most words we don’t usually spend a lot of time defining them.  We just know what they are and move on to the next word.

But on Monday we looked at the word carefully.  Here are some of the things we said about family:

  • A couple with children
  • But there are plenty of families with just one parent, sometimes a child raised by a grandparent, or as a foster child is a family. George’s brother Don had 150 children living in his home.  We keep hearing stories about Judy, I think she’s over 50 children.
  • Families include people who share a common progenitor, like a grandparents or great-grandparent, all the uncles and aunts and cousins and their families. I went to the family reunion in California one summer, and there were so many in that family of 150 cousins that name tags were needed to navigate through the big crowd.
  • You usually become a family member by birth or by marriage or by adoption. Many are adopted as babies, but I remember reading about a seventeen year old heading off to college wanting to be adopted by a family.  I even met a family that adopted a man older than themselves because all of them were looking for a family.
  • You can belong to several families at once. I have my own family, my mother and my sisters, brothers-in-law, and two nephews.  But I am also a member of my wife’s family and all of her relatives.  Even though I am a divorced person I still have that California family who continue to include me in their family.
  • Some families share no common blood at all, but share commonalities such that they are a household just the same.
  • As we got into all the different kinds of families there are, someone, I think it might have been Eric, reminded us that God has a family, too, and the whole world is part of it. And of course, that’s the whole point of Paul’s writing, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.
  • We could also consider our family to be the American nation, even though sometimes united, sometimes divided. Memorial Day may be one of the days most everyone celebrates in some way.  I may not march in a parade tomorrow, but I’m thinking of my Dad, who as a young man was sent by the US Army to an island in the Pacific not knowing what would happen, that hopefully he would survive, but that he might die.  Somehow he felt enough affinity to our national family that he was willing to risk his life for it.  With so many divisions according to class, race, gender, nationality it’s especially useful to celebrate the American family in all of its diversity today.  Though we all got here in different ways, we are a family.
  • We can choose to be in our family, by sharing in its life, but we can choose not to be a family, possibly through estrangement, divorce or distance, or court order.
  • On June 4th I’m going to visit my uncle and aunt in Florida. I may have seen them just three times in thirty years, but they are family.  But maybe you have a cousin the next town over that barely qualifies as your family because you rarely see them and have nothing in common.
  • Not all families are good, remember the Manson family? Or think of the Mafia, or any criminal gang.
  • A family can be large or small, maybe as few as two, but then we thought of single people living alone but with lots of pets; that seems to count, too.

So we had a lot to bring to the question of what a family is.  Then we tried to distill it to the vital core.  At the heart is “caring” and an emotional need to “belong”.  All families, large and small, conventional and unconventional, share these two things: caring and belonging.  There you have the collective wisdom of our Bible Study folks.

Now in his letter Paul describes God as having a family with many children, not biological but spiritual children who are drawn to love instead of fear.   It is one of the most beautiful Biblical texts that informs each one of us that we are welcome members of God’s family.

Paul describes this entry into the spiritual family as adoption.  We have all be adopted into the family of God.  Paul may have been specifically speaking about tension within early Christian communities, between people of Jewish background who felt like first class citizens in the church, while Gentile converts were considered second class.  We are adopted, Paul says, because God has a big family with room for anyone seeking love, no matter your background or how you got here.

I never understood the treasure of these verses until we personally experienced the adoption of our son.  There’s a lot to that story, more than I can tell in one sermon, except that we were looking for a child, and he badly wanted a family.  The first question he asked when he met us was “Do you have a TV?”, which I think really meant, “Will you be my family forever?”  Adoption is a different experience from the families that are formed when babies are born, but ours began with a questionnaire, which was essentially asking, “what kind of child do you want to adopt?”  Two hundred questions, beginning with: boy or girl?  Biological parents don’t get a questionnaire.  You just get what you get!

We first became aware of of our son by flipping through the blue CAP Book.  I think it’s available in most libraries.  CAP, Children Awaiting Parents.  Our bulletin cover looks like the pages in the CAP Book.  I remember opening the book, looking at the faces of children, reading their stories, and reading between the lines.  Someone carefully wrote these descriptions of children, taking even the most challenging child and telling the world, “this girl just needs a lot of love”.  And it works; who doesn’t want to give love, and who doesn’t like to receive it?

It isn’t much to go on, but it’s enough to give love a chance.  It’s good enough for God.  Because we are all in a book like that, “People Needing Families”, and God turns each page, studies each page carefully,  and smiles at each story. Isn’t that what we are called to do with each other, offer an extraordinary amount of love?  Adoption begins with love!

There’s another family I didn’t mention yet, our church family.  Some of us are related, some are not, but all of us are looking for care and belonging.  Being a part of this family does not require childbirth, or marriage, though we are always glad to celebrate those times when they happen.  The way we have become a part of this family is through adoption, God reaching out to you in love, and you responding with joy.