Magazine article The Christian Century

Up for Adoption. (Living by the Word)

Magazine article The Christian Century

Up for Adoption. (Living by the Word)

Article excerpt

LAST SUNDAY's family conflict story in Genesis 25 offers preachers an opportunity to talk about family conflict in their own communities. This is risky business for preachers. As they gaze out on worshipers and prepare to begin a sermon, they know--and see--individuals who are currently embroiled in a family dispute or who have been scarred by a family battle.

In this Sunday's epistle reading, Paul's use of the word "adoption" offers preachers an opportunity to discuss how children become part of families. Again, this is risky business. Pastors know that the mere mention of the word "adoption" or "childbirth" will cause many in the congregation to recall their own infertility problems, adoptions, loss of children or parents. But reckoning with the genuine depths of God's grace compels us to speak a word of hope.

Most scholars agree that Paul borrowed the concept of adoption from Greek or Roman law. The Jews did not practice adoption, and the word never appears in the He brew scriptures. In The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris says adoption is "a useful word for Paul, for it signifies being granted the full tights and privileges of [belonging to] a family [in] which one does not belong by nature." One is not born a Christian; one becomes a Christian. This reminds me of my three-year-old friend Grace, who was not born a Roberts, but became a Roberts when her parents adopted her.

Morris continues, "This is a good illustration of one aspect of Paul's understanding of what it means to become a Christian. The believer is admitted into the heavenly family," a family to which the believer has no rights of his or her own. Not only did the concept of adoption help Paul explain how gentiles and Jews could be part of the same family of God, but it also allowed him to emphasize that salvation is not achieved through birthright but through God's act of grace alone.

An adopted child is received as a gift by her new family, just as the adopting family is a gift to the child. In the same way, the spirit of adoption that Paul commends to the reader is one of gift. It is Paul's way of describing the gift God gives to us in Christ.

David and Sandra Roberts know this gift well. They have adopted four children. One was born with cerebral palsy. Another came from an abusive home. Each, in his or her unique way, is a gift to the Robertses, and the Roberts family a gift to each of them. Their experience of adoption has given the Robertses a special understanding or what it is like to receive God's gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

The intimacy with God the parent is apparent in the use of the name "Abba. …

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