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The Gift of Adoption

June 17, 2012
Sermon:  The Gift of Adoption
Text:  Galatians 4:4-8; Romans 8:14-17


Some of you have noticed the title for this Father’s Day and wondered why in the world we are having a sermon on adoption.  Surely this niche sermon does not apply to everyone, but I have had this topic in mind for a while.  This message is similar to barbecue; it has been cooking for a long time. 

My own personal experience with adoption is two-fold.  Little Louise, born in Barnwell County, was only six weeks old when her mother died.  Following the burial of her mother in the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church cemetery, her father, Willie, handed this infant daughter across the grave of his recently deceased wife to his sister-in-law, Belle.  She and her husband, Joe, had traveled from Spartanburg to Barnwell County for the funeral.

Willie lamented, “I don’t think I can raise this little girl down here on the farm with four boys.  I’d like you to take her back to Spartanburg and rear her as your own.”

That baby girl was my mother, adopted by her aunt and uncle, though never formalized legally.  Because her birth father and her adopted father were brothers, she always regarded both families as her own.  In essence, she was the youngest of twelve children of the two families combined.  Throughout her life, she had a good relationship with all of these older brothers and two sisters from both families.  She thought of both Willie and Joe as her fathers. She called Willie, “Little Daddy,” and Joe, “Big Daddy.”  So my own mother was adopted.

Clare and I are delighted to be adoptive grandparents.  Our family regards adoption as a blessing.  As adoptive grandparents, we try to teach the children who are adopted that their adoptive parents – whom we call forever parents – love them and want to provide for them in ways that their birth parents could not have.  They have a forever family.

One of the most touching experiences I have had was listening to our six-year-old grandson, praying for his mother and his father.

He stopped as we were praying and asked, “Papa Kirk, who is my mother?”

I asked him to tell me who his mother is, and he named both his biological mother and his adoptive mother.

When we continued our prayer, he began praying for his father and then stopped and asked, “Who is my father?”

Again I prompted, “You tell me.”

He answered, “Well, I know who my forever father is, but I don’t know who the other father is.”

That was a poignant moment for me.  I knew that I, as his grandfather, would have a huge impact on how this little boy grows and develops, how he thinks about himself.

A couple adopted a boy after trying to have a baby for five years.  To their surprise soon after the adoption – and this often happens, as it has within our own family – the mother discovered that she was pregnant.  About a year after the adoption the mother gave birth to another child, also a boy.  These brothers – one adopted by the couple and one born by natural birth – were just a year apart in age.

One day when the two boys were eight and nine years old, they were playing basketball with their dad, tossing balls into the goal above the carport.  The next-door neighbor, who had been cutting grass, stopped his lawnmower and watched as the three played basketball.

He walked over and asked the father, “Which boy is yours?”

“Both of them,” the father said.

The neighbor persisted, “But, I mean, which one is adopted?”

At his very finest, the father replied, “I’ve forgotten.”

Parents and grandparents of adopted children have a short memory about issues like this.  A loving family sees no difference.  It is a way of saying, “This is my child.”  They consider an adopted child no differently.  So, I have a personal investment in the matter of adoption.

Do you know that about one million children in America live with adoptive parents?  About two to four percent of all American families include an adopted child.  Approximately 130,000 children are adopted in the United States every year.  A majority of Americans are personally affected by adoption.  About six out of ten families have had a personal experience with adoption; they, themselves, family members, or close friends have adopted a child.  Six out of ten is a majority.  This message is not a niche sermon at all.  I can tell you that either candidate for president would be happy to have six out of ten votes come this fall.

A part of adoption is loss and grief.  There is no need to short-change that fact.  Children who are adopted have some grief and possibly feelings of rejection or abandonment.  They may ask, “Why did my birth parents give me up?”  After an adoption, the child will likely feel all the normal emotions that accompany the grief reaction: anger, anxiety, depression or fear.  Later in life at particularly important milestones that are emotionally charged – a marriage, a birth of a child, or even a death of a parent – the person may feel those same grief feelings.  They often feel the same sense of loss during an experience of divorce or the death of a spouse that they felt about the absence of birth parents.

Consider some secondary losses.  The hidden victims of adoption are the grandparents.  The biological grandparents are often left out of the child’s life.   Also it is a little more difficult for adoptive children to establish their identity.  So there are some issues.  The truth is that the blessings of adoption far outweigh the adjustments that must be made.

Two different family court judges, months apart, told me that adoption is the happiest occasion that happens in their courtroom.  They said they look forward to seeing children placed with families who will love them and take care of them.

On the day that the adoption of our grandchildren was finalized we had a party.  The guardian ad litem, the person assigned by the court to represent the children, threw a party complete with balloons and a cake decorated with sparklers.  We all celebrated.  Even the judge handed our new grandchildren a Tootsie Roll pop in the courtroom.  Adoption is a time of celebration.

A new mother stayed with her parents for several days after the birth of her first child.  One afternoon, she remarked to her mother that she was surprised that her baby had dark hair.  “Both my husband and I have blonde hair.”

The mother said, “Well, your daddy has black hair.”

The daughter replied, “But, Mama, that doesn’t matter. I was adopted.”

With an embarrassing smile, the mother said the most wonderful words that her daughter could have ever heard.  “I always forget that you were adopted.”

The blessings of adoption far outweigh the difficulties.

Listen to this list of famous adopted people:  Lakota war chief Crazy Horse, comedian Art Linkletter, patriot John Hancock, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Nelson Mandella, inventor George Washington Carver, naturalist John Audubon, founder of Wendy’s Dave Thomas, founder of Apple computers Steve Jobs, philosophers Aristotle and Rousseau, and authors Edgar Allen Poe and Langston Hughes.  Adoption can be a real blessing, and people who are adopted can do very well in life.

How does the Bible address adoption?  The Scriptures offer some examples of people who were adopted.  Abraham and Sarah wanted a child but had to wait many, many years.  Abraham lamented at one point that his servant, Eleazar, a Syrian from Damascus, would have to become his child.  Of course, we know that God vetoed that proposal.  God gave Abraham and Sarah a child, but Abraham at least considered the possibility of adoption.  Moses was adopted into the family of Pharaoh with his own mother serving as his nurse.  With her milk, he took in the faith of Israel.

Esther’s Uncle Mordecai adopted her after the death of her parents. We could also say in some ways that Samuel was adopted.  The priest Eli became Samuel’s surrogate parent when his mother, Hannah, brought him back to the temple and dedicated him to the Lord.  After Jonathan and Saul were killed on Mount Tabor, David brought Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, into his household and treated him like a son.

Scriptures tell us that God also has compassion on those unable to have children and compassion for orphans and the fatherless:

Psalm 27:10:

 “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”

Psalm 68:5-6:

“God is a father to the fatherless, defender of widows.  This is God in His holy dwelling.  God places the lonely in families…”

John’s Gospel – John 14:18 –  tells us that Jesus said to his disciples,

“I will not leave you as orphans.  I will come to you.”

James 1:27 points out that we, as Christians, have a responsibility to look after those who are orphaned.

The most important point that the Scriptures make about adoption is that every single one of us is adopted into God’s family.  So you see, this message is not a niche sermon at all.  This sermon is for everyone because we are all adopted as the children of God.

Consider some additional passages:

John 1:12:

“To all believe Him and accept Him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

I John 3:1-2:

“See how much the Father loves us.  He calls us his children and that is who we are.”

Galatians 4:4-7:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but a child; and if a child, then an heir through God.

In Romans 8:14-17, Paul makes a similar comment:

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as children by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.  If children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.

Notice what these passages have in common.  First is the use of the Aramaic word Abba.  Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer with Abba or Father.  Jesus used Abba for God when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Abba is a term of endearment for Daddy.

Jaroslav Pelikan, a Christian theologian and historian, said that he never really understood the meaning of Abba until the day he got off a plane in Cairo, Egypt, and walked across the tarmac beside an Arab man.  A little boy came running across the tarmac with his hands stretched out and calling, “Abba, Abba, Abba.”  This man beside me, his father, bent down, picked him up, and hugged and kissed him.  The little boy started rubbing his father’s face and repeated, “Abba, Abba, Abba.”  Jesus used that term for God.

Paul says that because we are adopted, we have come into the family of God.  We, too, may call God Abba, this term of endearment.  God is not just our Father way up in the sky.  He is our Father, our Daddy.

Earthly fathers come in all varieties.  Some of us were blessed with wonderful Christian dads while others lost their fathers early in life.  Some had fathers who were absent due to serving in the military.  Some have fathers who disappointed them, hurt them, or even abandoned them.  Some had fathers who were addicted or imprisoned, while others never knew their biological father.

The good news is that every child has two fathers.  One father is of the flesh, the father who was supposed to rear us, the father who did rear us.  We might have counted on him, but our Father upon whom we can always depend is in heaven.  He has made us the promise, “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.”  God loves us unconditionally.  He takes us just as we are.  He is Abba, Father.  As His children, we have become heirs with Christ.

I always called the woman who adopted my mother Granny though her name was Belle Hudson.  When she died, my mother was afraid to go to the reading of her will and testament.  She knew that she had never been legally adopted.  Granny had written these words in her will, “…and to my niece, Louise, whom I have always regarded as my daughter, my desire is that she share and share alike with my other children.”  When my mother heard those words, she wept tears of joy.

I want to share a favorite story that fits this message.  Fred Craddock, a professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, taught preaching.  He had a demanding academic schedule as well as a demanding preaching and teaching calendar, which included many conferences.

He and his wife decided to take some time off and drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where they rented a cabin by a stream.  The first night, they ate supper at a little mom-and-pop restaurant that was actually just a log cabin.  The room was decorated with wooden tables covered in plaid tablecloths and straight-back wooden chairs.  The couple saw an old man enter the restaurant and begin making his way around the room, speaking to all the people in the restaurant.

Fred Craddock thought to himself, Oh no, I bet he’s going to come over here and bother us.

The old man eventually made his way to their table and asked, “Where are you folks from?”

Craddock answered, “We’re from Atlanta.”

“What do you do in Atlanta?”

Hoping to put the old man off, Fred Craddock explained, “I’m a professor of homiletics.”

The old man remarked, “Oh, you teach preachers how to preach!”  With that, he pulled up a chair, sat down, and said, “I got a preacher story for you.”

I was born right here in the mountains of East Tennessee.  I never knew who my father was.  He was long gone by the time I was born.  My mother gave me her maiden name because she didn’t want me to hold a grudge.

While I was growing up, I lived with a terrible stigma.  I always felt like people were talking about me behind my back.  I would go to town on Saturdays, and it was almost like I could hear the whispers of people talking about me.  My classmates at school made some terrible comments about me.

When I was born, my mother quit going to church because she felt unwelcome.  But my grandmother knew that I needed to be in church.  Every Sunday we went to a small Methodist church up on the hill.  We always arrived right as the service started and left just before the end of the service because we didn’t want to talk to anybody.

One Sunday it snowed and iced during the service.  The steps were treacherous, so the ushers wouldn’t allow us to go out the front door.  They said that we would have to exit by the back or side doors.  I didn’t want to go out the door with everyone else, but I had no choice but to get in the line going down front.  I was just a kid fourteen years old, and I didn’t want to shake hands with that preacher either.  He had a big, booming voice and eyebrows that jumped up and down when he preached.  I always thought that he was pointing his finger right at me.

As I reached the front of the church, I started looking for a way out and saw my chance at the side door.  Just as I headed in that direction, I felt an enormous hand on my shoulder.  I turned around and looked straight into the face of that preacher.

He asked me the question I had dreaded for fourteen years, “Boy, who is your daddy?”

The silence of that moment was awful.  Then that preacher added, “Oh, now I see the resemblance.  You are a child of God. You go and you claim your inheritance.”

Fred Craddock said that when he heard that story, chills went up and down his spine.  He asked the old man, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Ben Hooper.”

Fred Craddock remembered his own grandfather telling him about an illegitimate boy who grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee.  The boy, who had become an attorney, was named Ben Hooper.  The people of Tennessee had elected him to two terms as their governor.

You are a child of God, and you have an inheritance.  Do you know how to claim it?  You accept Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who makes our adoption into the family of God possible.  If you have never done that, can I encourage you to accept Christ as your Savior?  Some of you know that this is what you need to do.  You know what the Lord has laid on your heart.  We invite you to respond to an invitation from the Father who loves you very much and who wants you to enter His family.

Kirk H. Neely
© June 2012

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