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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, January 08, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated my wife, to Uncle Edison and Aunt Ruth Klingler and their family and to all families of adoption, to Connor Freeman Thomas and Brett Alan Everhardt on their baptismal day and always to the glory of God!

Adopted Into Faith Through Baptism

Acts 19:1-7 and Mark 1:4-11

The story that follows is not one story of one family, but rather a composite of many families collected across the years. I have been blessed to witness the "love story" that I am about to share "up-close" throughout my lifetime.

Tom and Judy were deeply faithful people and were joyfully married in the church. At the time of their marriage, Tom and Judy committed themselves to not only love one another but to raise children in a family. Tom dreamed of four boys, while Judy prayed for two boys and two girls. Life was good. Their early marital years went by with no children, but not without plenty of effort to fulfill that desire. On the surface it seemed to others like they had no fortune visit them, but underneath, they silently suffered several miscarriages.

In time, it became harder to go to church with babies everywhere and to work with curious questions innocently asked by their co-workers. Their parents' gentle teasing soon stopped and (out of love, I suppose) there were no words exchanged related to future grandchildren. Weddings, family reunions, and even family funerals functioned as opportunities for others to ask when they were having babies. For Judy especially, tears flowed freely late at night as she besieged through the years by the absence of children. Isolation seemed to be her only solace in pain.

About seven years into their marriage, "Adoption" began to enter their thoughts, vocabulary and daily prayers. As far as they knew (or their parents knew), no one in their extended families had ever adopted a child. Nordic stock on Tom's side and Chinese on Judy's, they were about to become family pioneers as adoptive parents. They educated themselves and their families about the language of love connected to adoption. Both "grandfathers-to-be" didn't care about the color or shape of the grandchildren of which they dreamed. Both "grandmothers-to-be" struggled to grasp how to embrace the concept of children born to someone else as equal to and part of their family system. Silently, they questioned whether the new babies would fit in with their other grandchildren. Their children often felt this unarticulated judgment.

For Tom and Judy, there was no turning back once they embraced the loving vision they'd of adoptive children they now embraced. Within two years, a sibling group of four boys came through to their home from their church's mission orphanage in the Philippines. The boys were 6, 4, 2, and six months (Tom's dream came true!). They went to the Philippines to finalize the adoption and bring their sons home. On the day the plane landed in Port Columbus and they departed into the arms of 30 family and friends cheering and holding up signs that said, "Welcome Home!" dancing at the end of Concourse B, Tom and Judy knew their dream of a family was real.

I can tell you, with all my heart that adoption is a beautiful way to have a family. I have witnessed it in my own family system. I have seen babies and infants; young children and teens enter families and totally transform a family unit into a beautiful new creation. I have seen brothers embrace adopted sisters, grandparents overcome hurtful (spoken and unspoken) judgments, cousins take on new cousins with no qualms, and church communities take on a new children in a rainbow coalition of love and acceptance.

Adoption is a gift from God. I can say this without any hesitation. I know you, of all people, understand this because each one of you is adopted. That's right. Each one of you has been adopted into Christian faith. We are not "born" as Christians. We are Made Christians. There is no bloodline in our faith. Our bloodline comes through Christ. And Christian Initiation through baptism is never about DNA. It is all about - TGNA - this is: "Through Grace Newly Adopted." When a baby or adult comes to the water of baptism, as Connor and Brett did today, we, their completely adopted family, welcome them into this racial, sociological, economic, ideological, creedal mixed-up family through water and the power of the Holy Spirit. Each time we do this, we promise to love, support, nurture and care for them - just as God has promised to love, support, care and nurture all God's children who have - Through Grace Newly Adopted - come into this family called faith for over two millennia.

Now just a passing word to those who don't accept adopted ones into their families - get over yourself. You who believe your bloodlines are pure and spotless need a major reality check or you need to change to a religion founded on DNA and not TGNA. Ours is not a faith of pedigree but rather one of mixed-up blessings delivered through the grace of God - and God knows we need a lot more grace in our lives than pedigree.

On Christmas Day, as I joined more than 500 people passing the peace of the newborn Christ, I came upon a man sitting right at the cross aisle near the place where Mac and Deb Anderson are sitting. While others were standing and moving around, he was sitting still. I reached out and offered him my hand with a smile and said, "The Peace of the newborn Christ is with you . . . Merry Christmas." No hand reached back and he said softly, "I have no peace." I leaned closer, looked in his eyes and said, "then receive a little from me . . . " I see his face in my daily prayers - a man, perhaps an angel of God, who showed upon Christmas Day in need of meal, some fellowship, and a little grace and peace from God. Whatever his life story, that man was, for a day or at least for an hour, touched by God's love and grace through adoption into this beloved community of Christ.

This day in which we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, the baptisms of Brett and Connor and in which we reaffirm our own baptismal, we are surrounded by grace. This day is very special.

On a day like this, Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The place was swarming with sinners - fallen, sorry, guilty human beings - who had come in hope of John cleaning up their lives and turning things around for them. The daily paper tells us what most of them had done - passing bad checks, driving drunk, unarmed robbery. Some were hardened criminals looking for a shortcut to heaven's gate. Others were guilty of crimes of the heart which only they knew about. But, none of them lived with illusions of innocence. They were there because they knew they were covered in dirt. They had come to get cleaned-up.

Then Jesus showed up. He wasn't famous yet. In Mark's gospel, there are no accounts of his birth or early childhood. His life begins with baptism, so no one cleared a path when he made his way to the water. He waited in line. Later, after John had baptized him and the heavens torn apart and a voice from heaven made it clear who he was, you better believe the crowd looked at him differently. What was he doing there (John and the others wanted an answer to this!)? What was this sinless dude doing in a seething sea of sin by the river's edge?

The church has never been comfortable with Jesus' baptism. He was innocent. He didn't need to clean up his act. He was the cleanest act in history. But, he did make a choice to identify with those of us who need to clean up our act. He humbled himself to be with us, even though he wasn't like us. By so doing, he gave shape, form, and meaning to his own name - Immanuel - "God with us." By wading in the water of the Jordan River, by receiving baptism in the hands of John, Jesus adopted us as his brothers and sisters, just as God had done through him on behalf of all creation.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you and I are connected with God and Christ throughout time. Our adoptive connection comes through Christ's body and blood. It is our TGNA - Through Grace Newly Adopted - not our DNA which makes us who we are, because in Christ, we already know whose we are.

On those days when you don't feel like a child of God, or you don't look like a child of God; or you don't act like a child of God, remember you ARE A CHILD OF GOD! You are one of God's children not because of what you have done, or who your parents are, but because out of all the Universe, God chose you to be his child. God has adopted you. God loves you. When you are anxious or alone, defeated or deflated, God calls to you through your baptism and reminds you to relax, be calm. God calls to you, "You did not choose me. You are mine. I chose you."

Look over Jordan and what will you see? There is a band of angels holding up a sign with your name on it. As you get closer, you can read it. The sign says, "Welcome Home." Amen.

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church