Sermon for the Thursday Fellowship 15th of August 2013

Galatians. 4: 4-7

Luke 1: 46-55

We are the adopted children of God!

May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so 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 also an heir, through God.

Have you ever wondered why adoption seems to be such a big thing in biblical times? When I was growing up there was an unspoken stigma about being an adopted child, so why is St Paul so excited about the fact ‘that we might receive adoption as children’ in today’s text. This must have taken some explaining to past generations with their very rigid social code of morality to live by, they would not have relished the thought of being referred to as adopted. The Great War and the Second World War provided enough orphans to make adoption more socially acceptable, but when I was young being adopted was still not a thing that you bragged about to your peers. How wrong can you possibly be! But as usual it is human society that had completely lost the plot! So let’s go back in time to see where we went so wrong.

In Bible times, the inheritance laws were absolutely vital to the economy if not to survival itself. To give you an example; if a man was farming a piece of land, and had an accident, or became old and frail, who was going to take over from him? Unless that was completely clear, the land might go to waste, with no food and no income being produced. In that case the frail old man and his wife would probably starve to death. There was no welfare state, no old age pension – without an income you would starve and die. Or suppose the old man died, with nobody to succeed him, who would support his widow? No wonder life for most people in those days was described by Thomas Hobbs as ‘nasty, brutish and short’. Unless there was an heir. That made all the difference. If the oldest son was old enough and strong enough to take over the farm, then he would grow enough food and make enough money to give the old people a comfortable retirement and look after the women and children until the could look after themselves. So to have someone ready to inherit your property was essential to survival.

I have so far been talking about a farm, but the same rules applied to every inheritance from a carpenter’s shop up to and including a kingdom. So if a couple were childless, or if their son was crippled or killed, what could they do? Well, they could adopt. Adoption was much more common and socially acceptable than it is today, simply because it was so vital to survival. So you might ask your neighbour who had lots of kids if you could adopt one of his sons to become your heir. R you could adopt a nephew or more distant relative. Some people who owned slaves even gave their slaves their freedom, and then adopted them as sons so that they could inherit their property and keep the family line from dying out.

What a privilege! Imagine you are somebody’s younger son, and you know that when the old man pops his clogs your big brother will take all the land worth having and you will have to go out and scrape a living as best you can. Then suddenly out of the blue your rich but childless uncle say’s that he would like to adopt you as his son, to inherit his property and his wealth. Your life and prospects would be transformed over night, and you would leap for joy! Even more if you were a slave, with absolutely no prospects, and all of a sudden you are told you are going to be not only free but rich beyond your wildest dreams as well. The word ‘adoption’ had a totally different connotation in those days.

That is why St Paul uses the word ‘adoption’ for what happens when we become Christians. It is a privilege, a piece of good news which transforms your life in like manner. Not a bad metaphor. Don’t forget that when you give a slave his freedom, setting him free from the state of existence that enslaved him, the word used is to ‘redeem’ him. Now listen again to what St Paul wrote to the Galatians:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so 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 also an heir, through God.

Now that sounds a bit different doesn’t it! What a privilege! Now you are free from the code that bound you to what you thought was the socially acceptable place you occupied in our rigid and warped society. You are free – free to love your neighbours, and dedicate your life to helping other people in ways no rigid code of behaviour could ever suggest. And free to love God. Not just to worship Him because you are told to, or because you are afraid He will be annoyed if you don’t. But because he has adopted you and given you your freedom and made you richer than you can possibly imagine. What would you do when a rich uncle set you free from your future as a younger son, or slave? You would probably fling your arms round him, and give him a gig hug. So why don’t you do that to God? Once you fully understand what St Paul is talking about, your whole attitude to God will change, and serving him will become an endless joy.

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