Nov 21

“Kingdom Business”—a message for National Adoption Sunday 2014

“Kingdom Business” by Chaplain Chris Haughee. A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday 2014 / National Adoption Sunday (11/23/14)

Today we celebrate “Christ the King” Sunday… a celebration of Christ as sovereign Lord and King over all creation. It is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar. Next week we celebrate a new year in the Christian calendar with the first Sunday in Advent. Like January 31st, New Year’s Eve, we look at what has happened in the year past and ahead to the culmination of Jesus’ Kingship—when it truly is “on earth as it is in heaven.” After all, what is a King without a Kingdom? To celebrate Christ as King without looking for, participating in, and longing for the fullness of the Kingdom… well, that doesn’t make any sense.

This Sunday is also National Adoption Sunday. 5 years ago, after our second adoption, I had the honor of speaking alongside the Governor as Montana celebrated National Adoption Month with a celebration at the capitol building, where my son was officially “readopted” and received his citizenship papers. He was welcomed into our family, and welcomed into community, through that act of adoption.

It is a beautiful coincidence that these celebrations coincide. For, I don’t think we can consider today’s texts, and the larger idea of Christ as King, without considering the roll of adoption, our relationships within community, and our calling to the most vulnerable among us. This is because relationship is at the heart of who God is.

Scripture reveals God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—at work in creating the heavens and the earth, all of which was designed to be in harmonious relationship. One of the most beautiful parts of this story comes when man and woman are created (Genesis 1:27, NRSV):

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

The first man and woman enter into the larger story of God’s purposes for creation without sin, shame, or a sense of defeat. But even in their perfected state, they have needs: a need for significance, and a need for security. The need for significance was to be met in their purpose as managers and co-creators with God. The world was to be shaped by the actions of the man and woman, to both their delight and to the joy of God, their Creator.

This imaginative shaping and stewarding of Creation is an expression of the design of God for humankind. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has set eternity in the hearts” of men and women, so we all long for significance beyond the day to day reality of our lives. We desire to know that we MEAN something by our existence. We desire to matter to someone.

The first couple’s security was met in that they were in a trusting and loving relationship with the Creator, and while all of creation was given to them to enjoy there were still limits to their freedom. Namely, they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Psalm 119, sometimes called a “love song to God’s Law,” the author recounts numerous ways in which the boundaries set by God’s commands actually give a fully expression of human freedom. Can you picture the freedom and joyful abandon that comes from properly relating to the reality of God’s ordering of creation? “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding” (verse 32). It is through relationship with God that we gain a proper understanding of the world and our relationship to it.

These two needs, for significance and security, are present in all human interactions. From our infancy, we need to define where our individual reality ends and where the other begins. As John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth argued in defining attachment theory, it is only through the infant’s ability to establish a secure base (through the maternal care-taking relationship) that the child is able to approach the exploration of his or her world with any confidence. It is in this relationship of first feeling secure and cared for that individuation and trust to differentiate can even occur!

If healthy, secure individualization is prevented, the impact of relationships is tragic. It is within the wreckage of this relational brokenness where Intermountain does its ministry. These two needs, for significance and security, can only be properly met through loving relationships–this was God’s design from the beginning! Another way to think about these two most basic needs is to examine the questions they ask.

The fundamental question behind the need for significance is: “Who am I?” This is a question of existential importance.

The second need, that of security, I would suggest asks the following question: “What shall I do?” Now that we have set the relational framework for understanding God’s intent for us, let’s visit each question in turn and see what God’s Word reveals.

  • Who Am I? This question can be understood and answered as we look at today’s reading from Ephesians 1:3-14:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

“Who or what am I?” is a question each of must answer to some degree of satisfaction in order to have any sense of peace or coherence to our lives. The person who does not have a sense of self that they can articulate with some degree of confidence is easy manipulated by others or their circumstance. A lack of positive self-identification can lead to all sorts of spiritual and psychological ills.

The New Testament writer James speaks of the “double minded man” who has not faced life’s trails and temptations with faith, producing a life that is like “a wave on the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” Such an individual, James argues, is “unstable in all he does” (cf. James 1:2-8). This is not God’s will for us! On the contrary, the Christian is to be led by God’s Spirit, offering their sense of self to be shaped by God’s design, and resistant to that pressure that exists for each individual to “conform to the pattern of this world” (cf. Romans 12:1-2).

If you want to know yourself truly, you must know yourself in the context of relationship. You see, those who leave family, friends, and community to go “find themselves” are far from being a modern phenomenon! Jesus knew something of this internal need and the spiritual landmines waiting for those whose search lacks a moral compass to guide them on their way. The amazing thing was that Jesus pointed us to a Heavenly Father that loves the prodigal child no matter how far he or she strays (see Luke 15:11-32).

Before we come into relationship with God, we are that orphaned child—a prodigal without hope. How good it is to know that God wishes us to respond to those adoption papers he drew up before the worlds began!

  • The next question we must answer is, “What shall I do?”

Our Second reading/Gospel Lesson is from Matthew 25:31-46, and helps us answer this question:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

We have already taken a look at the question, “Who am I?” Now, we ask, “What shall I do?”

At first, this question may not seem as obvious as the first. I believe, however, that it is just as significant. Each individual’s sense of security is wrapped up in their sense of belonging, of relation to their surroundings and in community with others.

Even before sin entered into existence within Creation, man and woman were tasked with the management of their physical surroundings. They were to steward the natural paradise they found themselves in. After the fall, and the original disobedience to this divine direction to care for one another and the earth, the need to work and tend to the earth did not change, it was only made more difficult (cf. Genesis 3:17-19).

Regardless of where we labor, those labors have a way of defining us. How many, when asked to describe themselves, start off by describing what it is they do? “Oh, well, I am a chaplain… a teacher… a father…” and so on. To find satisfaction from one’s work is good, but to define oneself by that work is a grievous mistake (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).

Our labors take on an additional significance when we consider what eternal significance they might have. Do we primarily serve ourselves, or are we looking to the needs of others? Do we serve the “least of these?” And, is this service an expression of a heart that has been redeemed for God’s Kingdom work, or do we think we can earn by our labors the adoption into God’s family that has already been paid for in Jesus Christ?

  • I’d like to conclude today with a relational question… “Whose am I?” Our reading from the Psalmist sheds light on this question, one that ties together the needs expressed in both our first two questions: Who am I, and What shall I do?

Psalm 100 A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Can we think back to where we began… back to God’s intent for relationships? I think the answers to “Who am I?” and “What shall I do?” are ultimately met in relationship to a loving God whose claims us as his own. We have been adopted. Just as my children, at 10 months and 18 months, really had no say in the arrangement, we have been claimed by God’s love before we even knew how to respond to that love in return!

What a miracle it is, then, that as we live into the truth that we belong to God, our needs for significance and security are met by Christ our King. Christ claims us, loves us, and sustains us. We can “know that the Lord is God, it is he who made us and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture!”

This is what it means to celebrate Christ as our King! This is how we understand our own adoption as God’s sons and daughters! Let us throw open wide the gates of our hearts, as well as our hearth and home, to accept the Kingdom call to embrace the orphan among us.