July 15, 2018 – Pentecost 6 B
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.
It was the summer of 2005. I had graduated high school and was dreaming of what the future might hold. I was set to start college in a few months, but before I start packing my dinosaur of a laptop and laundry supplies, I first packed my swimming trunks and a towel. You see, my parents had conference to go to, which they went to pretty much every year. It changed locations and in that year, 2005, it was in Hawai’i. So, my parents sat in meetings and my brother and I took up life as temporary beach bums. We tried our hand at surfing and snorkeling, but mostly sat around watching people who were much better at that than I was. I came knowing only a little about the culture but what I did know about it was that they like Spam (yes, the canned meat made just north of here), they’re national instrument was a ukulele, and that “aloha” meant both “hello” and “goodbye”. So, of course, my brother I did a little research on Hawai’ian culture. And by research, I mean we watched Lilo and Stitch a lot that summer. And before you say anything, yes, I was probably a little old for that movie as a high school graduate and, yes, I still love it. For those of you who don’t know it, it’s a Disney movie which took place in Hawai’i and involved aliens and a cantankerous young girl named Lilo.
Of course, this is not exactly academic study, but we learned some things. Most importantly, I’ve come to understand, is the term “ohana”. If you’ve watched the movie, you could tell me that “ohana” means family and “family” means no one gets left behind. The word “ohana” comes back again and again as the family (and their new alien friend) face struggle after struggle. Just when it seems that things are at their hardest, one of them reminds the others that “ohana”, family, is what ties them together. No one gets left behind.
When the author of Ephesians begins this letter, it seems like this is something they are supposed to remember. We are adopted. We are in this together. No one gets left behind. The introduction to New Testament letters were often like the introduction of a book. Essentially, he’s telling his readers what he’s going to tell them. And in our reading from Ephesians today, he’s tell them (and us) that God is doing and new thing, that through Christ God is bringing about a new order of things.
To get the full understanding of what this means, though, it might make sense for us to take a little look at the people who are receiving this letter. Ephesus was a rich trade city and the church of Ephesus was made up of both Jews and Gentiles. While both groups believed the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were both finding reasons why the other group wasn’t doing it right. The Gentiles accused the Jews of being too legalistic. The Jews accused the Gentiles of receiving grace and then doing whatever they wanted. But instead of taking sides, the author of Ephesians essentially calls them both out and says that the important thing is not whether one group is right or wrong, but that, through the mystery of God, both groups are adopted. “Ohana”, family, and none of them are left behind.
Adoption is a beautiful image for the working of God’s faith. By God’s grace, you are adopted as daughters and sons of God and co-heirs with Jesus. By Jesus’ life, death, and victorious resurrection, you are justified, forgiven, and saved. Adoption means that you are part of this family; part of the family of God. There is, then, nothing that can separate us from each other. We are tied together as part of the communion of saints, sinners forgiven and claimed through the Holy Spirit. You are adopted into this “ohana.”
But, if you know anything about families, you know that families don’t always get along. For all the talk about God gathering together all things in heaven and on earth, sometimes we forget or ignore the fact that we are all part of the gathered assembly of God’s people. The family of God is full of people we wouldn’t expect to see. We share this family with people who vote, look, think, and speak differently than us. We share this family with other imperfect, broken people who will sometimes annoy and anger us. But before we decide who is right and who is wrong, before we cast someone out of the family, before we disown someone, before we leave even one person behind, let us remember who is doing the gathering. You are not in this family of God because you agree on everything with everyone else but because God has claimed you and adopted you into this family.
As my family has grown, I’ve been amazed at the insights from my children. My 6-year old said something earlier this week that amazed me. Talking to her younger brother and sister, she said, “Did you know, if you believe in God, the whole world is your family?” God created this world for love, in love, of love and has adopted you into the family with the whole world. Belief, then, is not about whether or not you understand it but rather whether or not you practice it. Grace and adoption is yours by the will and action of God. How we respond to it, then, shows the world what you believe. The way we treat family, however imperfectly, is the plumb line, as it says in Amos, to show us our faith. As adopted people of God, claimed in the waters of baptism and fed through the bread and wine of communion, you are loved and you are called to love others. “Ohana” means family and family means no one gets left behind.
Even when we leave someone behind, God never does. Even when we get left behind, God never will leave us there. You are family, you are loved, you are heirs with Christ to a Kingdom which has no end and a love that knows no borders, boundaries, or conditions. You are adopted. Welcome to the family. Amen.