Sermon for First Sunday after Christmas
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
I wonder if you all have heard the term – “cradle Episcopalian?” Cradle Episcopalians are those of us who were born into this church, and don’t know anything else. I know we have some in this church – people who were confirmed by Desmond Tutu, whose lineage as Anglicans go back to Henry himself. And I would like to think that I am right up there with the best cradle Episcopalians.
I was baptized at St. James’ Episcopal Church. My grandfather baptized me. And I have every reason to believe he used this Book of Common Prayer and that he wore this stole when he did so.
Though I didn’t go to church much as a kid, I was confirmed on the Feast Day for St. Augustine – who was the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Here is the certificate to prove it. You can’t get any more Episcopal than that. God called me to the priesthood when I was sixteen after reading Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”
In college, one church service on Sunday was not enough. I went to one Episcopal church for morning services, and then to the college Episcopal church for evening services. And also to Wednesday night worship. And I took communion to shut-ins. And I was on the Vestry during college. I served as Senior Warden. Because that’s what cradle Episcopalians do.
Then the bishop sent me to Virginia Theological Seminary for my training to be a priest. That’s the seminary where Texans have gone since before the Civil War – not to that upstart seminary in Austin. Here is my diploma to prove it. I was ordained to the diaconate. Here’s my proof. And when I was ordained to the priesthood, I wore this same stole. And here’s my proof for that. And here’s my proof that I’m the rector of this church.
I can count on one hand the number of times I have worshipped in a church that was not an Episcopal Church. I have memorized large swaths of the Prayer Book, even those dreary, boring, historical documents in the back. When I sing in the shower – which I do often – it’s usually from the 1982 hymnal.
My resume as a cradle Episcopalian is rock solid. If anybody has a birthright to this church – it is me.
So what does all that stack up to? The legacy, the history, the documents, my love for this Church? Well, not much, really. Because none of us are born into the Church of God. The Church does not grow through birth. Our Church will not sustain itself if we just have more children who grow up to be Episcopalians. No. The Church grows through adoption.
Saint Paul gets this. To use a modern day metaphor, it works like this: God is a father. And, he has one son that was born to him – that’s Jesus Christ.
But God isn’t done being a Father with Jesus. What happens is that God wants more children. But he wants children through adoption. God wants children who don’t really know what it’s like to have good parents. God wants children who have lost hope and faith. And to get more children, God created his own adoption agency. The firstborn Son, Jesus, set this adoption agency into motion, and adopted the first twelve children for God. And then those first twelve began telling others that they could also be adopted.
So the coolest thing happened – because God sent Jesus as his only Son, those adopted children also became sons and daughters of God. And now because they were sons and daughters of God, even though it was through adoption, they received the same rights and privileges and benefits as the natural born Son. In other words, Jesus received an inheritance of blessing and peace and everlasting life from God because he was God’s Son. But because God and Jesus are so graceful and generous, they decided that the adopted children would also be written into the will. So that everybody could receive an inheritance of blessing and peace and everlasting life.
Or as Saint Paul says it: “But 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.”
The adoption agency, of course, is the Church. We aren’t born into the Church, we are adopted by God through the Church. All of your experience, all of your wisdom, all of your time in the Church is counted for little, in comparison with being adopted by God as one of his children.
And, now that you have been adopted into the family of God, and since you are going to receive an inheritance from God, there are a few rules you will have to follow. Like any child who has been adopted, there are a few new things you have to learn if you are going to live in this family.
First rule: it is more blessed to give than to receive. Or, as our adopted brother, the Lord Jesus says, the measure you give is the measure you get. The more you give to the church and to the Lord Jesus, the more you’ll get in return. Believe me, I know this from experience: the more time, the more money, the more energy you sacrifice for the family of God, the more richly will God bless you. If you don’t believe me, then try it out. Giving is the first rule for you to follow in your newly adopted family.
The second rule of your newly adopted family: love your neighbor as yourself. This is a tough one. Because it means that other people are just as important as you are. That’s right, the other adopted children in this family are going to receive the same inheritance you are. Even if your great-grandparents and grandparents and parents were born into this church just like you were, the brother or sister who came yesterday gets the same rights and privileges. Loving is the second rule for you to follow in your newly adopted family.
And finally, rule number three for your newly adopted family of God: once a week, you must have dinner at the family table. Think of it this way – God has adopted you into the most loving family in the world. We receive the same benefits as the natural born Son of God. The least we can do is show up once a week and be grateful. And that’s exactly what we do every time we participate in the Holy Eucharist – because remember, the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” Eating at this table is the third rule for you to follow in your newly adopted family.
That’s it. Those are the three simple rules to live by in this newly adopted family of God. They are easy to remember: give, love, eat.
This family, the Church of God, will not sustain itself in the coming generations by people like me, by cradle Episcopalians. It takes adoption. It takes us, saying to people who have never been through our doors that they are welcome here. That anybody and everybody, following these three simple rules, are invited to join the adopted family of God. You don’t need a framed certificate or a legacy. You just need an adoption.