Date: July 15, 2018, Proper 10
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14
Locale: Grace Lutheran Church, Canton, Michigan; Salem Evangelical Church, Westland, Michigan
Sermon Hymn: #601 “All Who Believe And Are Baptised”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was June 2009. I was 19-years-old at the Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS, in Troy, Michigan. MEPS is where potential military recruits go to sign their military contract. In addition to this, I was also writing and signing my will for the first time. At the young age of 19, I had to decide who all my assets would go to should I die during my service. Who would get all my electronics? Who would get my furniture? Who would get my books? Who would get my musical instruments? Who would get the money left over in my bank account if I die?
On top of this, I also had to sign my Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance. That is, should I die during service, I had to decide who in my family would get a certain amount of consolation money from the federal government.
These are weighty decisions to put on a 19-year-old straight out of high school. But it was necessary. They are my family, and I had to decide who would get my inheritance in my will.
In our epistle reading, Paul talks about three important truths that lay hold of our Christian lives: the will of God, our inheritance, and adoption. Brothers and sisters, you and I are adopted children of God, according to God’s will, who has promised us the inheritance of eternal life in our Baptism.
Adoption as Children of God
Let’s think about adoption for a minute. What is the cost of adoption? The cost of adopting a child can range anywhere between $8,000 and $40,000, and sometimes even higher than that, especially for international children. And this isn’t to mention the timely cost of stress, prayer, and putting together and signing all the legal documents. Perhaps some of you here today know the challenges and costs of adopting a child, whether you’ve adopted a child yourself or know someone who’s adopted a child. Either way, you know it’s not cheap. Yet once the child is finally and officially adopted and is brought into the home, there is much rejoicing. He or she is finally part of the family!
I have a friend named Phoenix. Her father, John, and his wife adopted Phoenix at a young age. It doesn’t matter to them that she’s not blood-related. As far as John is concerned, Phoenix is his daughter. John adopted Phoenix into his family and has called her his own. And this kind of love is reciprocal. As far as Phoenix is concerned, John is truly her father—or her Papa, as she likes to call him. They are family because the gracious act of adoption allows this.
Not too long ago, on Facebook, Phoenix had written a status expressing how angry she was at people who had the nerve to say her Papa should mean nothing to her since he’s not her biological father. Imagine that. This is like the Devil saying to us, “God’s not really your Father,” for any number of reasons. But as we know, God is our Father, just as John is Phoenix’s Papa. So, wanting to provide words of comfort for Phoenix, I told her the following:
God has adopted us as sons and daughters through Christ, and it is by this adoption in which we can call God, “Father! Abba!” We call God our Father Abba just like you call your father Papa. We were once enemies of God, who through Christ has reconciled us to Himself. Once enemies of God and now dearly beloved children of our Father, certainly, then, you can call your father Papa. He is very much your father as a biological father can be. Just as God calls us His own children by His gracious act of adoption, so your father calls you his own by his own gracious act of adoption by the grace of God. It is the nature of a father to call a child his own, especially when it is undeserved.
Brothers and sisters, you have a gracious Father in Heaven who has adopted you as His child. The cost of John adopting Phoenix was high—it required sacrifices of time, money, and prayer. The cost of your adoption as children of God was the highest cost of all. As Paul says, we have been adopted through Jesus Christ. That is, the cost of your adoption cost the very blood of God’s only Son. God’s only Son stepped down from His throne, He came to this earth, He put on human flesh, and He suffered and died for you so that you may be adopted as God the Father’s son or daughter—the brother or sister of Jesus. God is your Papa. He is your Abba, and He did this for you.
Adoption as God’s Will/Desire
Why would God do this, however? Not only: why would He send His only Son to die for us? But also: why would He freely adopt us as His children? Paul tells the Ephesians that this adoption was “according to the purpose of His will” in the ESV translation. Let’s think about this phrase for a moment, “according to the purpose of His will.” What does this mean? That is the Lutheran question.
There’s a couple ways you could translate this into English. We could put it like this, “according to the favour/good pleasure of His will.” Or even, more simply, “according to the good pleasure of His desire.” Do you see what this means? God adopted you for no other reason than that it was pleasing to Him! It brought Him joy to adopt you as His son or daughter!
This seems too good to be true, doesn’t it? That the God of the universe would freely adopt someone like me? Someone with my baggage, my burdens, my guilt and shame, my sins, especially those sins only I know about? We grow suspicious of things that come free. Free things usually come with strings attached.
I remember an episode of NCIS where an NCIS agent, Tony DiNozzo, bought coffee for his coworker, Timothy McGee. This isn’t like Tony. Tony doesn’t go out of his way to be generous towards his friends and coworkers. So, knowing this about Tony, McGee grows suspicious and says, “Okay, Tony, what do you want?” As it turned out, Tony did want something in return from McGee. He really did have an ulterior motive behind his generosity. That free coffee was too good to be true. That “free” coffee cost McGee something. It came with strings attached.
Likewise, we might grow suspicious of God’s free forgiveness. At the Table, Jesus comes to us with His body and blood and says, “Come, eat and drink, which were given into death for you for the forgiveness of all your sins,” and we might grow suspicious of this because we don’t have to do anything to earn this free meal—this free forgiveness. At times, we think we have to earn His favour—that we have to give something in return for our salvation. Sometimes we think this Good News of free forgiveness offered to us by faith, at the Lord’s Table, and in our Baptisms comes with strings attached.
It is true that things in our world don’t come free—such as winning the lottery, which comes with strings attached because the money you won “for free” is actually taxed immensely. You end up paying a large sum of money just to keep a portion of the money you won. That’s how our world functions. But God’s grace is literally out of this world! Nothing in this world comes free but the grace of God. God’s adoption of you as His child is not too good to be true. God’s adoption of you as His child is true because He is so good. Let me say that again: God’s adoption of you as His child is true because He is so good. God is so good that He adopts us freely as His children.
Baptism as Assurance of Our Inheritance
We forget this, however. We forget that God is our Abba. We forget that we don’t have to do anything to deserve to be called His son, to be called His daughter. After all, we have sinned and continue to fall short of His glory, as Paul says in Romans. We tell ourselves, “Oh, I’ll never commit that sin.” We make promises to God, saying things like, “Lord, I’ll stop swearing. Lord, I’ll stop committing premarital sex. Lord, I’ll stop this addiction.” And so on. Notice the language—the “I” language. The focus is all about me and what I can do rather than trusting the Holy Spirit to do His work in me.
And so, as we focus on ourselves and our own strength, we end up committing that sin we promised we’d never do anyway. And we end up continuing in a particular pattern of sin anyway. Perhaps we commit a sin so great in our eyes that we think, “Oh no, I have lost my salvation. God is disappointed with me. He wants nothing to do with me.” We think we have lost our inheritance—that we are no longer His child.
Or maybe this doesn’t describe some of you here today. Some of us may not be burdened with doubt over our adoption as a result of our sins. Yet even if we’re not haunted by our past sins that cause us to doubt our adoption, some of us may forget about our adoption anyway. Things may be going so well that we begin to act like we’re not children of God. Life is good, so we begin to ignore church, ignore the Word, and refuse to pray frequently. Our finances are good, our relationships are in good order, our jobs are good, and our retirement is good, so we figure, “Why do I need God?” and we begin to live as if He doesn’t exist, even though we may still believe in Him.
In this case, Baptism calls us to repentance and to remember the holy family God has adopted us into and daily participate in as well as the holy purpose He has called us to live out—living out our vocations in the proclamation of His Word.
This is all normal thinking; everybody goes through one or both patterns at some point in their lives. Whether we come to doubt our adoption or forget about our adoption and the implications of what it means to be a child of God when things are going so well, remembering the inheritance promised to us is so vital.
Let’s go back to 19-year-old me at MEPS, sitting at the station where I was writing and signing my will. Since I have no wife or kids, I was giving the inheritance to my parents. Upon signing the papers, my parents had—and still have—my promised inheritance. They have it, but not yet. Their inheritance comes at the cost of my death. In the same way, your inheritance came at the cost of Jesus’ death. And because His death has inaugurated your inheritance, you have it right now.
Where can you find this assurance? You can find it in your Baptism. Paul’s adoption language here in Ephesians is baptismal language, and he is essentially saying this: God’s will is written in your Baptism. It is not the rite of Baptism itself we trust in—it is not the mere performance of the act. It is God’s promise attached to the Word and water that we trust, which is given to you in your Baptism.
In your Baptism, God has said, “You. Are. Mine.” Think about that for a moment. The God and Creator of the universe has personally cleansed you from your sins, has looked upon you, and has said, “You belong to Me!” Brothers and sisters, you belong to God, and He takes care of His possessions. As Jesus has said, He takes care of the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the fields, so how much more will He certainly take care of you, His child [Matthew 6:25-33]!
So, brothers and sisters, if you are ever in doubt of your adoption or you forget about your adoption when things are going well, remember the promise God has given to you in your Baptism. In Luther’s Small Catechism, when he asks, “What gifts or benefits does baptism grant,” he writes this: “It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promise of God declare.” These are the promises God has given to you in your Baptism.
This is why we make the sign of the cross, for those of us who do. By making the sign of the cross, we remember the promises God has given us in our Baptisms. Therefore, remember, as a child of God, in your Baptism you have received the inheritance of the forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the Devil, and eternal salvation according to God’s promise and good pleasure—according to His joy.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.