“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14, ESV). Amen. Happy Father’s Day! I hope you’re all looking forward to spending time with your fathers or children today—or at least expecting a nice, long phone call. (Aside: The last time I ever spoke with my Dad was on the phone for Father’s Day just a few weeks before he died. You never know when it’ll be your last opportunity to talk.)
There are many kinds of fathers we celebrate on Father’s Day: dads and step-dads, grandfathers and godfathers, even foster fathers and adoptive dads, which gets me to wondering: By show of hands, how many of you are adopted? I have two cousins who are adopted, although you wouldn’t know it just by looking at them because they both look like one of their parents. Funny how that works sometimes.
But here’s the special surprise I have for you today on this Father’s Day: each and every Christian is adopted. For in Baptism, you went from being a slave to sin to become a son of God. In Baptism, God adopted you as his child and made you his own. Listen to what Paul writes in our epistle today: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:23-24). Before we believed in Jesus, we were slaves to sin, captive to the Law’s condemnation, and dead in our trespasses. We were without a hope in the world.
But all that changed once Jesus came into our hearts:
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:25-27).
Did you hear that? Now that faith has come, we are no longer slaves. No we are sons of God, through faith. For if we are baptized into Christ, we have been clothed with Christ, showing that we now belong to Christ.
I know that in our post-feminist world, many of you may be offended by the masculine dominant language in these verses. Rather than calling you “sons of God,” you may wonder, why don’t I call you sons and daughters of God—or simply children of God? C’mon, Pastor! That’s not very woke! Why don’t you get with the times and ask us our preferred pronouns? It’s not right to call the ladies “you guys.”
Dear Christian friends, rejoice that you are called sons of God. The Greek word for son (huios) is a very technical word under ancient Greek and Roman law. Under Roman law, the term son denoted a legal heir with all the rights of sonship, including the inheritance of the father’s wealth and estate. There is a more generic Greek word for children: teknon. Teknon is neuter in gender, conveying neither male nor female. That’s not the word Paul uses in Galatians. In fact, he intentionally rejects the word in favor of huios (“son”) because he wants to show the Galatians that they are now God’s sons—and sons of Abraham by faith—with all the same blessings of the spiritual inheritance promised to Israel.
Differences between Jews and Gentiles don’t matter anymore in God’s family:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29).
All are one in Christ. All divisions and distinctions of race, gender, or class are gone. “For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In the Church, it doesn’t matter if you are a citizen or alien, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, male or female. In regard to the salvation Jesus won for us on the cross, all are one.
There was a time in our lives when we were still lost in our sins. Paul says that when we were children, we “were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:3). “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son [Jesus], born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). See why Paul calls us sons and not children? Because we are God’s adopted children—we are sons with all the rights and privileges that sonship entails, including eternal life and the dominion over the new heaven and the new earth on the Last Day.
But becoming Sons gives us something even more wonderful than all of that. Sonship gives us a relationship with our heavenly Father. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6-7).
Abba is the Aramaic word for “father.” Aramaic is the language spoken by Jewish children in ancient Israel (Hebrew was only spoken in the synagogue). Abba is what a little Jewish boy like baby Jesus would have called Joseph. Abba is a term of endearment, perhaps like “Daddy.” Beloved, we are God’s children now! We are sons of God! We are the King’s kids! By faith in Christ and Baptism into his Body, we belong to God.
I have a friend named Tim who used to be a member of this congregation before he moved out of state. Some of you may remember him. For most of his life, Tim had gone to church and believed in Jesus—but he had never been baptized. But there was something else besides Baptism missing in Tim’s life: he didn’t have a mom or dad. Not because they were dead. But because Tim’s biological parents had given him up to the custody of the state, and nobody ever adopted him.
Yet Tim spent much of his teenage years with the same foster family, but they never legally adopted him. He came to call his foster parents mom and dad, but they were not, in fact, his mom and dad. He felt like the other kids in the house—the biological children of his foster parents—were his brothers and sisters, but they were not his actual brothers and sisters. Tim was never adopted. They never conferred upon him their family name. And so Tim went through most of his adult life yearning for a family. More than anything else, he wanted to belong.
When I met Tim, he was in his 50’s or 60’s and engaged to be married to a widow in our congregation. Through our pre-marriage classes, I learned a lot about Tim’s life and faith and family of origin. He began to ask me lots of questions about spiritual things, so eventually, he went through my 12-week adult instruction class to learn about the teachings of the Lutheran Church.
Yet no topic captured Tim’s heart or mind more than the section on Baptism. In our class, I described how Baptism is God’s way of adopting us into his family, the Church. In Baptism, God places his Triune name upon us—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—thereby conferring upon us legal status as sons and daughters of the King. Tim piped up and said with tears in his eyes, “I’m not baptized. But I want to be adopted. I want to belong.”
We baptized him a few weeks later in public worship. Tim was a tall, burly man with a full beard and a thick New England accent. His speaking voice registered well below the baritone range. He was definitely a manly man. But that big man bent over with his head hanging over the bowl of water in the Baptismal font. And I poured water over his head three times, baptizing him “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”—the family name of God. That was Tim’s adoption.
In Baptism, Tim became a child of God—a newborn baby born again by water and the Spirit. And after his Baptism, I told Tim in front of the whole congregation, “Tim, now you’re finally adopted. Now you have a family. We are your family now, and God is your Father.” If I remember correctly, Tim gave me a big bear hug. I’ll never forget that day.
Dear friends, maybe you are still missing a connection with the heavenly Father in your life. That is nothing of which to be ashamed. At one time in our lives, all of us were far from God. But God wants to be your Father. Jesus wants to be your brother. God has a place for you to belong in his new family, the Church. You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to live a life adrift. Through the waters of Holy Baptism, God can bring you into his family by faith in Jesus, the one who poured out his blood on the cross for our salvation. God wants to adopt you and make you his sons, heirs of eternal life.
So if you are not yet baptized, then please talk to me after the service. Let’s remedy that situation. And if you are already a Christian living in faith, then rest in the comfort and assurance of your Baptism. When Satan would assail Martin Luther’s conscience because of his sins, Luther would fling back in the devil’s face, “But I am baptized!”—shorthand for the fact that Luther belonged to the heavenly Father because Jesus was his Savior—and remains our Savior still today. It is by that same Spirit of adoption that we cry, “Abba! Father!” as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. For, as Jesus taught us, when we pray, we say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” God is our Father now. And nobody can snatch us out of his hands. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of + the Holy Spirit. Amen.