July 12 2015 Reflection

7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 12, 2015)
‘Living as God
’s Adopted Children

BIBLE READINGS
2 Samuel 6:1-19

Ephesians 1:1-14

REFLECTION

There is a Chinese folktale about a boy who was taken to the palace to be adopted by the King and raised as a royal child. A few weeks after the adoption, the King held a special banquet to welcome the boy and to introduce him to the people. But, not long after the celebration began, the King realised that the boy was missing; his chair was empty.

So the King ordered the guards to look for his adopted son. But, just before the king could finish his sentence, a small hand appeared from underneath the boy’s table. The hand quietly took the chicken drumstick on the table and quickly disappeared.

Understanding the situation, the King shouted to the guards, “There he is! Hiding under the table. Lift him up!” So the boy was taken back to his chair and the King said to him, “My son, you no longer live in the slums, but in the palace. You are no longer the boy of the slums, but a royal child. So enjoy your new status!”[1]

The letter to the Ephesians that we read today also reminded the Gentile Christians in the city of Ephesus of their status as God’s adopted children. The letter was not written by Paul, but by his follower, writing in his name. But even though Paul did not write the letter, it still reflects Paul’s theology and belief.

The author of this letter was a Jew. He, however, wrote to a largely Gentile or non-Jewish congregation in the city of Ephesus.[2]

One issue that threatened the life of the early church at the time was the division between the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians. The Jewish Christians believed that, as members of God’s chosen people, they were the only ‘legitimate’ children of God thus the sole recipients of God’s inheritance. Just like Paul, however, the author of the letter strongly disagreed with this view. He didn’t deny the status of the Jewish people as God’s chosen people, yet he argued that God too had adopted the Gentiles as God’s children.

Indeed, adoption was quite common in ancient time, especially amongst the elite class who didn’t have a child or whose child died unexpectedly. Adopting a person would assure them of an heir. (Remember that in Genesis, before Abraham had Isaac, he was considering his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, to be his heir [Genesis 15:2-3].) The adopted person (who could be a child or an adult) would gain the social status of his new parents. He would also gain his new parents’ political and social connection and, of course, their wealth. In return, he would take his new parents’ name and pledge loyalty to his new family.[3]

God’s adoption of the Gentiles was seen in the same way. The Gentiles’ status had been raised and now they also enjoyed the inheritance of God, their new parent. So, now, both the Jews and the Gentiles were members of one family: God’s family. As such, they both had now the same right as God’s children.

But, the author of this letter argued that the Gentiles were not “add-ons” or an “afterthought”. Their adoption had been designed from the very beginning. God had chosen them before the world was formed (v.4).  This was all part of God’s plan from the very beginning to gather all things in heaven and earth in Christ (v. 10). Indeed, God’s grand design is the reconciliation of all things in the universe in Christ.  God’s will is to reconcile all people and all things as one family.

Albania is a predominantly Muslim country in Europe. During the German occupation in the WWII, it succeeded in saving most of the lives of the Jews living in its land. The people of Albania refused the order to hand over the Jews to the NAZI. They lived by an ancient code of honour called, Besa, which is still the highest ethical code in the country until today.

Besa literally means “to keep a promise”. Someone who lives by Besa is someone who can be trusted with one’s life and the life of one’s family.

During the NAZI German occupation, Albania’s Prime Minister gave a secret order to his people. He secretly asked them to let all Jewish children sleep with their children, eat the same food, and live as one family. To support this effort, many government agencies provided fake documents so that the Jewish people could intermingle with the Albanian population without being detected.

An Albanian mother who did not have enough breast milk to feed her son let the Jewish woman she hid in her house to breastfeed her son. Later on, when she was asked why she let a Jew breastfed her son, she replied, “Jews are God’s people, like us.” One man who hid a Jewish family in his house said, “I have done nothing. All Jews are our brothers (and sisters).”

Indeed, after the war, Albanian Muslims saved around 2000 Jews. They did not only protect and saved their Jewish citizens, but also Jewish refugees who came to Albania seeking their protection. Albania was the only NAZI occupied territory that had more Jewish population immediately after the war than before.[4]

These Albanian Muslims had managed to show the world what it meant to live as brothers and sisters in the midst of division in the world. They had taught us how to treat one another as members of God’s family.

God’s grand design of reconciliation, however, is often thwarted by human sinfulness to create division. We hear this sin again in the story between David and the ark of God.

Previously, the ark had been the only symbol that could unite the different tribes of Israel into one single entity/nation. During their pilgrim in the desert, the ark was the symbol that united the tribes of Israel to fight as a single unit against other nations in the land.

Once Israel became a kingdom, however, the ark had become not the symbol of unity anymore, but of division, especially between the House of David and of Saul. By bringing the ark to Jerusalem, David tried to cement his elevation as the King of Israel to replace Saul. It seems that, by bringing the ark to his new capital, David tried to make a statement that God had rejected Saul and his family, represented in the story by Michal, Saul’s daughter who resented David taking the ark to Jerusalem.

But the ark was not only the symbol of God’s presence; it was also the symbol of God’s sovereignty. David may be able to transport the ark, but it didn’t mean that he had control over it.

The death of Uzzah affirmed this sovereignty of God. Indeed, the incident took David by surprise. He had thought that the ark would be on his side and would never bring danger to him or to his companions. He was wrong. God, represented by the ark, was the one who had chosen David and decided his destiny, not the other way around. David may try to use the ark to elevate himself over the House of Saul, but it was God who made the final decision about whom God chose. David must have forgotten that just like God could choose and reject Saul, God too could choose and reject him.

Indeed, God chose David not because he deserved to be chosen, but out of God’s sovereignty. This freedom of God to choose was at the core of Israel’s belief about God choosing them as God’s people. The book of Deuteronomy (7:6-8) says,

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has   chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasuredpossession.

 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all    peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, andredeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (NRSV)

God chose Israel not because they were the strongest or the most numerous; God chose Israel out of love. Unlike David, who often used his status to further alienate his enemies, Israel must respond to this choice by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). Israel must respond to God’s generosity by shaping her life accordingly, especially in his dealing with the weak. They must not lord over the weak in their land because they too were slave before God redeemed them (Deuteronomy 24:17-18).

Friends, God, in God’s love and freedom, has chosen and adopted us all as God’s children. As such, we are to live our life as God’s chosen ones. We are to live as God wants us to live: as agents of reconciliation and not of division. We are to work together with and for God to fulfil God’s great design to reconcile all things in heaven and in earth in Christ.

Amen.

[1] Rudy Budiman, A Royal Child, in the Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide (February 16 2007)

[2] Susan Hylen, Commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (July 12 2015)

[3] Susan Hylen, Commentary on Ephesians 1:3-14, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (July 12 2015)

[4] BESA: A Code of Honor - Muslim Albanians who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, on http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/traveling_exhibitions/besa/index.asp and Breaking Down Wall, on Seasons Fusions for Congregational Life, Pentecost 1 (May 31 to August 30 2015), p. 111