Pastoral Series

Church Matter: Home

   On Monday I reflected on a painting by Leighton Ford (who’s speaking with us on Monday evening) – and today I’m pondering another one. After being away for decades, he took some of his family to visit his childhood home in Chatham, Ontario – and painted it. I am fond of the idea that any of us might look at it, and then have our minds drawn to some recollection of our own childhood home. Where was yours?

We speak, as we should, of our “church home.” Church is to be a home away from home, the place where a reconfigured family, kin by faith and Baptism instead of blood, gathers to love, share, work and support.

Leighton was adopted. How many people through history were adopted? Leonardo da Vinci, Babe Ruth, Edgar Allan Poe, John Lennon, Eleanor Roosevelt, James Baldwin, Steve Jobs, Leo Tolstoy, Lafayette, the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian, Aristotle, Confucius, and Nelson Mandela. Queen Esther of the Bible was adopted. Superman was adopted, not to mention Harry Potter. So was Buddy, who was raised by an elf at the North Pole but then finally located his father, Walter, in New York. The profoundly moving film, “Lion,” tells the story of Saroo, adopted by an Australian family, finally managing to locate his mother in rural India. The themes of vulnerability, love and reconciliation in such stories fascinate all of us, including those who’ve never adopted or been adopted.

Kelly Nikondeha has written a wise theological book about adoption, exploring how the adopted might seek out birth parents: “We want that dark corner illuminated. We imagine our own transformation at the revelation of our true origin. What goodness might be unlocked, what possibility unleashed?” Nikondeha offers a picturesque retrospective on what being adopted was about: “A woman scooped me out of the white-wicker bassinet in the viewing room of the adoption agency and claimed me as her own. Her physical emptiness prepared the way for my fullness.” Then she wonderfully suggests that adoption is “like a sacrament, that visible sign of an inner grace. It’s a thin place where we see that we are different and yet not entirely foreign to one another. We are relatives not by blood, but by mystery.”

Jesus, at the Last Supper, promised his disciples and us that “I will not leave you desolate” (John 14:18). But the word rendered “desolate” is orphanous, “orphaned.” Jesus’ family extends, not just to the well-born or the naturally-born or the happily-born, but to all who are born. This is God’s immense grace – and Church then becomes a real family of adopted, enfolded siblings. Being siblings, we might squabble once in a while. Some sibling rivalry might creep into the church family. But we stick together, always, forever, and the love is inescapable, and transformative. We all need this, no matter how we were born or to whom. That’s why Church Matters.

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