Do you like the opening theme of Star Wars? I really do. At least I used to. But now, I gotta admit. It’s wearing a little thin. My son Patrick has discovered all the Star Wars themes, and he loves them. He loves them so much that he wants me to play them every day on the way to summer camp. Not only that, he has his favorites. He is constantly making requests of which theme he wants. Daddy let’s do the Last Jedi or Return of the Jedi or Flying with Chewie. And sometimes I can do that, and sometimes I can’t. After all, I am driving.
This past week, he asked me for a song I just couldn’t get to. I said. Patrick, I can’t do that right now. And he said, “Well, let’s just turn it off.” And so, I did. Once I did, I decided. I didn’t want to turn it back on. That morning, I had heard quite enough of Star Wars thank you very much. Patrick could tell. I was a little irritated. Then, he became concerned. Are you going to turn it back on Daddy again or is the music gone forever and ever? I gotta admit. That was a tempting thought. But then he said. “You’re still my buddy aren’t you?” “Of course,” I replied, “I’m always your buddy.” But it hit me. It hit me hard. Even at 5 years old, Patrick needed that reassurance. He needed to know that I was his buddy, that I would always be his buddy. But is anyone in the world any different?
As I thought about my conversation with Patrick, I remembered a very famous Oscar moment. Sally Field had just won her second acting Oscar. And as she finished her acceptance speech, this is what she said:
But get this. Sally Field had already won one Oscar. Now she was winning her second only five years later. Beyond that, she was rich, famous, beloved even. Yet, even so, she was still looking for reassurance. She was yearning to feel that her colleagues liked her, really liked her.
But who doesn’t want to feel assurance like that? Who doesn’t want to feel they matter, that they are loved, that people like them, really like them? Heck, that’s why Facebook makes billions. It’s why when somebody puts a like button up, I get a little endorphin shot. It assures me just that little bit. But how can you live with that sense of assurance every day? How can you know and feel deeply and regularly that you are loved, that you matter, that you really matter? In these words God shows you the way. Let’s hear what God has to say.
Every day, people need to know that they matter, that they matter to the people around them, that they matter in the world. They need that sense of assurance, that feeling deep within of their own significance. But why is that? It’s because in so many ways, the world tells you that you don’t matter, not really. Heck, even you can tell yourself that, and not even realize it.
Do you know this day over 8,000 children will die from hunger? That’s 3.1 million children a year! And you know what? That is a God damned shame. Now let me ask you. Be honest. Which rattled you more that I just used a curse word in this blog post or that 16,000 children will die from hunger today. When I first heard a preacher named Tony Campolo play that trick on me, I admit. I was more rattled by the curse word.
I get that. 8,000 kids, how can you wrap your head around that number, much less 3 million. Yet every one of those children has parents, friends, probably sisters and brothers. They matter to them. But when the numbers get so big, the people behind them get so much smaller.
Do you remember the serial killer, Ted Bundy? When they arrested him, the whole thing kind of puzzled him. He thought. There are so many people in the world, what’s the big deal if I killed ten or twenty? To quote him exactly. Bundy put it this way. “What’s one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?” But you don’t have to go to a serial killer to feel that way, do you?
Life has so many ways to tell you that you don’t matter. An attendant at the store ignores you. You try to get a problem solved with some company, but when you call, nobody seems to care. Or sometimes it’s a preschooler that tells you.
When I first arrived as a pastor at the church I serve, I encountered a wonderful surprise. Because of my chapel leadership in our Learning Centers, I had become a rock star among preschoolers. If they saw me walking by the playground, they came hurtling over, vying for high fives from the very cool, Pastor Kennedy. It felt awesome.
Then a few years passed. I was in the grocery store. The parents of one of our preschool graduates saw me. They exclaimed to their son. “Look, it’s Pastor Kennedy from the preschool. You remember him!” But he didn’t. He looked at me puzzled. He had no clue who I was. I discovered. Preschoolers have very short memory spans. In fact, before the age of four, most people hardly remember anything. And that kid sure didn’t remember me. That day, my significance as a preschool rock star came down quite a few notches
But sometimes it’s more painful than that. It’s not a preschooler for whom you have little significance. It’s someone you thought cared about you deeply. My sister Becky’s husband, Randy, is dying of ALS. And Becky had a friend who came over each Sunday night to watch shows with her on Showtime. One Sunday night, soon after the doctors diagnosed Randy, she asked Becky. “How is Randy? What did the doctors say?” So, Becky told her. “He has ALS.” And the friend said, “Oh ok, what are we watching tonight?” And she never reached out to my sister again. I guess for her it was more about the shows than about my sister.
But for all those moments that the world tells you that you don’t matter, people still want to feel they do. People deeply want to feel. I am significant. I do matter. They do whatever they can to get those feelings. They try to get it from success or people or their kids or drugs or sex or whatever. The list goes on. But it doesn’t really work, not for any length of time.
But when people yearn to feel significance, they are right. They are picking up on a profound truth. You are significant. You are more significant than you could ever dream. And in these words, God tells you why. More crucially, God shows you how you can feel that significance every day. How? You accept your adoption, and you let God show you its reality every day.
In these words of Paul, God tells you something amazing, God has adopted you. Now, sometimes people say that everyone is a child of God. And that’s a nice sentiment. But it’s not exactly what God tells you in the Bible. God tells you instead this. God created everyone in the image of God. In many ways that’s more amazing. That means. When you look at anyone, you are seeing a reflection of God. And that holds true for everyone. Even the worst person in some way carries, no matter how distorted it might be, a reflection of God inside them.
So why doesn’t God make you God’s child too? It’s pretty simple really. God wants to give you a choice. God doesn’t say. I’m going to make you a member of my family, whether you like it or not. God says, instead, I want to adopt you into my family. Will you accept? God wants you to have a choice.
But when you say yes to that offer, you get it all. When Paul talks about adoption here, he is pointing to a Roman practice everyone knew. When the head of a family adopted you in Roman society, you received all the wealth, all the privileges, all the status of that father (in those days it was always a father), of that father’s family. And the same thing happens when you say yes to God’s adoption. You get it all. You don’t become just a child of God in name. You become it for real. What God has you have. Infinite love. Got it. Life forever. Got it. A relationship unshakeable. Got it. But God goes further. God doesn’t just give you that relationship in fact. God gives it you in feeling. What do I mean?
This past week, I read about how Winston Churchill, the legendary prime minister of Britain, used to write his mother constantly just begging her to respond, to show some care towards him. Now Churchill’s mother was his mother in fact. But for whatever tragic reason, she never chose to become a mother in feeling.
But here God says, I send my spirit to live in you. So, you will not only know that you are my child, you will feel it deep within. You’ll feel my assurance. You’ll feel my love. God even says. My spirit will give you the courage to cry out Daddy to me.
Sometimes, my son calls. I don’t come immediately. I’m washing dishes, doing some other task. But when he cries Daddy. When I sense he’s in trouble, I run. That’s what parents do. And God is saying. That’s me. When you cry out, I will run to you. In my life, I’ve felt God do that. My only problem is I don’t ask him enough. I don’t realize what I have. But when I do, it changes everything.
For when God made you God’s child, when God adopted you, God gave up everything to make that happen. He gave his life to make it happen. In Jesus, God even literally ripped himself apart to make that happen. Why? God loved you that much. God wants you in God’s family that much. Do you see how utterly significant you are? Do you how see profoundly you matter to God. That cross shows you how much you matter. And when you know that, you know not only your significance, you know more deeply everyone else’s. For in God’s family, no distinction matters but God’s love, not your color, not your class, not your gender, not who God calls you to love. In that love everyone belongs, even those who don’t know it yet. In that love, you see everyone’s value, everyone’s beauty. In that love, you realize. You and everyone you know has more significance than they could ever imagine or comprehend. Know that love. Feel it. In the name of the God who loved you first, in the name of the God who died for you, and in the name of God who has adopted you forever. Amen.