by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
It’s time for my fifteenth annual column about the balloons that decorate the interior of our church on Easter Sunday morning. This year after church, as I watched the balloons flying away into the clear blue sky, I noticed that they were “traveling” in bunches or clumps. Many—but not all—were separate but a good many more were in pairs or larger groupings. To be fair, they were mostly held together by bits of tape that had been used to attach them temporarily to pews and other items of furniture but they were still attached to one another.
Watching the balloons, I thought of the pairings as “couples” and the larger groupings as “families.” Somehow, it seemed,the balloons had formed families. The concept of family is a vital part of the human experience. Most of us have a family of some kind, even if we don’t necessarily like them.
Moses told the people, “‘Do not deprive foreigners and orphans of their rights; and do not take a widow’s garment as security for a loan.’” (Deut. 24:17 Good News Translation). In other words, “don’t mistreat people who don’t have families to take care of them.” Many years later, the prophet Jeremiah would echo these words as a challenge against Zedekiah, the king of Judah (Jer. 22:3b). Even later, the apostle James wrote, “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.” (Jas. 1:27 GNT).
Moses reminded the Israelites that they were once the “foreigners,” “orphans,” and “widows” during their time of slavery in Egypt. In some ways, we were in a similar position. Peter told his readers, “At one time you were not God’s people, but now you are his people; at one time you did not know God’s mercy, but now you have received his mercy.” (1 Pet. 2:9-10 GNT). Some translations, such as the original American Standard Version and the World English Bible, render the first part of verse 10 as “who in time past were no people”. We were nobody but God made us somebody.
Jesus told his followers, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’” (Matt. 25:40 GNT). We were once “the least important” but God made us God’s own. Paul told the Galatians, “He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children.” (Gal. 4:4b-5 GNT). Some versions render verse 5 as “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (RSV). We were orphans but God adopted us into a family. When we receive Christ, we become children of God. John’s gospel says, “Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children.” (John 1:12 GNT).
We belong to God’s family and we are God’s children, not by any merit of our own but through Christ’s sacrifice. Paul encouraged the Philippians to
“. . . beinnocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky, as you offer them the message of life.” (Phil. 2:15b-16a GNT). We also “live in a world of corrupt and sinful people,” spiritual widows, orphans, and aliens, who are not connected to the family of God. We carry a “message of life,” a message of belonging, acceptance and adoption. We must welcome these potential brothers and sisters into the family of believers, the family we share.
“‘Do not deprive foreigners and orphans of their rights; and do not take a widow’s garment as security for a loan. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God set you free; that is why I have given you this command. When you gather your crops and fail to bring in some of the grain that you have cut, do not go back for it; it is to be left for the foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. When you have picked your olives once, do not go back and get those that are left; they are for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you have gathered your grapes once, do not go back over the vines a second time; the grapes that are left are for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Never forget that you were slaves in Egypt; that is why I have given you this command.’” (Deut. 24:17-22 GNT).
© 2009 by David Phelps