I had a dream last night about a large family of children. Asked to pose together for a photograph, one of the children (whose skin was a beautiful dark brown, compared to the Caucasian skin of her siblings), refused to join in, saying that she was not really a member of the family because she was adopted. Another of the many children (who seemed to be me) took her aside and pleaded with her to be in the photo, explaining that without her it would not be possible for the photographer to take any pictures at all, because without her the photograph would be incomplete. Joella (the black girl's name) was as much a daughter to their parents as any other child in the family. Some of them had been born to their parents, and some had been chosen. All were equally loved and equally special. Indeed, I had often wished that I was one of the chosen ones, rather than one of the ones born into the family, because somehow it seemed more special and more wonderful to be picked out and chosen by our wonderful and loving parents. The parents themselves barely appeared in the dream. They weren't my own parents, but a couple who seemed to be simply overflowing with love and grace.
Thinking about this dream since I woke (I woke before Joella made up her mind about being in the photo. I hope she agreed to it!), I have been reflecting on adoption within Gods family. Scripture shows us a people, the Jews, who have a claim to be God's own people in a particular way. They are often spoken of as the chosen people, so does that mean they are God's own begotten children or children by adoption? The approach to Abraham might suggest the latter, and certainly Abraham was not unique in knowing and following God - there were plenty of people in Canaan who knew and related to God before Abraham. Melchizedek, the King of Salem, was a priest of The Lord and clearly knew him well long before Abraham came along. Melchizedek welcomed Abraham, and shared the blessing of bread and wine with him. The writer to the Hebrews comments that Jesus is a priest in here order of Melchizedek, not of Aaron; a priest of the older birth people of God's holy place then, rather than of the Jews?
Then, what of those who are neither descended from those early Canaanite followers of The Lord, nor of the Jews? Perhaps I think about this more than I should because of my own mixed background. But for the behaviour of my great grandmother, who gave up on faith and preferred drink and lust and money, I might have been brought up as a Jew. That could have been my birthright, on the maternal side. The descent through women is all there, and so in one (technical) sense I was born into the chosen Jewish people. In another I was not, because it was given up, and my grandmother married a secular 'Christian', and my mother was christened in the traditional English way, as was I. The grace in my story, then, is the grace of God's adoption. The sins of the generations above have not been visited on me. I encountered Christ at a young age, and have been blessed to be his disciple and a member of his family by adoption. I am, if you like, chosen, not born, into God's family. So are all those of us who follow Christ, since we now understand that only one person was ever born of God, and that is Christ himself. All the rest of us, whether Jew or Canaanite or Gentile or a confused mix like me, are children of God by God's own choice.
In my dream I hoped that I was chosen, and not born to my superb loving dream parents, because that would mean that my parents had made a choice to love me, and wanted me in a very particular and decided way. In the real world, I find that when it comes to my Heavenly Father this is exactly the case. It does not matter what our backgrounds are, what our skin colour is, who we were born to and what our family backgrounds are like. God chooses to love and adopts us as full and utterly wanted children. That is the most amazing grace.
In a Christian family, part of the extension of that grace is the welcome of new family members who come not by birth but by choice. So, for example, I am blessed to have three brothers, not one. Two have the words 'in-law' attached formally, as though to justify their brotherly relationship. It matters not to me how they came to be my brothers; I am very grateful that I have been given them, and that they put up with me. Relating lovingly and inclusively with them and any other relations by adoption (as it were) that I may be blessed with, is a sign of the love that God gives to those He has chosen. We all belong as much as any that were born into the family, and are valued as much as any birth child. Which means, if this is right, that God loves each of us as much as He loves Jesus. That is a stunning thought. We saw in the gospels God's love for His Son, and the delight He took in Him, and Jesus spoke of their love and their closeness. Jesus also told us that He wanted us to love and follow the father in the the same way. Chosen, wanted, adopted, into the stunning love that God has for His birth child.
If I had any hang ups about my lost Jewish heritage, perhaps that dream was intended to ensure that I put them away. Perhaps I am as much to be found in my dream character Joella as I am in the person I identified with in the dream; one who struggled with whether or not she had a right to belong, and must accept that she does. Very much. Come and be part of the picture because we can't take the photograph without you.