All Saints Sunday and Adoption Sunday
Preacher: The Revd Dr Joel Love
5 November 2017, 10:30 (All Saints Sunday)‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God’ (1 John 3:1)
In the + Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The Rochester Picture Palace is a local association which shows films at the Huguenot Museum in
the High Street. Last weekend, they presented a very sweet animated film for children called ‘My
Life as a Courgette’.
This film is about an orphanage for children whose parents have died, or gone to prison, or where
the courts have decided that the parents are no longer fit to look after their children. It dealt with
some dark themes like neglect, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health, and violence. Yet
the film was very much a children’s film because the themes were dealt with in an age-appropriate
way. My seven-year-old niece reviewed the film as ‘sad and happy at the same time’.
There is a scene in the film where one of the staff members brings her newborn baby to the
orphanage to meet the children. One of the children asks her whether the baby will be coming to
live with them in the orphanage, and she says no. The baby will be staying at home with her and its
father. “Even if he cries all the time?” asks one of the kids. “Yes,” she replies. “Even if he wets the
bed?” asks another child. “Yes”, she replies. And suddenly all of the children are shouting out
questions: “Even if he farts?” “Even if he grows a neck like a giraffe?” “Even if he calls you names?”
and so on. The teacher says “Yes” to all of these questions, which reveal some of the traumas that
these children have experienced in their own homes. It will take these children a long time to
understand a love like this.
In this morning’s reading from 1 John, we are a bit like these children who can’t quite believe in a
love that accepts us for who we are, no matter who we are: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we will be has not yet been revealed’ (1 Jn 3:2). One of the reasons we find it so difficult to
believe that we are loved is that we are like the saints ‘robed in white’ from the book of
Revelation, who have all ‘come out’ of a ‘great ordeal’. Scarred by our experiences of rejection and
neglect, of violence or addiction, and haunted by our own guilt, we are never sure that we are
really worthy of love. Yet the book of Revelation assures us of a time when ‘God will wipe away
every tear from [our] eyes’. Memories of hurt and failure will be healed, and we will finally come to
understand the depth of God’s love for us.
Today is Adoption Sunday, which is why I have chosen to speak about children seeking a home in a
loving family. There is no point in shying away from the difficulties raised by adoption. Some
children have seen and experienced things that will never be healed or erased in this life. Some
children will resist being welcomed or loved because their trust has been betrayed or abused again
and again. And this is a tragedy for them and for us as a society. It makes the work of adoption
agencies and local authorities, foster parents, social workers, and adoptive families all the more
important. In our diocese, we are communicating about the work of the charity ‘Home for Good’,
and you should be able to find some more information about this after the service, if you are
interested in knowing more. And it seems all the more appropriate to be talking about adoption
here in Rochester Cathedral, which has a long association with St William of Perth, the patron saint
The ‘great ordeal’ of rejection or abuse within families plays itself out all over the world, in the
form of child slavery, human trafficking, gang warfare, street crime, child abuse, and the failures of
our society to truly value every child. There is much work for Christians to do in these areas, too.
But if we are able to identify the ways in which we are all damaged children, with low self esteem,
and insecure attachments, then we will be better able to identify and empathise with our younger
brothers and sisters in need.
The New Testament tells us that we are all ‘adopted’ members of God’s family. And in the context
of the Greek and Roman world in which the New Testament was written, this does not mean that
we are second-class citizens. On the contrary, it means that we have more rights than a naturalborn
child of the family. A Roman father could disinherit his natural child, but he could not
disinherit a child that he had adopted. That child was secure in her identity as a member of the
family, no matter what she did. This is the kind of family that God is bringing into existence: a family
where we are loved an accepted no matter who we are.
I would like to tell you about another film, if I may. This one is very much for an adult audience. It is
based on true stories and is set in a youth club in New York City. The youth club meets in an
Anglican Church on Saturday nights, and is called ‘Saturday Church’. It is for homeless teenagers,
most of whom are black or latino. Most of the children at the youth club are gay or lesbian or
trans. A lot of them cross-dress, and many of them survive by becoming sex-workers. They are
homeless because their families have rejected them. These children are often more sinned against
than sinning, but they are far from being saints. Nevertheless, the youth club is a place where they
can learn to love each other, support each other, and begin to find healing. As such, Saturday
Church is very much a Church, and doing what a Church should do.
I may not have mentioned this, but the film is actually a musical with some rather lovely songs in it.
One song, which keeps coming back, is about ‘love without conditions’. These teenagers have only
known love in their homes ‘if’ they behaved in certain ways. The only ‘love’ they have found in the
streets is the kind that must be bought with money. But at Saturday Church they meet volunteers
and a vicar who love them for who they are. This is the kind of love that is described in 1 John: a
love that is slowly remaking us into a family that resembles the love of God, a love ‘without
As 1 John goes on to say, ‘all who have this hope in [God] purify themselves, just as [God] is
pure’ (1 Jn 3:3). This is how we go from frightened and neglected children to saints in the
household of God. ‘After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before
the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
Our adoption into God’s family brings healing. It gives us a reason to be thankful, and to express
our thanks to God in worship: ‘Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and
power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
And our hope in God causes us to purify ourselves. We are engaged in a process that is designed
to make us all saints. Jesus describes this process in Matthew 5. It takes the ‘poor in spirit’, and who
mourn, or are persecuted, rejected, and have ‘all kinds of evil’ spoken against them. And it makes us
hungry for righteousness, for peacemaking, and for mercy. It makes us pure in heart, so that we may
see God and be called children of God, for that is what we are. Amen.