I had cause to sit in a county courtroom yesterday morning. Down the hall from juvenile court and general sessions there is something called chancery court. The judge in chancery court hears, in my very limited experience over the past five years, three kinds of cases: adoption, estate issues that don’t fit probate court, and issues related to parental rights and child custody. All in all, they are issues related to the breakdown of the family.
I found myself simultaneously grieved and in awe. Grieved that there were parents who didn’t even bother to show up at the hearing where their parental rights were being terminated and their child was being adopted by an extended family member who had to swear under oath that their brother or sister or cousin or child had abandoned their responsibility for the child under consideration. And as I grieved, I was also in awe of these women and men who were stepping up and stepping in and swearing under oath to adopt a child or children into their family and raise them as their own with all the responsibilities that entails.
In fairly swift succession through a number of cases that sounded oddly similar but the personal details of which were likely dramatically different, parental rights were terminated, custody awarded, adoption granted, names changed and the court moved on to the next case. So much goes unsaid in what amounts to a largely impersonal statement of facts – no contact, no support, no answer to summons to appear – yet we all know the layers of sadness and strife and grief and very likely addiction or mental illness that lie beneath the surface of all that. And while on other days I have witnessed men and couples adopting, yesterday every individual who stood before this particular court to adopt a child was a relatively young single woman. I wanted to rush up and hug them as they passed through the swinging gate back into the gallery, collected their coat and walked out of the courtroom as the legal mom of kids they’d been raising for years. There should have been prayer or ceremony or something – but there was simply the striking of the gavel and the next case.
Then there were the cases related to estates. One man whose mother died, he couldn’t exactly remember how old she had been and her assets were minimal, but he was dealing with the challenge of a brother who disappeared more than a decade ago and how his three adult children could receive their portion of his inheritance. The judge said they would have to have him declared dead. But the family is fairly certain he’s not dead. There’s no evidence that he’s dead but there’s also been no contact in a decade. The judge laid out the process and reiterated that the brother would need to be declared dead and that his children would be the ones who would need to initiate that legal process.
Think about that for a moment. Think about the grief that family has already endured and what now lies ahead in terms of the conversations they have to have, decisions they have to make, actions they have to take and sworn testimony they will have to offer if grandma’s estate is going to be distributed. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. This is not how God intended families to function. And beyond double parking and eating too much fast food and listening to crass comedians, this is the kind of deep sin and brokenness God sent Jesus to redeem.
Last Sunday in my Sunday school class we discussed the book of Malachi. It’s a short, worthy read if you have not spent much time with the minor prophets.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.”
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi 4
What is the Law of Moses to which Malachi alludes? What are the statutes and the rule God commanded for all of us at Horeb? The Ten Commandments which Jesus not only fulfills, He magnifies, calling those who follow him to an even higher righteousness.
Moses said do not murder but Jesus says that if our hearts burn with anger toward others we have committed murder in our hearts. Moses said do not commit adultery and Jesus says if our hearts are filled with lust toward others we have already broken ourselves against God’s perfect law.
The Gospel is not simply about a me and Jesus deal struck in prayer over personal sin for personal salvation. It is that but it is so much more than that! In Christ my relationship with God is restored, yes, but so too are righteous relationships with others. I live as a Christian not only in relationship to God, I live as a Christian in relationship to my husband and the children he brought into my life. Substantially redeemed relationships is the calling of the Christian as we bear witness to the reality of how God intended it to be from the beginning.
I know we live a long way from Eden but we have glimpsed something greater than Eden, we are ambassadors of the very Kingdom of Heaven. We are agents of God’s grace and ministers of God’s reconciling Gospel.
Pray with me today for the individuals and families with whom my path intersected yesterday in court. Pray for the children involved and pray for the parents who are now considered severed or even dead, thou they physically live. That is heart-breaking and compelling in terms of the ministry available for us in our own communities. Need something to do today? Go to the local courthouse, sit in the courtroom, and pray as cases are presented. And, as God leads you, set up shop outside the courthouse and offer to pray for those who come and go.
Yes, that’s a thing. Check out Courtside Ministries to connect with others in your community who are bringing Christ to bear on the issues our neighbors are facing at courthouses across the country.We need Christ, at the courthouse