Children of God

Children of God Christopher S. Peet, April 22, 2012

Text: 1 John 3:1-3

"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure."

 

Friends, we are children of God, right now.

What an amazing gift!  It is not something we can buy or earn for ourselves. It is like a club membership with no annual dues, a fraternity or sorority with no initiation fees, an academic journal or magazine with no subscription rates.  There are no exams to study for, no papers to write, no qualifications to earn.  Rather, it is an expression of God's love for us, as our Scripture passage this morning indicates.  We are children of God because God chose us first; God loved us first.  This is what Paul means in Romans 5:8 where he writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  We are children of God because God chose to love, accept, and forgive us before we chose God.  We are children of God in the spirit of adoption because God loved us before we even existed!  Think about that for just a moment.  It is a truly profound statement about the nature of our God: our God chooses to love us.

Friends, we are children of God, right now.

I don't know how many of you know this, but I have personal experience with adoption.  As I was growing up, my parents would often take in and care for people in need.  When our church sponsored a group of Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s, my parents signed up to help one of the refugees.  Long (that was his name) became an older brother to my biological brother and me.  When my parents' friends, the Tomers, could no longer support their refugee, my parents stepped forward and Ha became another surrogate brother.  Through the six years that my family spent in Erie, Pennsylvania, my parents also served as foster parents to a succession of children.  Some of those children were a part of our lives for only days, some for months.  One child, who we called "Billy, fat-belly," really captured our hearts.  But what my parents really wanted was to adopt a little girl, and eventually that worked out.  At the time we adopted my sister, Heather, she was less than a year old, and being raised by a single mother who couldn't really handle the job.  I can remember the day we went to court to finalize the adoption.  When the judge turned to my brother and me and asked us if we wanted a little sister, it made us feel important because the judge's manner indicated that our feelings were being taken into account, too.  From my perspective, this was an expression of love stronger than biological ties; as a family, we chose to love and adopt Heather.  I think this is the spirit of our relationship with God, too.

Friends, we are children of God, right now.

Being a child of God is not a status, however; it's a process.  It's not a condition that we attain, but rather it is a transformation that we can experience if we are open to the work of the Spirit of God.  The scripture indicates this clearly.  Verse two tells us that "what we will be has not been revealed" and that we will be like God because we will finally be able to see God for who God is.   Similarly, verse three indicates that this process is a process of purification, a process that purifies us, as children of God, to be pure as God is pure.  So, we can see that this passage tells us that being a child of God is a process of gradual transformation, gradual purification.  We don't even know, from our personal perspectives, what the end result of this transformation will be.  But you know what?  It doesn't matter; we don't need to know the end result because we know that God is in control.  That, too, is part of being a child of God: we trust God because we know that God will never leave us or forsake us.

Friends, we are children of God right now

One of my seminary professors and friends, Jerry, recently told me of an early experience he had as a hospital chaplain.  One day, he was asked to visit with the family of a comatose man.  This man was suffering from an aggressive form of cancer that had attacked his stomach, his pancreas, and his liver.  As the cancer ravaged his body, he had succumbed and fallen into a coma.  His family kept a daily vigil in his hospital room, watching, praying, and hoping for some change in their loved one's condition.

Jerry was uncomfortable.  He didn't know what he was going to say to these people.  He could tell from the doctor’s behavior that there was not much hope.  Still, Jerry walked into that hospital room to comfort the family as best he could.

At first, the room was quiet, except for the daughter's quiet sobs of grief.  Jerry said to the man's wife, "I’m Chaplain Jerry, would you like me to pray with you?"

The wife looked at Jerry and whispered, "We're Catholic," as if that explained everything.

But Jerry seized upon her statement, because it gave him something concrete to do.  So Jerry said, "We have a chaplain on staff here who is a Catholic priest.  Would you like me to get him?"

And the wife said, "Oh, that would be wonderful."

Jerry started to leave the room, but he didn't realize that his foot was tangled in the patient's IV line.  So as Jerry started to walk across the room, his tangled foot pulled on the IV line, and the line popped right out of the patient's wrist!  When the IV line popped out, Jerry noticed it, and he was mortified so he bent to pick up the line.  And he began frantically trying to put the IV line back into the man's wrist.  But try as he might, Jerry could not reinsert the IV line.

While this was happening, one of the family members alerted the nursing staff, and the nurses rushed into the room to address the situation.  One of the nurses took the IV line from Jerry's shaking hands and reinserted it in the patient's wrist while the other nurse escorted Jerry from the room.

Once he had calmed himself, Jerry went off in search of the Catholic chaplain.  In an act that truly reflects his bravery, he returned to the patient's room with the Catholic priest in tow.  I don't know if I would have had the guts to go back on the same floor of the hospital, let alone return to the same room!  But Jerry did return.

As he entered the room, leading the Catholic priest to see the family, the son saw him coming.  And when the son saw him, he jumped up, patted Jerry on the shoulder, and said, “You’re doing a good job.”

Jerry was somewhat baffled by the comment, but later one of the nurses explained to Jerry, “That family is completely powerless.  Day after day, they sit in that room, waiting without much hope, and there’s nothing they can do.  But today, you gave them something they could do because they could reassure you and affirm what you are doing for them.”

The point of this story is that even when we don’t know what we have to offer, when we don’t know what to do or what the end result of our actions will be, God is in control.  Jerry was not at all confident of what he had to offer that family, and as he interacted with them, he felt as if each action only made matters worse.  But God was in control.  We are all, each one of us, a child of God, right now.  God can work with us, as we are.  God can do miracles with us, as we are.  As we are transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ, God will still work with us, as we are at that moment.

Friends, we are all children of God, right now.

So, we might ask what John means by the term "children of God".  Looking at the book as a whole, this phrase appears four times.  Two of these occurrences are in our Scripture passage this morning, and they don’t give us much to go on.  The other two occurrences are a bit more interesting.  Chapter three, verse ten tells us that children of God do what is right and love their brothers and sisters; chapter 5, verse two suggests that the children of God believe in Jesus Christ, love God, and obey his commandments.  And according to Jesus, the primary commands that one must obey are the commands to love God and to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40)

Looking at the context of the book of 1 John might serve to clarify our understanding here.  You see, the book was written to a church that was in the midst of controversy.  Some members of the church had been placing a lot of emphasis on Jesus’ divinity, so much so that they claimed Jesus could not have been human at all because his divinity would necessarily have overwhelmed his humanity.  The disagreement was so contentious that some of those emphasizing Jesus’ divinity had decided to leave the church.  The author of 1 John, therefore, is writing to encourage the remaining members to hold fast to the truth that Jesus is the messiah, fully human and fully divine, and he is encouraging them to love one another.  He hopes that this will prevent a worsening of the schism within this church.

Friends, we are all children of God, right now.

I don’t see additional qualifications, here.  According to John, Children of God believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, they love God, and they love their neighbors.  This same spirit of egalitarian love is the spirit that I have found embodied in the mission and work of Presbyterian Welcome.  I was raised in quite a conservative Christian environment, and it was taken for granted that homosexuality was wrong. I arrived at my stance on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer equality (LGBTQ, for short) by personalizing it, by thinking about it in the context of my children and realizing that I would not want either of my children to be treated any differently were one of them to come out of the closet.  That is the context that I brought with me to Presbyterian Welcome, but after working with them for almost a year, I see many more dimensions of their work.  It is work that takes a stand of solidarity with those who have been mistreated or told that they are somehow less because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.  It is work that seeks to bring a voice to the voiceless in the context of the PCUSA.  It is work that seeks to heal those who have been hurt, regardless of where they stand with respect to the LGBTQ community, because we recognize that there is plenty of hurt to go around.  It is work that recognizes that there are many ways to connect with God and to connect with each other, and the traditional church does not necessarily have a monopoly on them.  It is work that seeks to break down the walls that we build up between us because of our differences and our fears about those differences.  It is even work that seeks to prevent the building of those walls in the first place in the lives of our youth.  It is work that seeks to change the world, most of all by being the change that we want to see in the world.  You see, in the end, LGBT equality and justice is not even really about sexual orientation or gender identity; it is about recognizing our common humanity.  The work of Presbyterian Welcome is work that cries out, work that says, “We are the same, you and I.  We are human, with all our strengths and weaknesses. We may have our differences, but we have much in common.  We are more alike than not.”  This is the significance of recognizing that being children of God is a gift given to us by the grace and mercy of God, because God first loved us.  If God can love each one of us that much, surely we can learn to love one another.

Friends, we are all children of God, right here, right now.  Let us live together, let us love together, in the humble recognition that we are all children of God.

In the name of Jesus Christ and for the glory of God.