Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Sunday in Advent: Tear Open the Heavens and Come!

Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Things were not going as they hoped.  This was not what they expected.
When the Judeans returned from exile, it felt like the new Exodus.  God was bringing them out of oppression with a mighty hand and bringing them back to a good land of milk and honey.   They were God’s chosen people, destined to be a light to all nations.  They would go back to the land, and be prosperous, and worship God and all nations would be drawn to God’s presence among them.

It didn’t work out that way.  Instead, life was hard – this was not the glorious return predicted by the prophets.  There were disputes over land claims, harvests were not good, houses had to be rebuilt.  The people who had been living in the land during the exile were not happy to see the Judeans return - there were fighting and attacks and delegations to the King of Persia trying to get the Judeans off the land.  Those sins which got them exiled in the first place - idol worship and injustice toward the poor, widows and orphans – enticed them.  And they were still a people under occupation by the Persians, without a king in the line of David on the throne.
The people cried out “Where are God’s mighty acts?  Why does God hide from us? From where does our hope come?”

“O God – o that you would tear open the heavens and come down!  Come to us in our need, forgive us of our greed.  Show us your face so we can worship you and follow your teachings.  Make the nations tremble at how zealously you care for you people.  Tear open the heavens and come!” 

Things were not going as they hoped.  This was not what they expected.
500 odd years later, Judea is still an occupied land.  Since they were into exile by the Babylonians and returned to the land yet remaining under Persian rule, they’ve been occupied by the Greeks, then the Romans.  Attempts to overthrow the occupiers are unsuccessful.  They groan under Roman oppression and long for the promise of a king in the line of David.

The king they do have, Herod, is not of David’s line – is only marginally a Jew at all.  He’s in power because he has lobbied for favor with the Romans.  In fact, everyone in power has lobbied for Roman favor – the high priest is not from the correct priestly line, but in power through Roman support.  The ruling class is deeply divided – the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Scribes squabble over doctrine and politics.  Zealots band together to plot violent overthrow of the Romans and anyone cooperating with them. 
The rich ruling class is well off, but the poor are even poorer. The peasant class is prevailed upon to provide food and goods for the cities – fishermen provide fish for the city dwellers, farmers plant wheat for bread on city tables, shepherds send their flocks off to be main course at city banquets, tradesmen are working to build the cities and furnish city homes.  The pittance they are paid for their efforts barely supports their families.

Isaiah’s words sounded like their own hopes.
The people cried out “Where are God’s mighty acts?  Why does God hide from us? From where does our hope come?”

“O God – o that you would tear open the heavens and come down!  Come to us in our need, forgive us of our greed.  Remove our oppressors and bring our Messiah, the promised king in the line of David.  Make the nations tremble at how zealously you care for you people.  Tear open the heavens and come!” 

Things were not going as hoped.  This was not expected.
Just two days ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a conquering king.  Just yesterday, he turned over the money changers tables and drove the merchants from the temple.  Today, he challenged the priests, rebuked the Pharisees, denounced the Scribes, made the chilling prophecy about the destruction of the temple.  He talks about the day he will come in his glory – about judgment.  He tells his disciples to be awake, and aware – like servants who do not know if the master will return at evening or midnight or rooster crow or morning, but constantly ready for his return.

Surely this was the time; Jesus was coming into his power.  But it didn’t work out that way.
The master didn’t return in the evening – he was in the upper room having a last meal with his friends, the bread and the wine standing in for his body and blood.

The master didn’t return at midnight – he was in the garden praying, agonizing, while his friends slept.
The master didn’t return at the early morning rooster crow – he was standing accused before the chief priest and the one friend who promised to stand by him no matter what was firmly denying he even knew him.

The master didn’t return in the morning – he stood before Pilate as Pilate condemned him to the cross.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

But then….

Then the sun darkened, and the earth trembled, and the temple curtain was ripped opened as the heavens tore apart and the Son of Man who came to us as a baby in a manger and not a prince in a place revealed the almighty power of God even as he took his dying breath on the cross.
God came down and tore open the heavens!  Came to us in human flesh, loved us, healed us, suffered with us, suffered for us, one of us.  All creation tremble at how zealously you care for you people.  Tore the heavens apart and came to deliver us!” 

This was not what we hoped for; it was not what we expected.
It looked hopeless, but hope burst from an empty tomb;
It looked powerless but God revealed God’s mighty hand;
God tore open the heavens and came down!

This was more than we hoped for; it was beyond all our expectations.

And yet, we understand that cry of Isaiah.  We hear our own hopes echo across the centuries.
For we live in a world where although we can hear the promise of the kingdom of God in Jesus’ teaching, children still go to bed hungry, the homeless shiver in the cold, the sick suffer from their illnesses, violence roams our streets, nations war against nations, and economies collapse. 

We cry out “Where are God’s mighty acts?  Why does God hide from us? From where does our hope come?” knowing that our hope comes from God opening the heavens and coming to us again and again.
We live in the in-between times, where we proclaim God’s victory and wait for the final act.  We struggle to be awake to the presence of God in the world around us, to be alert for those times we see God in the face of our neighbor, and to be aware of the many ways God comes to us.

And so each Advent we start by looking at the end, by looking at what it will be like when we see the “Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” – that time when the powers of evil will be bound and only God will reign.  We remember with longing the promise of the coming kingdom of God. 
This first Sunday in Advent, we wait with the world in fear and in confident hope, knowing that God has come to us and God will come again.

“O God – o that you would tear open the heavens and come down!  Come to us in our need, forgive us of our greed.  Restore your creation, bring peace to your children, let your kingdom come in full, let your will be done!  Make the nations tremble at how zealously you care for you people.  Tear open the heavens and come!” 

O God, tear open the heavens and come! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve: See God in a Bag of Apples

Readings for Thanksgiving: Deut 8:7-18, Psalm 65, Luke 17:11-19

I was at the gym one day last winter when I overheard two other women chatting at they worked out.  The first asked, “And how are you doing today?”
The second responded, “I’m blessed.  God is so good.”

They chatted for awhile and then the second woman said, “You know how last week I told you I was really hungry for apples.  Well, wouldn’t you know, God gave me some apples!”
"Really?  What happened?”

“Well I was at Bible study Saturday and after it was over, this woman came up to me.  She’s new to the study and I don’t really know her.  Anyway, she handed me a big bag of apples and said, ‘God told me to give these to you.  Enjoy your apples!’  I thanked her and took those apples home and ate one as soon as I got home.  I’ll tell you that was the best apple I’ve ever had!”
“Praise God!  He’s a good God, isn’t he!”

Now someone else might have gotten that bag of apples and thanked the giver and took them home and ate them, thinking how nice it was that someone gave them some apples.  But this woman saw something more than a generous impulse in that gift of apples.  She saw God working in her life.

Ten lepers stood by the side of the road outside a village. This was business as usual for the lepers.  They would often beg outside of villages, hoping for some food or maybe an old garment.  They would call out to those passing by for ‘mercy’. 
This particular day, Jesus was passing through the village.  The lepers saw the group of travelers near the town and as it approached, their hope rose as they recognized Jesus.  They had heard of his work as a healer.

“Jesus, Master have mercy on us.”
Jesus saw them, saw human beings in need and had compassion on them.  He tells them to go show themselves to the priest.  They would have understood that by sending them to a priest, Jesus has promised that they would be healed by the time they got there.  A leper whose disease cleared up had to be certified clean before he or she could return to the community.  The priest had already declared them unclean and the only reason to see a priest again was to be cleaned.

All ten obeyed Jesus.  They hurried off to the priest, and as they went, they discovered that they began to feel better.  Maybe someone looked at his arm only to find smooth skin where an ugly sore had been. 
Nine of the lepers continued to the priest – just as Jesus told them to. They were obeying Jesus’ direction and they were obeying the law.  The priest had to declare them clean.   After the priest declared them clean, there were sacrifices to offer.  It was a week long process, being declared clean – with directions on what sacrifices to offer when and how to prepare for the sacrifice and where to live during the process.

I have no doubt that there was singing and laughing and shouts of “Praise God!” among the nine as they journeyed to the priest.  And there was lots of rejoicing and hugs and thanksgiving when they returned to their families.  And then each of those nine former lepers took up their lives again.  The nine were healed and went on with business as usual.
But there was one leper, who upon seeing he was healed stopped in his tracks.  He glanced at the others as they continued their journey and then he turned back.  He was a Samaritan and there was no point in showing himself to the priest – he wasn’t allowed to worship in the temple and the priest would not have seen him.

He began to shout with praises to God as he returned to Jesus, fell at his feet, and thanked him.   

All ten lepers had been healed.  But only one saw the power of God at work in a new way in his life.  Only one saw in the power of God in Jesus. 

And it changed him forever. 

Tomorrow there will be lots of people sitting down to dinner with family and taking a moment to give thanks.  Maybe they’ll go around the dinner table and share one or two things they’re thankful for.  And they will enjoy the food and the time with family and the post dinner nap and the football game.  It will be a thoroughly enjoyable holiday.  And then many of them will go on with their lives.  It will be business as usual.  Thanksgiving is a day for them, not a way of life.
But for us, called to be children of God, thanksgiving is a way of life.  Like the one leper, we have seen God revealed in Jesus.  We see the power of God at work in our lives and in the world around us:

·        In the smile of our child

·        In the food on our table

·        In the blessing of our jobs

·        In the kindness of a friend

I could go on and on – but so could you.  Take a moment and think - where do you see God’s hand at work in your life? 

Do we recognize how God gives us the good things we enjoy?

In our reading in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the children of Israel how God has worked in their lives, rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and is now about to bring them into a land of their own.  He cautions them to not forget all that God has done for them.  He cautions them to not boast in the things they acquire in this land God is giving them – their fields and herds and vineyards, the land they live on and the house they live in.  He cautions them to remember that these things they have are signs of God’s work in their lives.
We are called to live lives of thanksgiving and praise.  We are called to look for how God is working in our lives, for how God is working in the world around us.  We are called to point out how God is working and give thanks and praise.

Like the woman who saw God’s provision in the gift of apples, we are called to see God’s hand at work in our lives, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King Sunday: I just wanna be a Sheep!

Scripture for this Sunday:  Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

When my kids were little, one of the Sunday school songs they often sang was about being a sheep.  It went:

I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa, baa, baa. 
           I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa, baa, baa. 
          And I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
         I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa, baa, baa.

And when the kids sang the “baa’s” they would make sheep ears by putting their hands on the sides of their heads and flapping them in time with the “baas”.  I used to drive a school bus for our church’s school, and once all the kids on the bus – all 25 of them from kindergarten to grade 8 – started singing.  I looked in the mirror and saw 25 pairs of hands going “baa, baa, baa, baa.”

I just want to be a sheep…

The scene of final judgment in Matthew 25 is often called the parable of the sheep and the goats.  Now, it’s not really a parable.  This is not an “it’s as if…” story or “the kingdom of heaven is like…” story.  Jesus is giving the disciples a picture of what it will look like when he comes again in his glory. 

In the picture Jesus paints, it’s much better to be considered a sheep than a goat.

In this picture, we all want to be sheep. 

No one wants to be a goat.

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,  33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Jesus talks a lot about his sheep.  His sheep know his voice.  He knows his sheep by name.  He cares for his sheep.  He seeks for the lost sheep.  He lays down his life for his sheep.  In the Old Testament, God is often pictured as a shepherd.  In today’s reading, the shepherding God seeks out the lost sheep, feeds and waters the hungry and thirsty sheep, heals the injured sheep, comforts the weary troubled sheep.
Sheep know the shepherd’s voice and they follow.  They do what the shepherd leads them to do.  They are sheep – it’s their nature.  It’s what they do.

Goats are more independent, more resourceful.  But they also can be destructive and aggressive.  They don’t respect boundaries and don’t let little things like fences get in the way of what they want.  They are goats – they are restless and insatiable.  They do things their own way.      

So who are we in this story?  Are we the sheep?  Or do we squirm a bit when this passage is read – are we afraid we might just be goats?

 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' 

The heart of God provides for the poor and the outcast, the sick and discouraged.  Jesus’ ministry here on earth was to exactly the people in this passage – those in need.  His ministry was based on the heart of God, the compassion God has for the disadvantaged and outcast.  And when Jesus comes again, he will call his sheep to himself - those who have the heart of God – those who out of that heart care for the needy among them.

Notice that the sheep were separated from the goats even before they were called blessed and before they were judged.  The king knew the sheep from the goats.  There weren’t good sheep and bad sheep, there were sheep and goats.  The sheep did what they did because they were sheep.  The sheep’s actions revealed their identity as sheep.  This is important.  They are blessed and rewarded not because of anything extraordinary – they are rewarded because they are sheep.  The Shepherd knows them and claims them as his own. 

37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'  40 And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' 

The sheep are surprised.  They don’t remember doing anything out of the ordinary.  They weren’t going around looking for the face of Jesus in others.  It didn’t even occur to them that they should be looking.  They were sheep, and as such, just did what sheep do:  follow their shepherd. 

The Good Shepherd King provides food and drink, clothing, healing, comfort – all the things his sheep need to survive and thrive.  And his sheep naturally lead others to the Shepherd, by sharing what they have received from the hand of the Shepherd with those around them.  They don’t do it because it earns them favor with the Shepherd, but because they are responding to the Shepherd’s love.  Sheep follow the Good Shepherd’s lead.  The sheep know the heart of the Good Shepherd – they have compassion on the least of these, whom Jesus calls brother and sister, child of God. 

Things don’t go so well for the goats:

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;  42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  44 Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'  45 Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 

The goats are surprised too.  They don’t’ expected to be found lacking.  Maybe they just couldn’t hear the voice of the Shepherd.  Maybe they were looking for the face of Jesus and just couldn't see the image of God in those around them.  Maybe they were so busy being goats that they forgot to follow the Shepherd. 

What ever happened, the goats thought that they were doing ok.  But they were concerned with themselves, not the suffering around them.  They did not know the heart of the Shepherd, nor did they see the Shepherd in those around them. 

So who are we in the story – are we the sheep or are we the goats?

I have good news – despite that subtle nagging feeling that you might really deep down inside be a goat, in spite of those days you feel more than a little goat-like – you are a sheep.

You are a sheep – The Shepherd has washed you in the waters of baptism.  The Shepherd feeds you from his own body in the bread and the wine.  The Shepherd seeks you when you are lost, gathers you in this sheepfold to provide comfort and nurture and healing.  You are a sheep.

You are a sheep – you follow the lead of your Shepherd.  As you follow, you learn to love those the Shepherd loves.  You learn take care of those the Shepherd cares for.  You learn to give yourself to others because the Good Shepherd gave himself for you.

You are a sheep – you do these things not because you need to earn the Shepherd’s love but because you respond to God’s presence in your life and you see God’s grace around you. 

You are a sheep.  Go and follow the voice of your Shepherd. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

22nd Sunday after Pentecost: What Kind of Master Do You Serve?

Readings for this Sunday:  Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

What kind of master do you serve?
(Levi speaking) “My master, let me tell you, he’s a hard man.  He’s always looking over my shoulder, always ready to jump on me for the least little thing I do wrong.  Boy, I tell you, you don’t want to get him mad at you!  No sir, he’s just the kind to drop kick you into next week.

“So here’s what happened.  See, the master was going away and decided to give me some of his money to watch over while he was gone.  Now the master, see, he’s a shrewd businessman and he owns it all, I’m telling you.  Of course he didn’t give me all his stuff to take care of, no, he’s gonna make sure his eggs aren’t all in one basket.
So he gave me a million to keep safe for him.  Well, I don’t wanna take no risk – don’t wanna lose the master’s money.  And in today’s market, well…you just can’t be too careful.  So, I go to the bank and get a safe deposit box and that’s where the master’s money will stay – safe and sound until he gets back.”   

(John interrupts)  “Levi, you’re not being fair!  Let me tell you what our master’s really like.  You see, he’s really a great guy.  He takes an interest in our work, asking about how our day went.  He wants to know our ideas and when we have good ones, he’s happy to put them to use.  He listens when we have a problem and gives suggestions on how fix it and how to do our jobs better.  And he’s generous.  When this trip came up, he came to the three of us and said, “I am giving each of you part of my estate to manage while I’m gone.  Treat it as your own, put it to work for you.  Invest it how you want.  I have every confidence in you.”
“Of course he did give Reuben over here $5 million to work with, while I got $2 million and Levi got just a million.  But see, that only shows how well the master knows each of us.  He knows that Reuben is so much more experienced.  The master knows our abilities, what we can handle.  Hey, 2 million is still a lot of money – way more that I could ever earn in my lifetime. 

“Oh and I have big plans for that money!  You should see what I’m doing.  I’m going to get a great return!  The master will be so proud when he comes back and sees what I have done!” 

Perception is everything.  In Levi’s eyes, the master is ready to jump on every little failing.  Levi sees a hard, demanding man whom he fears.  Levi’s main concern is to make sure that he does nothing that will bring the master’s anger down on himself.  He doesn’t see the money the master gave him as a generous gift or a sign of trust.  No, he sees a trap, a risk that has the potential to destroy him. So, he took the money and buried it – the first century equivalent of a safety deposit box.  Under rabbinic law, as long as he buried it right away, he was no longer liable if anything happened to the master’s money.  Levi played it safe and looked out for his own security, and not for the interests of the master. 
Now Reuben and the second servant – we’ll call him John - had a different perception of the master.  They saw a generous, gracious man.  They loved their master and trusted him.  The master’s money isn’t a trap, it’s an opportunity that they could never have had on their own.  Only the generous confidence of the master made such an opportunity possible.   Sure there was a risk – everything worth doing had a risk involved. But they knew the master valued them and trusted them, so they were confident in taking some risks with that absurd amount of money he place in their care.  The master believed they could invest wisely, and they did just that – doubling the money the master gave them.

Same master – two completely different views of who the master is.  And that view makes a difference in what Levi, Reuben and John do with the gift the master gave them.  

So, what kind of a God do you serve?
Does it make a difference?

You bet it does!

Let’s say you see God like Levi sees his master – harsh, demanding, judgmental.  In short, an angry God. 
How do you serve an angry God?  You cower in fear.  You hide in the shadows and hope God doesn’t notice you.  You keep to yourself.  There’s no trust, no love.  Just the desire to avoid punishment.

There are congregations like this.  They fear getting it wrong, fear God will punish them for the least little mess-up.  They worry that they don’t have enough – people, money, time, ability, you name it.  They worry about their own security, about doing what is best for the congregation.  They make decisions out of fear and self-preservation, forgetting that God has given them this extravagant abundant gift of grace and love and forgiveness.  They forget that God’s lavish love enables them to boldly risk all for God’s kingdom.

Now what if you see God the way Reuben and John see their master? 

This is a God who is gracious and loving, concerned for the wellbeing of all created things.  This is a God who is generous, pouring out blessing upon blessings. This is a God of second and third and fourth chances, forgiving and choosing forget our shortcomings.  This is a God who is active in creation, working to bring healing and restoration and relationship to all.
How do you serve a God of abundant mercy?  You boldly enter into God’s presence.  You go to God with your hopes and dreams, and worries and fears, knowing that God cares for you. What God is doing in the world so captures your imagination that you can’t wait to be part of it.  You want to show God’s love to everyone around you. 

There are congregations like this.  They don’t worry if they don’t have all the answers because they trust God to show them where they’ve got it right and to forgive where they’ve got it wrong.  They rejoice in the abundance of God’s gifts to them.  They take risks with their gifts and talents because they know that in the economy of God there is always enough.  They trust in God’s love and grace and boldly go about the work of the kingdom. 

So what kind of God do we worship?
How we think about God makes all the difference in how we live our lives of faith.  It makes all the difference in how willing we are to take risks for the kingdom of God.  Just as Levi responded to the kind of master he thought he had, we too respond to our image of God. 

We need to remember that Levi didn’t have an ability problem – the master knew he was capable of handling a million dollars.  And he didn’t have a resource problem – the master gave him what he needed to succeed.  Levi had a perception problem – his image of the master paralyzed him with fear.  His image of the master cut him off from living up to his potential.

What kind of God do we serve?
It’s only natural to hear this parable and think, “How am I using what God has given me?  Will God say I’m a good and faithful servant, or will God find me lacking?”  It’s not a bad thing to stop and take stock once in a while.

It’s also good for this congregation, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, at this particular place, to ask as well, “How are we using what God has given us?  How are we investing the abilities and gifts God has given us?  Are we willing to risk what we have in order to build the kingdom of God?”
This parable also calls us to honestly ask ourselves, “Do we have a perception problem? Does how we see God cut us off from living up to our potential, from joining in the mission of God?  Do we live in fear of an angry God?  Or do we joyously respond to the love of a gracious God who empowers us to take risks with the good news of Jesus, and who challenges us to use the abilities God has given us to further the interests of the kingdom of heaven?"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

All Saint's Sunday: A Family Reunion

Scripture readings for the day:  Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22;  1 John 3:1-3 (sermon text); Matthew 5:1-12

Back when my daughter was in high school, I answered our home phone. In response to my ‘hello’, a male voice on the other end said, “Wassup” and a name I couldn’t understand. Since it wasn’t even close to the name of anyone in our family, I told said he had the wrong number. The confused young man then asked, “Tristyn, is that you?” I hurriedly apologized and handed the phone to my daughter. Apparently, the name I couldn’t understand was his nickname for her.

This wasn’t the first time someone had mistaken Tristyn and I on the phone. Tim has made that mistake several times. In fact, Tristyn would try to trick her dad, pretending she was me. He quickly learned to make sure he knew who he was talking to! Now I have to do the same thing when I call home - Bryce sounds so much like his dad these days.

And there are times when I call Tristyn, only to hear my mother’s voice answer, “Yello.” Tristyn sounds a lot like her grandmother when she answers the phone, a likeness that never ceases to amaze me since my mother died when Tristyn was only 7 months old. That’s quite a family resemblance.

That’s the thing about family– there’s a family resemblance. Sure, we pass on physical traits to our children. But we also pass on certain behaviors, ways of speaking and thinking, stories and values our families hold dear. Our children learn about the world by imitating us. And we intentionally teach our children the things we learned as children, passing on the family likeness.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. We remember the saints who have gone before us, especially those who have died in the last year. And we celebrate the new additions to the family of God – those who have been baptized in the last year. You could say that All Saints Day is reunion day for the family of God. So I think the Epistle reading for today is particularly appropriate. The author says, “Look – look at the amazing, astounding, incredible love the Father, the King of all Creation, has for us! We are not just created beings – we are called the children of God! And, even more amazingly, that is exactly what we are: God’s beloved children.

 At St Michaels’ Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Pastor Bob would tenderly cradle the infant to be baptized, presenting him or her to the congregation and proclaiming, “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God – and that is what we are.” Each and every time, I became aware that God cradles me in exactly the same manner, that infinite tenderness and love embraces me. God cradles and embraces all of us.

At Zion Lutheran church in Lima, Ohio, Pastor Kent would walk up and down the center aisle, presenting the newly baptized child to the congregation and telling the child, “Take a good look – all these people are your family now.” And sometimes the child would cry, and we would all laugh, knowing that sometimes being part of this family makes us want to cry, sometimes it makes us laugh and all the time it makes us feel at home.

So here we are, children of God, part of an enormous family with its way of speaking, its behaviors, its stories and values. Think about it for a bit – you are God’s child! So what does it mean to be of divine parentage?

For one thing, it means that we have a Heavenly Parent that loves us just the way we are. This is family - we don't have to pretend to be something we aren't to be accepted or loved. Our Heavenly Parent loved us from the moment we were created, with all our weaknesses and flaws, all our strengths and good points. We are loved for who we are.

It also means we have a Heavenly Parent who loves us so much that there is nothing that God won't do to care for us, to provide for us, to show us how much we are loved. There is nothing that we can do to earn this love - it's always been there. We have always been God's much beloved children, unconditionally, forever.

So what does it look like to live as a beloved child of God?  It’s a process.  Like children, we watch and observe our family.  We imitate those who have gone before us.  We listen to the old, old stories. We try to live up to our family values.  Sometimes we fail, and our Father picks us up, dusts us off and helps us to try again.

We can look at what our eldest brother taught us. In the Beatitudes, Jesus talks about those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek (gentle), who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are merciful, who are pure in heart, who are peacemakers, for those who stand up for the faith to the point of persecution. Jesus teaches us to love God and love our neighbors. Those are the values of the family of God, behaviors of our divine parent that we imitate.

We have been talking about putting on Christ over the last several months, looking specifically at behaviors to imitate. The virtues we have examined this fall were gleaned from the teaching of another of our brothers: Paul. Brother Paul taught the Romans, the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and the other churches about compassion, endurance, humility, confidence in God, peace, faith, joy, grace. Paul encouraged those believers and us to imitate him as he imitated Jesus. The behaviors and values of the family of God are passed on from sibling to sibling.

In the reading today, John says that we are God’s children but we don’t know what we are becoming (what we will be when we grow up).  I think in God’s eyes, we are always children, as long as we live here on earth - life here is a process of growing up, of spiritual maturation. So, sometimes we act in accordance with the values of our Father. Sometimes we don’t – just like children we make childish errors and we disobey. And sometimes we even actively rebel against our heavenly parent (that’s what we call sin).

As in all good family reunions, there is food. In a few moments, we will come to God’s table and share in the bread and the wine. At that moment, we commune not only with God, but will all believers everywhere, including those who are already sharing that feast in heaven. Every Sunday we come to our family of God reunion, share the family stories, share a meal, and learn what it means to be children of God.

Week by week, slowly, we grow into more and more like our Brother Jesus. And when we leave here each week, we carry that likeness out to the world. John also says that the world does not see us as the children of God, because the world does not know God, does not know Jesus. Our first brothers and sisters, the earliest Christians lived in such a way that the people around them saw that there was something different about them. When the family resemblance shines through us in what we do and say, in the way we treat the people we come in contact with each day, in our care for others, people notice that there is something different about us. And sometimes those people want to know more. Our lives reveal Jesus to them, just the way Jesus reveals the Father to us.     

So in the days, weeks, months, years ahead, go and grow. Go out as a beloved child of God, embraced in God’s amazing love. Go and follow the example and teachings of Jesus our eldest brother. Go, empowered by the Holy Spirit who goes with us to help us as we grow into the people God created us to be.

You are God’s beloved child –live into that belovedness.