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.