It seems all too serendipitous that today, of all days, the lectionary would give us John’s magnificent letter. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called Children of God.”
This is a big sentence – a powerful, game-changer for anyone who takes these words to heart. Our creator, our redeemer and the giver of all of life’s blessings, has adopted us into this divine family.
And as God’s children, we receive an incredible inheritance…a gift above all gifts. We don’t need the right family name or have the right social status to benefit from this gift. And for some, that comes with a great sigh of relief.
As for me, I was born a Macdonald – the forth of four children who are all distinctively different. I can’t complain. Our parents were good to us and raised us well. And believe it or not, we all still love and support one another despite our differences or distance that separate us.
But I feel doubly blessed because I have also been adopted into my wife’s family. And I also had the privilege to learn from her dad, whose birthday was two days ago. There have been times that I’ve wondered if becoming a part of this family was more a curse than a blessing. But that’s another sermon, for another time and place.
I remember asking Vince for his blessing to marry Kathleen. He reached out his hand and said, “It would be an honor to call you my son.” Whenever I look back on that day, I can still see the sparkle in his eye and his smile, and I hear the Irish lilt in his voice. I’m not sure if God has an accent, but I imagine the same sparkle and smile when he claimed me and named me his own.
As we all know, families can be difficult and complex. Some of us are blood related. Others blend in. Then there are those who join through marriage, adoption, foster care, or simply having known a person all your life. But the bible tells us that there is another way.
Where family trees and genetic research fall short, God has redefined and reclassified us all – inviting us into a new kind of relationship, with a new birth certificate and a new name as well: child of God.
Whether you grew up rich or poor, had a stable home or moved between houses every other weekend, God has claimed you and named you.
Whether you know your biological dad or not, or still have no idea where your mom is after you stopped talking to her, God has claimed you and named you; even if no one else will.
Whether you’re the only child – or one-of-nine like Kathleen – God has made a place for you. It doesn’t matter if you are married with children, a single parent or have never known the excruciating pains of childbirth, we all share a commonality; each one of us knows what it’s like to be a child.
But do we know what it’s like to be a Child of God?
We don’t get to pick our family. But for some strange, God has decided to pick you and me to be in his. From the time of our conception to the passing of our final breath, God is with us, claiming us and naming us, and is never letting go of us!
In his book Barking at the Choir, Fr. Greg Boyle tells of an ex-gang member who, at the age of seven, watched his mom pack up a suitcase and walk out the door. He never saw her again. After surviving two years on the streets, he was picked up and put into the system. Not long after that a local gang adopted him as one of their own.
After serving time, the young man entered a work release program at Homeboy Industries; a place started by Boyle to help gang-members get a second chance. They too made him one of their own. Today he no longer identifies with abandonment or violence; but instead he sees himself as claimed and named: a child of God.
Every childhood is different. Yet every child is loved the same by God – our eternal parent, both creator and guardian.
Boyle writes, “Like a caring parent, God receives our childlike painting of a tree –which is usually an unrecognizable mess – and he delights in it.” God doesn’t correct us or send us away until we’re better at finger painting…God simply delights in our presence. And loves us in all our messiness.
Being in God’s family we receive more than just new self-worth. We also receive the same Spirit and the same access to God that Jesus had. We are given the same power to forgive and the same freedom to love. The Bible says we’ll be like him – that when we’re one with Christ, we become right with God. John writes, “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.”
Named. Claim. And made the same as Jesus, a child of the living God. How difficult can that be? As Kathleen says, “Adulting is hard!” But the bible tells us we should be more like children and less like grown ups. I coach PE at my kid’s school and I’d argue that children work and play together better than most adults do.
They’re better able to embody a newness of life and the spirit of freedom that often fades with maturity. They accept mystery but constantly seek answers to so many questions. More importantly, children are also more willing to be loved, and they tend to gravitate towards good relationships where that love can thrive.
A family is supposed to be such a place, but for too many people family life is more hellish than heavenly. The more sin and pain we experience in our lifetime, the more likely we are to deny God’s love for us. Yet it’s in that pain we need God the most.
Adulting is hard because most of us trust our painful experiences more than we trust the promises of God. We put more faith in the sorry facts of our broken lives than we do in the One who heals us and remakes us new again.
Scripture teaches us that sin blinds us of the truth that God’s grace and love is grater than anything we can do on our own. And as much as we seek to be in a loving relationship, we still runaway from our heavenly home.
“The truth is: God is too good to be true. And whenever we humans bump into something too good to be true, we decide it isn’t truth.”
But here’s what I believe, and I hope that you will etch it into your heart: God chooses to be in a relationship with you. God wants you so badly that he sent his own Son to open up a way for you to thrive in Divine love, and inherit all the treasures of heaven.
Because of the faith and sacrifice of God’s beloved child, we have been claimed, named and made the same as Jesus himself; who is One with God our eternal parent – a loving father; a nurturing mother; our divine creator all in one.
So basically Dad, it’s impossible to get you anything for your birthday because in Christ Jesus, God has given you, and the entire world, the greatest birthday gift anyone could ever receive: being one with God.
Works CitedBartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008. pp. 418-423.Boyle, Gregory. Barking at the Choir: The Power of Radical Kindship. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017. p. 22
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”