Wednesday, January 10, 2007

children of God (baptism of the lord)

If we have the spirit of God, we are children of God. If we have the spirit of God, we are adopted children of God. This means we are no longer slaves, but a part of the family. This means we approach God as Abba, father. This means we are heirs. This means we will suffer. This means we have occasional glimpses of God’s glory.

My friend lives in Statesville, and he shared this story with me. Like the best stories, it is true. He and his wife were at home one evening when his sixteen year old daughter, Robin, and her boyfriend Trevor came to them with a couple of announcements. One, she was dropping out of high school with three weeks left in her junior year. She had scored over 1200 on her SAT. Frank had always thought that all dropouts were marginal students. And two, she was moving out of the house, and she and Trevor were moving to Charlotte. No jobs, no money—but confident that they had the world by the tail on a downhill slide. Frank thought,

“If only you could see the person we want you to become”.

Five months later Frank and his wife Pat closed on a much smaller house: two bedrooms, a bath and a half, all the kids gone, plenty of space for the two of them. Three and a half hours later Robin called from Charlotte. “I’m coming home”, she said. And she did. Two and a half weeks later she discovered that she was pregnant. She would stay a few days, then leave, stay a few days, then leave. It was a roller coaster. And Frank would often think,

My child, if only you could see the person I want you to become”.

Several months later Christina was born. Robin and Trevor would live together for awhile in an apartment, then Robin would move back with Christina. They were always welcome. They are our children”, Frank would say. One evening Frank came in from an out-of-state business trip. He was filled with excitement, but he deferred to Pat. How was your day?”, he asked.

Do you want to hear about the whole day?”, she said, “Or do you want me to start when I came home and found three police cars in our driveway?”

“My child, if only you could see the person I want you to become”.

Trevor had come over and wanted to take Christina with him. And he had threatened to kill Robin. She asked Frank and Pat if they would take custody of Christina while she sorted out her life. And all the while Frank thought:

“My child, if only could you see the person I want you to become”.

In the scripture we are described as children of God. God’s spirit dwells within us, and thus we are children of God. There is an inward sense that we belong, that we are a part of the family. I will not leave you orphaned”, Jesus had told his disciples in the gospel of John. We are not orphans in God’s sight. We are children of God.

What does it mean to be a child of God?

There is a wonderful children’s song that expresses this deep theological point in a simple way:

Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in his sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world.

And then, of course, that gets translated into the conviction that the child loved by God is a little child sold into slavery in Cambodia, or a child in Africa with AIDS, or the privileged child who has everything except a knowledge of faith, or the rebellious prodigal who is still in the far country.

There is another children’s song that expresses the same idea, only it becomes more personal:

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but he is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me; Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

We are children of God. And if children, we are heirs. We have an inheritance. We read in Ephesians,

In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,

having been destined according to the purpose of him

who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ,

might live for the praise of his glory. (1. 11-12)

The inheritance is given to us by Jesus, who stands in the waters of baptism, who hears the Voice of God,

I love you, I am pleased with you”.

Jesus, the son of God, the first born, the inheritor. Jesus, who will suffer. But prior to the suffering, Jesus has the occasional glimpse of glory. The heavens open. Sometimes the light shines through the darkness, and we have a sudden insight or clarity. In the scriptures, the opening of the heavens was related to the pouring of God’s blessings. People who worked the land would have related this to the gift of rainfall.

The heavens open. The spirit descends, in the form of a dove…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire, John had told all the people, the fire purifying us, the spirit empowering us. And then the Voice speaks, saying, simply,

I love you, I am pleased with you”.

At a profound level, these words, “I love you, I am pleased with you”, express the relationship between a parent and a child, within the Trinity, between the Father and the Son, but also in our ordinary, chaotic lives, between my friend Frank and his daughter Robin, in your family and in mine.

And since we learn truths by hearing but also by seeing, we have not only the word, but the image of Jesus, the historical Jesus, standing in the Jordan River, taking our sin upon himself, “to fulfill all righteousness”, Matthew’s gospel explains it. A ritual cleansing not for his sake but for ours.

My child, if only you could see the person I want you to become”.

You see, the person God wants us to become is Jesus. Amazingly, what is true for Jesus is true for all who bear his name. We are a part of the family. We share the same father. This is our true identity.

And yet we do not always accept the truth that we are God’s children. Sometimes we rebel against God---do you remember the hymn, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”? Sometimes we reject grace. Sometimes, like Robin, we live destructively, we enslave ourselves,. And surely God must say, at times, about each one of us,

My child, if only you could see the person I want you to become”.

Here lies the tension that is at the heart of our relationship with God. In the words of the African-American preacher: God loves us just as we are, and yet God loves us too much to leave us there”.

God looks at you and me, and says two things:

You are my son, my daughter, I am pleased with you”….and…

“My child, if only you could see the person I want you to become.”

The invitation this morning is simple: Welcome to the family.

If you have been wandering around outside the house of God, the invitation is to come home. If you have been subsisting on the fast food of a self-help culture, and you have smelled the aroma of a great banquet, sit down to a feast! Abby, Father, has invited you. You are his child. Whether you are nine or ninety-three. Whether you know the Bible from cover to cover or you couldn’t find Luke if your life depended on it….Whether your life is really a mess, or whether you have the great problem of having no problems at all.

The core truth about us is that we are God’s children, we are royalty, we are heirs, we belong.

When we have come home, sometimes we grow up, and we will be talking in the next few weeks, as we look at the life and teaching of Jesus, about growing in grace, living our baptism, become disciples, and taking the radical step of welcoming others home. And that is a sign that we are beginning to embrace the truth that we are children of God. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Claiming our blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others” (Life of The Beloved, page 66).

This is at the heart of the church’s mission: to open our doors to those who are weary and need rest, to those who mourn and need comfort, to those who sin and need a savior, to the scared and the scarred, to the last, the least and the lost.

Now, to finish the story: Robin did her life together. She later remarried, and regained custody of Christina, and then they had a son, Alex. My friend Frank’s life has never quite been the same, but that is another story. The point is that Robin came home.

On Baptism of the Lord Sunday, as we worship together in a new calendar year, God welcomes each of us home. The water symbolizes the blessing and the cleansing, both gifts of God. And the words help us to remember who we are. We are the beloved children of God, who is saying, about each of us, even now,

“If only you could see the person I want you to become”.


Blogger John said...

Excellent piece.

7:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home