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Caring for the Children of God

Easter 3, Common Lectionary Year B

1 John 3:1-3

©2015 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

As I read this letter of John, known to church tradition as the Elder,
I’m reminded of a story told by Lutheran pastor Richard Lischer in Open Secrets, his luminous memoir of his ministry days in New Cana, Illinois. He writes of living in mortal fear of the ancient, long retired pastor who had returned to New Cana to die. This crusty, dying pastor,
much like John the Elder, was the embodiment of the generations of faith gone before, and also like the Elder, he was a mixture of intimidation and inspiration. He would appear at church every Sunday,
in dog-collar and gown, go to the vestry, open the door, and sit, for the duration of worship. For weeks, Lischer wondered what on earth this ritual was meant to serve, other than to intimidate, put the fear of God, into him.
Well, he couldn’t have been more right, and wrong. The dying man’s intention was indeed to remind the pastor, and the congregation, of God. But unknown to Lischer, until one day he plucked up the courage to ask, he was also doing the one thing he could still do as a dying man and pastor; he was holding the next generation,
pastor and people, before God in prayer. He was caring for the Children of God.

When I read this letter of John the Elder, I imagine him as like that dying pastor; in the face of a waning, warring, fractious world, bending his heart, mind, will and word to pass on the Gospel to the coming generation, reminding them of its timeless truth,
its indelible hope, its demanding grace.

“Just see now, what kind of love God our Father has given to us!
Love such that we should be called God’s very own children,
for that is what we are!”

On a day when we baptize three beautiful toddlers, it’s easy to be caught up in the wonder, promise and hope of this revelation:
They, and we too, are God’s very own children, from the womb to the grave. There is an essential quality that the Elder is evoking here, that all of us know, in our souls and bones: to be the child of a parent is both instant, and life-long, and constant while also constantly changing.
So it is with us when we know ourselves, or begin to trust the claim that we are,
now and always, the children of God.

But is it a belief that lasts much longer than Sunday morning?
By mid-week, when the boss has been picky, the schedule incessant,
the demands constant, the news strident, do we as readily look ourselves in the mirror
and say,“Behold, such wondrous love, that I should be God’s own, child, God’s beloved!”

Our Wise John the Elder knew how easily we forget. For, disciples of Christ, we are dual citizens, caught between two worlds.
We may look to all the world just like our neighbours;
we work, earn a living, save what we can, mow our lawns and shovel the same snow, cheer at the kids’ games and concerts, we have the same family feuds, just like our neighbours,
we blend in to our culture and context.
But, as the Elder writes, “The world has no real clue who we are,
because it did not recognize Jesus for who he was either.
But this we are; we are God’s Children.”
There’s a family code we live by that makes us odd, peculiar,
and marks out the paths of our lives in different ways than those of the world.

Where our dominant culture in the West is one of individualism,
we, Children of God, belong to a community, the body of Christ,
each given unique talents and skills, traits and personalities
that work together to build us into a community of belonging, purpose,
and growth. [1]

Where “the world” seeks security and success through violence and coercion,
secrecy and information control, we, the community of God’s Children,
made in God’s image, are seekers after solidarity, honesty, transparency, trust, peace,
even when we disagree with one another.

In a generation where our social identities are framed by how many “likes” “friends”
and followers we have, John the Elder clears his wise old throat
to remind us that our fundamental identity
is much greater, much simpler:
“We are God’s Children!”
Known, loved, accepted
with all our failings and sinfulness,
with all our fickle fidelity,
our joys and sorrows,
our talents and temptations.
Our family status as God’s children
is never in jeopardy or doubt with God,
even if we doubt it, forget it, mistrust it.

It’s worth pondering a little more,
this ‘child of God’ identity,
and the way that John writes with care:
“We are children of God” he writes.
He doesn’t talk about ‘a child’, but ‘children’.

No child can survive, let alone thrive, alone.
They need community to be and to become.
Parents, caregivers, guardians, older siblings, extended families,
are needed to look out for the essential physical, emotional and spiritual needs of children.
And children, when left to their own devices, seek out company,
sometimes to play, sometimes for support, comfort, security.
Children negotiate from their first smile onwards,
struggle mightily to learn to share,
and throw hissy-fits,
and then two seconds later, hug you!

A child’s work, their calling, is to explore the world with all their being,
to create and negotiate relationships,
to grow in love and boldness,
in care and courage.

When the Elder proclaims:
“Such love that we are children of God!”
He speaks to and about a community.
To be a child of God is to be in community with other children of God,
We need each other,
we need each other with all the raw honesty of a newborn,
the feisty discombobulated to-and-fro of teenagers,
we need each other to navigate the complications of adult childhood with aging parents,
to survive the griefs of brokenness and loss.

We need each other to fully become the Children of God we already are;
to be givers and recipients of grace,
through the human acts of
generosity and care, a listening ear, a silent touch, or by sharing the basic necessities of food and shelter – a food roster to get you through the first weeks with twins!
We need each other,
children of every generation,
to remind ourselves that Children of God
include a newly baptized toddler, a six year old with a missing tooth,
and a 95 year old, still washing dishes
for Meals on Wheels.
Children of God are held in the memory of community even while their own memory is lost to Alzheimers,
and in the heart of community when their hearts are broken.

We need each other to learn fellowship, attentiveness, care,
through Church 101 to Coffee House,
through KidZone to Exploring the Dark,
through property teams to prayer teams.

We need each other to care for one another,
to fight and disagree, and laugh and love
deeply and honestly with each other,
in order to become ever more fully,
all our lives long,
the children of God we already are.
Thanks be to God,
whose power working in and through us,
can do infinitely more than we can ask and imagine! Amen.

[1] Ronald Cole-Turner, Feasting on the Word, Yr B Vol 2.  p.422

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