Living as Children of God- Sermon for April 18, 2021 from Pastor John
Sermon for April 18, 2021
Much media attention has been shown with the trial of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of excessive force resulting in the death of George Floyd. On the news I heard speak one of the lawyers for the Floyd family. He said that the defense team at the trial will say negative things about Mr. Floyd forgetting that he is a child of God. One could say as well that the man accused of Mr. Floyd’s murder is also a child of God. In the world of courtroom trials, lawyers making their cases, witnesses were giving their testimony, and the press commenting we may forget what God thinks of the individuals involved. To say one is a child of God hopefully is not thought of as cliché but a revelation of the truth of God’s love.
This is how the reading from the First Letter of John began: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” We do not earn the identity of being a child of God, it is given to us by God, a gift. In the gospel of John we read that this involves a new birth in and through faith in Jesus: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” As children of God we are assured that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God revealed by Jesus. In the Gospel lesson Jesus, risen from the dead, showed his startled disciples the scars from the cross, the nail wounds in hands and feet. The cross reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who shed his blood, who gave up his life to take away our sins. I read recently a story about a judge in Fairfax County Virginia who often heard cases of landlord-tenant disputes. Before him one day was a case involving a couple who could not pay back rent so they faced eviction. The couple had lost their jobs and on top of that, they both were deaf. Usually the right of the landlord had to be respected but there was something about this case that touched the judge’s heart. The judge called for 10 minute recess and went to his chambers. When the case resumed the judge handed over to the landlord hundreds of dollars, the amount of back rent owed. Then he rendered his judgment saying “Consider it paid.”
The same words could be spoken by Jesus to us. God so loved the world that God sent Jesus not with a notice of eviction from the household of God. He came to ultimately carry the cross. When Jesus’ last breath before death was “It is finished” he meant “Consider it paid.” As beloved children of God we must know our sins are not held by God as some sort of debt over us. At the beginning of the First Letter of John we are assured that when we confess our sins, ask for healing so we are not burdened by guilt, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
Our lesson defined sin as lawlessness and we can understand that when we think of breaking the commandments. Important in the First Letter of John is the center of the commandments: love, love for God and for neighbor. Then we heard the puzzling statement “No one who abides in Jesus sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.” This is confusing since earlier in the letter we heard “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not within us.” Is the author of the letter guilty of contradicting himself? I would say not. The risen Savior before us showing us he wounds of the cross emphasizes the power of his love to pay the price, removing guilt and condemnation with grace and forgiveness. But the gift of forgiveness of sins is not meant to be a cloak to cover up our sinful natures. As we heard the gift of forgiveness is to cleanse our hearts, transform our lives so we truly live our lives as children of God. In a spiritual sense we can never say we grow up and away as children of God. We are to grow, yes, grow in faith and become more and more like Jesus. To live as a child of God is to live as Jesus did and we heard that twice in the lesson: “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure”; and “Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” No one is without sin; the key is to know the truth of Jesus. The first letter of John is very clear: “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus the righteous, he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, nor for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” “Atoning Sacrifice” may sound like a confusing, churchy term. It means that we have a friend in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear. Jesus came to this world to be the friend of sinners, their Advocate, ever speaking well of us before God the Father. I recently read that difficult and troublesome people are actually deeply hungry and thirsty for love. Upset by behaviors we do not usually perceive that. But Jesus, the atoning sacrifice, has invested all his love for the world because of his 20/20 vision into our souls. Atoning sacrifice means Jesus is not ashamed to come and make his home with each and every one us so we are not labeled but loved as children of God.
We not only heard of the love of God, calling us God’s children, we also heard of the hope God gives to us. We heard, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” We live with the blessed assurance that we are children of God, now, and that ‘now’ is important to know every day. But what will it be, as the Creed says, in the “life of the world to come.”? Much we do not know, it is a mystery in the gracious hands and plans of God. But we will see Jesus as he is. We will see Jesus as risen from the dead, and Lord. And one may wonder, will we see Jesus as those first disciples, standing before them, still very much in the flesh, wounds from the cross and all? When we see Jesus as he is I picture pure compassion, very much aware of the pains and problems, loss and grief, temptations and trials of this life. But in the world to come we will be as he is, no longer subject to the fears and tears of sin, death, and the devil. All those things will be no more. I think of the beautiful words of the apostle Paul, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face-to-face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
We now know only partially; in the world to come, then our questions will be answered in full. On Friday we heard of another mass-casualty shooting that took place in Indianapolis. CBS News anchor Gail King was so disturbed she said at the beginning of the broadcast “Normally we begin by saying “Good Morning” but today it is hard to say anything ‘good’. We just have to wonder, “What is wrong with our country?” Such bad news robs the good news of Easter from our minds. The alleluias of Easter cannot stop the lament we utter when evil strikes. It is hard to wrap our minds around the tragedy of innocent people showing up for work and winding up dead because of a deranged individual with a semi-automatic rifle. And so we share the lament, “What is wrong with this country?” This is not meant to be criticism but soul-searching for each and every one of us. And so each one of us must ask Jesus: cleanse my heart of resentments and replace with the righteousness of service shown by Jesus. More than ever I appreciate the insight of confirmation students who wrote in today’s confession that after we hear the good news of God’s pardon we are to live as decent people sharing the love of Jesus with others.
In this world of brokenness, misleading lies, terrible priorities, in short, sin it is tempting to succumb to what Luther called false belief, despair and other great and shameful sins. But who cannot help feel despair at times. We want the praise of Easter, but this cannot blind us to the lament of the way things often turn out to be. But in our lament, we are not left alone, for as we heard “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are.” God will never abandon his children. And all though terrible things happen in the world, we have a hope that purifies us from despair. It is the living hope of the Living Savior with us always, so faith, hope, and love ever abide. The greatest is indeed love, first of all the love of Jesus for us in our fear and trembling. We can then sing with confidence “I know that my Redeemer Lives.”