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Children of God

1 John 3:1-3

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about our differences and our similarities.  Most if not all of us here live in Maine, but we’re not all Mainers.  Obviously, we have some interest in church if we’re here, but I don’t know that we all call ourselves Christians.  We’re a pretty white congregation, but we have some diversity.  We are different genders and gender expressions.  We belong to different political parties.  We have different experiences and perspectives and feelings.

Yet there is so much more that unites us, starting with the most basic of human facts. We were all, at one time, children.  Do you remember what it was like to be a child?  It starts with play, right?  We remember playing with sticks and balls and trucks and dolls.  We remember playing hide-and-seek or tag or Red Rover.  We remember riding our bikes and learning to swim.  To be a child means to play.

To be a child also means to explore.  Whether it was at the farm or the back yard or the inner city park, we remember studying blades of grass and clover.  We marveled as we learned about the dinosaurs or the planets.  We were delighted to find a penny, a rock, a grasshopper.  We looked at the clouds and saw countless shapes in them and we wondered what they are made of and if we could walk on them.  To be a child means to explore.

To be a child also means to be dependent.  Every child needs someone to take care of them, someone to meet their needs for food and water, warmth and safety.  Every child needs people who love them, parents and guardians who will hold them and hug them and listen to their stories and laugh at their jokes and tell them how much they are loved.  To be a child means to be dependent on others for care and love.

Of course, not all our childhoods were idyllic.  Some of us remember being held with love and others of us remember hands that were not kind.  Some of us remember playing hide-and-seek, and others of us remember hiding from violence.  Still, we all have experienced being children, and it is through this experience that we approach our scripture today.

1 John 3:1-3 (An Inclusive Version translation)

See what love the Father-Mother has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Christ. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Jesus Christ is revealed, we will be like Christ, for we will see Christ as Christ is.  And all who have this hope in Christ purify themselves, just as Christ is pure.

“Eight times in this letter [of First John] the writer uses the phrase ‘little children.’  It is the Greek word ‘teknoi’ – little children.  Little children, do not sin.  Little children, your sins are forgiven.  Little children, it is the last hour.  Little children, let no one deceive you.  Little children, love with deeds and truth.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Eight times the author addresses his reader with his pet phrase, ‘Little children.  My little children.’[1]

We don’t know for sure who wrote the letters of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John.  “A reasonable guess is that 1, 2, and 3 John emerge from the same community as the Fourth Gospel (The Gospel According to John) does, and they reflect theological and ecclesiological (church) developments in that community.  It seems quite possible that the theological debates in the community of 1 John are debates about how they were to interpret the Gospel of John, which was likely their central scriptural guide.”[2]

In our passage for today it looks like the author may be interpreting the nature of Christian hope.  As scholar David Bartlett puts it:

“Sometimes John’s Gospel indicates that Christian hope is entirely realized in the present.  When Jesus says to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25), the present tense of the verb is crucial to the Gospel’s claim.  Now is resurrection.  Now is life.  At other times, however, John’s Gospel points to a future hope.  Sometimes that is a kind of individual future hope.”[3]

We find this in John 14:2-3, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places… I will come and take you to myself.”  At other times in John’s Gospel, there seems to be hope for a general resurrection at the end of time.

Basically it’s a conflict between “now” and “then.”  In our passage for today the author “is very honest about what we know and what we do not know.  And the truth is, we do not know very much about then.  From the beginning of the Church, books have been written about what heaven looks like or the Five People You Will Meet in Heaven.  [But the author is saying, ‘What we will be has not yet been revealed.’ We don’t know what will happen when life on earth is over.  But what we know now is that we are children of God.]  We do not know for sure what God gives us at the end of life and what God gives those we love.   But we do know for sure what God has given us now: astonishing love, love that makes us God’s own children.  And having loved us to the end, surely we can believe that God loves us beyond the end as well.”[4]

We are children of God.  It is a theme in the Gospel of John as well as here in the letter of 1st John.  In the very first chapter of the Gospel, the author writes of Jesus, saying: “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”  But the phrase is so common to us now that it has become church jargon.  What does it mean to be children of God?  Let’s look back at what we named earlier as characteristics of what it means to be a child.

To be a child means to play and to explore.  Most kids are really good at playing, but too many adults have forgotten how.  We, too, need to play.  We need to let loose and have fun, and we need to explore new things.  That’s one of the things this coronavirus has done to us—it has taken away many of the ways we play and our ability to travel to explore new cultures and places.  But let’s think in spiritual terms.  What does it mean to play and explore as children of God?  I don’t have the whole answer to that question, but I think part of it is to take a playful approach to our faith.  I don’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously, but we take everything SO seriously!  Maybe playing as children of God means talking with God conversationally, the way a child talks non-stop about his or her favorite thing.  Maybe it means exploring new ways to pray, or being open to new ways not just of reading scripture but new ways of believing, new spiritual paths to explore.

Earlier I said being a child also meant needing others to care for us and love us.  We never outgrow that need—not physically or spiritually.  We need one another, for we are related and interconnected, even when we struggle with one another.  We are children of God, which means we are siblings, and sometimes that’s messy, and sometimes that’s painful, but we are still in God’s family, together.

But here’s the amazing part.  Our scripture says, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  Although the author was referring to what happens after death, or at the end of time, it is also true that what we will be in this life has not yet been revealed.  We don’t know what tomorrow will hold.  We don’t know when this virus will loosen its grip.  We don’t know when we’ll be able to hug again.  We don’t know how we will be changed in the months and years to come, as individuals or as a community.

But beloveds, we are God’s children now.  Not when we individually get our acts together.  Not when we all agree as a community.  Not once the way forward is made clear.  We are God’s children now.  Today.  Spread out with a handful of people in our sanctuary or all of us in our little boxes on Zoom.  We are God’s children now.  What wondrous love is this?  God’s love.  For you.  For me.  For all.  Thanks be to God.

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_my_little_children.htm

[2] Bartlett, David. “Commentary on 1 John 3:1-7.” WorkingPreacher.org.

[3] Bartlett, David.

[4] Barrett, David

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