Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What you've been waiting for...

Here's my first sermon. Seemed to go over real well. That may have been because I was wearing a crown that says, "Birthday Queen."

Well, women are supposed to cover their heads in church.

Sorry I can't perform it for you. I'll give you the version with my "stage notes." Enjoy.

Becoming our Parent

Would you please stand for the reading of God’s word?

A reading from the first letter of John.
And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. See what love the Father 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 him. 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.
The Word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)

Let us pray.
God be in my head
And in my understanding
God be in my eyes
And in my looking
God be in my mouth
And in my speaking
You may be seated.

Remember last week, before class, when we all started showing each other pictures of the children in our lives? (gesture to:) We saw Tommy’s gorgeous daughters and learned Amy is a new aunt. I didn’t get to show you my own beautiful niece, so I’ll just take the opportunity to do that now. (show Vallarie photo) This is Vallarie Lynn Fendley, born June 30 last year. Isn’t she the cutest?

Obviously we all take a lot of pride in our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews. Standing over the crib, we coo and coddle and find all kinds of resemblances in the baby’s face: (look down at baby) “She has her dad’s nose,” “He has Grandpa’s chin,” and so on. But, it’s all a bit silly, isn’t it?, because most babies look the same. It’s not until we grow up that we really begin to take on recognizable physical characteristics of our relatives (in my family we have the infamous Smith thighs!) (slap thigh). And it’s not until even later that we unconsciously reveal the family quirks and phobias, flaws and foibles.

(staredown, slowly) Have you ever had that chilling realization that you just did or said exactly what your mother or father would have? (shudder) It makes the blood run cold! For better or worse, we can’t help but become our parents.

Yet that is precisely is the good news I have to share with you today.

According to John, we are born of God – we are children of God! (slower, amazed) God is our Father. (speedier) It’s such an incredible concept that John repeats it: kai esmen! he says. That is what we are!

What does this mean? To be born of the Alpha and Omega, the Arche and Telos; to be a child of the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen? Perhaps we can begin with what it might have meant to the original readers of John’s letter.

In the first century, children were not liberated – they weren’t popping in the Disney DVD and learning to believe in themselves. Who they were – and all they would ever become – was already determined by mom and dad and grandparents and way on back before anyone should have remembered. That’s why we have to slug through the genealogies in the Gospels. Who you came from mattered. It gave you opportunities, status, employment – or lack thereof.

I thought of this the other night as I was watching a teaser for the evening news. Over grainy images of pregnant women with blurred-out faces, the announcer intoned, “Are foreign women sneaking into the US to give birth? Could they be exploiting a loophole in the Constitution? How far will they go to have their baby Born in the USA?” I didn’t need to see the “story at 11” to get the drift. Women sneak into our country to have their children so the child will be an American citizen. The family cannot provide everything the child needs to prosper. But, by giving her the identity of being American, a world of new possibilities will open up. It’s not a choice the baby makes, it’s nothing the baby does, that gives her this identity – she is simply born into it, and that makes all the difference.

John is telling his readers – and us – that we have been born into an identity beyond our wildest dreams – as children of God! Indeed, how great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us.

But with this identity comes great expectations.

In the ancient world, the way you behaved directly reflected back on your parents – for if your very identity came from them, then surely your actions would reflect their values and beliefs. Fourth Maccabees calls the parent/child relationship a “wondrous likeness both of mind and of form”; classics scholar Moses Hadas tells us a child was “like an image painted with the same colors” as his parents.

This presumed family resemblance meant that an honorable child brought honor to her parents – and implying someone had a poor parentage was a sneaky way to insult him. So when John the Baptist really wanted to stick it to the Pharisees, he called them a “brood of vipers” – children of snakes. When the Jews tried to persuade Jesus of their righteousness by appealing to “Abraham our Father,” Jesus shot back with: “your father is the devil.” These are not just creative phrases – they were serious insults. Behavior stemmed from character, and character came from your family.

So when John says that the world doesn’t recognize us because it didn’t recognize God, he is drawing upon this common understanding. The readers knew that if God was Father, that meant they carried the family resemblance out into the world with them. It was a challenge, but it was also a reassurance. John is telling us that the way we behave is not a condition of our being children of God, but rather the consequence of it. Those are the words of scholar Brooke Westcott; let me put it another way: We are not children of God because we act like it – we act like children of God because that is who we are. We are not children of God because we act like it – we act like children of God because that is who we are.


I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve never really been much of a kid person, especially not a baby person. So when I was going to meet my 3-month-old niece last summer, I was a little afraid that I might not like her. But when my sister put her baby into my arms, I just loved her. It was like she was mine. I bonded with her immediately – unlike with any other child I’ve ever held!

My husband tells me it’s genetic, that evolution dictates a connection between us and our blood kin so that we will take care of them (he thinks this will excuse him from falling under her spell, but I seriously doubt it). But it’s true, isn’t it? Every parent believes his or her baby is the most beautiful in the world. We love our babies because when we look at them, we see ourselves.

John tells us, “When [God] is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” When we see God, we will realize that we have become like him. And when God looks back at us, God will see himself. (pause) We will finally fully understand who we really are. We will recognize the family resemblance.


As seminary students we tend to work very hard at trying to figure out what God wants from us. How do we become like God? (pause)

What if God has already put the answer inside of us? John says God put his sperma in the believers – and there it remains. At our baptism, we receive God into ourselves. When we worship, fellowship, and commune with one another, we water that seed. As it grows, it produces the character of God in us, which naturally leads us to do God’s will. And that’s not a condition of being God’s child – it’s the consequence of it.

And one day, won’t we be tremendously happy to realize we have become our parent.


Christal and Craig said...

Excellent. I really liked it. Nice job! And, Vallarie really is the cutest baby ever!

Anonymous said...

What a terrific sermon. I'm impressed. Wish I could have seen/heard you deliver it -- especially in that crown! :-)

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

lovely. I'm trawling for links for the ProgFaithBlogCarn, may I snag this?