Back at my home church of St. Alban's last Sunday. Got to preach in English for the first time in a while! They were observing the Feast of All Saint's that Sunday.
We're celebrating All Saints today. We're actually five days late. Somehow we manage to observe Halloween on October 31, but find it harder to celebrate the feast of All Saints on it's proper day, November 1...
Oh well, better late than never!
DO YOU WANT TO BE A SAINT? I remember a song we used to sing in Church when I was a child (singing): "I sing a song of the saints of God, / patient and brave and true, / who toiled and fought and lived and died / for the Lord they loved and knew."
Do you know that song? It goes on to list a lot of different vocations: One was a doctor, one was a queen, one was a soldier, one was a priest, etc.
The last words were (singing): "...and I mean to be one, too."
The question I want to ask today is: Do you? Mean to be a saint, that is?
CREATURES, BUT NOT CHILDRENSometimes you hear well-meaning Christians say things like "every person is a child of God." It sounds nice. I suspect such statements come from a desire to affirm the dignity and value of every person, and not to come off as arrogant or closed-minded.
These are good desires. We should affirm the dignity and value of every person. We shouldn't be arrogant or closed-minded
But when we say "every person is a child of God," I think we're claiming more than what the Bible allows us to claim. And when we start going beyond what God has revealed to us, we run the risk of actually obscuring the truth, replacing reality as it is with our own preferred version of reality.
And if we start out with a false or distorted version of reality, we have far less chance of making smart choices about things that really matter.
I think we can say with confidence that every person is a CREATURE of God, made by God, in His image, and therefore with inherent dignity. And we can go further and claim that every person is LOVED by God. "For God so loved the world (which means all people in it) that He gave His only begotten Son." (John 3:16).
But I think we're on very shaky ground when we say every person is a child of God...
Sons and daughters love their parents and seek to please them, make them proud. They seek ways to be helpful to their parents. They look to their parents for direction. They are quick to obey.
(That is to say, good children are quick to obey. My children, well...not so much. When I tell my seven-year-old to take his foot out of his sister's ear, I mean "now" but he thinks, "in a few minutes, when it gets boring.")
Sons and daughters come to bear a family resemblance, in terms of the way they speak and act, and set their priorities. Sons and daughters mature in the character of their parents.
In this sense, the Bible very clearly says human beings are NOT children of God. We do not seek to please Him and serve Him in the world. We do not resemble God in our words and actions. We do not reflect God's character.
At the very least, I think we have to say that, if are children of God, we are children who have turned our backs on our home, and squandered our inheritance, and are living as prodigal sons and daughters in a far country.
Like the prodigal son in Jesus' parable, if we are honest most of us would have to confess: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (Luke 15:21).
I know that's been true of my life.
EVEN SO, CALLED CHILDRENThe amazingly good news of Jesus Christ is stated straight out in our Epistle today: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God." (3:1)
I want you to take some time simply to savor that. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God."
Even people like us, unworthy as we are, can be called children of God--and that is all down, not to anything we do or don't do, but to the sheer, incredible love of the Father. And because God in His love has called us His children, "that is now what we are."
Please get this, because it's important: We WERE NOT children of God, we WEREN'T WORTHY to be called His children, but now we ARE His children because out of love He has CHOSEN TO CALL us His children.
At the beginning of his Gospel, John puts it this way: "To all who have received [Jesus Christ]--those who believe in his name--he has given the right to become God's children." (John 1:12)
Notice there are no conditions attached to this. "To ALL who have received Jesus."
You can't get more inclusive than that. There is no discrimination here. Nobody is shut out or told "you can't belong."
In biblical terms, the "name" of Jesus signifies the meaning of His life work, and above all His atoning death on the cross. Jesus' name literally means "God saves," and to believe in His name is to bet the farm on the salvation He won for us through His death.
When Jesus came into the world, in fact, He was traveling into the far country where all of us prodigal sons and daughters live, far away from the love of the Father, spiritually starving, morally impoverished, dishonored, disgraced, caught up in a cycle of wounding and sorrow and selfishness and hard-heartedness.
Jesus came into this far country to lead us all home again. The cross became the road home for us.
You don't have to understand exactly how that works--it's hard for me to wrap my head around it a lot of the time--you just have to know that it was for you, too, and receive the gift of salvation from His hands.
CHILDREN, AND SO BECOMING SAINTSSo, because of God's love reaching out to us through Jesus Christ, we have been put into a new status with God: "Beloved, we are God's children now" (1 John 3:2) .
But the Good News doesn't end there:
"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when Jesus is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." (3:2-3)
We are children of God, and as His children, we are all heading in a certain direction. The details of where we're going aren't clear. There are probably lots of things we can't fully understand from our present vantage point. What's important is that we will be like Jesus.
John talks about "purifying" ourselves. I don't know about you, but hearing the word "purity" instantly makes me think of goody-goody, holier-than-thou types—the kind of people I tend to want to avoid.
(I think this is one of the devil's linguistic victories, actually, to associate perfectly good words like "purity" with mostly negative connotations. Kind of like "holy" is associated with "holier-than-thou" and "righteous" morphs into "self-righteous".)
So it helped me to me as I was thinking about this sermon to focus the phrase "just as He is pure." Just as Jesus is pure. I think of Jesus as someone who was able to laugh from the belly, but without mockery. Who was brilliant without being cynical. Shrewd without being jaded. Who understood the ways of the world and of the human heart better than anyone else on earth, but was always capable of experiencing simple joys.
Jesus said: "Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17)
Maybe part of being a child of God means recovering this kind of purity--the ability to enjoy the simple blessings of life, the ability to take life as it comes...and the ability to obey in small, daily things.
Where we are heading is on a need-to-know basis. Simple obedience is all that's expected of us. (I'll date myself if I draw a comparison to Karate Kid: Wash on. Wash off. Or in the new Karate Kid--actually Kung Fu Kid: Put on jacket. Take off jacket. The boy didn't know what the destination was. He simply had to obey.)
Earlier in his Letter, John wrote: "Whoever says, 'I abide in Christ,' ought to walk just as he walked" (2:6). Here is where the Sermon on the Mount is PURE GOLD to a child of God, seeking to walk as Christ walked.
We read the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount this morning, the so-called "Beatitudes" of chapter 5. The Sermon goes on through chapter 7.
The Sermon on the Mount is a roadmap for living life with a child's heart, a child's purity. It's kind of like a GPS navigation system for aspiring to Christlikeness. It marks off the road of purity and joy, and it also warns against the dead ends and dangers of the world, which lead us away from God.
Leon Bloy, a 20th century French writer, once said “the only tragedy in life is not to become a saint.” Becoming a saint is about realizing our deepest, greatest potential, becoming who we were truly destined to be. What a shame it would be to miss out on that.
At the end of the day, becoming a saint is not about what you do--you can be a doctor, or a queen, or a soldier, or a priest, or whatever--but it's about how much love you do it with. And God--who is Love, as John writes in this letter--who comes to dwell with His children, and in us, is always ready to give us His love to do all the things we do to please Him.
The saint, the child of God who, with God's help, tries and keeps trying to walk just as Christ walked, has this to look forward to: He, she will see God as He is. And God is more beautiful, more delightful, more satisfying, than anything we can possibly imagine.
The saints we remember today are already there! Do you mean to be one too?