A Sermon by Revd Chris Williams 17 Nov 2013
We are in the season of the saints – when we particularly remember all those saints who have gone before. And it’s something both Scripture and tradition encourage us to do – often for the purpose of encouraging us in the present.
It’s helpful to recognize that although the present may often seem to be the most important aspect of reality, that we are part of a world which has a past a present and a future and it’s important to consider each of these as we live our lives. And, from a Christian perspective, I believe all those aspects: past, present and future, are things that should bring us hope and encouragement, which is why this evening, I want us to look at the words of John which i read earlier – words which are full of hope and encouragement, but also words which seem mindful of this great sweep of history.
It’s a message that comes in the language of love and hope. It’s only three verses, so let me read them to you again (NIV):
1JN 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on 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. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
You can sense John’s excitement as he writes this can’t you?:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
But of course, he’s not just trying to make himself feel good – he’s writing to encourage his readers – and today, that’s us.
I expect most of us know that the Bible says ‘God is Love’ – in fact it’s a statement made by John, later on in Chapter 4, but here in Ch 3, he’s not just making a matter-of-fact statement about God – he’s saying how great this love is –and that it’s been lavished on us. (If you look at ‘lavish in the dictionary, you find words like: extravagance, abundance, profusion).
And for John, the proof of God’s love is found in the fact that we are called children of God – in fact he seems to think it’s so amazing that we may struggle to accept it – which is probably why he continues: ‘that is what we really are!’
In a human context we can understand the benefits of being children – even those whose fathers are, or have been, less than loving, may still have some concept of an ideal father. But John is speaking here of more than an earthly father, he is speaking of none other than God the father – the God who is loveand who lavishes that love upon his children.
What are the benefits that come with the knowledge that we are children of God?
I suggest they could include such things as: confidence, assurance, relationship, encouragement, identity, belonging, security and I’m sure can think of others. These are benefits that affect us at the deepest level of our humanity. Each of these benefits should make a real difference as we live our lives – as we engage with the big issues of life, of relationships, of politics, of ethics, in our jobs, in our homes: the fact that we know we are loved should make a difference.
Why does he love us? The Bible is silent on that question. I can tell you one thing, it’s not because of anything you or I have done (or not done). His love for us is unconditional. I think we struggle with that sometimes. In so many areas of life – we think that just to be accepted (let alone loved), will often require something of us – requiring us to conform, or to do or to be. But anything we do should be a response to God’s love, not a way of earning it. It can be a big challenge for us to accept that God loves us – with no ifs or buts.
Ive said a number of times from this pulpit that how we conceive of God affects how we live in response to that God.
it will affect our worship and it will affect how we view ourselves. There are many ways in which we understand God; many images and metaphors to help us. For some, God may ultimately be a mystery -completely other than us and, somehow distant. For that reason we may prefer a form of language that emphasises the mystery or transcendence of God. If that’s our overriding image of God, then I guess we may struggle with the familiar and intimate language John uses.
The foundational Christian understanding of God is that he has revealed himself to us – in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus said he had come to reveal the father. Yes, I know there is a sense in which we still see through a glass darkly, Yes, I know God is still infinite and we are so, so finite, but I believe that we can know God far better than some would have us believe. God has come to us in the form and language of love and intimacy – even to the point that he calls us his children and we can call him Father. In the incarnation God radically engaged with all that it means to be human – in Jesus, he identified with us completely.
Now, if all that seems a bit too good to be true, then we will struggle with what John says next: first he reinforces the fact that today we are children of God, then he pushes us to look even beyond that:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.
Encapsulated in the word ‘child’ is the potential for growth and the potential for becoming. John is saying: yes, today we are children – itself a dramatic and awesome claim, and yet we will become something else – yet what that is, what that looks like, has not yet been made known. What we do know is that it will be even better!
But he does permit us one glimpse into this future:
But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
As we grow, secure in our relationship with God, we should be increasingly growing into the family likeness – becoming like Jesus. I hope that’s the journey we’re all on? And ahead of us lies the promise that not only will we see Jesus, the Messiah, as he is but we will be like him.
So, our faith is linked to the past. Yes, going back to that amazing expression of love – the cross – but beyond that to creation. (if this world is not a statement of love, I’m not sure what is) but we are connected even beyond that – right into the loving heart of God. But we look forward too: to that glorious future which has not yet been made known – except that it is with God. And rather like a rope holding us steady – or perhaps a strong golden thread might be a better analogy – this connection with past and future gives us security today. Security as children of God – growing, becoming.