In the name of the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Beloved you are God’s children now,
I recently had a day of pastoral visitations that made that teaching of our Epistle lesson this morning very apparent. My day began in the NICU of the Medical Center. There I ministered to a young couple with two premature babies for whom we’ve been praying. An hour or so later I visited a young adult’s workplace for a cup of coffee and Christian conversation. An hour after that I brought Holy Communion to a shut-in who is over eighty years old. Then later that evening I visited the home of a teenager about to receive a surgery the next day who desired to receive our Lord’s body and blood with his parents. I thought the day was over, but I was surprised with a chat message from an old friend announcing that his wife was in labor and that they’re going to have a daughter. He asked for prayers. The baby was delivered only an hour or two later as healthy as can be.
On the surface there is nothing common to these lives. If the world were to look in it would see parents struggling in a NICU, a young person working hard in a coffee shop with life ahead of her, an elderly woman praying in her home with life behind her, a teenager soon to enter manhood facing surgery, and an excited father who can’t contain his joy. In the world we are tempted to say one’s lot is better than the another, that one is “luckier” at this moment than the other. Wouldn’t one rather be working and young rather than shut-in and elderly? Wouldn’t one rather be celebrating health instead of worrying about their children?
There’s an unseen commonality between all these dear people completely hidden from the world and from us if we’re too inattentive at the moment to pay attention. I had the privilege to speak that common thing into that moment of their lives; into the good or ill circumstances they found themselves in. I had not planned it this way when I started my day. I selected a text of Scripture for the babies and parents in the NICU. It became the theme for that day and in fact we’ll see it’s more than that, it’s the very fabric of all our days as Christians. I shared this Scripture with all but one of them though it was implicit in all my conversations:
[Jesus said], “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
Certainly these words of our Lord make sense in a NICU. Two little babies striving for life. How comforting to the parents that they’re little ones are known to the Savior! In fact, He welcomes such as these. Helpless little ones are beckoned to him. “Do not hinder them…” he says, “such are mine and belong to my kingdom.” The parents who suffer so much with worry can bring their troubles to the Master. Their suffering is His, He’s born it for them and knows it intimately more than we can ever know. And even in the midst of so many questions there is joy for new life has entered the world.
This Scripture makes sense for that late night chat message too. My friend excited about his daughter could remember that even this little one, not yet minutes old, is already fully known by her Creator. He was there and saw her unformed substance before anyone in her mother’s womb. The Lord looks on life before any of us can see it. Life in the womb, life at work and play, even life in the NICU and life in the shut-in’s home and as He said at the start of all He sees it and says “This is good.”
Now it would be uncompassionate and untrue to say that one circumstance is not better than another. Certainly, there is something “not good” with a NICU and with becoming aged. The Christian father I mentioned expected a healthy daughter, but he still asked for prayer. He knew that he has no special merit or reward that promises a complication free delivery. He recognizes everything, whether in health or sickness, is a gift from the Lord. He knew it well because he and his wife had lost a child in a miscarriage years before. This reminds us of our common and difficult lot.
You see, it’s not as the world thinks that some of us are just luckier than another. For in truth there isn’t a life that is not touched by suffering when you look deep enough. We get pretty good at hiding it with smiles, successes, and social media, but its still there and if not we know suffering could be just around the corner. We try to distract ourselves with starlets and celebrities who look beautiful and have it all together. We do so ignoring the decay we know hides just behind the camera, airbrushing, and makeup. The world is satisfied with that; it thinks it’s the best we can do to whitewash what we have and hide the rest. The world will not understand how God has chosen what is lowly in this world to show His glory. It will not understand how Jesus became ugly on the cross that we could be made beautiful again. Instead it settles for the façade of false righteousness and false beauty.
Yet, then in the midst of this we are faced with the mystery and beauty of these five individuals I have spoken about this morning. All of them with different circumstances, some more appealing than others, but with this whimsical commonality; they are all children of God.
We hear the apostle John this morning, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.”
Beloved, you are God’s children now! John invites you to take a moment to consider that mystery. For the fact of the matter there is only one person who rightfully can be called God’s child. The One conceived by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the only one who by right and by merit can say He is the Heavenly Father’s child. “Like Father, like son.” the old saying goes. Only Jesus can say this of God, “I and the Father are One.” In our case the apple has fallen far from the tree. We don’t deserve to be God’s children. That’s why John invites you all the more to consider this in awe and thanksgiving for through the gift of God you are Jesus’ siblings and God is your loving Father.
It doesn’t always look like it though. What we will be has not yet appeared. Look at us now and you see a mess of contradictions. Great feats of godliness and goodness rendered by God’s Holy Spirit. Terrible moments of weakness and wickedness rendered by the old sinful Adam clinging to our flesh. Great moments of joy and celebration. Hard moments of sadness and worry. No wonder the world doesn’t know us as John says. The world can’t imagine that poor afflicted and yes even sinful people can be God’s children. But in Jesus, through the Son of the Father, that’s exactly what they are, children of the heavenly Father by no merit of their own. These are children who purify themselves by clinging to His promises of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation despite what things might look on the outside whether for good or for ill. These are children who seek to make their Father proud, loving their neighbor, serving one another in God’s family, and always boasting in the salvation they could never win that they have in the Father’s Son Jesus.
You dear children, with the five, have all this and with them you have this promise. What you will be will appear at His coming. In this life we often ask our children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The children of God should always ask themselves that question too. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You’ve already been told what you will be; you will be like Jesus. Not the same, but like Jesus. As He is love, you will be love. As He is pure, so you will be pure. As He loves and does righteousness, so you will love and do righteousness. As He so loved you so you will love one another. When He appears you will be like Him. So even in this life with its suffering and its joys when Jesus appears it will be enough no matter and He will change you. What you are now, that is so often hidden to the world and even to you, will become fully known. You are God’s children now! In Jesus’ name. Amen.