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"Children of the Heavenly Father"

I John 3:1-7

Rev. Alan Taylor

Easter 3, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Apr 22, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called "children of God;" and so we are…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."

Some of us know a great deal about our ancestry.  Others of us know very little.  Interest in family trees though has taken off of late, the internet being responsible for most of the interest.  A person can now do genealogical research from the comfort of their own home, accessing, at the touch of a finger, files and documents that, in ages past, took a great deal of time and even travel to acquire. 

In many cases, research into one's family tree reveals information about someone, maybe a great, great grandparent, an aunt or uncle with a colorful life, or, with a special story.  Some of those stories are intriguing when you realize that, had things happened differently, the course of future generations might have been changed. 

The story in my family is of a great uncle who, many years ago, had an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an upstart company.  He considered the proposition a bit too risky for his taste and so he passed on the opportunity.  The company, as the story goes, is now called Burlington Northern.  For those who may not be aware, Burlington Northern is now our nation's largest rail company.  It was purchased back November of 2009 by Warren Buffet for $34 billion dollars. 

The Bible, of course, is filled with genealogical information.  In fact, one of the big challenges a person faces when opening the Bible with the intent of reading it cover to cover is the genealogical sections.  You know what I mean: "Perez begat Hezron, Hezron begat Ram, Ram begat Amminadab, Amminadab begat Nahshon, Nahshon begat Salmon" and so on and so forth. 

Beyond our struggle to pronounce the names, our problem with the genealogies is that we can't really identify with the people because we can't trace our ancestry back to them.  The point being, most folks are interested in their own family tree but they're not really that interested in the family tree of someone else because there is no personal connection. 

Still, beyond the personal connection, or, lack thereof, we should still note that there is a startling reality regarding family trees.  Any branch of a tree void of Christ and Him crucified is destined finally for destruction.  "I am the Vine, Jesus said, you are the branches.  Cut off from Me you can do nothing."  "Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."

Thankfully, there is one "begat" in the Bible that should and does capture our interest and our attention.  I'm speaking, of course, of God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  He is, as we confess in the Creed, "begotten of His Father before all worlds, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance of the Father by whom all things were made."  And for us, "He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man." 

What we confess in those words is the unfathomable grace and love that so moved Him to graft us "poor miserable sinners," into His family tree.  How found us in different states from different lineages.  We were rich and poor.  We were young and old.  We were without hope and without a future.  We were fatherless, groping, as it were, through a world of heartache, injustice and pain.  We came destined for destruction, orphaned by a world that casts off the weak.  We came as we are, hoping to be as He is.  And in water, the simple water of baptism, He made us His own, heirs of the kingdom of heaven, children of the heavenly Father.  Indeed, "See what kind of the love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."

This is the mystery of the Gospel that leaves us humbled before God and our fellow men.  While we were part of a tree destined for hell, God patiently and tenderly grafted us in to His own family, giving us a royal and holy lineage.  That special story in our family tree is the story of Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, died and was buried, who was raised from the dead and who will come again to judge both the living and the dead.  "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called "children of God;" and so we are."

"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."  It has been said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."  A seminary professor told about a student who preached his first sermon in class, standing in a strange position, with one shoulder higher than the other.  It turned out that the student had come from a church whose pastor had been crippled years before in an accident and who, therefore, had to assume an awkward position when he preached.  The young man had so admired his pastor that he unconsciously imitated even his handicap. 

As God's dearly loved children we are called to imitate our Heavenly Father.  As He is merciful we are called to life of mercy.  As He is forgiving we are called to forgive others as He has forgiven us.  As He emptied Himself for the sake of the world He so loved, we are called to empty ourselves in love and service to others. 

More than being called to simply imitate God, we are empowered by the new nature that He has given us to live as His dearly beloved children.  We aren't confined to a life of sin because Christ dwells within us.  We aren't helpless in our struggle against evil because, as Paul says, "we have been crucified with Christ and He lives in us." We are, as the Scriptures say, "new creatures in Christ," for, in our baptisms, even as we died with Christ, so we were also raised with Him to newness of life. 

And yet, through it all, we, along with the psalmist, find it necessary to cry out to God, to ask Him to "create in us a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within us."  The fact is, "what we shall be has not yet appeared."  John confessed that to be the case and we've all experienced it personally, sometimes even painfully in our lives.  Wanting so much to be like our heavenly Father, we remain encumbered by the old Adam, who will not submit to Christ, even to His grace and mercy, and who cannot be reformed.

In this life we strive to be what God has declared us to be, knowing that we will only "see Him as He is," and thus, "be as He is," when He finally calls us to glory.  I was at the funeral of my friend, Pastor Keith Gravesmill, this past Friday.  Amidst all the sadness of a man dying so young, leaving behind a wife and children still in High School, is the realization that Keith now sees God as He is.  Keith's struggles to live according to the will of His Father are over.  God has received him in glory and honor.  He has wiped every tear from his eyes.  Mourning and crying and pain are gone.  The cry of "Abba Father" resounds in the tents of the righteous.  Dad, I'm home!  I'm home!  "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called "children of God;" and so we are."  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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