Eliot Church of Newton, April 19, 2015
1 John 3:1-7
3See 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. 2Beloved, 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. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
Many of us were too young to remember the actual act of our baptism, but we have heard the story of the day we were baptized; we have pictures of the little baby or child version of ourselves in our christening outfits; we know with certainty that it happened. But just because we may not have been old enough to have our own memories of that day, does not mean that we cannot remember that claim God has upon our lives; that we cannot remember that we are also Beloved of God. For just as Jesus was called God’s “Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” at the moment of his baptism in the Jordan River, we too have been claimed as God’s Beloved in our baptism.
These words in First John are part of our baptismal liturgy: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Not, what we will be; or what we might be; or what we ought to be – that is what we are. Right now. In this moment, and forevermore.
A friend and clergy colleague of mine told a story about a time in her life when she was living abroad in Singapore with her husband and two young children. Her four year old son, Evan, was an outgoing, carefree, energetic kid who suddenly became very quiet and fearful. She and her husband could not pinpoint any event or incident that had caused his personality to withdraw into himself, becoming shy and reserved. She struggled between wanting to help her son come out of this fearful phase and not wanting to make a bigger deal out of it and push him further into himself. One Sunday morning as she worshiped with her family in church, she felt a strong sense of Jesus’ presence. She saw an image of Jesus, with Evan sitting on his lap, and she knew that her son was going to be okay. She described it as knowing that he was “held in God’s love.”
I love that image, of a little boy being held on Jesus’ lap, as it speaks to how God embraces all of us and holds us in God’s love. The author of First John spoke to early Christians and assured them that we are God’s children now; he also reminded them that we are living into the fullness of who God calls us to be, even though that has not yet been revealed. Just as I reminded the children this morning, we do not know what the seed will become until it has sprouted and grown into a plant. But God has given us a glimpse of this fullness into which we are called to live, in Jesus Christ. God wants to make us like Jesus. That is the clear message of our text from the First Letter of John: "When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is." God intends to work in us, with us, and on us until we fully reflect the spirit and character of Jesus.
That is why the story of Jesus’ baptism is so central to our story as Christians. Baptism is the beginning of the story, the beginning of our lives as those who are called and claimed as God’s own. We have been chosen, but not in an exclusionary sense, as Henri Nouwen wrote: “To be chosen as the Beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice.”
It is only when we know and truly embrace ourselves as the beloved children of God that we are claimed as in our baptism, that we are empowered to go forth in this identity and change the world. We live into that identity throughout our lives, in all the struggles, joys, and temptations we face as human beings.
When baptism is reduced in our minds to a quaint ritual of blessing and welcoming children into the church, it loses its power to transform our lives and to remind us of whom and whose we are. “The words God spoke to Jesus at his baptism are words God speaks also to us: "You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased." We are invited to experience a relationship with God that embraces and transcends our fondest experiences of both father and mother. God's love for us is tender and strong, reassuring and challenging, nurturing and empowering. God's arms of welcome and affirmation are always open to us. We are God's children. We are loved.”
Remember your baptism, this day and every day of your life; remember that you are God’s beloved son or daughter, with whom God is well pleased; and remember to see your neighbors, friends, strangers and even enemies as God’s beloved children as well. This is the heart of who we are and what we are about as followers of Christ, who immersed himself in the waters of baptism and in all it means to be truly human. “That deep down assurance that we are loved empowers us to join Jesus in his compassion for our broken planet, his passion for peace, his hunger and thirst for justice, his welcoming embrace of the excluded and his tender mercy toward sinners. Beloved children of God, remember those whom the rest of the world forgets, keep company with the fallen and the downtrodden, work to turn strangers into friends, and labor for reconciliation among enemies. That is why the Letter to the Romans says: "The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God." The transformation of creation is bound up with our transformation. "Beloved," the elder John wrote, "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." And, beloved, what the world will be has not yet been revealed either. But when it is, it will, at last, be as God always intended: a place of unmarred beauty, unbroken peace, unquenchable joy and unending love.”