Sermon for April 19, 2015

Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2015

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  1 John 3:1-7

Sermon Theme:  “We Are Children Loved by God”

 (Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Brokhoff’s Series B Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Sunday afternoon, the state children’s home dressed the children in their nicest clothes and paraded them through the dining room during open house.  They were shown off to visitors who might be prospective adoptive parents.  Freckle-faced Allison, who had a huge winning grin, was always so hopeful that she would be chosen for adoption.

In spite of her bright personality and winning grin, no one ever chose her.

Finally the day came when a wealthy couple expressed interest in Allison.  They spent time telling her about their lavish home and all the things they could give her.  There was a swimming pool in their backyard and a tennis court behind it.  She would have her very own room, complete with television and computer.  They would be glad to have a puppy or kitten join the family, too, if she wished.  They would fill the shelves with every toy imaginable.

In fact, they offered Allison the fulfillment of a dream world.  Astoundingly, Allison told them that she thought she would rather remain at the children’s home.  This well-to-do couple could not believe their ears.  Their generous offer was being refused by an orphan.  They simply could not understand until Allison explained, “All in the world I ever have wanted was somebody to love me.”

We are all like Allison, wanting desperately for somebody to love us, and our yearning is never abated until we become children of God.  “Children of God” is a phrase long associated with the People of God in the Old Testament.  As Christians, we are no longer aliens, orphans, or strangers, — we are God’s children.  The parent-child relationship, as God intended it, not as it often is in tragic reality, is used by our sermon text to describe the relationship between God and believers.  This certainly implies intimacy, love, dependence, trust, and all the best of the parent-child relationship.

So how is it that we became the children of God?  Our text says it is because of “the love the Father has given us.”  The NIV and the NRSV say the “love the Father has lavished on us.”  Just as ideally a child is born out of the love of parents, so, too, we are born again as God’s children because of the love of God.  This love was “given” to us.  This love is not because of anything that we have done.  A child does nothing to be born or adopted.  It is the love, the grace of the Parent that does it all.

As the parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates, a parent’s love, like God’s love, is totally unconditional.  That’s why Jesus is called the “Good Shepherd,” – the caring and protective shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep, and he will go out into the wilderness to find the loss sheep and bring him back.

I love the story told by a pastor about giving a kids’ sermonette on the parable of the lost sheep.  He began his sermonette with a question, “Why did the shepherd count his sheep each night as they went into the fold?”

Caleb, a bright-eyed six year old, blurted out, “So he could go to sleep.”

The congregation was rolling in the aisles with laughter.

When the pastor had gained his composure, to tease the child and his parents a little, he asked, “Whose child are you, anyway?”

Without blinking an eye, Caleb said, “God’s child.”

Caleb was right.  He is God’s child.  So am I.  So are you.  As our sermon text says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are.”  How do we know God loves us?  What proof do we have?  John says we see the love of God in the fact that God calls us His children.

To be the children of God meansOne, God loves us; two, we are children of God and not just a child of God, singular, — we are also to love one another, — we are a family, we have brothers and sisters; three, we are always growing to be like Christ, just as siblings often do look alike; four, we are to try to live lives that please God, that is, we are to strive not to sin.

John says in our text, ‘We are children of God NOW.  NOW.  The Apostle Paul expressed it this way, “You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Our metamorphosis began with Christ’s death and resurrection, an act which offered us our rebirth.  “When He appears,” says our text, “we shall be like Him.”  A butterfly is a symbol of our rebirth.

Two caterpillars were crawling across the grass when they saw a butterfly flutter above them.  One caterpillar nudged the other and said, “You couldn’t get me up in one of those things for a million dollars!”

Poor little caterpillars, they cannot see what they may yet become.  How much we are like these caterpillars!  We become so familiar with what is, that we fail to see what God can make of us – new life from old.  God calls us to a winged existence of faith that leaves behind the old, cumbersome past, laden with sin and death.  Like the caterpillars who follow nature’s course and become dead to their old form in their cocoon, we must awaken to the fact that our old life is not worth hanging on to.  “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning,” says our text.

Just as the butterfly replaces the caterpillar, so too there is a new life of faith that replaces the old life.  What does the butterfly life of faith look like?

First, the new life is characterized by forgiveness.  Jesus taught us to pray, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In one of the parables of the kingdom, Jesus reminded us that we are to forgive one another, just as God has forgiven us.  When Peter asks the Lord how many times a person should forgive, “As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven,” – meaning an infinite number.

The windmills of Holland were built to reclaim land lost to the ocean, so that it can be fertile for growth.  Forgiveness is the windmill of Christian faith, reclaiming lost land in relationships, so that they can grow and flourish once again.  To imitate Christ means to be willing to forgive.

Second, the new life is characterized by service.  Selfishness is the old life; service is the new life.  On Thursday evening before His crucifixion, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.  He said, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”  The new life in Christ imitates Christ, and that means a life of service.

It also means a life of not sinning, as John says in our text, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning, also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness . . . no one who abides in Him keeps on sinning.”

Now that seems to contradict what John said earlier, in Chapter One of his gospel, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  The inconsistency reminds one of a worship bulletin blooper that announced a hymn by the title:  “There’s A Wide-Mess in God’s Mercy.”  How do we resolve this dilemma of being a sinner and yet not staying a sinner?

The answer to that question was well stated by Bruce Larson who wrote, “Being sanctified does not mean that we are Sinners Emeritus.”  No doubt , considering what he said elsewhere, John meant by the statement, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning,” meant “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning intentionally.”

Scripture teaches us that “sanctification” is an on-going, lifelong process for all of us.  Growing in righteousness does not end during this lifetime, yet God expects us to continue to strive for righteous living.

Being children in a family does carry some obligations on our part.  That was true when I was growing up in Dime Box, and it was true when we raised our daughters in East Bernard.  Love was the motivation for caring out those obligations, — even though I hated cleaning out the chicken house, I did it; and, even though I didn’t always want to go to church every Sunday, I did so, because I wanted to please my parents.

Likewise, as children of God, we are to reflect the will and desire of God in who we are and how we live.  A child carries the likeness of the parent.  God is righteous, pure and holy. We, as God’s children, are to reflect those same qualities.  This does not earn us God’s love.  That’s already been given and received.  Such living is a response to God’s love, a desire to love God back, in living the kind of life we know pleases Him.

Because God has lavished His love on us, we can live in peace.  We sin.  But because God forgives us, we do not lose our wings, but continue to fly like the beautiful butterfly He wants us to be.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.