A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
All Saints Sunday – November 6, 2005
Text: 1 John 3:1-2
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the most interesting parts of being related to someone is that moment when someone else points out how alike you are. Last Sunday, as I was making my confirmation rounds, I did exactly that to a couple of the Bruse girls.
I was at Cara’s house, enjoying a piece of cake and chatting with her family. At some point I mentioned how I hadn’t noticed until then just how much alike Cara and her cousin Leah looked. Leah must have overheard me, because she gave me that weird look that told me she wasn’t so sure about that – but seeing them side by side last week, it was hard to deny the likeness, despite being on different branches of the Bruse tree.
My own family is much like that. Most of you had no trouble figuring out who my brother was the first time you met him. And when Mom came up to Litchville a week later for my installation, you probably recognized her immediately. It’s a standing joke at our family gatherings that if you’d taken Mom, my brother and me, and our aunt Nancy, to a Twins game, spread us around the stadium, put a picture of Mom and Nancy’s folks on the big screen and offered a prize to whoever could find all four of their descendents, no one would have any trouble at all rounding us all up. We’ve all got that Jorgenson blood – we all share that Jorgenson look.
All the way back to the maternity ward, most folks are good at seeing how the newborn baby has his mother’s eyes or his father’s chin. We marvel over how much she looks like her sister, or how he’s the spitting image of his great-uncle Charlie. And it’s true – each newborn’s face is a family history, written in dimples and jawlines, there for everyone to read. The secret language of genes gets translated birth after birth into this open book of family likenesses, generation after generation.
But here’s something odd: There’s a likeness to be seen in families who share no blood. Spend some time with an adoptive family, and you’ll see what I mean – sure, they aren’t the physical doppelgangers that blood relatives often are, but with each year that passes, adopted children become more and more like the people who took them in. The more history that family builds together, the more the children begin to seem “just like her mom” or “just the way his dad was at his age.”
In part, this comes from the power of shared experiences. Families living together build up a powerful storybook of favorite jokes, happiest moments, scariest times. They pass on a heady brew of traditions and hobbies, interests and abilities. Over time, the differences in genes don’t really matter much at all, because the things that say they’re family – their entire experience of life together – is so much bigger than the biological quirks that say they’re not. Adoptive families do not necessarily share any outward family semblance, but sit down with one and you discover that whatever their blood says, their hearts are probably more alike than not.
In our second reading, the Apostle John makes a mighty bold claim: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.…Beloved, we are God’s children now.”
Right now, says John, right at this very moment, we are God’s children. This isn’t a figure of speech; it’s not some hopeful thinking of what might have been or what could someday be. John doesn’t mean that in some alternative reality we’re kind-of sort-of God’s children. He means what he says – everyone who’s been washed with the waters of baptism is at this precise moment God’s own child, no matter how outrageous that might seem.
It’s outrageous to us, because we don’t look much like our Father. It’s hard to see a semblance there from him to us. We aren’t much like him at all, to be perfectly honest. No one would ever mistake you or me for our Father in heaven; no one would ever say we were his spitting image. God has only one spitting-image Son, and he is not us.
But we are God’s children just then same – we, and all those saints before us – through the power of God’s love for us. We are his children through adoption. God has reached out to us in love and claimed us as his very own without any say-so on our part. Though we were foreign to him, not kin to him at all, God’s love has made us family together and given us an inheritance of eternal life.
We do not yet have any real family likeness, I’m afraid. Even in adoptive families here on earth, it takes many years of love and struggle to grow together that way. There are glimmers, yes – it’s a joy to look at you and see the tiny ways you’re starting to resemble your Father in heaven. But we’re all of us a long way from there. Right now, John says, as scandalous as it may be, we are really and truly God’s children – adopted by his love – but what we will be no one yet knows.
Life in a family doesn’t stand still, and this family God’s made of us is no different. No one could predict the ways an adopted child will grow up to be like the parents who chose to take her home and love her, and neither can we say just what it will be like when our family likeness finally begins to come through. All we know, as John reminds us, is that “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
For you and for those whose memory we honor today, here is God’s simple truth: You are his children, right now. You are brothers and sisters, brought together by God’s love for all of you. You have an inheritance of life and joy because you are sons and daughters of God. And when our brother Jesus comes, all these hints of family likeness that appear so haphazardly among you right now will burst out all over, so that there will be no mistaking whose child you are.
Whether the day comes soon or whether it is long delayed, you have God’s promise that you are his child now, and what you will become you can hardly imagine. For that promise, let us offer our thankful praise this morning! Amen.