Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
November 2, 2014
I John 2:28-3:7
Have you read any of Don Miller’s books? His best, in my opinion, is Blue Like Jazz. Miller is considered one of the leaders in the emergent church movement. A few years ago I heard him speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. It was a treat as he caught the audience’s attention in his slightly irreverent but humorous demeanor. He started his presentation by lifting up a Bible, and asking, “What kind of culture or society would we envision if we knew nothing about the church and read this book, especially the gospels?” Then he went on to suggest that never in our wildest imaginations would we dream of the church as it exists in America today. Ponder that! He has a point. Today is my final sermon in which we are looking at the covenant that exists between me and you. Again, if you haven’t read the covenant, you can find it online or stop by the office and pick up a copy. Over the past six weeks, we’ve looked at our shared vision, shared theology, shared ministry, and shared leadership. The overall theme is that we’re all in this together. Today, the topic is our shared concerns. Within the covenant, much of the concerns addressed deal with my role as a pastor, as well as how we are to hold one another accountable. However, I suggest such concerns not only exist with me professionally but with how we relate to one another. If we’re living our lives in Christ, if we have been adopted into God’s family, our lives should reflect this new reality. Read 1 John 2:28-3:7.
We’re wrestling today with a passage of Scripture that calls us to a new way of living. We’re to abide in Christ, or as another translation says it, we’re to “live deeply with Christ.” We’re to be ready for Christ to return. We don’t want to be caught short when our Lord comes to claim us; we don’t want to be caught looking out for only ourselves and ignoring the needs of our brothers and sisters. We want to be ready, and we do that by living a life of righteousness as Jesus taught. We show our readiness by actively loving and caring for others. The Good News in this passage is in chapter 3, verse 1, which reads in the New Revised Standard Version, “See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” This is a passage I often quote when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism as we did last week. But what does it mean to say that we’re “Children of God?” Paul says through Jesus Christ, we’ve been adopted by God. What’s Paul talking about? If we truly see ourselves as children of God, are we not obliged to act like it? And furthermore, if we see other people as God’s children, aren’t we obliged to treat them with the nobility they deserve? Now, siblings do fight, most of us who have brothers and sisters experienced this growing up. In this way, too, the church is like a family, although it is harder to leave a family than it is a congregation. But let’s face it, fighting isn’t what we’re to be about. This is why, as noted in both our covenant and in the Book of Order, we are to exercise “mutual forbearance,” as we strive in all things to bring God glory. John suggests dual implications of being God’s children. It impacts our lives now as it reflects God’s goodness. But there’s also an eternal component, one that hasn’t been revealed. This second implication will be revealed, as John proclaims in verse 2, when we see Christ face to face and become like him. But until then, we’re to work on purifying ourselves. After the optimism of the opening verses, John becomes a bit negative as he goes back to the subject of sin. Sin separates us from God. Throughout this letter, John warns his readers over and over again the damage that can be caused by sin, but follows his reference to sin with reminders of the pardon we’ve received through Jesus. For to abide in Christ, we live humbly, acknowledging him as Lord of our lives and our world and we love others as ourselves. Let me repeat this and break it apart: To abide in Christ, we must live humbly for we know that our salvation isn’t of our doing. Salvation is a gift. Secondly, we must acknowledge Christ as Lord of our lives and world which means that we look to him for direction as to how we should live, which takes us back to reading the gospels as Don Miller suggested. Do we live up to our inheritance in Christ Jesus? Let me tell you a story. Tommy lived a couple of houses up from us on Bishop Street when I was a kid. This was back in the 60s and divorces were less common than today. Tommy was the first child on our block to be part of what we would call a blended family. I don’t even remember the details; all I remember is that he had a different last name than the one on his mailbox. Kids can be cruel, and we were no different. Soon, he was known as Tommy-two-names. It wasn’t a very nice nickname, and I knew that because when my mother heard me using it, I got into trouble. Of course, there were times she wasn’t around and we could slip “Tommy-two-names” into a conversation much like an assassin slips a dagger into the side of a victim. Why do children do this? Even as adults, why do we not honor and care for one another? After all, we’ve all been created in God’s image. We moved from that home shortly after I completed the third grade. I don’t know what happened to Tommy, but I’ve often thought about him, and have worried some about what impact picking on him might have had. Did it cause any permanent psychological damage? When you’re a child you don’t think about such things. But cruelty begets cruelty… Children have so much potential. But because their egos are so fragile, that potential can easily be lost. (Perhaps this is why John insists on calling those of us in church, “children.”) The wrong words, heard enough times, can shatter a child’s strength. But the right words, spoken to a child, can also help a child reach beyond their wildest dreams. Does our language build people up or tear them down? There are enough people in this world that have been treated like Tommy, who are now walking wounded. As Christians, we need to be careful not to contribute to the problem but to rescue those like Tommy and to build them up as a member of God’s family. Fred Craddock, one of America’s greatest preachers today, tells a story of Ben Hopper. Ben was such a child who heard those right words at the right time in his life. Born in the nineteenth century to an unwed mother in the hills of East Tennessee, Ben approached the batter’s box with two strikes already against him. It must be terrible to grow up not knowing who your father might be. Ben experienced this. He was continually teased. Walking down the street with his mother, he could feel people thinking, “Who is his father?” At school, lunchtime and recess were especially difficult. Ben learned how to keep to himself so as to avoid ridicule. When Ben was about 12, a new preacher came to the church nestled in the hollow in which Ben and his mother lived. People soon began talking about this gifted preacher; he seemed to be bringing a revival to this rural country church. Hearing these stories, Ben wanted to go meet the man. One Sunday he got up enough nerve to go to church by himself. He sat there in the back, thinking to himself that he could slip out the door when the congregation was singing the last hymn. (You know, there are people with such an escape plan… On occasion, I can see them from up here…) Ben didn’t want anyone to ask about his father, or worst yet, to ask what a boy like him was doing there. But the service turned out to be wonderful. All that he’d heard about the preacher was true. Ben was mesmerized and forgot to slip out before the benediction. There he was, stuck in the crowd making for the door. People were in a rush. Women had to get home and pull their roast or chickens from the oven. Everyone was going home to gather with their extended family, everyone except for Ben. It would just be him and his mom, and their meager fare. Ben tried to slip through the crowd; he tried to get through the door, but all a sudden a big set of hands grasped him by the shoulders from behind. It was the preacher. He turned Ben around, looked him in the eyes, and asked, “Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?” Ben said at that point that his heart dropped; his worst fear had come to pass. Even the preacher was going to make fun of him. But the preacher continued… “Wait a minute. I know who you are. The family resemblance is unmistakable. You are a child of God.” Then the preacher patted Ben on the back, and said, “Boy, that is quite an inheritance. Go out and claim it.” In telling this story, after having been elected as Governor of Tennessee, Ben Hopper credited his success and the respect he found in life to that country preacher, who cared enough to encourage a little boy. John reminds us that we’re all children of God. As God’s children, we share our concerns! Being instilled in God’s image means that there’s a family resemblance! Being adopted as God’s children, through Jesus Christ, means that we’ve got an inheritance to claim. Claim it! And once you claim your inheritance, encourage others to claim theirs. Take seriously what it means to abide in Christ. Let Christ’s light shine from your life, so that others may see his glory and together we can build a church that more nearly corresponds to that ideals set down by our Savior. Amen.