See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us.
2 Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure. 4 Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Every person who remains in relationship to him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him.
7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous. 8 The person who practices sin belongs to the devil, because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. God’s Son appeared for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil.
For better or for worse, our families define us. Family is one of the most important influences on our lives: our personalities, our talents, our health, our success, and our failures, can often be traced back to the family.
Take mine for example. I grew up in a rather privileged position. Solidly middle class, grew up mostly in small towns or suburbia, to two college educated people who never divorced. Already, I had advantages that most of my friends did not have. While it may not have predicted my successes or failures in life, it definitely influenced them.
Beyond economics, I was raised by big cookers and big eaters–my waistline didn’t have a chance. My family loved music, and so I was bound to be in some capacity, a music lover. We weren’t very athletic, but we were fairly good readers. Already a template was in place for the person I would become. Oh, and by the way, we were religious. That accounts a great deal for why I stand before you today. So yes, for good or for ill, my family definitely got me where I am today.
However, a family is more than just a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandma and grandpa. A family goes beyond genetics. A family is bound, rather, by blood.
Genetics and blood relation, to me, are not the same. Genetics accounts for a lot. But blood goes much farther. I have many friends that I would consider brothers and sisters, not because of our genetic relation, but because of the blood we have bled, sweated together. Crunch time in school, writing papers or studying for exams. Camping together, falling, and picking each other back up. Most of all, sharing in the cup of communion. Blood ties us, and makes us a family. Strange? Abnormal? Perhaps. But family nonetheless.
Today we observe All Saints’ Sunday, which in a manner of speaking, is a family reunion of all of the Children of God. Brothers and Sisters, Mothers and Daughters, Fathers and Sons, all throughout time, bound by the blood of Christ, are reunited this day as we pay attention and homage to the church eternal, invisible, one, holy, apostolic and universal. Today is the day we remember the saints!
A saint, for those who might be confused, is anyone who is a part of the church. Not just the named ones you’ve heard about from the Catholic church, but anyone and everyone who has been born again in Christ, who has died in Christ, and will be risen in Christ. You remain a part of the church after you die, but more than that, you remain a brother or a sister in Christ. Therefore it’s good to take time to reflect on this divine mystery: we are the beloved children of God.
The Father’s Kind of Love
As much as we are defined by our family, a family is defined by how it interacts with each other. The founder of our family, the Christian family, is the God the Father.
One of the fun things about the letters of John is how much they are kind of an interpretation of the gospel of John. The letter writer, probably a disciple of John writing his words in his name, uses many of the ideas and motifs of the gospel to write to early church communities. If it were music, he’d be writing these letters in the same key, with some melodies lifted here and there to remind them of the gospel.
As such, one of the most examined ideas in the letter is the character of God, that character being defined as love. So much so that he goes as far as to claim that God IS love, as bold a proclamation as one can make. If we then are God’s children, God’s family, our relationship to God is one of love. Love as a father, a parent, would have for a child is stronger than most any other kind of love there is, and that is the love that defines our relationship to God.
So how is it is we became God’s family?
After all, there is only one Son of God, and he is Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t have any children. How can we therefore claim that God is our father? John fills in that blank by using the language of adoption. Adoption, in the world that John inhabited, was a fairly common practice, and not always done as a loving couple taking in an orphaned child. Sometimes a family would legally adopt an young teenager, or even a grown man, so that the lineage and property would be taken care of. In those cases, adoption is about inheritance.
For us, we benefit in both ways. We were taken in by God because God loves us, wants us to grow and prosper and bear fruit. God also give us the inheritance of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
As you see then, all those in Christ, saints living and dead, are bound together as a family of love. We aren’t a family by genetics, although some are related. We are a family bound by love, love poured out for you and for many on the cross. That love fills our cup today, and that love should cover any disagreements, any arguments, any divisions we have. If we but remember that we are all children of God, bound together by love, then what could keep us apart?
The Strains of Sin
There’s always something though, isn’t there. Something can always get in between us. That something is a three letter word that so many people hate to think about. The think that can tear us apart is sin.
The community in particular that the letter of John was written to was being divided by certain influential people. John used the somewhat unpolitic phrase “antichrists.” Harsh, perhaps, but accurate, because if Jesus was the ultimate example of unity and love, these people did the opposite of that. They pit the family of God against itself, and led to all kinds of divisions and arguments. John saw this behavior as not only un-Christlike, but anti-Christ, against Christ.
Sadly, in any family there’s bound to be a few bad seeds that cause nothing but conflict.
These people seek it out intentionally, for whatever reason. They see it as a means to an end, a means to get power, or to get their way. It doesn’t matter what violence might occur in ripping a family apart. These people divide, and make everything worse. The term for this is “triangulation,” talking to one person and pitting them against another person so that in the space between, this divider gains power over both sides.
The Christian family is not without its “antichrists.” It’s not just one person at the end of days, oh no. It’s many people over the history of the church. People who seek power, preaching a Gospel that is wholly unlike that of Christ, all to gain something they want. They commit a great sin in doing this: removing Christ from the center of their lives, and placing themselves there instead.
Brothers and sisters, we must resist people like this in our church. We must resist self-seeking ambition, instead seeking only the vision of the kingdom of God. We must practice putting aside differences among ourselves so that we can remember that we are truly bound together by the blood of Christ, not destined to be pitted against each other by petty grievance or ambition. We are a stronger family than that. We must be.
Under One Roof, At One Table
Brothers, Sisters, we are the family of God. We are all children of God, Co-heirs of he kingdom. Today is a celebration of that.
In this place, under this roof, at this table, we re-forge the bonds of family. We eat the body, we drink the blood, and we are reconciled to God and to one another. That’s something worth celebrating. That’s worth singing about. That’s worth dancing about. Most of all, that’s worth sharing. There’s always more room under this roof, space at the table. The good news is not something to be hoarded or denied to anyone, but to be shared. So go, and open up these doors. The saints are gathered here, singing the praises of God and sharing the food and drink at the table. They always will. And there’s always room for one more. Thanks be to God. Amen.