Sunday, November 4, 2018
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
Some kids were outside at recess playing on the school playground, as kids do. And, as kids do, they began teasing one another. But the thing is, kids, you know, when they’re teasing, don’t always have a good understanding of how far is too far. And so, these kids start to pick on the girl in class who was adopted. “You don’t know your real parents,” one of them shouted at her. “You’re just adopted.” Then another one chimed in, “You don’t even have real parents!” The girl began to walk away. And just when you would’ve imagined she’d burst into tears, she turned around and said, “Oh, yeah? Well, I feel bad for you. ‘Cause, when you were born, your parents felt like they HAD to keep you. My adoptive Mom and Dad actually want me, and I know it! They chose me to be in their family.” And that shut the other kids up!
As we come to another All Saints Day Festival, we again hear the words of John’s first letter: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God…” Not just “people” of God; not “followers” of God; and not simply servants of God—though these are all true. It’s far more intimate than that. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called CHILDREN of God, and so we are…” On this All Saints Day, we celebrate the beautiful reality that we are children of God, brought into this family through adoption. Through no doing of our own, we are children of God. And, like that little girl, each of us can say of our adoption, God the Father actually wanted ME in His family, and I know it! He chose me to be in His family, forever.
God the Father wanted you and me in His family so much, that He sent His only Son to make it happen. Because, like “Little Orphan Annie” caught in the clutches of Miss Hannigan, we were caught in the clutches of sin, death and the devil, unable to free ourselves. But, God the Son made our adoption into this family possible. Jesus took on our human flesh, joining and experiencing our “hard-knock life,” dying in our place on the cross, and rising again. Jesus paid the price for our adoption, and in our baptism, that adoption is made complete. Because in those waters, we leave behind the “old orphan in us.” God the Father now looks on us and sees the perfect work and life of His Son. He calls you by name, calls you a saint, calls you His child. SEE what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we [of all people] should be called children of God; and so we are.
Now, God the Holy Spirit works to keep us in this family. The Spirit works to keep us in this family through the Word proclaimed to us, stirring up our hearts to believe in Jesus in even the most difficult circumstances. The Spirit works to keep us in the family through the means of grace, bringing us forgiveness and equipping us for sanctified living. But on All Saints Day we also celebrate the Spirit’s work through the fellowship of believers, as we rejoice with those who rejoice; as we mourn with those who mourn; as we display the love of God in Christ toward one another. In the context of fellowship on All Saints Day, we see that we’re children of God remembering the good ol’ days.
I’m sure you’ve probably gone to a family reunion before. Unfortunately, my family reunions happen only at funerals. And you hear family saying to one another, it’s too bad we don’t get together more often, when everyone’s alive. After all, we’re family…well, see you at the next funeral! Family reunions are sort of fading out; not quite as big as they once were. But when you’ve got a good family reunion, and I mean a really GOOD family reunion, it’s a blowout!
We’re talking matching t-shirts, a enormous array of food from coveted secret family recipes; old traditions, games, songs that have been in the family for years. And these things go on for days at a time. After all, everyone is finally together once more. Family members come from far and wide to get reacquainted with relatives they haven’t seen or heard from in years. There’s a deep, yet strange bond you possess with these people (some whom you reluctantly call “family”). There are some relatives you’ve never met; some you’ve only heard stories about; others you get too many updates about on Facebook or through your great aunt Ethel. But there’s a bond that unites you, no matter the distance, no matter how long it’s been, no matter if you’ve never even met. You’re family.
And, you know, it always happens at these reunions that you hear the same old stories, over and over; year after year. I can still hear my Dad and my uncle giggling about the pranks they pulled when they were kids. They would tell me and my brothers these things, as if to say, Take notes, boys. Learn from the masters! They told these stories every year, as if for the first time, forgetting the fact that we practically know them by heart, now. But they tell these stories over and over, because it’s their chance to relive the good ol’ days; days when they were younger; days when they had more hair; days when there weren’t as many worries, or at least not the same kind of worries faced today.
We do this, though, don’t we? We tell the same stories over and over again, maybe not about pranks, but we’ve got these stories we share over and over. We tell these stories again and again so that we don’t forget. We tell them over and over to pass them on to the next generation, to tell them where they came from. We tell these stories in order to take pride in who we are, in our identity in this family.
When you think of these family reunions, well, that’s sort of what it’s like to be a child of the Heavenly Father; to be a member of the family of God; to be part of the communion of saints. All Saints Day is one big reunion of saints. Like family members at a reunion looking back, so we look back to the example of our brothers and sisters in Christ long ago. To hear about where we came from. We also look to the lives of those who left us only recently. Some of these folks we’ve heard of, they even have days, churches, even cities named after them, but some of these saints, not so much. Some of these saints are from distant lands, distant eras; others, might have sat in that pew right where you’re at. Nevertheless, they’re all part of this big family. So, we look to their example of faith as examples for ourselves.
I don’t want All Saints Day to become a sort of “funeral reunion,” were we focus only on the dead in Christ, remember, it’s really a day for the living. A day for all saints alive in Christ forever. A day to look ahead to the joys of eternity. Today is YOUR day!
In fact, the reunion of saints happens every single week! As we gather together, the communion of saints. United around Word and Sacrament—not just with those present, physically, but crossing time and space, uniting all of God’s saints. And in these weekly reunions, we tell the same old stories over and over again. We hear the same readings from the Lectionary—the same Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel Readings the Church has been reading for nearly 2,000 Church Years. The same readings that have been shaping the faith and lives of all the saints for centuries. And as we hear the Law and Gospel proclaimed, as we hear about God’s work in the lives of His people since the beginning of time, we begin to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors in our faith family. We learn from them, and then, by grace, we strive toward the example of Christ they displayed.
And every year, as we come to another All Saints Day, we commemorate the faithful departed. We hear the names of our loved ones who have passed. And for a moment, we mourn once more, because we’re human, and we can’t help it. For a moment, we wish they were here with us, again, because we can’t quite comprehend eternity with Christ. Memories of them flood our minds. And for a moment, we wish things would go back to the way it used to be. But to go back wouldn’t help. To go back wouldn’t help them. To go back wouldn’t take away other pains. We long for the good ol’ days, but God has something better planned! So, while we look back, we also look ahead.
We are children of God, remembering the good ol’ days, but awaiting the final family reunion of saints. Because Christ, our Brother, is coming again, and soon! Any day, now, Christ is coming, and His return will mark a never-ending family reunion. We are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, John says. But John also got a glimpse of our final family reunion of saints in Revelation. As John describes it, all saints, all of God’s countless children, you, me, our loved ones in Christ from our past, present and future will gather for a feast of victory. Even better than matching t-shirts, we’ll wear matching white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb. And we’ll sing old, yet new family songs. The reunion will go on for an infinite number of days. And we’ll tell the same old family story, about a God who cared so much for His creation; about a Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep; about a Father who loved us enough to call us—of all people—children. And so, we are.
Jesus is coming. The final family reunion is about to happen. But until then, He calls us to prepare. He calls us to eat at the family dinner table, and to come sit here in this family room, often. He calls us to be disciples and make disciples, because there are still chores to do in this family. He calls us to love even our enemies on life’s playground. He calls us to live like we’ve been baptized; to live like we’re saints; to live like we’re part of His family. By the Holy Spirit’s enabling, we bear the family resemblance in our words and actions.
SEE what kind of love the Father has given to us, that WE should be called children of God; and so we are.
Come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.