1 John 3:1-7
Preached FCCW 4-19-2015
There’s an old expression which says:
“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Which is to say, that a child exhibits
the same or very similar
traits as his or her parents.
Some of us might welcome such
comparisons to our parents,
while others would cringe at the suggestion
that we are anything like them.
So, if you’ve ever had someone apply this saying to you,
it could be a good thing or a bad thing,
depending on what kind of opinion you have of your parents.
Or what kind of opinion they have of your family.
I remember that when I was a kid,
there were times when my mother would tell me,
“You are just like your father.”
My parents were divorced.
This might have been my earliest introduction
to the subtleties of sarcasm.
Like it or not, the link between apples
and the trees from which they fall
is a scientific fact.
We are all made up of the DNA
contributed by both our parents
at the time of our conception.
That DNA determines most of what we are
and what we will be.
Our present and our future.
Everything from our physical features to our physical frailties
are inherited gifts or curses from our parents.
Yet, this biological template of ourselves
that is handed down to us by our parents
is not the sole determiner of every aspect of our lives.
Our environment also plays a big role
in shaping the people we become.
It’s the old Nature vs. Nurture debate.
So, there is always this dance going on
between the predispositions we are born with –
that we inherit from our parents –
and the influences that life experiences exert upon us.
I don’t know if the “apple falling from the tree” cliche
had been coined yet, when John wrote the passage
we read from his First Epistle.
But he sure did have a keen sense of the tension
in which all believers live – the tension between
our relationship to our Heavenly Parent,
and the influences of the world we live in.
He reminds his readers that they – that we –
are God’s children.
“See what love the Father has given us,
that we should be called children of God;
and that is what we are.”
John is talking about a relationship with God
that is more specific than God’s generic love for humanity.
It’s possible to go through life without that love
ever making a difference in the person you are
if it only remains a one-way street.
The love that distinguishes someone as God’s child
in the sense that John means it is
a two-way relationship with God that happens when we
consciously receive that love,
and return it by devoting ourselves to God.
Being God’s children in that sense is not
something we can take for granted,
it is something remarkable and amazing!
Something that should transform how we see ourselves
and how we live in response.
That we should be called children of God
isn’t anything to which we should feel entitled or deserving;
to be called children of God is always and only about
the greatness of God’s love, not our own goodness.
It is a relationship, not a reward.
It says that this love is “given” to us from God.
Some translations use a more descriptive word than “given.”
They say that it is a love that God “lavished” on us.
When’s the last time you used the word “lavished?”
Not recently, I’ll bet.
There’s something extravagant even in the sound of the word,
the way it rolls off the tongue.
The word “lavished” comes from a French word that means to wash.
God has washed us in his love-
not with a stingy little spritz of love,
but with a gushing, flowing, overwhelming love.
The way winter lavished us with snow this year.
The love God lavishes on us through Jesus
washes away the blemishes that obscure our relationship to him.
By receiving the love and grace of God that
is offered to us through Jesus,
it’s as though we have been adopted into this family
where we become Christ’s brothers and sisters;
because we get to have a relationship with God
that mirrors the way Jesus experienced God’s love for him.
We are children of God.
Thanks to Jesus, that is our true identity.
Our birth certificate is our evidence of belonging to
the biological family we were born into.
But our baptismal certificate is our evidence
of the spiritual family we now belong to.
Once, when the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father,
he replied, “if you have seen me you have seen the Father.”
I guess that means that if Mary ever said to Jesus,
“You are just like your Father,”
there was not even a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Much to our benefit, the old saying is true with regards to Jesus,
who did not fall far from the tree of His Father’s identity.
Jesus perfectly embodied the nature of God.
Just as we inherit things like the color of our eyes or skin
that identify us as being offspring of our biological parents,
through our relationship to Jesus we inherit
a family resemblance to our Divine Father
that is passed on to us through him.
What does a family resemblance to Jesus actually look like?
John says, “No one who abides in him sins.”
Does that mean that anyone who commits sin
is not part of God’s family?
That we need to be perfect in order to be a Christian?
If that’s true, then it’s a test we all fail,
and Jesus would always remain an only child in God’s family.
In this reading, it says that sin is lawlessness.
So, sin can be understood as breaking laws
or disobeying specific commandments.
But Jesus once said that all the Law and commandments
could be summed up in loving God,
and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Sin is basically putting something else before love.
Putting something else before love of God,
putting something else ahead of loving others,
or putting something else before love for ourselves.
We can better understand what this means for us
by remembering something Jesus once said to his disciples
about family resemblance.
He told them that people would know they were his disciples
by the way they loved one another.
So, the identifying feature of the Children of God
is how they put loving like Jesus did above all else,
even though they will never do that as perfectly as he did.
Our family resemblance to Jesus does not lie
in always doing what God would want, as he did;
but in always wanting what God wants,
even if our actions don’t always match our intentions.
You could say, it is like Jesus takes all the fun out of sin.
In its place, we inherit the joy
that Jesus experienced in doing God’s will.
A person who has truly experienced the mercy of God
will tend to be merciful – not perfectly merciful,
but oriented toward mercy.
A forgiven person forgives others, or at least strives to forgive.
A person who understands the generosity God has shown them,
in giving his only Son,
will find it more compelling to be generous
with whatever they have to give.
This isn’t something that happens overnight.
John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this:
when he is revealed, we will be like him”
That we are God’s children is both a present reality
and a future hope.
We are God’s children now,
because of the love God gives us
through Jesus’ giving of himself for us.
That is our present reality.
Our future hope is that we will become more and more like Jesus.
That our family resemblance as Children of God
will grow more unmistakable.
But it is a process in which we must become
willing and active participants.
John writes, “All who have this hope in him
purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
What we must be purified from
is our conformity to the world around us
when the world is in opposition to the righteousness of God.
We are called Children of God, through the great love
that God has lavished on us through Jesus.
But it is our choice whether or not to let our lives
be claimed and transformed by that love.
Becoming the person we are in God’s love for us
is a process that continues throughout our natural lives.
It takes time.
It can be difficult, and requires real sacrifices.
We may wonder if we will ever get there,
or even if it will be worth it.
Yet, somehow, we know it will be.
We can be, no, we are different people
because of the love God has shown us.
We’ve been given a new place in God’s family.
The secret of continued growth in our family resemblance to Jesus
is to believe the Good News of what Christ
has done for and to us,
to claim our new identity by making
our relationship with God our top priority,
and to live out that new identity
by intentionally conforming our actions and attitudes
less and less to what the world shows us,
and more to what we see in Christ.
Then, when we look within and ask
if we are truly a child of God
we can say by God’s grace
I am not yet complete,
but I am already claimed by God;
not yet finished but already begun.
This poem by the late Maya Angelou expresses
what it means to be God’s children.
When I say- “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting, -I’m clean livin’.”
I’m whispering, “I was lost,
Now I’m found and forgiven.”
When I say- “I’m a Christian”
I don’t speak with pride.
I’m confessing that I stumble
And need Christ to be my guide.
When I say- “I’m a Christian”
I’m not holier than thou,
I’m just a simple sinner
Who received God’s good grace, somehow.
Friends, no matter how far we have fallen from the tree,
and some of us may feel that we have fallen farther than others,
God’s love draws us back, back into the family where we find
forgiveness and completeness,
where it is always a welcome thing to hear,
“You are just like your Father.”
Let’s pray: God, we thank you for the love you lavish on us,
that we may be called children of God.
By your Holy Spirit at work in us
through our relationship with Jesus,
make our family resemblance to you
be more and more evident each day. Amen.