Sermon 4.23.18 Easter 4

    Pastor Walther / 1 John 3:1-2 / Children of God / Easter 4 / ECE Sunday

    There was a recent study looking at the relationship between parents and children, primarily from the perspective of the children. Some of these numbers actually were very interesting. 67 Percent of kids say they get along very well or pretty well with their parents. But do you want to know the statistic that surprised me the most? 73 percent of teenagers said that their relationship with their parents is what makes them the most happy. 73%! That’s more than their phones, more than their friends, more than sports, more than winning popularity contests. Now they may never admit this to their parents, but clearly the statistics show that the parent-child relationship is incredibly important at any stage in life. 

    Now what happens to that relationship with the parents when just one parent is taken away? When because of death a parent is lost, or because of divorce one parent isn’t always around, or because of an addiction that takes the parent away from the children mentally and emotionally, the perspective of the children change. According to the U.S. census bureau, 24 million children, 1 out of 3, live without their biological father in the home. Now there are a lot of different reasons for that, but the statistics have some interesting perspectives about these relationships. 

    And I wonder if we, like these children who were interviewed, could analyze our own relationship with our Heavenly Father.  How would we rate our relationship with God?  Would we rate ourselves like the majority of teens who strive for the approval of their parents? Would we say that our heavenly father is the one who makes us the most happy in our lives? Or do we try and find happiness and approval elsewhere? Do we view our God as a drunk who says he loves us, but only seems to do the opposite, who abandons us? Or have we removed ourselves from the equation so far, that we don’t even have that relationship with God anymore? Maybe for some of us, the relationship with God is in name only, but the connection is no longer there. Or maybe for some of us, we may wonder if God really loved us at all.  

    I think the gospel writer John…the one who wrote the letter for today’s sermon text…I think he would have to say something about our relationship with God.  Now this is based off of my quick skimming and underlining, but for such a short letter, John uses the word “children” a little less than twenty times. Several times, John refers to each other as siblings, as brothers.  Now John isn’t describing us as small little children but he’s describing our parent-child relationship with God, and our relationship with the rest of the family.  Clearly, the amount of times that John uttered these family roles is a reminder how important these spiritual relationships are. 

    The most amazing relationship that we have is that we are children of God. The way John describes it makes it sound like he can’t even believe it himself! John seems to be having an interview with himself. It’s like he’s asking himself, “Can you believe this?” “I know! It’s amazing!”  John is like the giddy teenager who is part of that 73%, that says the thing that makes him most happy is his relationship with his heavenly father. 

    The reason why this relationship is so unbelievable and so amazing is because of where we came from.  When we first came into this world as a brand spanking new baby, sadly it was as God’s enemies. God had other adjectives to describe our first status, not children of God, but instead: foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved. God describes our sinful nature full of evil emotions that engulf our lives like selfishness, envy, and hatred. In short, by nature we are unlovable children of the world without a heavenly father. And yet, God saw us as something meaningful to him, which makes no sense. 

    When I used to work at the waste water treatment plant, we used to joke about if we saw a 20 dollar bill floating in the gross muck of the tanks, would we grab it? What if it was a ten dollar bill floating in the sewage, would we grab it? A 5 dollar bill? Of course, I was a poor college student, so I would probably grab money! By nature we are like paper floating around in the sewage of this world. God doesn’t need us, he already has everything. And yet, God still wanted to make us his own. He wanted to adopt us and make us his own dear children. 

    I’ve heard of family members and friends who have gone through the process of adoption. It does not sound like an easy process. The paper work, the time, the worrying, the cost is extraordinary, and the over all difficulty would cause anyone to second guess or even walk away. Yet, some people try to adopt again and again because they crave the love of a child, even a child that isn’t their own biological child. And for those of us who never have adopted, we may look at them and think their crazy for the time, the money, and the love invested into the process. And yet, they are determined to bring that child into their family, no matter what it takes. 

    Ultimately, God knew what it took. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be with bribing us with money and cool stuff.  That wouldn’t win us over for more than five minutes. It wouldn’t be with trying to pay for us with lots of gold or silver. It was only a demonstration of love that could ever bring us into his family. God dipped his hand into the sewage of this life and grabbed us to make us his own children.  He himself came into the muck and the sin of this world to live a perfect life. He came into the world where our greatest fear is death because of our sin. He took the punishment of our sin, he took our fear of death and he took that all on the cross with him. He came into the world where we question what will happen on the other side of death, but he rose from the dead giving to us the promise of eternal life in heaven. Now that is love! Love that we didn’t deserve. It’s amazing that God would look at us, people by nature who hate God, and say, yeah I want to adopt them, and I want them to know what true love is. I want them to know where to find true love and how to demonstrate true love. Yeah that’s love that only God could ever give.  

    Think about that: we are children of God! All of our doubts about our relationship with God are erased! And if you ever question that relationship, just look at your baptismal certificate! Your baptismal certificate is like God’s adoption papers. Whether you were baptized as a baby or an adult, you can look at those adoption papers and say, yes, I truly am part of God’s family. Which if you haven’t been baptized yet, please come talk to me!

    As adopted children of God, we can approach our heavenly father and ask him for anything.  He wants us to do that. In fact, the sin that we continue to carry, we can bring that to him. We can confess our sin to our Father, and he will answer us, “What sin?” Because he’s already forgotten that sin. We can approach with our worries and cast all our anxiety on him, not just some of it, but all of it, because he loves us. He has given to us the greatest demonstration of love. He wouldn’t stop giving his love to us now, but he will only continue to lavish his love on us. 

    As children of God, we are part of a family. Family look out for each other, even if our Christian family may look different from us or come from a different background. We want what’s best for each other. Ultimately, what we want for our Christian family is for them to be in heaven. But while we are still here on earth, God wants us to mature as his children, just like you would want your own children to mature. We want to grow in God’s Word and we want to encourage our christian family to grow in their spiritual maturity. 

    Think of it like training wheels on a bike. You’re not going to put a two year old on a professional mountain bike. But you’re going to start small with training wheels. As the child learns balance and how to peddle, eventually you take off the training wheels. But you know that learning to ride a bike doesn’t stop there, because as the child grows they aren’t going to stay on that kiddie bike, but they are going to have to jump to a bigger bike. In that process, the child is going to fall. Growing up you will fall a lot, especially with those big jump in bike sizes and life events, but by God’s grace, you learn to pick yourself up. And at the same time, isn’t it wonderful to have the encouragement of family there, to have your christian brothers and sisters reminding you that you are ok and that they love you. Isn’t it wonderful to know that our heavenly father is standing by the whole time, knowing that he would never let anything harm us and that he is the one who picks up when we fall?  Children are often unaware of their protection, but just because they are unaware of the parents’ protection doesn’t make it any less real. God’s love is real!

    The love that God demonstrates for us on a daily basis changes us. It is only by God’s grace and love that we could ever live for God and want to show that love to other people.  God’s love motivates us to grow in his love. The more we grow, the more we want to learn about him and learn more about his plan for our lives.  

    But so often, in our spiritual immaturity, we take our love elsewhere. Foolishly, time and time again, we look for recognition and approval and happiness from the world around us, which honestly the world doesn’t care about anyone. The gospel writer John is trying to catch our arm before we head out the door of our spiritual family. John is saying that as a child of God, don’t look for recognition from the world around you. Don’t look to find approval or happiness in the shallow Instagram likes or how many people you may date, or how many people come to visit you at your house, or what job you have. In the world, you will not find the love and approval that you’re looking for and that you truly need. 

    That’s because the world doesn’t know or even understand our relationship with God.  It doesn’t understand God’s love for us and the knowledge that we are children of God. It doesn’t understand the love we have for God and why we would want to obey his commands.  Unlike the world’s definition of love that changes every five minutes, ready to spit you out when it’s done with you, our love and approval comes from God. That never changes. That is our certainty. 

    That certainty of God’s love led Jesus to Easter Sunday. Jesus rising from the dead means the certainty of our own resurrection. And when our Heavenly Father comes to bring us to heaven, he promises us that the sin that we deal with now will be in our rear view mirror. It will be a thing of the past, and we will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. We will be in perfection. The consequences of our sin will be washed away forever. The cancer that kills the body will no longer be an issue. The Christian who was raped, who struggled the rest of their life to have any physical connection with another person, their bodies will be made new, rid of any lingering sin. The finger pricks of diabetes that are the dull reminder that this body is definitely not perfect, will never experience the dull needle stab again. The man who struggled with drug addiction will find renewal and fulfillment in God. The woman who struggles with depression will only experience joy eternally. The teenager who struggles with suicidal thoughts and cutting will look down at their own scars but will see the scars of Jesus and know that he loves them so much that he laid down his own life so that they would have purpose and meaning forever. 

    We will “be like God.” When I read those words, I was shocked.  Could this really be, like God? I kind of just stopped in amazement because it actually seems to perfectly bookend the human existence. Tempted by Satan in the garden of Eden, we wanted to be “like God” and we have struggled with that foolish temptation ever since. Constantly, we want to be the God of our own universe and destiny, only for it to fail every single time. Now God in his love brings us to his side to see the reality, to be like God. Not to be God or be a god, but be like him in the respect that we will be perfect! We will finally see Jesus as what he really is: true God. We will never doubt that. We will see God for who he really is, not with the spectacles of sin, but with the lenses of perfection: we will see God as a loving God who has always been around and always loving us. We will see him as the loving Father who adopted us as his dear children. 

    My dear christian family, how would we analyze our relationship with God? God reminds us. He puts it into perspective: Never forget the love that God has lavished on us because we are children of God! Amen.