During Easter we get to hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles instead of the Old Testament. So we have the Gospel reading (written by the same author) which tells us about one of the appearances of the resurrection Christ, and another reading which tells us about the heady first few days of the Christians after they had received power from the Holy Spirit to talk about what had happened. The third reading provides a commentary, a perspective on what this is all really about.
It’s the reading from the First Letter of John that I want to focus on this morning. ‘Beloved, we are God’s children’. That’s not a very startling statement to us. We’ve become very used to thinking that we are all God’s children. But back then this was an entirely new thought. In fact it is not a sensible idea. We all know that we are to some degree made of the same matter as our birth parents. I have my mother’s mouth and tendency to use entirely the wrong word, and my father’s eyes and his irritability. In contrast, God is of different matter than we are. God is not created, we are. God is immortal, we are mortal. So we are not God’s children just because we are human. The very fact that we are human means that we are not God’s birth children.
If we think of the Trinity as a constant inter-relationship of three persons loving each other, pouring out themselves for each other in joy and praise and thanksgiving, then we can imagine Creation as the manifestation of their intimate loving – perhaps a bit like divine pillow talk. We can imagine that Creation, including ourselves, is intended to be part of this eternal conversation of lovers. The persons of the Trinity are eternally free – they are not bound in anyway and God wanted Creation also to be free – free to participate in the Godhead, free not to. So God allowed us to have free will so that we can choose to turn to God or away from God.
We sometimes say that Jesus is the only-begotten son of God, by which we mean that Jesus is the only child of God made of the same matter as his parent. But the amazing thing is that we are able to have the same relationship with God that Jesus did when we too become the children of God by adoption. Beloved, we are the adopted children of God. As such we are able to take our place in the Godhead, in that relationship of ongoing praise and thanksgiving of self-giving love and joy.
When I was a Brownie Guide there was a group game that I especially enjoyed. It had a song which went something like this:
One elephant went out to play
Upon a spider’s web one day.
He found it such enormous fun
That he called for another elephant to come.
Two elephants went out to play…
I think that God created us because he thought it would be enormous fun. He created us to be the adopted daughters and sons of God, participating in the fun of the Trinity. He created us to play on the spider’s web with the Trinity.
But of course we have to deal with the flaw in the Universe, the flaw which allows us to be free to relate to God but also separates us from God. We call it sin. As Peter said in the reading from Acts “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” It really seems to be that simple. If we repent and turn to God, our sin, our separation from God is removed. We are able to claim our adoption as God’s children and our place in the Godhead.
It is that simple, but it’s also not that simple. The writer of John’s first letter says, ‘All who have this hope purify themselves, even as he is pure.’ So, alas there is effort and discipline involved. It’s a bit like belonging to the gym. Like many of you, I belong to Los Osos Fitness. But that doesn’t do me much good unless I actually go to the gym and work out. In my case, staying physically fit takes repentance and turning back to the plan again and again. It is not in my nature to refuse delicious food. It is not in my nature to do anything until I sweat and ache. My desire to look after my body is constantly in conflict with my desire for food and comfort, and in my quest for healthy living I often make poor food choices unintentionally.
So all that we have to do to become the daughters and sons of God is to repent and turn to God but that’s a daily, even hourly practice. Sin is really not so much about doing bad things as it is about not practicing the presence of God, of forgetting that we are dependent upon God and imagining we can do it ourselves. The Johanine writer says, ‘No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.’ Abiding in him is what it is all about and learning to abide in God, rather than just to touch in occasionally, is learning to be the children of God. The second part of that phrase seems rather harsh, ‘No one who sins has either seen him or known him’ but if we change the tense to ‘No one who sins is either seeing him or knowing him’ it makes perfect sense. By very definition, if we are not knowing or seeing God we are separate and so we are in sin.
Abiding in God leads us to act in accordance with God’s will – to do what is right. This is very practical spirituality. Abiding in God allows us to live in the way that Jesus lived, in absolute confidence that we are loved by God and in absolute obedience to what we understand to be God’s will. Another way of putting it is loving God with our whole selves and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The Risen Christ meets with us and eats with us in the Eucharist, as do all the children of God as we join in the chorus of praise which rings through eternity, which is the intimate loving life of the Trinity. That is our calling. That is our hope. That is our privilege.
Beloved we are the Children of God!