November 5, 2017
In Confirmation class a few weeks ago, we got to talking about God...well, that's not surprising, but the question came up, what does God look like? God is spirit, so not sure this is a question that can be answered, but then we talked about how God will not have exactly the same persona for everyone. And we talked about the different identities we each have. I'm going to share a few of my identities. First, I am husband to Julie Rae. I am father to six grown children. Father-in-law to 5 more. Grandfather to 13. I am uncle to 27, great uncle to 34...give or take a few on each of those numbers. I am son-on-law to Barb. I am the mailman for 403 patrons on my route-a few of you here too, pastor to you all. I am one person with all these, and more, identities.
Today I want to talk about our identity as God's children. That is an identity I have but it wasn't on my list. It should have been the first thing on my list. But we live in this world of flesh and blood and flesh and blood is where we usually see our identities.
It is possible that when we list our identities in the flesh, it isn't always as good as I shared. We could have things that aren't judged so kindly; have you ever identified yourself as one of these: a victim, orphan, barren, felon, abuser, alcoholic.,. Things we aren't quite so proud of. But that doesn't change who we are in God's eyes... “The Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God.” Ephesians tells us, “We were predestined for adoption as God's children.” So claim that identity!
Fred Craddock is a retired seminary professor and preacher. He tells a story that reminds us just what it can mean when we understand that we are a child of God.
He and his wife were taking a short vacation in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One evening they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal, just the two of them.
While they were waiting for their meal, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn't come over here.” He wanted to maintain their quiet time together, just the two of them.
But the man did come to their table. “Where're you folks from?” he asked in a friendly tone.
“Oklahoma” replied Craddock, in not quite as friendly a tone.
“Splendid state I hear, although I've never been there,” said the white-haired man. “What do you do for a living?”
“I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University,” Craddock told him.
“Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I've got a story I want to tell you.” Craddock groaned inwardly as the man pulled up a chair and joined them at their table.
The man stuck out his hand, “I'm Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn't married when I was born so I had a tough time of it. When I started school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn't a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and lunch time because the taunts of my classmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through me. They were all wondering just who my real father was.”
When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking at me.”
“Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?” the preacher asked.
I felt the old weight come back on me. It was like a big, black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.” With that he slapped me across the rump and said, “Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”
The old man across the table looked at Fred Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me.” With that, he smiled, shook the hands of Fred and his wife, and moved on to the other tables.
Then Fred Craddock remembered...on two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected the son of an unwed mother to be their governor. His name was Ben Hooper.
Several lessons here, a kind word to a hurting child can make a world of difference; cruelty is such a part of our world. The key is this: Knowing your true identity can make all the difference in this life and beyond. We too, have a great inheritance through our Father in heaven. From Ephesians again, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” That inheritance is our hope. Today is our service of Remembrance. We remember those whom who have passed this past year, but we remember with hope that we will see them again. We remember with hope because God claims us. We remember with anticipation... of a future reunion; a reunion in heaven where John in his revelation writes, “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We remember these members our our church family: Jill Augeson and Owen Kragenbring—they were a part of this church in spirit and in gifts but we didn't often see them in the pews. And Lois Beckstrand who was a part of every aspect of this church's life during her time here. Different people, different views of faith, but people, who in their time on earth, sought to live as children of God. We remember and we celebrate their memories and the memories of all our loved ones, not because they were perfect people who lived perfect lives. We celebrate because they are now made perfect in the presence of God. We celebrate because they have claimed their inheritance. We celebrate because we anticipate our reunion with them at the family reunion in heaven.
And you, I look around the congregation and see the family resemblance Ben Hooper talked about. You each are a son or daughter of God. Don't forget that. Live with that knowledge and that joy. Being a child of God does not mean we will be perfect, “But we know that when Christ comes again, we will be like him.....” This is why we can celebrate today... Christ has made it possible for each of us to be a child of God...and our future is secure. When we baptize a child here, I introduce them as a child of God. As Julie reads the names this morning, add those simple words...Child of God. Amen.