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Sermons

“Knowing Who We Are”
1 John 3:1-3
November 2, 2014

Dr. H. Mark Ashworth

So tell me about yourself. The prospective employer says. The group leader says. The new doctor says. The new neighbor says. Tell me about yourself. And my non-expert guess is that 95% of the time the answer begins with the same exact word. And that word is, “well. . . .”  Which is a way to stall, and a way to figure out how to answer the question. Tell me about yourself. How do you answer that? Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.” The thing is that we can be pretty specific. The fact is that there are way too many possible ways to answer that question. Just think of all the directions you can go.

You can point to your appearance. I’m 6 foot 8, weigh 110 pounds soaking wet, with green eyes and a mohawk. Whatever. You can focus on your roles. That’s certainly a popular way to answer the question. Maybe as a parent:  I’m a mother of 12, two sets of triplets and 3 sets of twins. Or as a sibling:  I have 4 brothers and 3 sisters and a pony. Maybe as a child: My parents are Mr. and Mrs. Rutherford T. Van Duesenberg IV. Yes, of the Horneytown Van Duesenbergs. Or it might be the role of friend: At a party, this might be the first answer you give. Oh, I’m a friend of Joe. Maybe the most common way to answer is to talk about work. Tell me about yourself. And the response is often to tell what you do for a living. Or you can tell the story of your life. I was born at a very early age in a log cabin which I built with my own two hands. Or it may be some recent story. Well, I just returned from safari in Africa. Or well, I just got had a root canal. It might be good or bad, but it’s part of your story. Tell me about yourself. One of the things I hope you see is that the answer kind of depends on who’s asking and what the situation is.

All of these responses you give might well be true, but any one of them by itself seems woefully incomplete. In a sense, we are the whole collection of answers. We are our appearance and our relationships and our work and our whole life story. What I want to ask this morning, though, is this: under all these true things, or maybe woven through all these true things, is there not something that is basic, something that is not just true of us, but is The Truth about us, about who we are?

John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” That is what we are. Children of God. Woven into the fabric of our being, defining us before anything else we can say or do, there is the love of God that welcomes us as his children. Tell me about yourself. Well. . .we are children of God. That is what we are. And we are that for one reason, because of love, because of the love of God. See what love the Father has given us, so that we should be called children of God. This is a gift. This is pure grace. This standing as God’s children isn’t due to anything we’ve done or anything we could ever do. Now the point of saying that is not to put us down. We’re not forced to say that this is God’s gift because you and I are worthless nobodies. No, this is incredibly good news. The drive to earn God’s love has just been put out of business. We don’t have to do it. The anxiety over whether we are good enough for God to love us has just been completely relieved. Let it go. God loves you. Period.

That is what we are. We are children of God. That is reality. Here and now. Reality that brings us joy and security, all because of God’s gracious love. That is what we are. And owning that reality is challenge enough. We have too many other voices telling us we are worthless, too many other messages putting us down, and it can be all to easy to believe them. But don’t. They are lies. You are loved. God loves you. That is real. That is Truth. As I say, owning that reality is challenge enough. But looking into the future leaves us living with mystery. “Beloved, we are God’s children now;” John says. “What we will be has not yet been revealed.” What lies ahead? We don’t know. Not with any certainty. We hear people talk about heaven as if they took a vacation there and came back with pictures. We don’t know. More than that, we don’t have to know. We know God has it in control, we know God will be with us not just in this life, but in the life to come, we know God is faithful. We know a lot of things. But there are things we must leave in mystery. As someone once said, “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty.” We don’t know details, but we do know God. And we trust God. The God who has reached out in love and grace to make us his children. It’s OK not to know and to admit we don’t know. Humility isn’t a weakness; it’s a virtue. John says what will we be? I don’t know. Jesus says, when is the time for my return? Even I don’t know that. It’s OK not to know. What we are called to do is to trust.

We don’t know details, but trusting the God who loves us and is always faithful means that mystery is not the same as anxiety. We may not have all the answers, but because of God we can live with a deep sense of hope. And that hope doesn’t just provide us with a sense of confidence regarding the future, although it does do that. But the hope that we have as God’s children also gives us the motivation for faithful living here and now. John writes: “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” Now there’s still mystery there. What does it mean to “see him as he is”? We’ll know when it happens. But there is in these words that deeper notion that runs through the New Testament—like parent, like child. We will be like him.

We aren’t there yet. We haven’t reached that condition and we won’t this side of heaven. But we are called to reflect God’s character as we see it in Jesus Christ, and we are called to do that now, today, in our ordinary lives. Knowing we are God’s children, knowing that God loves us, knowing that we can always trust God, knowing that God has the future well in hand—knowing these things should fill us with a gratitude that moves us to be open to God’s Spirit.

As we celebrate All Saints Day this morning, we remember so many people whose faithfulness made a difference to us. And for those who have gone on, God’s future is no longer a mystery, but a glorious reality. But you and I are still called—called to follow, called to grow, called to love and care for one another and for a hurting world. This is our calling and our privilege. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Thanks be to God. AMEN.

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