God’s Children Now
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 5, 2017
All Saint’s Service
Psalm 34:1-10, 22; 1 John 3:1-3
Like most clergy, I love books. I have since I was a child—and still today—I enjoy children’s books. For me, books written for children invite the reader into the story, capture the attention in vivid ways, and let’s not forget—they have pictures! When my children were small, it may be true that I enjoyed story time more than they did. I loved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Alexander begins the morning with gum in his hair, and things go downhill from there. Even the title of the book makes me want to give him an “FPC of Valdosta Cultivate Gratitude” bracelet.
Another favorite was The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, written from the wolf’s perspective. In it, the wolf declares that down through the ages, he has gotten a bad rap. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You see, he had a dreadful cold, and he went to the little pigs’ house hoping to borrow a cup of sugar to make his granny a cake. It was not his fault that those ham dinners—I mean pigs—built such flimsy houses!
And then there’s the story of Stone Soup. Versions of this story abound, but my favorite tells the story of two strangers who happened upon a village, hoping for food. But times were tough and hoarding food was more common than sharing it, so the fellows decided to trick the villagers. They found a huge cooking pot, filled it with water, built a fire beneath it, and dropped in a large, round, stone. When the villagers passed by, they asked, “What are you cooking?” The quick reply was, “Stone soup.” Of course, no one had ever heard of stone soup so they were intrigued. The two strangers promised, “Oh, it’s delicious. We’ll let it cook up for a while and then you’re welcome to join us.” As anticipated, people began offering a little something extra to throw into the pot: “Oh, I have some potatoes—how about a few onions—some carrots—spices—I have a few chunks of meat…” One by one, ingredients were added that resulted in a delicious Stone Soup—enough for everyone!
Stone Soup is a children’s story that has been used to teach the importance of sharing, generosity, and hospitality. Remember, however, the story began as a practice of manipulation, even desperation. While it is only a children’s story, today it may provide a lens through which to examine the church. In a world filled with cafeteria-style approaches to God and all that is holy, with declining numbers in churches across the country, many churches, filled with fear and anxiety, behave like the only thing we have to offer the world is the beginnings of stone soup. We act as if the only way to get the world to stop and pay attention to the church anymore is to stir up a pot full of empty promises. “We have to be fresh, modern, and new. Nobody wants to hear that old, old story anymore! Come on in and do as we do, and you’ll have your every desire. You will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Come on in and we will entertain you. We will teach you how to think happy thoughts. Most importantly, and we won’t require anything of you. It is all about you, after all!”
But before we drag out the pot, fill it with water, stoke up the fire, and throw in a stone, let us stop and read the words from I John once more:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 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, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
Because some have departed from the community of faith, spreading a distorted message, the author of I John writes a letter, a homily of sorts. He wants to clarify the gospel message that a believer’s life must be marked by love—love for God and love for one another. He wants to encourage believers, and he uses phrases like “you know,” “we know” or some variation over 23 times in this letter. [i] John urges Christians to stay the course; stay with the message they have heard from the beginning; and continue to believe in the Son of Man, the Son of God—and in the saving value of his death.
The world (those who live apart from God), the world does not know what we know! And what is it we know? We know God is our Father and God has revealed his steadfast love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We know we are children of God even if the world fails to recognize it. This is not a promise only for the future. It is a promise for the present because we are God’s children NOW. As children of God, we may live in a particular nation, community, or family, but our identity is in none of those places. Our identity is as children of God, and holiness is our goal.[ii]
There is something else that we know: We know someday we will be like him. Even though we are children of God now, we are not finished projects. We must grow in our faith to be purified. Like a runner training for a race, we make certain habits or practices a part of our disciplined life. Consider Scripture reading—is the Bible woven into the fiber of our being? It won’t be unless we consistently spend time with God’s Word. What about prayer? The Apostle Paul instructs the church to “pray without ceasing.” Instead of a literal interpretation, we might consider weaving prayer throughout our day—morning, noon, and night—with additional specific prayers spoken throughout the day. We can pray while in line at the checkout counter, while waiting at the doctor’s office—eyes open—eyes closed—God doesn’t care. (Except if you tend to pray while driving—then definitely—eyes open.)
Other spiritual disciplines that might lead us toward more holy living include things like meditation, keeping a prayer journal, Christian service, and worship. Some people yearn to connect with the Holy on days of silent retreat or on a pilgrimage to a special place. Sacred places, in the Celtic Christian tradition, are often called “thin places.” There’s a Celtic saying that heaven and the earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places the distance is even smaller. In thin places, boundaries of time and space fade away.[iii]
Thin places are often associated with beautiful vistas: the seashore, the mountains, and other wonderful sanctuaries of creation. From such places we may return refreshed, renewed, and more aware of the thin places in all of life. Soon the birds outside our window capture our attention in a new way. Suddenly we are filled with wonder and we cry out with the psalmist, “I will bless the Lord at all times…O taste and see that the Lord is good!” And the beauty of “thin places” is that even when we are unable to physically return there, we can return to them in our memory and in our imagination.[iv]
When my prayer and meditation time feels dry, I like to imagine that I am walking by the Sea of Galilee again, and suddenly my spiritual bucket is filled with living water. When I’m overcome with tedious details and endless tasks, I close my eyes and return to Mt. LeConte in Tennessee or to the James River in Jamestown, Virginia. When I want to move beyond time and space to re-live God’s gifts beyond my wildest imaginings, I pause, breathe deeply, and envision taking that first step onto the island of Iona in Scotland and, once more, I know the abundance of God’s blessings.
On a Sunday like this, when we gather to celebrate All Saints’ Day, it is good to ponder thin places, where boundaries of time and space fade away. It is good to pause and give thanks as we imagine our loved ones who have gone on before us and who now dwell in the world just beyond this one. It is good to reflect on John’s reason for writing, revealed in chapter 5, verse13, “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have the promise of being called children of God now and the promise of an eternal future in his presence. All Saint’s Day is a joyous day to remember the saintly ones who have gone before and to renew our commitment to holy living. Those who have crossed from this world into the next have left us with an amazing inheritance. And, as one writer puts it, “through their love and compassion, their instruction and correction, their laughter and tears, their honesty and humility, their sacrifice and dedication, and most of all, their faith, they are still speaking. What a great legacy to claim for ourselves and to share with the world!”[v]
We are children of God, now. We are saints in the making. So next time we are tempted to drag out a pot, pour in the water, stoke up the fire, and stir up a batch of Stone Soup for the world, let us remember that we do have something to offer. In fact, our hope is built on nothing less than the One Stone—the Stone the builders rejected; the Stone that has become the Chief Cornerstone, Christ our Lord. And Christ calls us brothers. Christ calls us sisters—because we are Children of God—NOW!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Annette G. Brownlee, The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and Epistles, 583
[ii] Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, 230-235.
[iii] Rev. Dr. Nora Tubbs Tisdale http://day1.org/1117-glimpsing_heaven_in_thin_places
[v] William N. Jackson, Feasting on the Word, 232.
*Cover Art via Google Images