I Am a Child of God

April 18, 2021

1 John 3:1-7

Jenny’s mother died when she was incredibly young. She would spend her elementary years living with an abusive father and trying to avoid him as much as possible. Coming to rely on a best friend she invited to sit next to her on the bus in those years would be her saving grace. Everything seemed to be working in her favor after she moved in with her grandmother and made it to college. However, she would leave college and start to wander, always looking for something, not quite sure what the something really was. She would enter questionable work and fall into some questionable groups. Drug and alcohol experimentation would ensue until she started to realize what may be missing in her life. Jenny did not fully embrace love and when it was close to her, she did not recognize it.

This is one of the subplots from one of my favorite movies, ­Forrest Gump. This nearly thirty-year-old movie is full of life, both challenges and joys. To counter Jenny’s life, we have Forrest who wants to show Jenny love. At one point she tells Forrest, “You don’t know what love is.” She was mistaken, for it was Jenny looking for love in all the wrong places. Forrest learned love from his mother and the wonderful “Gumpisms”she shared with him. Forrest knew what it meant to be a beloved child. Jenny did not have that experience from a parent and failed to recognize it coming from others.

Love is where it all begins. Calm was brought to the chaos in creation through love. Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt because of love. Jesus entered this world as one of us because of love. Jesus cooks fish on the shore for the disciples after his Resurrection to remind them of his love.

Love is where it all begins.

Because of the love of God, we are welcomed into creation and called children of God. Bearing God’s image, each and every one of us are family and are invited to this wonderful practice of humanity. The author in 1 John is clear that being Children of God is not something that will happen in the future. We already are Children of God now. We are not waiting for an appointed time in the future. The time is now, and we are loved by God at all times in all places. It is a love that abounds not only in quality but also in quantity. God’s love knows no boundaries and encompasses all of creation.

The author of 1 John speaks to the community through this very love that began in Christ. The author’s concern for the followers of Christ is relational. There is a desire to ensure the community knows of the love of God and in God’s love they are all children of God. The author is not oblivious to reality. Aware that there will be sin, the author makes it clear stating to intentionally sin is not living in Christ and far from living the love of God. To live the love of God is to refrain from the intentional practice of sin. To be human, is to sin. However, it comes down to whether you are taking ownership and seeking repentance or sinning freely without a care for others.

Living out the love of God is hard work. Many obstacles present themselves as we attempt to live out the love of God. Most of the time it is our own self-interest taking the driver’s seat steering us away from God that causes the most harm. Thinking we know better and holding fast to our own personal interests instead of listening to those with knowledge creates a chasm between us and God. Selfishness occurs when we fail to think about our neighbors and siblings when we take action or fail to take action. Leaning into our own selfishness and greed fractures the very relationships God wants us to create with our siblings in Christ.

Martin Luther is known for saying that we are both saint and sinner. This is true. However, which way do we let the pendulum swing? Our selfish nature swings the pendulum to the sinner while fully realizing that we are children of God swings the pendulum to the saint. We will go back and forth, and God knows this. This is the reason we confess our sins and repent of the sins we do and those we do unaware. We deceive ourselves when we think we have this all figured out and ultimately are more than likely to give into sin.

Recognizing our being as a child of God is also not a one and done event. Yes, in our baptisms we are named child of God, and in God’s grace we will enter the kingdom. However, there is also work to do here! Now that we recognize we are children of God, how do we live our lives in that realization?

It comes down to, what does it mean to be a child of God? Let’s first think of children playing out on the playground. There is a freedom to their expression. There is quite often joy abounding as the run and jump. I can hear the joy nearly daily whenever school is in session since the schools are practically in our backyard. The same freedom and joy are lived out in being children of God. Living our lives as Children of God can have several facets.

Being children of God invites us to play and explore the world around us.

Being children of God means we are living into relationship with our neighbors and even with the people we disagree.

Being children of God means being patient and committed to those relationships. Staying the course and not abandoning ship when things get rough.

Being children of God means having an energy and intensity around our ministries and being excited in sharing the Good News.

Being children of God means moving beyond our self-interest and fostering a notion of compromise. Working together may come reluctantly, yet through determination we can work together.

By working together, we get closer to the notion of the purity of life in which the author of 1 john writes.  A purity of life means that we are not putting up any barriers for our siblings. We are not creating divisions. We are knocking down the walls of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia to name a few that have long plagued our society.

In his simplicity and innocence, Forrest Gump, knew what it meant to live as a child of God. It may have never directly stated it in the movie, but his love for all was pure. He shared that love in all of his relationships. Especially in his relationship with Jenny, hoping that she too would come to know love as he did.

We enter this world with a dependence on those caring for us. We need people to feed us, change our diapers, to ensure we are healthy. Ultimately, we need to know love. We learn love through those hands and hearts that wake up in the middle of the night to feed and change us. Unfortunately, we all experience love at different levels, such as Jenny and Forrest. Love is manifest in our healthy relationships. Love begins with God. It is in a love greater than all, which we are named children of God. Through God’s loved poured out for us through Christ’s death we are a witness to unbounded love. Through the waters of baptism, we are named child of God. May you come to know the love of God more deeply in the promise of Resurrection.  

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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