All Saints Sunday—11/5/17
1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Pr. Scott Kramer
Last Sunday we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I have learned that this is an event with which my family has a close connection.
I have here this morning a large volume that is a summary of family history on my dad’s side. My dad is our family genealogist and he has traced his ancestors back to Germany 500 years ago, both the time and the place of the Lutheran Reformation. This book is only one of two volumes that contain the names and family history of my ancestors, one of whom in the early 1500s was the very first Protestant pastor of his village!
And yet, although my family history is tied very closely with our Lutheran heritage all the way back to Martin Luther and the Reformation, this family history is not what defines me.
Listen again today’s reading from 1 John: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
“Children of God!” This is a family much bigger than my own. This family is what we remember today!
I was raised in a loving home. Maybe you were, too. Or, maybe not. Childhood memories for many are painful. Either way, friends, “children of God” are not defined by family name or blood relatives. God’s family is much more than that. This is a family that is bigger and far more inclusive than my family tree or your family tree. This family offers a well of love far wider and deeper than anything you or I have known, a “communion of saints” from all times and places that surrounds us and sustains us. Today we are not here to remember merely our particular groups or tribes. Instead, See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
It is a mistake to pin our identity primarily on a family name or bloodline. It is a mistake for children of God to pin their identity primarily on their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or any other category that we may be affiliated with, because all of these groups almost by definition are non-inclusive. And the less inclusive the group, the narrower the definition of love. For example, if the most important part of my identity is that which the world says is most important—race, nationality, etc.—what are the chances that I will recognize other children of God who do not share these affiliations?
Today’s reading from Matthew is what are often called The Beatitudes (the “Be”-Attitudes). This is an example of what it looks like to “be”—to live in the world as a child of God. To be a child of God has nothing to do with whether you’re born male or female, rich or poor, American or Russian or Nigerian or Brazilian. The family of God is scattered throughout history and across the globe. When we know what we’re looking for, we don’t have to rely merely on examples from our own little group.
My family tree, like yours, no doubt includes some real scoundrels and stinkers who had little interest in embracing their identity as children of God. On the other hand, I have seen men and women from other religious traditions and other nationalities that do! In the person who practices love, humility, compassion, mercy, forgiveness—regardless of their beliefs and rituals and traditions—there is Christ! In that person is someone who shares my identity as child of God far more closely than some who share my nationality, my name or my DNA! Driving the point home, one day Jesus said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
When it comes down to it, children of God are recognized by their attitudes and actions. In short, they can be recognized by the scope of their love. Is that love limited to pride in themselves and their own kind? Or, does it take seriously the testimony of our scriptures in which the living Christ shows up in even the most unexpected ways?
It’s said that you can’t choose your family, but children of God know better! Although we can’t choose our biological family, we are part of a communion of saints and we do choose whom to admire and follow.
Some choices are better than others! This past Friday the Seattle Times featured a full-page article titled, Who Wins and Who Loses in Republicans’ Tax-code Rewrite. Who wins with the new tax code re-write? Business wins. Multinational corporations win. The rich win. Hedge funds, doctors and lawyers win. And who are some of those who lose? According to the article, those who are sick lose. People with rare diseases lose. Some small businesses lose. Given the teachings and example of Jesus we might ask, To what extent have our leaders—and by extension “we the people”–claimed our identity as “children of God?” If these values and priorities are any indication, not much!
But children of God need not despair because God’s family is much bigger and much better than the Party in power and its leaders. For example, nine of us from this congregation last night attended the annual Open Door Ministries dinner/auction in support of outreach and ministries to the LGBTQ+ community. Every year we are reminded that our gifts and prayers and love and support help bring back young people from the brink of despair and even suicide. We believe this good work will be rewarded and multiplied by the Holy Spirit! And, as our national leaders fail to embrace their identity as children of God, our work becomes all the more important.
Dear friends, See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. On this All Saints Sunday let us begin by identifying, if we are able, people who embody love within our families and bloodlines. For some, that might be difficult. But it may be that some of you who come from unhappy family situations may have a bit of an advantage over the rest of us. You may be less likely to cling to your own story and your own kind. You may be more open to embracing your much larger family, the communion of saints, taking your cue from God’s children in all times and all places.
This morning, as we remember the lives of the two among us who have died over the past year, we note that they are not related by blood or name to any of us here this morning. That’s a beginning! It’s a glimpse of the vast family that has gone before us and which surrounds us even now as a challenge and inspiration to deepen our own faithfulness.
This Kramer family volume is full of saints and sinners. But no matter how large my own family might be—no matter how many hundred, or thousand, years back I may go, my family is a drop in the bucket, and far from inclusive of all God’s children. My family line, in the end, is not what defines me as “child of God.” As we hear the teachings and stories of our faith today, and week after week, we are reminded that God’s children in all times and places passed along God’s love long before we came along. We in turn will be the ones who proclaim to the world through word and deed the message of God’s love, not only for the “saints,” but for all!