Sermon Dec. 31, 2017

“Are You Coming to the Shower?”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
John 1:1-18   Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
December 31, 2017

“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”  John 1:12i

Would you agree to being adopted? Strange question, right? Most of us are all grownup. We’ve made it. No need to be adopted. But what if it was Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, two of the richest men in the world. Would you still hesitate? Mark me. They are not asking you to give up your lineage or to renounce those who brought you up. No. They just want you to become part of their family – an heir to the fortune.

I like to think that I am too principled to accept such an offer, that I know who I am and whose I am. I like to think I would respectfully decline. And then there are the problems that money brings. Years ago the New York Times Magazine told of Lottery winners – you know, the one’s who became rich. They found that the winners were not profoundly happy. Oh, they appreciated not having financial worries, but their lives had been unalterably changes. They moved into new houses in a new neighborhood. They really couldn’t stay in their old home. Too much of a temptation for thieves. So they left their neighborhood and thus their sense of community. Imagine being a winner. You ask an old friend out to lunch. You don’t go to Denny’s. You take them to some high-end restaurant that they couldn’t have paid for if they wanted to. You just proved to them that you are no longer one of them. Happy? Not really. So I’m not sure I would take the money. I make enough.

Adoption. The reading from John made it sound like a possibility rather than an inevitability. John 1:12 & 13 say, “…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” John says we are given the “power” to become children of God. But what does Galatians say? Paul says that Jesus came to bring us into sonship with God. In Galatians 4:6 this is what Paul writes,

Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

For Paul, it’s a done deal. Are you a Christian? You’re adopted.

You know there are some families that are dysfunctional. Instead of nurturing a child’s soul, they seek to keep the child down. My family of origin was not like that. It may not have been perfect (nothing this side of heaven is), but I never doubted my worth. I knew I was loved and I hope you had the same experience. Not all of us have and those who were in destructive families may have a harder time in life. But none of us is bereft of God’s perfect love. We are heirs of grace and members of God’s family.

Let me list some of our family values:

First and foremost is forgiveness. No family can survive without practicing forgiveness. Parents make mistakes. Children go down wrong paths. Spouses are not always kind. Take away forgiveness and the family ship is sunk. So we, and most of humanity, know something about forgiveness. But it goes deeper than forgiving a slight. It is forgiveness offered to those we would rather hate.

“A Turkish officer raided and looted an Armenian home. He killed the aged parents and gave the daughters to the soldiers, keeping the eldest daughter for himself. Some time later she escaped and trained as a nurse. As time passed, she found herself nursing in a ward of Turkish officers. One night, by the light of a lantern, she saw the face of this officer. He was so gravely ill that without exceptional nursing he would die. The days passed, and he recovered. One day, the doctor stood by the bed with her and said to him, ‘But for her devotion to you, you would be dead.’ He looked at her and said, ‘We have met before, haven’t we?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we have met before.’ ‘Why didn’t you kill me?’ he asked. She replied, ‘I am a follower of him who said, ”Love your enemies.””1

Without practicing forgiveness it is hard to imagine one truly loves Jesus.

If the first family value is forgiveness, the second is compassion. Look at the world. The pain of human suffering is all around us. We are not asked to help with the oppression of those who bear burdens, we are asked to help lift them.

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is brilliant. Kind of esoteric and very, very bright. He became a Christian while attending college.

Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it. One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair.

The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit and, when he realizes there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behavior at a college fellowship, trust me, this had never happened in this church before!)

By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick. About this time, the minister realizes that from way at the back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill.

Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver-gray hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can’t even hear anyone breathing. The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do.

And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won’t be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion.

When the minister gains control, he says, “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget. Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some people will ever read.”

Forgiveness, and compassion are core values for the sons and daughters of God. Let me add a third – courage. Courage is not being fearless. It is rising above the fear. When those in power lord over the powerless, when the weak are crushed by the strong, we know it to be wrong, to be against God’s compassion. But to stand up to it and seek to change it requires courage that can overcome fear. So often those who seek justice have become those who are oppressed. Yet Christ called us to pick up our cross and follow Him.

Telemachus was a fifth century Christian ascetic. One day he was in the Roman Coliseum. Gladiators were in a contest to the death. The crowd was excited and loud. They had come to see blood. I don’t have the courage of Telemachus. You see, he leapt onto the floor of the Coliseum and tried to stop the carnage. He attempted to separate the fighters. The crowd bowed its disapproval. Someone threw a stone, then others, until Telemachus was dead. One might think the story ends with his tragic death. But Honorius who had inherited the empire of Europe heard what the crowd had done and that day ordered the end of Gladiatorial combat. It takes courage to follow the crucified Christ. It takes courage to change the world.

So we are the adopted sons and daughters of God and the values of forgiveness, compassion and courage define us. Pray for me and each other. We have much to do. Let us pray…

1Wainwright, Geoffrey, Doxology, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 434.

iJohn 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being  4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.  9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.  11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.  14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ “)  16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

4:4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.