The Reverend Thomas E. Dipko, Ph.D.
Text: "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not been revealed."
I John 3:2
Let us pray: Eternal God, you surround us with so great a cloud of witnesses. With hearts thankful for those who came before us, we ask one mercy more: may we hear this day--as once they heard,--your voice, and adore! Amen.
With sniper phobia still shocking the nation, our faith calls us to believe that we are already, you and I, right now, the children of God. There are days when I find it very difficult to believe that I am a child of God and-- truth be told-- I have even stronger doubts about some of my neighbors! But the tenacious message of the Bible is that we are God's children, made in God's likeness, destined for kinship with God. Just when we question all of this, someone behaves so beautifully that we begin to believe it anew. Even one person, faithfully living as a child of God, can change the world.
That is what Bessie Delaney discovered every time she was convinced that all white folk were bad. In that very moment, she complained to her sister Sadie, "God sends a ... nice one to me, ... and I have to eat crow." Even one person, faithfully living as a child of God, can change the world.
At just the right time, when the me-first idolatry of our culture seemed insatiable, the story broke about Osceola McCarty of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This 88 year old African American retired laundress indulged in unauthorized goodness! Living in a very humble flat, she donated $150,000 of her life savings to a local college that 70 years before would not have admitted her as a student. I could hear the anxious voice of shocked financial planners in the land protesting, "Osceola, you can't do this; it makes the rest of us look bad; and who will take care of you if you need help in your remaining years?"
One of my favorite New York Times reporters wrote an editorial about Osceola who had never flown in a plane or flaunted a designer wardrobe or stayed in a fancy hotel:
Roberta Flack sang her a song, and so did Patti LaBelle. [The] President had his picture made with her. Harvard gave her an honorary degree. Whoopi Goldberg knelt at her feet. People, famous and ordinary, sought her out and called her "holy." One man said she made him feel clean. She even made it to New York. Hotel maids loved her, because [Osceola] made her own bed.
Is that the end of the story? By no means. Ted Turner, deeply moved by Osceola's radical goodness, pledged $10,000,000 to the United Nations for the benefit of Children around the world. Then he publicly asked Bill Gates and others to get serious about following her example. No one knows the total impact of the simple sharing of this one child of God. There will be no full disclosure of the ripple effect of her kindness until we all gather at heaven's gate.
First Congregational Church is blessed with a heritage blatantly honest about what it means for us to be children of God. You know there can be no wall of separation in our faith between loving God and loving our neighbors, especially our neighbors in need at home and abroad. Washington Gladden, in a sermon that I return to from time to time, said it this way: "There is no such thing as absolute ownership in this world;...the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof;...we are bound to use what we have in fulfillment of God's purposes. To any (one) who is not an atheist, this conclusion is inevitable."
The danger in my words today is that some of you will think I am talking about money and possessions. I am, only to the extent that they are expressions of a larger truth. And that truth is that being a child of God places us in relationship not only with God but with all humankind; not just our relatives, our friends or those we like, but all who share with us the likeness of God.
The Rabbis tell a story about this relationship through a brief parable. A teacher is asked, "In the Talmud it says that the stork is called hasidah in Hebrew, that is, the devout or the loving one, because he gives so much love to his mate and his young. Then why is the stork classed in the Scriptures with the unclean birds?" The teacher answers: `Because the stork gives love only to its own.'"
"Only to our own" is not good enough in the eyes of God unless "our own" includes all, all who with us, are children of God. It is no accident that in the Beatitudes, those who are peacemakers, who labor for healed relationships, are given this very title. Jesus says they are to be called "the children of God."
How strange. While many of us struggle with what it means to be a child of God here and now, the writer of the first epistle of John has already moved on to something more. "What we will be," says the writer, "has not yet been revealed." We can hear the anticipation in these words. St. Paul, thinking along the same lines, wrote: "Eye has not seen, nor has ear heard, nor has it entered the human imagination, what God has prepared for those who love God." On the day of full disclosure, when we stand in the presence of God, what can matter more than being called son or daughter by the Author of all things? The "more" is beyond our comprehension...but not beyond the Amazing Grace of God.
Blessings and peace, dear brothers and sisters, as you live as a congregation of the children of God on this Consecration Sunday. What you do here, as those who came before you knew in faith, can change the world. You will recognize this when it happens because you, too, will be changed. You will, that is, unless the stork triumphs in you.
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