A Family Resemblance
Text: I John 3: 1-2
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. 2 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.
I wanted to begin this morning with a quick trip down memory lane. This is an old photograph of me in my highchair on my first birthday. I don’t remember the occasion, rather obviously, but it must have been around August 11, 1957. The only reason I share this particular photo, is because it reminds me a little of this photo. This picture is of Zachary, our third son, when he was about one year old as well. I know all of you can probably think of examples like this in your own families where there is an undeniable family resemblance. Sometimes more than others, but people in the same family tend to look alike.
Many of you have met my brother Bruce. We get accused of being twins all the time, even though I’m the younger and much better looking, it still happens almost every time we go out together. I recall one time when Bruce stopped by my work years ago and my boss met him for the first time. My boss was a little bit of a character, so he came over to me and shook my hand, and said something like, “you must be Chuck’s brother, so nice to meet you.”
What I also find very interesting is how some family character traits are also passed down from one generation to the next. It isn’t just that sometimes we look alike, we also inherit a number of other things from our families. There are times when this isn’t such good news, but there are other times when we are happy and proud that some of the best of our families continue to shine through, both in us and our children. That seems to be how it works.
I think it is important for us to consider this carefully when we read something like the text I read a few minutes ago. When we are identified as children of God, what does that mean? What kinds of things do we inherit from the family of God? Further, would we be recognized as children of God based on some outer appearance or activity that we are engaged in? These are important, self-reflective questions.
I’m hoping to spend a few minutes unpacking some of what I believe to be true with regard to this concept of us being children of God. While I believe this to be true at the most basic level, I also believe that this identification is fraught with potential for misunderstanding and misguided interpretation, at least in my opinion. It also raises some very interesting questions that I believe are worthy of investigation.
This is probably a good time for the pastor Chuck disclaimer where I tell you that these are my thoughts and my ideas, and they don’t have to be your thoughts or your beliefs, but I do ask that you at least think about it. That being said, let’s investigate this concept of being children of God.
One of the first things that pops out for me with this text is that it seems to stand in contrast with the widely accepted notion that Jesus was God’s only son. If we all are children of God, then we are forced in a sense to choose one mystery over the other. Either we are all children of God, or just Jesus was a child of God, at least on the surface it seems that both cannot be true. I lean toward the interpretation that we are all children of God including Jesus. But this interpretation comes with another disclaimer, and that is we all may be children of God, but not all of us act like it nor are we all gifted in the same way.
Heidi and I have three boys. Each one of them qualify as our children. Yet they are very different and are all good at different things. Each one has unique gifts and talents and different personalities. I’m certain you have experienced this in your own families as well. We are not all alike.
This is how I like to think about Jesus. I think of Jesus as a child of God who was extremely gifted in spiritual discernment, insight and possessed a unique ability to meet people where they were. I think Jesus was incredibly connected to God. I think Jesus was able to tap into that incredible connection and live a life that was a true reflection of what it means to be a child of God.
So now we have a choice to make. I think for most of us, there is a significant gap between our lives and the life of Jesus. If I take a minute and review my personal past accomplishments and downfalls and then compare that review with the life of Jesus, I find myself falling way short. I think most of us would feel that way. That is why we tend to elevate Jesus to a status that seems for most of us to be out of reach. And it is human nature to just quit trying if we become convinced that something is simply beyond our capability, or beyond our reach. The choice we have to make is deciding for ourselves if we are truly children of God, like Jesus, or are we something else? Perhaps even more damaging are we left thinking we are something less?
It isn’t easy, but I believe that within each of us lies the latent potential to truly live a life that closely mirrors the life of Jesus. I believe it is possible for us to live into the calling of being children of God. Furthermore, I think that Jesus thought so as well. There are a number of scriptural references that we can take a look at, but there are two that really stand out for me.
The first text is one that Jesus himself would have been aware of; it is found in the Psalms and might have been a text that Jesus read and perhaps meditated on throughout his ministry. In Psalm 82:6, we can find these words: “I say, you are gods, children of the Most High, all of you;”
I think it is noteworthy that this text in Psalms identifies our potential as being not only children of God, but actually Gods. That is we embody the Divine spirit and have the Divine presence within us. If we embody the Divine, then we are Divine. I believe that Jesus was one of the rare individuals that actually successfully lived into this pronouncement. Jesus did it, but so can we.
I mentioned there were two different texts that stand out for me, there are others to be sure, but this one from the Gospel of John, I think sums up what I am trying to communicate more than some of the others. In John 14: 12 we can find these words: “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
So what is stated here is the idea that not only can we live a life that is reflective of the life of Jesus, not only can we mirror the life of Jesus, but we have the potential to exceed the life of Jesus. I’m not aware of anyone yet who has accomplished that, but it appears that the potential may exist.
This idea may be creating an uncomfortable feeling for some of you. There may be thoughts in your mind that I am somehow diminishing the work and the role of Jesus. That I am trying to take the divinity out of Jesus and reducing Jesus to just an ordinary person. It is possible to interpret what I have said in that way. But there is also another interpretation; what I am actually trying to convince you of is that we are not diminishing the status of Jesus; we are elevating the status of everyone else.
Give that a second to sink in. When you are identified as children of God, you are elevated in potential to the status of Jesus. In a perfect world and with a perfect life, your life could be in many ways the life of Jesus. I believe that is what we are called to become. It doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly isn’t easy, but I do think it is possible. I think it is important that we recognize this as a process, we are born as children of God, but it takes us a lifetime to become like Jesus. Look again at the last half of the text I began with: “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.”
This is a critical concept for us to fully comprehend. One of the primary reasons I think it is so important is that the person of Jesus is no longer present here on earth. We may need Jesus now more than ever, but he is not here, at least not in a physical form. In the absence of a physical Jesus, that just leaves you and me to fill the void.
This has been the case for over 2,000 years. There was a spiritual mystic that lived during the 16th century in Spain. Her name was Teresa of Avila and she wrote a poem about this very thing. I want to close with her poem that is titled: “Christ Has No Body”
“Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”