SECOND READING: 1 John 3:1–7
A reading from First John.
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. 2Beloved, 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. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
GOSPEL: Luke 24:36b–48
The holy gospel according to Luke, the 24th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
36b"Peace be with you." 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Beloved, we are God’s children now.
All families have important traditions and expectations about behavior.
I spent a couple of days last week in Chicago at the ELCA headquarters for a meeting of the finance committee of the Deaconess Community. It was good to renew old friendships and reminisce about the past. The Deaconess community was founded in 1884 so there are lots of family traditions just as there have been lots of changes over the past 134 years.
Some things haven’t changed though. Members of the community have always served as rostered ministers of word and service. They are on the ELCA roster as deacons now, but when the community started, it was the only option women had to serve the church in leadership roles. Members of the community use the title “sister” which always goes with the first name. The title describes their relationship with each other and with Christ, our brother.
I was Sister Carolyn for over 30 years before I became a pastor. That was my name. Everybody outside my immediate family called me Sister Carolyn. The deaconess community was an extended family that I belonged to. You can’t be on two rosters in the church, so I am not a member of the community anymore since I became a pastor, but I still help out on the finance committee with a couple of meetings a year.
There were lots of family traditions to learn when I joined the sisters back in 1981. We had our own house outside of Philadelphia in those days. Sister Melinda and I were talking the other day about the rules regarding setting the table. The china pattern had a tree on it. I always thought it looked like a picture of the tree of life. You must put the plates on the table with the tree growing up. Sister Esther Marie would remind you that the tree must not grow sideways, and never upside down.
We all stood out in the living room for prayers before meals. Sister Roseann was the host for the meal so she rang a set of chimes and said grace. Then we went to our seats in the dining room. Dinner at noon was family style; supper was a buffet. When Sister Roseann rang the bell at the table, it was time for the younger sisters to clear the plates and bring in dessert.
When everyone was done with dessert, she rang the bell again and said, “Shall we return thanks?” And we said, “O, give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good. God’s mercy endures forever. Amen.” Then we could be dismissed from the table. Of course, the younger sisters helped clear the dishes.
That’s just how it was when you were a sister in the community. You learned the expected way to behave as a member of the family. You respected the older sisters too much to violate the rules and embarrass yourself and them. Your title, and your cross, and your black dress were marks of belonging to the family.
Family traditions and expectations are important. When we are part of a family, we learn to act a certain way in order to bring honor to our family. The last thing we want to do is bring disgrace to our family name.
Beloved, we are God’s children now. Today, John reminds us that members of God’s family need to act like they know whose family they belong to.
John reminds us that as God’s children, we have not always behaved in ways that brought honor to our Christian family. We have not always set the table correctly. Sometimes we place the dinner plate with the tree of life growing crooked. Sometimes we have even broken the china. Sometimes we have been late for dinner or skipped supper entirely.
Often we have forgotten to offer thanks for all the bounty that God gives us. Forgotten that there are those with much less than we have. Forgotten that relationships with others can mean clearing away their dirty plates along with our own and bringing them dessert.
We have been guilty of getting up from the table without returning thanks for the bounty we have consumed.
Yet, see what love the Father has given us! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Even when we don’t pay attention to the tree of life, even when we carelessly point it sideways, even if we break the plate, we are still God’s children.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
When I became a deaconess, I had no idea I would be preaching someday. I had no idea where I would live, where I would serve. It was not yet revealed.
When we are all baptized, we are welcomed into God’s family. We become God’s children. Jesus is our brother. Our lives are just beginning and what we will be has not been revealed. We can make our plans, but only God knows how our lives will turn out.
Beloved we are God’s children now.
There are family traditions and expectations for God’s children. When I was a young deaconess I looked to the older sisters to learn the family traditions and expectations.
Traditions and expectations of God’s family are not always easy for us, but we are never alone. As God’s children, we can look to our elders, the Saints of the church for guidance and help. When we have become the elders in the church we understand our responsibility to teach and nurture the younger members of the family.
We have the scriptures to guide us. We read them whenever we gather together. We have the commandments. We teach our children what was passed down to us: that the whole law can be summarized in two commandments - love God and love our neighbors.
We have the traditions of the church throughout the ages. We recite the creed together each week, teaching our children and reminding ourselves what we believe. We always pray the prayer our Lord taught us when we worship. We share the supper as we remember all that our brother has done for us. These traditions are the foundations of our life in the Christian family.
There are behavioral expectations in our Christian family. We are expected to work for justice. We are expected to work for peace. We are expected to speak out on behalf of everyone who is poor and oppressed. We are expected to be merciful. We are expected to love every body. We are even commanded to love our enemies.
Beloved we are God’s children now.
There are traditions and expectations in our Christian family. If we were left to ourselves these would be impossible. But we are never left to ourselves. We are never alone.
Beloved we are God’s children now.
We are part of God’s family. Our brother Jesus has promised that whenever we get together he will be there. We can’t have a reunion without him. We can’t have a family meeting without him. He will always provide the supper. He will always be part of family traditions.
And when the expectations are difficult, he will be there beside us, leading the way and shouldering the heavy burden.
Beloved we are God’s children now. See what love the Father has given us. Amen.