Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1–3, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What kind of love is this?
Country-western singer Lyle Lovett sings a song about his family called "Family Reserve". It's far from a glowing review of the perfect family. It's a dark yet realistic view of who they are, framed by how they died. People who die because they made foolish decisions. People who drink themselves to death. A boy who dies choking because his mother doesn't know what to do. And even one who dies ironically owning his own funeral home. It's a picture of an imperfect family, yet one loved by the singer.
In a way this is our family of faith, also. Imperfect, plagued by sin, self-interest, wrongheadedness, and yet loved by God. This is the kind of love the Father has for us. It is an amazing contradiction that the perfect God would choose to call you and I, sinful human beings, his children. It's clear that no human being (save one) deserves to be called God's child. And yet St. John calls us to look and see the love of God for those he calls to be his children.
All Saints Day is, in a way, a look back at the family album. We remember especially those who have died in the faith this year. It is a temptation to say only glowing things about them, just like we did at their funerals. And yet, now with the Lord, they were sinners all. All of them, to the last one, were sinners deserving not what they received as God's children, but instead eternal punishment. In fact, not a single one of them even deserved to be a child of God. And yet on this day we call them saints. Saints not in terms of the way the world would think, that we somehow held them as being perfect examples and perfect people. But instead saints saved by God. Saints loved by God in such a way that he saved them in spite of their sinfulness.
As we began our service today we did a remembrance of God's adoption of us in our Holy Baptism. It is the fullness of God's love for us that he calls us his children through this wonderful gift. Listen again to the words we read:
What benefits does Baptism give?
It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are these words and promises of God?
Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16)
Notice there is not a "deserving" word in the whole remembrance. But benefits and promises given in God's Word. This is the kind of love St. John calls us to see. Boundless undeserved love from God given to us no account sinners.
What kind of love is this?
Well, in order to understand this love, we need to have a clear understanding of sin. I don't want you to get the impression that the sins of our relatives, or your sins, or mine, are to be taken lightly. They are not lovable minor personality quirks. Sin is far more serious than that. In fact, we have All Saints Day where we remember those who have died, because of sin. We have funerals because of sin. We live every day in the shadow of our own death because of sin. Death is the fundamental human problem. Death is the fundamental consequence of sin. No one gets out of life alive. And every year, the first Sunday in November, when we remember those who have died, we also remember the fact that we will all die from our sin.
But there is a fundamental difference for those who are called children of God, the family of faith. In Holy Baptism we are rescued from death even though death will come. We are rescued from eternal separation from God in hell. Where death for sinners would normally be the gateway to eternal punishment, those clinging in faith to the cross of Christ receive forgiveness of sins. And this forgiveness is not because we Saints are such good people. We know that's true simply by recounting the lives of those who we remembered today. We have forgiveness because God forgives in Jesus Christ. What kind of love does the father have for us? St. John gives answer:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)
On the cross, Jesus Christ offered up himself as the punishment for sin. The only one truly worthy to be called God's child, hung on the cross and suffered God's righteous anger over your sin, and my sin, and the sins of all those on the Role of Saints. Through the wonderful gift of faith, based in God's grace and God's love alone, we receive forgiveness instead of punishment.
St. John also says it in the well-known words:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17, ESV)
but the words "for God so loved the world" don't mean God loved the world so much. The word "so" could also be translated, "in this way". And then when we read what comes before including that translation we see what kind of love God has for us.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God [loved the world in this way], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:14–17, ESV)
God's love for the world extends to us through the outstretched arms of Jesus Christ offering you and me forgiveness of our sin. It's not a sweeping of sin under the rug, but a sweeping away of sin under the cross. It's not making light of sin, but rather taking the full seriousness of sin to account. God's love is such a love, that he can do no other.
See what kind of love the Father has given to [you], that [you, sinner that you are] should be called [child] of God; and so [you] are a sinner forgiven by Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.