I remember once having an argument with a small relative of mine. My nephew was quite distressed that I was calling his grandmother, his Nagymama, by a different name: Mum. He was convinced I was using the wrong name. Being older than him, I was determined to help him see that we all have different titles. So, an 18 year-old me sat down and attempted to explain to a 3-and-a-half-year-old the different titles each member of our family had, depending on who was speaking to them.
I am certain that the whole conversation was an exercise in futility as there was no way a 3 year-old was going to understand the nuances of his mother being my sister and his grandmother being my mother, or that his uncle was also my brother, but his father was not a blood brother, but a brother-in-law. And the woman he called “Grandma” was actually his Great-grandma – she was truly my Grandma.
As we sat there at the kitchen table, my nephew’s arguments faded, his disbelief grew, and then transformed it all into boredom. I am certain that in that moment, my sister and my mother looked upon the two of us and then shared a knowing “mother” glance with each other that spoke volumes about the raising of children.
Regardless of how old we are, of who our parents are, we are all children. Regardless of how we grew up or are now growing up, we are also all children of God.
What does it mean to be a child of God?
According to Paul, in his letter to the Romans, those who turn from a life driven by the self and look to a life led by the Holy Spirit. Those who are believers of the Holy Trinity: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Believers are those who are led by the Holy Spirit.
I could stand here and ask you if you are believers; thump the pulpit and ask with increasing enthusiasm: “Do you believe?!” And it will seem a bit silly or strange, because, after all, you are here in church on a Sunday. And I have to admit that using the word believer makes it feel as though we might have to actually believe. That is to say, some people are reluctant to describe themselves as a believer because they understand belief to mean “to be certain of the truth of something.”
Which is one definition of the verb, to be sure. But, I would like to share a different understanding of what it means to believe. Especially what it means to be a Christian and a believer.
Another way to define belief is to have faith. As Lutherans, we speak about our faith as a gift from God, the action of the Holy Spirit drawing us closer to God. Paul puts it this way: believers receive the Holy Spirit. Specifically, the spirit of adoption.
This happens every time we say that we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as Lord, and as our Saviour. It’s not just a one time deal – every time. Whenever you come to church, you say that phrase “I believe in…” Whenever you say those words, it’s not about certainty – it’s about faith. It’s not about being held down to a certain set of rules by a spirit of slavery. The Holy Spirit is drawing us all closer to God. In fact, through the spirit of adoption, we become so close to God that we are heirs, sons and daughters of God, like Jesus.
Because we are children of God, we speak these words with the hope that acknowledging our believing, our faith, means that God will be there to help us all the more when we have disbelief.
The five young people before us are about to participate in one of our church’s life passages where they will publicly affirm their baptisms and step out of the chancel as full members of the church of Christ – believers. Full of the Holy Spirit. Children of God.
So, I ask you: have I lost you? Are you like my poor little nephew, bored with all the explanations and full of disbelief?
It is very difficult for all of us, regardless of how old we are, or how long we have been Christians to be absolutely certain of the truth of what Paul is telling the Romans. But this is the joy of the Holy Spirit: despite what we may or may not be certain of, we are all still the children of our God.
So, they, and you, and I have an obligation.
To give up fear for what the future holds for each of us and to a live life full of courage and dependent on God for blessing and promise. Big task.
Okay, I’m not that old yet. I can still remember high school – it was a place full of trying to figure out what the future holds. Trying to figure out what was certain, what you could believe absolutely. “What do you want to do with your life? What are you going to do now?” were such common questions that they began to take the place of “Good morning, how are you today?” And, every year, right around graduation, the atmosphere of the school I went to began to develop this scent of terror. And not just because a fair portion of the graduates hadn’t yet gotten up the nerve to ask a date to grad.
As the confirmands have already discovered, confirmation class doesn’t give you the answers to the questions “What are you going to do with your life?” or even “What does the future hold?” What your confirmation classes have given you are tools to step into the world with confidence in God’s promises for each and every child of God. Hopefully what confirmation and being a part of this community of worshippers has given you is the certainty that you are unconditionally loved. That you have a value in God’s eyes that can’t be measured. That no matter what to do – or is done to you – and no matter where you go, God always loves you and cares about you. Always.
We have stepped out into the world with you to show you that you are not alone. We, sons and daughters of God, as a community of believers – of faith – will be here to help you remember that God goes with you: in word, in water, and in the bread and wine that we will share around the Lord’s Table. All full of God’s promise that we are part of God’s family, entitled to the full measure of God’s love.
So, we all have an obligation. I invite you to be believers and to live into those promises. Live as you are called to be: children of God.
The image for this week’s post is borrowed without permission from The Methodist Modern Art Collection. It is “Untitled – Pentecost” by John Brokenshire (b 1958 ) and can be found here.