Little Children (1 John 3:1-3)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation for this celebration of All Saints’ Day comes from our epistle lesson, especially where John records, “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.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
Remember when you were a kid … and you hated being called a kid or “little”? Maybe I’m alone in this, but as a child, I did not like being thought of as a child. I wanted to be thought of as a grown-up. I wanted to enjoy the experiences of being an adult – you know, no bed time, having dessert before dinner, being able to make my own choices and do my own thing. Setting aside that incredibly naïve perception of adulthood, I didn’t realize at the time (probably for the better) that being a child isn’t actually something that one grows out of. I’m not talking about the fact that, as a son, I know that I will always be my mom’s and dad’s little boy, whether I’m four or 34. I’m talking about the idea of being a child of the Most High God, a son of the King of kings and Lord of lords. I am His child, regardless of my age, and that leads us neatly along to our text for this celebration of All Saints’ Day.
Before we get to that text, however, let’s go a few verses before, to the end of 1 John 2, which sets the stage for our text. There, John writes, “And now, little children, abide in [the Son], so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” Now, fresh on the heels of Reformation Day, as Lutherans, we may balk at the phrasing there – “everyone who practices righteousness.” That sounds like works righteousness to me, right? Unless, of course, we remember to whom John is writing: Christians, but Christians whom he refers to as “little children.” His word choice there isn’t “teknon,” meaning child, but that word’s diminutive form, “teknion.” This isn’t just a child, but a little child, a toddler perhaps. And his word choice is quite intentional. A toddler isn’t capable of doing much, if anything. They are entirely dependent on those who are giving them care: feeding them, changing them, bathing them, helping them go to (and stay) asleep. They can’t do much, if anything at all … and that’s how John refers to Christians – adults, children, infants, elderly.
It is also worth mentioning that, while little children cannot do much to help themselves, they can certainly do damage to themselves and others. There’s a reason why phrases like “childproofing” exist. There’s a reason that the age of toddlers is commonly referred to as the “terrible twos” or “terrible threes.” Yes, those little tykes can be downright adorable and loving, but as every parent knows, they can also be selfish, intolerable, monstrous little dictators. To be the parent of these little ankle-biters really requires one thing: love. True, patient, self-sacrificing love. Which does segue perfectly into our text for today.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Paul echoes this well in his letter to the Roman church: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” From the time our mothers conceive us, we stand in judgment, having inherited the original sin of our First Parents. We start off life in the womb as spiritually blind, dead, and as enemies of God. That’s our base standing before Him. And yet, out of love, He deigns to call us His own. It takes a special kind of love to put up with the antics and rebellion of a child, and none knows this as well as our heavenly Father. … But in spite of our rebellion, in spite of our sin day in and day out, we are nevertheless His children, because He has called us His children.
That may be where many of us struggle. I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t exactly feel like I fit the moniker. I’m still a rebellious brat, insistent upon my sin, shying away from the good I know I ought to do, and struggling (and more often than not losing) against the evil that I know I ought not to do. How can God look at me … and call me His child? I’m not worthy.
None of us is. And yet, because God has declared it with His performative Word, it is so, all appearances notwithstanding. John puts it this way, “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.” The qualifier of being a child of God is not the outward appearance, the doing the right things and abstaining from the wrong. The qualifying factor is whether or not one places their hope, their faith, their trust in the One who bled and died for us, who rose from the dead for us, and who most certainly is returning for us. That’s why don’t really refer to all of humanity as children of the one true God – He made them, knit them together in their mothers’ wombs, but it’s those who trust His Word, who trust in the Son, that are called sons and daughters of the One True King.
And this is what we remember today, as we celebrate and give thanks to God for the lives, the example of faith, of those who have fallen asleep in Christ this past year. As children of the Most High, we trust His Word of promise that these fellow children are with Him, that they stand before the One True King’s throne. They too are anxiously awaiting the blessed Day when Christ, our crucified and resurrected King, appears. That is the point when we will all be fully what God has declared us to be: His actual, perfect children in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s where our hope lies, and as John said, “everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself even as He is pure.”
Even on bittersweet days like today, when we remember those who have gone before us – whether it’s been years, or within this past year, or just a few days ago – we trust that our King’s promises hold sure. We are His children, as are those who are standing before His throne right now, in this moment. And soon … very soon … we shall all see Christ as He is, singing His praises as His children forever.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.