All Saints

Sermon for All Saints Day

1 John 3: 1-3; Matt 5: 1-12

"Beloved, we are God’s children now." (1 John 3:2)

Because your church is dedicated to All Saints, all you Coddington worshippers are told at intervals that you are called to be saints. I did check on the admirable parish website and know for a fact that Andy Richardson was here two years ago on this Sunday and reminded you that you are called to be saints. Actually I was here too and I remember that sermon.

Andy reminded us then that all Christians are called to be saints. It’s not an optional extra for the really keen ones – it’s basic. The trouble is, he reminded us, that we are apt to get distracted, to get too busy (that must include church busyness as well), maybe we even get scared.

The revered teacher who wrote our epistle today does not claim anywhere to have known Jesus personally, but it is absolutely clear that he – it does seem to be a he – had thoroughly absorbed into his life some profound impact of God in Christ. It is this that gives him both his authority to speak, to address his audience not only as “brothers and sisters,” as “people who have knowledge,” but also, as here, as “children.” New Testament scholars cannot tell us who wrote the epistle from which my text is taken. We have to let go the ancient tradition that it was the apostle John, but we can go with current scholarly opinion about our author. If it wasn’t written by John, the beloved disciple, it’s  clear that the author was very familiar with the ideas and language of the fourth gospel, and it’s obvious, even from today’s short extract, that he was a person with authority in the early church. What’s sure is that this short epistle spells out for Christian people some of the implications of Jesus’ participation in human life and our subsequent human participation in God’s life.

So we can imagine someone writing to a handful of congregations rather like a wise, loving old grandfather, setting them straight, but chiefly giving them really good news. Just listen to that text I used at the beginning: "Beloved, we are God’s children now." Or did I read that wrongly? perhaps he meant, "Beloved we are God’s children now." You are no longer simply the ordinary human beings who grew from your parents’ baby: we have been chosen and adopted, even been made in our very bodies the children of God, the creator of the universe and our personal parent.

Or did I read that wrongly? Perhaps the author meant, we are God’s children now – we don’t have to wait for death, for some final judgement, it’s now. Whatever this world throws at us for good or ill, in every moment of our life, glorious or shameful, content or grief-stricken, we are in that direct relationship with God now.

Or did I read that wrongly: perhaps he meant, "Beloved, we are God’s children now." We’re not slaves or servants, we’re not wishful hangers-on or shy, distant followers – we’re God’s children. If you’ve had children and enjoy a loving relationship with them, you know what that means. If you were close to loving parents yourself, you know what that means. If’ you’ve seen children close up, loved by their parents, you know what that means and how good it is to be one of those children. And if your experience of being a child or of being a parent is a sad or conflicted one, you may still have learned or always known in your heart how that should be, how you should be loved.

Or did I read that wrongly? "Beloved, we are God’s children now." Maybe they are, those happy ones, but our elder is not talking about them. He’s talking about us and to us. We are God’s children now. Being called to be one of God’s children - a saint in St Paul’s understanding - is not like being best at RE at school, it’s not being the eager beaver who always caught the boss’s eye and got promotion, it’s not being the best behaved or the most respectable person in your village. It’s none of those. It’s about letting yourself be Beloved, God’s child now: and you can emphasis that sentence in any way you like.

That leaves you with just one decision: how do you respond? Will you let into your heart that Christian elder’s kindly word? Will you acknowledge that you have a parent who will always own you as a beloved child? Or would you rather leave it for now because it’s all a bit much? To allow yourself to be God’s beloved child has the power to touch your emotions in ways that may be embarrassing or even scary. As well as melting your heart, it may also touch your mind in ways that make your caution and scepticism melt away. If you allow yourself to be Beloved, you risk having your behaviour changed. You could find yourself wanting to be open to strangers, to old enemies, to people who are too different to be comfortable with.

Of course, all of that can and does make us anxious because we have grown up believing that it’s best to be cautious, to be defended, to stick to what we know and, anyway, most of us were born British – need I say more? Well, however you read it, wherever you put the emphasis in his sentence, that elder of the early Church will repeat as often as you need to hear it:

"Beloved, we are God’s children now."

Happy All Saints’ Day!