David A. Davis
May 10, 2020
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Many, many years ago Cathy and I found ourselves in a small comedy club while on vacation. It was small enough that there really weren’t any safe tables away from the eye of the comedian at the microphone on stage. At one point the comedian looked right at me and asked, “You sir, what do you do for a living?” Without missing a beat, I said I was a counselor. “What kind of counselor?” I responded with the complete falsehood that I was a school counselor. It was not my proudest moment but in my defense, it was the ethics of self-protection. There was no way I was going to tell someone getting paid to make fun of people that I was a pastor. On the other hand, probably around the same time in our lives, I visited our son Ben’s first grade class on one of those mornings where parents come in to tell about their work. I told the class that I was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church. I told them where the church building was located not far from the school. And I gave a few sentences of a thumb nail sketch of what my job looked like. After the class wrapped up and the teacher thanked the parents and the kids clapped, I was saying my good byes to Ben and heading for the door when a little boy ran after me. “Mister, Mister” he said. I stopped and he looked up at me with wide eyes and big smile, and with a tone that showed he was more than familiar with church, he asked, “Are you a preacher too?” I stood up a little taller. My shoulders went back a bit straighter. I smiled back at him and I said “Well, yes. Yes I am!” “That’s awesome” he said and ran right back to his desk. When it comes to what we do and who we are, I guess it depends sometimes on whose asking, whose talking.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God….for they will be called children of God.” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God.” Just a bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you maybe children of your Father in heaven.” (5:44-45) The language of “children of God” and “spirit of adoption” is central to the Apostle Paul’s theological argument in Romans. “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”(8:16-17) In Galatians, right Paul proclaims “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ”Paul writes “in Jesus Christ you are all children of God through faith.” (3:26-28) And the writer of the First Epistle of John constantly refers to the readers as children and little children. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (3:1)
Jesus said “They shall be called children of God.” Called by whom? This week in my bible study with some Presbyterian clergy colleagues we read from John 14 together. You will remember that chapter because of “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “In my father’s house are many dwelling places” and “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and “peace I leave with you”. Scholars refer to that lengthy part of John’s gospel as Jesus’ “last discourse” to his disciples. This week we focused on one lasting promise from Jesus as powerful and meaningful as the few I just mentioned. “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you”, Jesus said. He goes on to speak of the coming Holy Spirit. But to the children of God comes the promise to not leave you orphaned. You will not be like orphaned children. You will not be orphaned. That promise comes from Christ himself. As does the naming, the label, the stamp, the claim, the identity as children of God. Called by whom? It comes directly from God in and through Christ. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God”…because I said so. Because Jesus said so.
Last Sunday in Adult Education, Professor Eric Barreto pointed out that in the Acts of the Apostles Luke doesn’t refer to the follows of Jesus as “Christians”. Luke prefers language, label, identity that relates to “the way”. “Faith is a way of life” Dr, Barreto said. I wonder if there isn’t a similar point that comes with the preference for the language of “children of God” in the gospels, in Paul, in First John. I don’t have all my resources with me here at home but I still have the living library of scholarship that benefits the preacher at Nassau Church. I checked with Old Testament scholar Kathie Sakenfeld this week. She confirmed my hunch that the reference to God’s people as “the children of God” is really a New Testament description. It is our identity defined in relationship to God through Christ. Through the writing of Luke we learn that faith is a way. With the term “children of God” we learn an essential aspect of faith is relationship. Our relationship to the one who names us, identifies us, calls us children of God.
The emphasis in this 7th beatitude from Jesus typically falls on “peacemakers”, doesn’t it? What does it mean to be a peacemaker? What kind of peacemaking? Who are the peacemakers? Where are the peacemakers? That is a timely question when you look around these days: leaders who turn a tragic pandemic into partisan politics while protestors occupy a state house carrying weapons. Yes, there are plenty of peacemakers. You just have to look. You just have to shift your focus.
Peacemaking. Is it those who work to make peace with God? To make peace in the world? To make peace in the United States Congress for goodness sake? To make peace in the family? To make peace in a community, to make peace on a team at work, to make peace in the school cafeteria, to make peace on a Zoom call? Of course the answer is “Yes”. For Jesus, the disciples and the crowd gathered up there on the Mount of Beatitudes, the mention of a peacemaker, of peacemaking, of peace, the mention would have come dripping with all the connotations of the Jewish understanding of shalom. In Hebrew it means so much more than hello or goodbye, even so much more than peace. Shalom: peace, wholeness, harmony, welfare, completeness, harmony. Rabbi Feldman told me several times of how he changed the weekly shabbat prayer for Israel from a prayer for victory to a prayer for peace in Israel and peace in the world. Shalom.
Blessed are the shalom-makers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who work for harmony with God. Blessed are those who work for the welfare of the world and for creation. Blessed are those who seek to make relationships sound and complete. Blessed are those who work for wholeness, to make others whole, to keep others whole. Those who risk their lives to make and keep another person whole. Ah, yes, I see. I see plenty of them. I see too many of them to even try a litany of names. But those folks, all of those folks, they shall be called children of God.
One of the rays of light these last many weeks has been the chance all of us have had to watch the coming of spring up close and in slow motion. As someone said to me, “I don’t know if spring is more beautiful this year or I am just able to, forced to pay more attention to it”. I don’t know about you, but as I have been able to spend time outside and take so many walks, I feel like I have been able to see spring come not week by week, not even day by day, but almost hour by hour. On one of the streets in our neighborhood has no driveways, no cars. On the map it is listed as the end of Terhune Drive but it only has backyards that edge up to it and lots and lots of trees. This week I watched God paint the leaves on those trees before my very eyes. I have been reminded of a line from Norman Maclean’s wonderful novel “A River Runs Through It”. The narrator describes the beauty of Montana and the trout stream on the family property as so breathtaking that it was like “the world with dew still on it’”.
I don’t want to be unfair to summer, winter, and fall, but this season, not just season of year, but in this season of life, it seems like God has made creation more beautiful, more complete, more whole. At a time with so little peace, God working somewhere, somewhere, maybe just a little bit, to help me experience peace. Then I think of all the stories in the gospels of Jesus working to make others whole, keep others whole. You remember the crowds that were following Jesus just before these beatitudes were full of people bringing all the broken, and sick to Jesus to be made whole. Jesus the peacemaker, ever the peace maker. Forever, the peacemaker.
To be called children of God by Jesus, to know yourself to be a child of God because Jesus told to so, to live, more and have your being as a child of God, among the children of God, is to be called to do the things that make for peace in every area of your life. It is core to the life of discipleship in Christ. Working to make others whole, working to keep others whole, working to making the world whole and keeping creation whole, when you stop and think about it, it is the family business, the family calling for us……the children of God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”