That is What We Are

April 15, 2018

Series: April 2018

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

1 John 3:1-3

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD. THANKS BE TO GOD.

That is What We Are

          My wife tells of a pastor who always ended baptisms by holding up the child and pronouncing, “See what love the Father has for us that we would be called children of God; and that is what we are.”  In baptism we are not merely conferring a blessing; we are telling a beautiful story about the person, about who they are, and where they fit.  The importance of being rooted in a good story cannot be overestimated, for the stories we believe about ourselves, we believe about one another, and others believe about us determine much of our lives.

          Guy Doud of Brainerd Minnesota was named national teacher of the year in 1986.  Reflecting on his work, he tells a story about one of his students, a reserve football player on the high school team:

I'm sitting in school after the bell has rung. It's about 5:15. [I'm] anxious to get home … And I look up at my door and there's Chris, No. 85. My first year as a teacher and here stands No. 85 with his football jersey on. "Hey, Chris, what are you still doing here?" "Oh, I had to pick up some books." 

And he kind of stood there and shifted his weight back and forth from foot to foot. He says, "You know, tonight is Parents' Night." He says, "At half time they have all the senior football players go out in the field and then they invite their parents to come down on the field and stand behind them. And well, I don't know if you know this or not, but you know, my folks are divorced. My dad lives in California and my mom, well, she's out of town. 

"And the coach said that if our parents couldn't be with us, that we should ask somebody that, well, we respect. And I was gonna ask you sooner, but, hey, if you can't be at the game, that's okay." I said, "Well, I'm gonna be at the game." I said, "I'd be very, very proud to stand up with you." 

Then he sat down on the edge of the desk and he says, "You know, I haven't gotten into the game yet this year." I said, "Oh." I said, "What was it a couple of weeks ago they introduced you?" He said, "Yeah, I was Scout Team Player of the Week." I said, "Yeah, what does that mean, anyhow?" He said, "Well, we run the opposition's offense and our defense beats up on us." I said, "Oh." I said, "Well, I'm sure you'll get into the game tonight." 

And I went to that game, sat up there in the stands, cheered, kept watching No. 85, who was cheerin', patting people on the butt as they came back in from the field, but who, as of yet, hadn't gotten into the game. Half time expired and I went out and was introduced and stood behind No. 85. And I remember, as I stood there, I prayed that should I ever have children someday, I just prayed that they'd never have to have substitute parents. 

And the third quarter started. We had about a 17-point lead. No. 85 still hadn't gotten into the game. We were still playing our good players, our best players, our starting players on both defense, offense, defense offense. They were going both ways. Some 80 guys dressed for the football game and we had about 14 or 15 who were playing. Now, hey, I'm not questioning anybody's coaching decisions, but by the fourth quarter, I was standing up, "Put No. 85 into the game!"

And as the clock ran down and we won by 20 points and No. 85 hadn't made it into the game, I might as well have been his parent, 'cause I sat there with big tears in my eyes. 

And on Monday I didn't know what I was gonna say to Chris and here I am out on hall duty and here he comes. I said, "Well, you guys sure whipped 'em." He says, "Yeah." He says, "You know, I didn't think I was that bad, if you put me in the game with two minutes left, that I would have blown a 20-point lead."[1]

           This is the story Chris had come to believe about himself, that he must have been so bad, his team would have given up 20 points in 2 minutes, a virtual impossibility in football (unless you’re the Atlanta Falcons). 

          There’s another painful storyline in there as well, highlighted by Dowd’s remark about substitute parents.  It’s a complex comment because in fact those who step in to take on parental roles or indeed become parents for those in need are some of the most important people there are, true angels in our midst.  Yet, I think I know what Doud meant.  He was pointing to the disappointments we can have with our family relationships, and I think that’s something to which many can relate.  For some, the language of God as Father is helpful here.  I remember hearing from a woman who endured very strained relationships with her family of origin.  She took great comfort from creating what she described as a heavenly family.  For others, the notion of God as Father is troubling for any number of reasons.  We recognize that all our images, all our terms for God are incomplete and so we take hold of the ones that help and we freely release those that do not.

          This passage, though, isn’t only about who God is; it’s about who we are and who we can become.  Remember it promises that we will be like Christ (1 John 3:2).  Sometimes while depicting a Jesus who is beyond reproach, we have inadvertently constructed one who is also beyond approach, and I believe nothing would make him sadder.  He is so enlightened that we could never be like him, we think, and so we allow the one who came to empower us leaves us feeling helpless and uninspired to inherit our own light.  The witness of the text, however is that we shall be like him and this is what Doud, an avowed Christian, understood.  It animated him to be like Christ right where he was.  One of his practices was to enter the classroom when his students weren’t there and sit in each of their desks to pray for them, moving around the room, one desk at a time. 

          Jesus goes to great lengths to show us how like us he is, even in his most Godlike moments.  In the account of the resurrection appearance we heard earlier he says to his disciples, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself” (Luke 24:39).  He is showing them the scars from the crucifixion.  “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (v. 39).  Then, he asks them for something to eat.  It might sound to us a strange event, but the request underlines his humaneness.  In the Bible, angels don’t eat, ghosts don’t eat.  He is like us. 

          And we can be like him.  We can remember our intimate connection to the divine, which as Jesus’ own life attests does not free us from suffering, but somehow grounds us in the promise that something can be born out of our suffering.  Isn’t it interesting that in the risen Jesus’ encounter with the people, the point of connection is the scars?  Jesus knows they will be able to relate to that.  Who doesn’t have scars?  In fact, maybe the one thing we share in common is suffering.  Sure we experience it in different ways and in different measures, many of us do not know the kind of suffering children in Syria do, and yet what connects us to every being including them is the experience of some kind of suffering.  That becomes a point of connection, a site for compassion, and therefore the seedbed of possibility.  To be like Christ is not to develop a Teflon skin; it is to acknowledge one’s wounds and seek their healing.  Notice, Jesus does not show up with gaping wounds.  That can be dangerous.

          Henry Nouwen, the renowned priest and author, wrote in the closing words of his famous book The Wounded Healer that the wound is where God can enter in, where God initiates a new creation.[2]  The point here is neither to glorify or seek out suffering as some perverse spiritualities have done, but rather to recognize its invitation for healing.  Every few months for a couple of years now we have been holding small healing services at 11:00, and these have proven powerful to those who have attended.  It’s not the kind of thing you see with televangelism; it’s quite subdued, peaceful, nurturing.  Next week, we will bring a time for healing to each of our morning worship services.  It will be a chance for people to come forward, to anoint themselves with oil, to receive a laying on of hands and a blessing, and for the rest of the congregation to hold them in prayer. 

          In preparation, I invite you to think about where you might desire healing.  Think of healing broadly, just as our wounds are broad and diverse in nature.  Some wounds are physical, some emotional, some are spiritual, some are relational or communal; God knows some of our wounds are societal.  Take this invitation seriously.  This is important work.  Sometimes high-functioning people resist it under the guise of not wanting to waste time or be self-absorbed, but the world does not need the productivity of people with untended wounds.  It may only be when we have experienced some form of healing ourselves that we can truly go out into the world as healers. 

          Another story about a schoolkid, a 6th grader to be exact.  He was big and kind of awkward, not very athletic, so you can imagine how nervous he was when his new phys ed teacher Mr. Card shook his hand and said, “I’ve heard about you.”  “Uh-oh” thought the student, wondering what embarrassment awaited.  Gym class is and endless reservoir of suffering for some.  The new gym teacher wasn’t going to allow that.  Mr. Card was positive.  Mr. Card believed in the student.  Maybe he hadn’t heard the story that this kid had come to believe about himself, that he was worthless, that didn’t fit in, that he was incapable.  When it was time to play football, Mr. Card—he was always the quarterback—said to student, “I want you to go out for a pass…”  He had only ever been asked to block.  “You block,” they always said to him, “You block,” but not Mr. Card.  Mr. Card said go out for a pass, so he took off, Mr. Card launched the ball…and the student caught it!  That student, of course, was the 6th grade Guy Doud.”[3]

          The story Mr. Card was trying to tell Doud about himself was different than the one the world had told him 1,000 times, and that became the story that the future Mr. Doud would go on to tell in word and deed to thousands of his own students, students like no. 85.  It’s a story in which you can be forever rooted no matter where you are planted: 

          See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.  Amen.  

[1] First heard on audio from unknown source.  Found transcript at

[2] Henry J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (New York:  Doubleday, 1979), 96.

[3] First heard on audio from unknown source.  Found transcript at