Second Sunday After Christmas – Series A
I grew up in Missouri and the farmers there were fond of the saying: “The acorn doesn’t fall that far from the tree.” You might have heard it as “Like father, like son.” Or “Chip of the old block.” We have a whole group of sayings which suggest that there are things which are passed from generation to generation. You can probably think of a handful more without working too hard at it.
Today the readings will ask us to consider that Jesus is the Son of God and we are the children of God, adopted into his family through the deeds of Jesus. We get this most clearly in the Epistle today, and but also the other readings. We are the children of God. What exactly does that mean? What new boundaries are established for our lives by this truth? What is the DNA, not physical, but spiritual, has God bestowed upon us by making us his children and uniting us with Jesus?
What are the characteristics of God that are passed to us his adopted sons and daughters? I personally seem to have missed out on the omnipotence gene. The ache in my knee and back after digging a hole in my yard suggest that I might have missed out on the eternity bit too; although, God says not so fast in that determination. Eternity might be a gift not a characteristic.
What are the traits of God that have been given us because we belong in his house, even it if has only been for a short while that we have called ourselves his children? Even an adopted child picks up the sayings and the mannerisms of his or her parents. In my grandmother’s vocabulary few people were beneath the “crepe hangers.” The other day I saw someone doing something rather despicable and the word just sort of slipped right out of my mouth. (I never knew what a “crepe hanger” was as a child, only from the tone of voice my grandmother used that it was not a person she liked. I have since learned that a crepe hanger was someone who would hang crepe paper on people’s doors when there was a death in the community. It was piece work and only the bottom rung of the society would do it, what is more they were harbingers of bad tidings – hence neither liked nor wanted. The best part of this is that the practice was done in Germany. My grandmother’s parents had emigrated from Germany and my grandmother never set foot in Germany. Thus, this saying was something she had never personally experienced, but had gotten from her mother.)
What words come unbidden to our lips because we are the children of God? What deeds do we do that we may not even understand but we do them because this is what the children of God do? Is there any family tradition we honor as God’s children? Many of us have just come from family gatherings and experienced lots of traditions. Do you unwrap presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? Do you eat lutefisk for Christmas Eve or oyster stew? Is there an ornament that must be on your tree, over the fireplace, on the front door? What adorns our life because God is our father?
It is a perplexing question for us. I remember living in Utah where the lines were so clearly drawn. If you wore the special underwear and did not drink, smoke, or work on the Sabbath you were definitely LDS. But other than the sacred undies, the lifestyle of the LDS could be
attractive in its healthy living. I fit in rather well with them. (My wife did not appreciate the “#1 Wife” bumper sticker my dad suggested for her though.)
Out in the rest of the country, there are not special clothes we wear or foods we eat because we are Christian. The Jews abstain from pork and other non-kosher foods, but we happily munch our BLT’s. The world says “merry Christmas” just like we do, or many of them do without thinking about it. Gangster rappers wear big gold crosses while they sing of drugs and murder. What can a Christian claim that is uniquely Christian? Is there anything? In Utah, unfortunately, the sign of a Christian was too often beer bottles in the trash or what amounted to serial polygamy as they divorced and remarried.
This is a serious question which I believe our children are demanding of us. The young people in the classes I teach are not asking us to be less Christian, often they are demanding that we be more Christian, or they are going to walk out the door. They sneer at the accommodations which their parents have made to the culture, a Christianity which is virtually indistinguishable from the culture around it, which never holds itself or anyone for that matter accountable to the Word of God. This Christianity never says “no” to anything if it would at all hurt.
Of course, it must be remembered that it will hurt a little. If we start to have standards, we might drive some folks away. There are those who like the church of the non-committal. It asks nothing of them, and so they don’t have to feel guilty for giving precious little of themselves. But I believe we are coming to a day when we need to ask if they are really the people we want to keep in our churches. Would we be healthy and more vibrant with a smaller church of committed folks who were engaged in doing something? It won’t make the folks who compile statistics very happy, but I am not sure that I really had but about 25% of the folks who were in my last parish. I often wondered if it would not be better to have spent much more time ministering to them and far less working with the grumpy and disaffected and unengaged majority who really did not care.
Some years ago we noted that George Barna had concluded that there was no difference between a Christian and the larger American culture. We wondered if this might be part of our Law development.
We thought of a few things which at least ought to mark the Christian:
1. Love, fellowship, care for one another.
2. Forgiveness and Humility – we are all sinners and we have a way to deal with sin.
3. Thankfulness – we are dependent beings, created by God. We are not self-made. We have someone to thank.
4. Peace – God has answered the really big questions of our lives and the rest of them are really the small things like money and security. God has conquered our death, what can make afraid, anxious, or competitive now. We all will die, we all will rise. We are all winners!
5. Hope – we do not grieve like other human beings.
6. In some ways we simply talk differently than others and perceive things differently – we never see a fellow human being as garbage, but always as a person whom God can touch and save. Thus our vocabulary will differ when we talk about people.
Is the real message here that we pattern our lives after our father? Are we children of the world or are we children of our Father? In our baptism we renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways. This is a matter of faith, for the faith relationship is what makes us God’s children. This is a first commandment issue. We become like the one we name as God. If you have a grumpy God, such Christians will usually be grumpy people. If you worship a joyful God, such Christians will usually be joyful.
But we also wondered if there was not an issue of hypocrisy here. If we name one with our lips but not our heart, will our lives eventually betray the hypocrisy of our false oral confession?
We talked as well about the fact that many men do not participate? Is this symptomatic of an issue in our proclamation and ministry? Does this mean our image of God as father is somehow skewed or absent?
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, You have poured into our hearts the true Light of your incarnate Word. Grant that this Light may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Isn’t it interesting that light is not something you usually pour? What is the collect trying to tell us because it uses a strange verb? Light is something that is easily dispelled, it is turned off with a switch. But water that is poured into a vessel is really there. You can only pour things that have substance. Light doesn’t have substance, it has no weight that measures on a scale I have at my disposal. But this light is pourable, it fills the vessel into which it is poured.
The pure light of the incarnate Word is in our hearts. That is a fine place for it to be. Let’s get it out of there, at least a little bit. Let it shine forth in our lives! What would the light of God look like in your life and mine? How would it be different? Would I speak differently? Would I act differently? I might. We asked that question already so we won’t rehash it here.
As I cast about for the deeds or the words of God which mark the Christian life, several come to mind. Thankfulness, joy, forgiveness, fellowship, purpose, mission, etc. The preacher’s task today will be to give some shape to that light, to give it color and to show upon what it shines. Light is a wonderful picture here, because you can imagine a lantern, a lamp, shining in the darkness. Remember those old lanterns made in a tin can which held a candle? The holes punched in the side let out the light. It is often where our lives are broken, where some nail has punched a hole that the light of Christ can shine out. Where are the holes, what shapes and shadows do they cast on the walls of this world?
I Kings 3:4-15 I have included a few verses at the beginning of this text.
Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. 2 The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD.
3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. 4 And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. 13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. 14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
15 And Solomon awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Then he came to Jerusalem and stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.
This text always presents a challenge to the preacher. You see, Solomon wasn’t supposed to be at this place. You see that in the verses I have appended. Solomon followed in his father’s footsteps but he worshiped at the high places. God had forbidden the use of such high places in the Torah. Gibeon was probably a shrine dedicated to Baal. It is bad enough that the king is there. Even more disturbing is that YHWH is there.
Here comes a little back ground which might not make it into the sermon but which we hope will prevent an error or two in a sermon. The Deuteronomic History part of the OT was written in several stages, it appears. The final revision of Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel, and I and II Kings probably took place while the Israelites were in captivity in Babylon. By that time, they
had finally heard the prophetic message that their exile was the result of their idolatry, especially the idolatry of those who worshiped the Canaanite god Baal.
But it must be remembered that the word Baal in the Canaanite dialect simply meant “lord.” The Israelites called YHWH the LORD and it appears that for some time a certain amount of confusion was created in this regard. This confusion resulted in Baal worshippers and YHWH worshipers side by side, both of them using the same word to name different Gods. One also must remember that the temple had not yet been built. There was not centralized worship site other than the tabernacle which seems to have fallen into some disrepair after the days of Eli. Notice the text makes sure you know that Solomon ends up at this shrine in vs 15 of our pericope. What this text reflects, however, is that Israelites seem to have congregated at sites dedicated to the Lord – Adonai in Hebrew or Baal in Canaanite.
One can surmise that they did so with all good intentions and with the desire to worship YHWH. It appears to scholars of the OT that only later in the life of the people of Israel did the activities of these high places become so offensive as to be called “whoring after other Gods.” (See especially Hosea for this but also Isaiah.) We don’t know if this reflects a change in Canaanite worship or a change in Israelite perceptions. We know that it was problematic from the beginning because Samson seems to have been caught up in this. But we also know that Saul seems to have named at least two of his sons with names that were built on the root “baal.” Mephibosheth and Ishbosheth were probably not named this originally; their names were most likely Mephibaal and Ishbaal. (Bosheth is the Hebrew word for ‘shame’ and no self-respecting queen would name her son “man of shame” which is what Ishbosheth really means.) We think that later copyists were offended that the king had used baal in the name of an Israelite prince and changed it.
Thus, Solomon is found today at a shrine dedicated to Baal. He sacrifices and meets YHWH there. That should suggest that the purity of our worship is not what makes the difference for God to act. He might even show up if our hymns are not the right hymns and our liturgy is poorly done. The real question is never what we are doing, but always what God is doing.
Here he is receiving the sacrifices of Solomon and keeping promises. He is granting wisdom to his servant, because God is wise. He is bestowing gifts to the son so that he may reflect the father. Solomon asked for discernment, wisdom, and he got it. He also got the things he did not ask for, but there is the condition thrown in there. “if you walk in my ways…” We of course know that Solomon struggled in this as his father did not. His foreign wives led him to temptation and finally to idolatry. Did he rationalize his sacrifices to the Egyptian gods and the gods of other nations on the grounds that all the prayers were going to the same place? Remember when God spoke at Gibeah? Wasn’t that a shrine to Baal? What problems are not created in theological fuzziness?
Some years ago a friend and colleague passed along a Christmas greeting which had been given to him. He had spent time in the mission field in India and had gotten to know people of many faiths there, including Muslims. One of his Muslim friends sent him a Christmas greeting. Now
you must know that this fellow is not some Muslim in name only who is a child of the enlightenment. He is a fervent and devout Muslim, a teacher of other Muslims. What I found so interesting is that he thought this to be a very Muslim thing to do, send a Christmas greeting. He quoted two passages from the Quran. “…. On the same footprints of earlier messengers, WE sent Jesus, the Son of Blessed Mary as OUR Messenger, upon whom WE Bestowed The Gospel; And In the hearts of those who truly followed him, WE engendered compassion and mercy….” (Holy Qur’an 57/27). And again he quoted, “O Muslims! Be helpers in The Cause of ALLAH as Jesus, Son of Blessed Mary made a call to The Disciples: “Who will be my helper in The Cause of GOD Almighty?” The Disciples responded: “We shall be helpers in The Cause of GOD Almighty…..” (Holy Qur’an 61/14) His Christmas greeting was quite substantial. It was not what I usually get in a Christmas card, that is a vacuous hope for peace or joy, but his message was a call to all people of faith to be witnesses to morality and godliness and to remind people that we are accountable to a judge.
Are we so sure we know where God is acting all the time? We have a promise that he works in and among the baptized people of God, but he never limits himself to that. What if God was doing something through this unbaptized Muslim? Is it any stranger than God answering the prayers of Solomon at the shrine dedicated to Baal?
We would all like the lines to be clearly drawn and for this to be black and white. Alas, our God is far more sophisticated and complex than that.
97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm. It is broken into sections according to the Hebrew alphabet. Mem, which you see at the top of this, is the equivalent to our “M.” The first word of each line of this section in the Hebrew text begins that letter.
It was playful and it was a form of worship. The time required for this sort of exercise must have been substantial. Who is doing this sort of work among us today? Do we think such an effort to be a waste of some sort? Is it productive? Is it efficient? Are those the only questions to ask?
The psalmist here contemplates the sweetness of God’s words, not only their usefulness or their profit, but their sweetness. So sweet are the precepts and statutes of God that they enable him to turn from all others, they are not as sweet.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Where does one start with this text. Every line seems to have a sermon in it. We are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. There is a great message of hope for folks who are struggling today. You have a treasure in heaven. It preaches, many a good sermon has been preached with that theme. He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless. If you can avoid the pitfalls of predestination on that one, there is another good sermon right there.
But I think the editors chose this text for the next line: In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious
grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. We are the children of God. We say that, we believe that, but do we really think about how that happens?
Many folks in the world would say that of course we are the children of God, we are humans after all and their perception of God is that he is just a really big human who has some powers that we don’t. But that is the error of the shallow and unreflective theological babbling which marks our age. The spirit of the times latches onto the phrase and the warm fuzzy nature of childhood but the Gospel is deprived of its opportunity here. The truth is that we were worse than orphans before God came to us. We had no one to look after us except ourselves and we are ill equipped to do that. So he had mercy and graciously, without any merit on our part, adopted us in his great love.
He decided to do that, it was his will, he did not do this on the spur of the moment, but he predestined it to happen, he planned and got ready. The whole discussion of predestination after the Reformation, because it shows up in this text really serves to distract from Paul’s real point. Predestination is not about God determining who gets on the up or the down escalator at the judgment. Predestination is about God’s intentional decision to love us so that we can go to heaven. It is good news that we are predestined, not the terrible Calvinist understanding of that doctrine, but a gracious and loving deed of God. He did not wait for us to shape up, but long ago, he set in motion the process and gave himself to this cause. It was not because we were good, but it was because he wanted to do this!
All this results in the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in Christ. The Calvinist errs in that he think predestination is about the praise and glorification of God’s power. But it is not his power, it is his love and gracious action that get praised, especially the gracious act in Jesus Christ.
So, we look at this act of adoption today. What can one say about an adopted child?
- a. The child is treasured – adoption always takes considerable resources on the part of the adoptive parent. There are no cheap adoptions, just ask any of the parents in your congregation who have gone through the process.
- b. The child is desired – one can have an accidental birth in a family – that happens and those children are often great blessings to the parents who had decided not to have any more children. But one never accidentally adopts a child. That is impossible. The process is too involved and there are too many places to get off that train before you ever take that kid home. The adopted child knows for certain that he or she is desired. The parent hears that child as a dear parent listens to a dear child.
- c. The child is the legal child of the parents, just as validly the parent’s child as any naturally born child. There is no distinction in the law between an adopted and a natural child, they inherit exactly the same way. This is the full legal right as a son. He has the authority of a son – that means that in some circumstances he can speak for the father in
- an authoritative way. (Priesthood of all believers – whosoever’s sins you forgive on earth their sins are forgiven in heaven)
- d. The child is given a name – the parents include the child in the family and in the process they get the name of the parents. While they may have technically had a name prior, they now are given the new name. They are given a new identity in the adoption process. Now they are the child of…
- e. The child is integrated into a new family – he or she learns the way that problems are solved in that family, how money is handled, how love is expressed, how disappointment is met. That’s what families do, they nurture and train children, for good or for ill. That adopted child is brought into that home and made a part of that family.
God has predestined us as adopted children. All those things are true about us too. He signed on the dotted line in our baptism in this cross of Christ. We are his kids. What does that mean for us? Paul, as the chapter progresses, moves on to speak extensively about the inheritance issue and how we are heirs of heaven itself. We already own it, but we wait for a death, not the father’s death, but our own, oddly enough. Final and full possession of the inheritance happens when someone dies. But now, in the heavenly realms, because the Law of God has been decreed and the Grace of God has been honored there in heaven, we are the heirs, we are the owners.
40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
41 Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. 43 And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, 44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, 45 and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. 51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.
The children of God do odd things sometimes, things which exasperate their earthly parents. They demonstrate wisdom beyond their years and they take very seriously the promises and words of God. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem in his 13th year probably was for his Bar Mitzvah or the
first century equivalent of confirmation. As part of that ritual he officially became a member of the nation of Israel, in much the same way that we say that our young people join the church when they are confirmed. But of course we don’t let them vote or do much beyond rake the leaves and serve at the Easter breakfast. This day Jesus became a son of Israel, he read the Torah and was welcomed as a full member of the community and he took those words very seriously. I wonder if this text does not sound strange to us because we have not really read and taken seriously the words of the confirmation rite. We ask those young people to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this confession.
The precocious Jesus takes the words of his Bar Mitzvah very seriously. He starts to do what good Jews do, they talk the Torah. He astounds the teachers of the law with the breadth and depth of his knowledge and he also eventually bows to the other parts of the law of God and obeys his parents. But it is clear that he considers himself a real Israelite now, the Temple is his father’s house.
For the pious Christian, the harder part may come in the last couple of verses in which it says that he increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men. Wait a minute, wasn’t he God in the hands of his mother at Christmas? Wasn’t he fully endowed with the knowledge and the power of the almighty God? How can God who has all knowledge and wisdom grow in knowledge and wisdom? This is where the exacting and sometimes frustrating theology of the first several centuries of the Church becomes invaluable. Men like Cyril of Alexandria and Athanasius and Basil and Augustine and others would delve deep into just what it meant that we called Jesus God and man? How can we talk about the divinity and the humanity of Jesus without contradicting a passage like this or the many others which attest to the knowledge and the deity of Christ?
Modern Christians often forget that these issues actually caused riots in the streets of major cities in the Roman Empire, prompting the Emperors to convene councils which were supposed to hash out the differences. Too us they seem distant and arcane. Words like Nestorianism and Eutychianism sound like obscure tropical diseases, not threats to my relationship with God. The modern often despairs of even understanding these issues and in his post-modern ennui wonders if there even is an answer. But the problem with that intellectual short cut is that people do believe these words and he dooms himself to repeat the conflict if he does not carefully understand what these texts say.
Here the preacher will want to exercise a little care. Jesus was fully human, and fully divine. How one can be 100% human and 100% divine defies our understanding of physics, but remember with God all things are possible. The ancients discussed this in terms of nature and person. The person they often called the hypostasis, the subject of the verbs. When it says that Jesus walked, or Jesus died, there were not two people as if the human person died and the divine person did the miracles. It was always one person who was the subject of all the verbs. You can see why. If it was the human person and not the divine who died on the cross it eviscerates the event of its salvific power. This person, however, had two natures. This is gets
hard to understand. The nature is the part of you that you might share with other people, but which makes you a human being: featherless bi-pedal, intelligent, homo-sapien, etc. This is your human nature. We often talk about the flaws of human nature, but the term actually encompasses the whole thing. The second person of the trinity had a divine nature and he took up to himself a human nature, hence he had two natures. It is a little like saying you have the nature of a human being and the nature of a squirrel. Of course, since God does not have a body, it doesn’t require that Jesus look like two different things at the same time. The real rub comes in the text we have today. Both God and the human being have minds, intellects, memory and the rest of the intellectual piece. Early errors, such as that of Appolonarianism suggested that the mind of God simply occupied a human body, but that idea was rejected. It did not work either.
Perhaps the most profound treatment of it comes in the 13th century from my friend Thomas Aquinas. If you want to read that you can find it in the Third Part, but, be aware, this is not light reading. You can find this at http://www.newadvent.org/summa/. Look in the tertia pars (Third Part) and start about Question 9.
The mystery of Jesus’ mind is profound and there is much we simply cannot say here. But he grew in his human nature and divine gentleness did not overwhelm that humanity. All this is tied up with his great redemption and restorative act in Christ. He loves us you see, and he experienced what it was like to go to school, to learn to read, and interact with adults as a child. He knows all that as a participant, not just some text book sort of alien knowledge.
1. Our sinful condition has left us as homeless waifs in this universe. We cannot preserve our lives, we cannot protect ourselves from those who would do us ultimate harm, we cannot clothe ourselves with the righteousness that would give us real joy, we have no name. Forgotten, we will simply return to the dust from which we were made, as memorable as compost.
2. There is so much to learn and discover and we have so little time and such meager faculties for this discovery. Learning takes work and it takes a guide, a teacher. Have we either the ambition or the help we need?
3. Even when we get things as right as we can, they are still insufficient. Solomon offered his sacrifices at a shrine dedicated to Baal. That would eventually bear the fruit of his downfall as he offered sacrifices to the foreign gods of his treaty brides. Even when we come to church and sing all the right songs, we cannot lay claim to a righteousness before God which is our own. Even these best moments are not free of the fall and its perpetual stain.
4. And hence we are insecure – orphaned and on our own. There are some really scary things that do not have our best interests in mind.
5. We often don’t take God at his own Word and as a result find ourselves trying to accomplish that which has already done and acting as if we are still the wretches who we once were, behaving like the orphans who have no God, reverting to our lawless ways.
1. God has adopted us. He has given us his name; he has graciously gone to the expense of taking us into his own house. We cannot forget what he has paid for that either. He has united us with his only-begotten and beloved Son, that gets us into heaven and Him into our grave. That we might be the children of God, he became what we would otherwise be, the corpse.
2. God delights in our minds, he made them and endowed us with them. The young man Jesus learned and grew in wisdom and delighted in this process. Jesus spent much of his time teaching. The activity of our mind, the knowledge, the learning, the enlightenment is a precious thing to God. It is not Faith against Reason, but it is both of these gifts working in concert which God desires and to which God works.
3. God does not wait for us to get it right before he grants his promise or his love. He appears to a Solomon despite where he is and works the wisdom which will make Solomon the greatest ruler the world has ever seen. Though his human frailty and the locutions of his mind will eventually cause him to stumble, his wisdom is still hailed and through him God did work the greatest gift of all, the Savior who did not fall and who did not fail.
4. And so, one of the marvelous fruits of adoption is security – we are saved not only in terms of going to heaven, but also from our enemies. We are secure, no one can snatch us from our father’s hand.
5. And so, today God calls gently and winsomely to his people. He endows us with the Holy Spirit who enables us to say “yes” to him. We are the children of God, we have his name on us and we can act that way. We are able to mimic our father and the world can see his character traits in our behavior as we forgive and love, as we serve and care, as we gently teach the young and learn ourselves, for he is wisdom.
1. Adopted in Love (That the hearer would believe that he/she, despite past and present realities in life, is an adopted child of God. This reality enables us to act like him, especially with the most divine acts of forgiveness, love, service, and care)
An adoption is a marvelous thing. An adopted son or daughter always knows that he or she is chosen. There are no accidental adoptees. The process is just too difficult. Likewise
the process of God’s adoption of you is not a simple one. It came at considerable costs, a legal fee paid to the nastiest of attorneys, Satan himself. It was a price paid on a cross in the blood and death of his only begotten Son Jesus. But like parents who spend tens of thousands of dollars, they forget the price when they hold that child in their arms and they can call this baby their baby. God has delighted to pay that price that he might call you his child. He did this in your baptism and you belong to him now. He has done more than say it, too, he has brought you into his house, this house, and into his family, this family, and he has shown us the way of his children so what we may live up to this gracious and loving name that he has given us. The people who study these things tell us that we learn 60% of our total knowledge by the time we are three years old. Another 20% of that total is added by the 5th birthday. God has a marvelous effect on us. Today, when you love your children, when you love your spouse, when you help someone whose car is stuck in the snow or make a gift to some worthy charity, you are living out the name that God has given you. When you forgive the sin of a friend against you, when you teach a child, when you teach an adult, when you learn yourself, you are living out the character of the God who has graciously called you his child and whose fatherhood you acknowledge in the creed we speak. He has come into the flesh in Christmas time, into your flesh, into your actions. You are the family of God.
Two years ago when this text came up we thought that simply using the five points above in the notes for the outline of the sermon might be very effective. This is Law and Gospel – bouncing between law and gospel in each of the points. The law is always the thing for which God has provided the necessary remedy.
Many of our elderly folks feel that they are alone, adoption is really about saying that there is someone who cares about you. Ask him for help, he always listens to his children. I remember being in college and there were times when my car broke down or something happened, it was really good to know that I could always call my dad and he would help me.
We have a name from God – what does that do for us? It gives us access to God, we can always ask and he promises to hear. But we also use the name of God when we forgive someone. We use the name of God when we speak of his marvelous deeds; we bring glory to his name. When we do good things “in the name of Jesus” he promises that he will see them, even if they are so slight as giving a cup of cold water to a little child. Let your good works be evident to all that they may glorify the name of your Father in heaven. We carry the name of Jesus with us wherever we go.
2. Growing in the knowledge and wisdom of God (That the hearer would delight in the gift of their mind, use it to the glory of God, and become an increasingly effective servant in the kingdom of God.)
We live in a time and a place where the mind is often cast in opposition to the heart. How many films are not made which cast a poor young soul into a position of having to choose
between some passion and common sense? We almost always root for the passion don’t we? This is of course brutally true in religion as well. The scientist and the believer seem to be in different camps all the time. As if a person who goes to church cannot also be a thinking person at the same time. It is true that there are those in the Christian community who has fostered and even promoted this idea, as if one could have Christ without creeds, just the simple gospel, the child-like understanding that sufficed when we were 7 is all that was needful then, it should suffice for the whole of life. But this is all contrary to what God has to say. Today we see Jesus growing in wisdom and knowledge, we see him in the temple exploring the word of God as a young man. We see him learning. The exact way that the human and divine natures intertwined in the person of Christ is not entirely clear to us, but in this simple fact we get to see something of how God sees us. He delights in our minds. He loves our intellect. He is grieved when a bright young person is stifled or when we stop learning and growing. He gave us this intellect and valued it so much that when he came into the flesh he experienced that too. He learned, he grew and in doing so he redeemed every school, every teacher, every student, and every senior who does the crossword to keep her mind sharp, every scientist who wants to know how this world works. Yes, sin can corrupt anything and the more potent the good, the terrible the evil. But that does not change the fact that the servants of God are called to make holy and redeemed use of their minds, and not just in studying their Bibles either. Francis Collins, the man who headed up the human genome mapping project is a devout Christian. The whole of Creation can tell us something about the creator, and the knowledge of how the creation works can alleviate much suffering. Understanding the cosmos is little window into understanding a little bit of God. It is quite possible to very smart and very Christian at the same time. We are called today to put our minds into the service of God. How will that look in this place?
We asked earlier what does it mean to be a child of God. Did you notice how the description of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature is almost exactly the same way that Paul describes us in Ephesians? Isn’t that what Solomon does in the OT lesson as well. God delights in our mental being as well as our physical and emotional. Jesus was smart, he was a teacher, we are also called upon to use our gifts of mind to be engaged in his service. The children of God delight in the gift of their minds. It is one of the things we do, God made us, wholly, and we receive that whole self as a gift from him.
God blessed Solomon’s mind and made him into a wise and benevolent king. God’s use of our minds is not just to make us smart but it is also be effective servants and witnesses of his love and peace. It is not an easy thing as our discussion of Solomon’s strange presence in the pagan temple of Gibeon would suggest. Our mind is important to being a servant of Christ.
3. God never has fit in a box. (That the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of hearer to see and perceive the work of God outside the confines of this parish the Church, empowering participation and service.)
This sermon wants the hearer to live and serve in an expansive and vigorous trust in God. To do so we will need to root this in some large things that God has said and done. When the whole world fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, God promised a universal salvation, a promise he reiterated to Abraham when he said he would be the father of nations and all the families of the earth would be blessed. From this we get the idea that God has care for the whole of humanity and this whole creation. Jesus notes that God sends the rain on the just and wicked people.
Secondly, we hear Jesus express his love for those outside the expected circle of faith. He commends a Canaanite woman and a Roman centurion for their faith in Matthew 15 and 8. He receives the worship of wise men from the east, not Jewish wise men.
Third, Paul and Peter exhort us to honor even wicked rulers like Nero who persecuted the church because even through them God was doing good things in this world. We cannot expect this to be pretty. In fact, we expect this to be messy.
We want, this day, to notice that God is not limited to working inside the walls of our parish. He feeds the hungry, educates children, cares for the sick, the widows and orphans even through the messy bureaucracies of government, the kind acts of unbelievers, and the care of unbelieving doctors. He delights when Hindu, Buddhist, and Moslem mothers love their children. Missionaries quickly learn that they are not bringing God to a place. He has been there the whole time. They are bringing a proclamation about the Son of God who has already been sending the rain, causing the seed to sprout, making the family, etc.
And so, we speak of a God who does not fit in the box we want to create for him. He met Solomon at the shrine of Gibeah. He flummoxed his parents when they brought him to Jerusalem for his bar mitzvah. He will knock persecuting Saul off his horse and bring Peter into the house of Cornelius. God is doing things out there. Can we see him? Jesus was born for this whole world. What is he doing in our community right now?
He is healing in the hospital which may or may not have a Christian name on it. He doesn’t care so much about that. He cares for sick people. If the doctor is Jewish, Hindu, or Agnostic, Jesus will still use him to restore sight, hearing, health, and mobility, just like he did when he walked the shores of Galilee. The doctor may not recognize or attest to Christ’s role, but that doesn’t mean Christ is not there.
Likewise in our schools, our jobs, our community, the food bank, the welfare program, the homeless shelter, etc., we can see God at work. It is not always as clearly said as we would like. We want to see Christ’s name held up. He does too. But just because the people engage in this service don’t even know why they are doing it or who has called them to do it, doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t behind it.
What does that mean for this parish in this new year? What does it mean for us? Too often Christians have imagined that God only works when we are doing the good deed with properly baptized and theologically correct Christians at the helm. But Scripture is pretty clear. While God does indeed call us to lives of service and compassion for the needy. We are not God’s only option here. He is not waiting for us to get on board. He is doing it. We probably want to think about how we can join him in that. We are, after all, the one’s who bear his name and are his children. Perhaps more critically, the right to ask this to be a Christian-named thing will come after the service. We cannot await the time and place when the organization or the culture is doctrinally pure and we can join in without any reservations. That will never happen. God is calling us today. How does and should your congregation answer that call?