“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” (1 John 3:2)
Everyone has had this experience, I am sure: you walk into the hospital room, or into the house for the first time since the baby was born. Or you run into the exhausted new mother or father on the street or in the grocery store. Or you see them at church for the first time since bringing the baby home… and you look down at that little bundle of joy in her arms, or in the stroller, or maybe you are allowed to hold the precious child yourself… you peer into her eyes, and you put your finger into the tiny clutch of his little hand… and you wonder to yourself for a moment, and then you make a decision, and you say, “Oh, she looks just like you!”
Or maybe you declare that she looks just like her father. Or that she has his eyes, but your nose. Maybe you don’t see any resemblance at all, but you will look for one. And if you look hard enough, you will find it!
She looks just like her father! We were praying for little Emery that she would be spared this particular fate. And so far, at least, she does not seem especially tall. (Of course that trait could come from either of her parents!)
What are we looking for when we look for such resemblances in a child? I suppose we are looking back, on the one hand, to see who she came from. And we are looking forward, on the other hand, to imagine who she will be. But the one thing we can say for sure, with St. John, is that “what she will be has not yet been revealed.” And I want to stop and ask for a moment whether or not that statement counts as good news. Stop, and hear it again, in context: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”
Little Emery was at the forefront of the most recent vanguard of babies that is fast advancing on this parish, thank God. In the past two weeks, little Miles has been born, and little Truman came lurching into the world with a speed, I am told, that astonished his mother (to put it mildly). And many of us have been looking earnestly into these babies’ faces and wondering who we see. Which parent does she most nearly resemble? Is he big or small, fair or dark, long hair or not? Can we see some hint of their parents in their pudgy faces, and can we guess what kind of people they will become? Can we imagine what kind of musician Miles will be, what kind of artist Truman will be, what kind of rower Emery will be? What they will be has not yet been revealed. But is this good news or not?
What about for you and me? It’s been a long time for most of us since anyone looked at us and wondered whether we looked more like Mom or Dad. It’s been a long time since anyone stared into our open faces and wondered what we would be. For many of us (but not all) the question has become moot. We’ve grown into our looks, made our big decisions about life, accepted our limits, realized our gifts, cast our lot, and set out on our course long ago. We look ahead and we see mostly straight paths in front of us – where there are curves or turn-offs they look dangerous, not promising. If we are faithful, we are content to say with St. John, that we are God’s children. This is enough for us.
And as we look at the world, we think it should be enough for the world too. We think it would be good, in fact, if the whole world could only master this simple statement: we are God’s children! Oh, if only we could! Could we bring an end to the wars, and the hostilities, and the murder, and the hate, and the injustice, and awful, awful ways we treat each other if we could only just agree that we are God’s children!?! We are all God’s children!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful! Wouldn’t it be enough to spread the word abroad – that you are God’s child, and you are God’s child, and you are God’s child, for we all are God’s children!
Set it to music and sing it on Sesame Street! And there, on the front stoop of Sesame Street, it would be a fine anthem, worthy of being taught to our children. But it is not the Gospel.
And today, when we have come here during Eastertide to baptize Emery, and welcome her into the household of God, it is not enough to say to her: you are God’s child, dear Emery. Whatever her little consciousness knows, it knows this by now, probably better than we do. Only newly arrived in the world, she remembers better than any of us whatever force it was that constructed her life, cell by cell, and nourished it in the womb. It is not enough to tell her in these early days of her life what she already knows – that she is God’s child. But there is something that Emery needs to hear today, and it is this: Dear child, you are God’s child now; but what you will be has not yet been revealed. What you will be has not yet been revealed.
Is St. John wondering about what will become of the believers after the Second Coming of Christ, when God will bring this world to and end, time itself will come to its termination, and a new creation will be made? Perhaps he is!
Is St. John wondering about what will become of us after we have died, and our bodies lie buried, and the promises of heaven await us? Perhaps he is!
Is St. John wondering about tomorrow, and the next day, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that? Is he looking down into somebody’s arms, at the wide open face of a newborn child, or into a stroller, or a car seat, and wondering (at the same time that he wonders whether she looks more like Mom or Dad) what this child will be? Perhaps he is!
Perhaps St. John is wondering all these things: about the end of time, the end of this life, or only the end of tomorrow. For our purposes it hardly matters, because we are stuck in our time, and have no access now to God’s time. What matters is this: it is not enough, even now, to say that we are God’s children; for what we will be has not yet been revealed – but we will be something else! We will be more than the dust from which we have been formed – in the life to come, at the end of time – yes! And maybe even tomorrow!
This is the Gospel of hope – that you are called to be more than you appear to be, more that you thought you were, more than you have been told you amount to!
Maybe it is the case that what you will be has not yet been revealed – but don’t let that bother you, for as God’s child, there is always more for you to become!
That’s why you go to North Philadelphia, and you take a church that everyone else has left, and where the boiler keeps breaking down, and you take the kids from the neighborhood – whose parents are in prison, if they can be accounted for at all, and whose siblings have been raising them, and who have never been told that they will amount to very much. And you tell them, not only that they are God’s children: you tell them that what they will be has not yet been revealed – but when it is, it’s gonna be something good!
That’s why you show up early on Saturday mornings with your soup, and why you greet people at the door, and seat them at the table, and you serve them, like it’s a restaurant, even though they are homeless and unkempt. Because they are not only God’s children, but what they will be has not yet been revealed!
That’s why you take children – who have been all but banished from so many Episcopal churches, and certainly from urban, Anglo-catholic parishes like ours – and you make sure there is a place for them in the church to grow in faith and in their sense of self, and to participate in the worship of God. Not only because they are God’s children, but because what they will be has not yet been revealed!
And that’s why you take a little, beautiful child, like Emery, and you carry her to the font, where the water is chilly, but a candle flickers nearby. And you ask her questions she cannot yet answer for herself, and you say things that she cannot yet understand: you remember the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea, and you tell her she is being buried with Christ, and that she is sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever… not only because she is one of God’s children. But because God has given us this gift of the water, and the candle, and the promise to remind us that what we will be has not yet been revealed – but that we are becoming more that we ever thought we could be! And if it’s true for Emery, then it is also true for every one of us who renews our baptismal covenant with her today.
This was God’s promise to Abraham and to everyone who would listen to him since then: what you will be has not yet been revealed, but you will be more than you are now. Abraham laughed when he first heard this; Sarah laughed when she heard it too – preposterous! But this is the good news encapsulated in the flame of the candle we’ll give to Emery’s godparents: that what you will be has not yet been revealed, little child of God, but it will be wonderful.
The salvation of God is a transforming grace! It does not drop you off and make you wait. It takes you from here to there; it carries you further than you thought you could go, and maybe further than you wanted to go.
The salvation of God is a transforming grace! It does not leave you alone, untouched, unchanged, and unperturbed: it bothers you, and chafes you, and sometimes burns within you.
The salvation of God is a transforming grace! It does not care if you are rich or poor, gorgeous or repulsive, brilliant or simple; for it knows that whatever you are, whoever you are, you are destined to be more, because that’s the way God made you.
The salvation of God is a transforming grace! It does not, frankly, distinguish from the child who flies swiftly out into the world, the way Truman did, or the child who never makes it out alive, or the child who only barely makes it out and whose time in this life is too short, and there are many such children – all of them children of God - and what they will be has not yet been revealed, thank God!
I call this good news, come to think of it – that what we will be has not yet been revealed. Because some mornings I wake up and look in the mirror, and all I can do is hope that there is more to me that meets the eye.
And there will be days when even blessed, little Emery tries the patience of her parents, and Miles and Truman, and every other child. And there will be days, years from now, long after you thought life was settled on its course, but everything goes wrong, and your child or your parent or your brother is completely off the rails, and you think, God, what is going on? And you hear the promise again that what we will be has not yet been revealed, and you think, Well, I certainly hope not! And you wonder if your prayers will be answered, if God pays any attention at all, and what difference it makes to be told that we are children of God.
But you cannot see the warm and loving eye of God looking down on his children – on Emery, and on each one of us – and wondering for a moment, and then deciding with all his divine wisdom, and all the knowledge of the universe, and with a vision of every face that ever looked out on the world, that yes (God thinks) she looks just like me!
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
19 April 2015
Saint Mark’s Philadelphia