A few minutes ago, we walked baby Peter up and down the aisle so that you could all see and welcome him. And, like we do with all the babies on the day they are baptized, we wondered about what this little guy might become as he grows up. Maybe this. Maybe that. We can’t know what he will become, but we do know that no matter what, God will love him and be with him in every single moment of his life’s unfolding. Peter is and always will be God’s child. God is and always will be his Father, Mother, Parent. God loves him unconditionally, and God will never leave him orphaned.
Obviously, Peter already has parents, who love him completely and would give up their own lives to save his. No other human beings are going to invest more in keeping him safe and giving him what he needs to thrive than you will. And it won’t be easy. You will feel anxious for him. Because there are things that are beyond your control in this great wide world. There are things that are beyond all of our control. So it feels good and right that you as his parents, and all of the rest of us get to hear and see again what God promises to all of us.
We hear in 1st John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” There are two ways to legally become someone’s child. You can be born as someone’s biological offspring, in which case you inherit their DNA, their genetic code is hardwired in you. Or you can be adopted by someone—someone can choose you to be their own. There are places in the New Testament, that describe our becoming children of God through adoption. God chooses us to be God’s own now and forever. But, in the gospel of John, and these letters from John, the understanding is that we become children of God by “being born from above,” by being re-birthed by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus. Now, whether we say God adopts us or re-births us through the Spirit, it doesn’t change the reality that God loves us unconditionally and forever, and we are true children of God and heirs of all God’s promises.
But, what does seem different to me is that if we think of ourselves as being re-born from God then we have to say something like, we share God’s DNA, God’s genetic code is written in us. And even if this way of talking is only an analogy to our birth from human parents, even if God doesn’t literally have DNA that we inherit, the point is to understand that in being re-born from the Spirit, something new is hardwired in us. In becoming children of God through re-birth we are ontologically changed, we are changed in our being. As we say so often in our words of assurance—”you and I are new creations.” This means there is a knowing that you are loved and held by God that is now part of the very fabric of your being. It is somehow in you at the cellular level. This is who you are. It is God’s gift. You can trust it is true.
At the same time, we hear in 1st John: “What we will be, what we will become, we do not yet know. It has not yet been revealed.” When we carried Peter up and down the aisle, it is what said of him: we do not know what he will be or become. It is true of all of us, not only when we begin our lives, but throughout our lifetimes. We do not know exactly what we will become. We do not know in advance precisely how our lives will unfold. We do not know what today or tomorrow will bring. But, if we begin with what we do know, that Peter is a child of God, and we are children of God born from the Spirit, then we do know that no matter what, we belong to God. And we do know that the immense love of God for us is working transformation in us throughout our lifetimes and beyond our physical deaths. This is God’s promise. We do not know exactly what we will be when God’s new creation is complete. John says, we will be like God and we will know what that means when we finally, fully see God with unveiled faces and experience our own ultimate transformation.
There is a whole lot of mystery in all of this. And even though our re-birth in the Spirit changes our being and gives us a knowing on the inside, the substance of what we know comes to us from the outside. It comes to us in the story of Jesus who has gone before us through the transformation from death to new life. In Luke’s gospel we watch the disciples struggle to comprehend the appearance of Jesus out of nowhere after he is raised from the dead. Of course they are shocked. Graves do not give up their dead. There is nothing normal, nothing natural about what is going on here. Jesus is at pains to convince them that it is really he who stands before them. He holds out his wounded hands and feet as evidence. “This is me, your teacher and friend who was crucified on Friday. See.” Then he eats fish in front of them. But it is all so weird. Why do they not recognize his face? Or know his voice? How is it that Jesus suddenly appears then just as suddenly disappears in these resurrection stories?
Jesus has an appetite, a tongue, esophagus, digestive tract. Touchable wounded hands and feet. Jesus, the first-born of God’s new creation, apparently has a physical body, but it is a quite different kind of physical than either we or the disciples have ever seen. Despite what is is right before their eyes, in joy and disbelief the disciples are still wondering and waiting to make sense of it all when we get to the end of the story.
We are they. They are us. And I want to leave you with two take aways this morning. First, it is inevitable that we struggle to believe and trust the promise that God not only raised one person, Jesus, from the dead, but also promises re-birth, new life, second chances, forgiveness, love and transformation to us, and to all people. It is okay to doubt some of it or all of it. It is okay to just keep wondering how any of this can be true.
But second, I want to ask, what if we give into the joy, what if we just let ourselves go into our deep longing for all of this to be true? How would your life be different this week if you just chose to trust all this unbelievable stuff? That God did raise Jesus from the dead with a kind of physicality that we can’t now understand, but which we will someday experience in fullness. That you really are re-born of the Spirit as a child of God and you really are a new creation already. How would your life be different if you embraced the joy of trusting that nothing you have done, and nothing that has been done to you can separate you from the love and power of God that is at work in you and for you, opening the way beyond all the dead ends, all the pain, all the struggle, all the death? That God will not turn God’s back on any of us, God will not leave us orphaned, but parents us with unconditional love, delight, mercy, and forgiveness? How would your life be different this week if in your joy and disbelieving you just took this leap of faith and trusted that you would be caught and cradled in the arms of God, a beloved child, whose being and becoming are safe in the wounded hands of the risen Christ, the first-born of God’s new creation?