Forever I am
a sermon based on 1 John 3:1-7
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
We are privileged to have with us
travelers from afar. They have driven 2,075 miles through rain, tornado watches, long
stretches of monotonous road, and sitting upright like two astronauts for hours on end.
One of the travelers is my father-in-law, Captain Richard Thomas-a retired airline pilot
and Mac, his wife. What amazes me is that these folks can fly virtually anywhere in the
world for free. Yet this couple chose the long, arduous way to get here. I think a few of
us would have jumped a plane, fastened our seatbelts and watched the stewardess show us
how to put that mask over our face should the air get thin. They could have avoided maps,
diners, detours, grumbly gas attendants, and Pennsylvania potholes.
Getting here by air and road reflects two ways of beginning a journey. One way focuses
on the destination. The other way focuses on the journey. Thats a problem for my
wife and I-one of us is a destination person and the other a journey person. One of us
wants to get to Montana in time for supper and the other of us wants to get there via
Mount Rushmore, Custers Battlefield and Reptile Garden.
Robert Hastings captures this idea of life as a journey in his book that moves subtly
from vacations and travel into our inner spiritual journeys. In his story, were all
aboard a train, crossing the continent. Out the window we drink in the passing scene of
cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant
hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of
prairies and valleys and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village roads. But
uppermost in our minds, he says, is the final destination. Getting there. Once we get
there, our dreams will come true, and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a
jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, waiting, waiting, waiting to get there.
Once we get there we will cry-"Ive finally made it!"
"When Im 18!"
"When I buy a new Mini Cooper S that goes to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds!"
"When the kids leave home and the dog dies!"
"When I have the mortgage paid off!"
"When I get the promotion!"
"When I retire!"
Isnt that our story-striving and striving yet never arriving? The pressure of
trying to meet deadlines, trying to meet the standards set by our peers, friends, and
family? Always trying and trying to become the person we know we can be? The persons that
we know we should be?
It was raining the way it always does in Seattle. Kurt Cobain who had jumped to
meteoric fame with his band, Nirvana, had gone to his brand-new riverfront house. He
dashed off a one-page note that ended with, "I love you, I love you," and then
took his life.
Only afterward did we discover the telltale signs of his intense anguish. Cobain spoke
for millions of his generation in his music of helplessness and hopelessness. He wrote
about broken-heartedness over parents divorces, unmet expectations, unrealized love.
He died of a gun shot wound to the head, but his friends said that he died because he did
not want to carry the weight of his generation any longer. He felt that he could no longer
be the spokesperson for his generation. It was just too much to expect.
In a certain kind of way, I think that Kurt Cobain does speak to our generation of our
failure to meet expectations placed on us. I recently listened to a mother tell me of
growing up in another country where her culture placed upon her exceedingly high
standards; by the age of seven, parents were expected to have their childrens
vocation mapped out. She told me how that no matter how hard she tried, she just could
never be good enough, get high enough grades, or marry the right person.
I think we have all felt like that-like the homemaker who never quite equals the one
who brings home a salary. Like the college student who never quite looks attractive
enough; like the preacher who can never quite preach well enough; or the athlete who just
cant excel enough.
I sometimes ask my students to compose a "Whats it like to be . . ."
list in order to make them more sensitive to their congregations. I tell them to envision
someone out there and then express what they might feel like. One student wrote
whats it like to be . . . a failure. Heres what came to his mind:
to do better next time
why I cant succeed
fear of failure
Of course, thats for the down and outers we say. Were more together.
Were in church arent we? But deep down, there are times when all of us face
that invisible standard that we strive to meet-to be a better parent, a better student, a
better pastor, a better supervisor, a more-loving person.
This morning I want you to shut the door to that voice. Shut the door to the world.
Shut the door to the news. For just a few moments I want us to walk down the hall past all
of the open doorways and the commotion that claims our attention and sends us rushing to
our next responsibility. The hallway leads to a small room; it is the core of our faith-an
inner place of the soul, a holy place. Some candles sit on a scarred wooden table. Pull up
a chair and sit in silence. Listen in on the conversation:
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 Gods children now;
what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is thes: when he his revealed,
we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
And all who have this hope in him purify themselves,
just as he is pure.
What a conversation! The writer calls us children of God-even before we get to our
destination! Even before we prove how worthy we are. Before we can show God how we really
deserve that title. Our lessons says that this title is a gift-something that God gives to
us. Not something we earn, or strive for.
In the camp meetings era of the 1800s, the prominent theme that singing Methodists
could never sing loud or long enough about was being Gods children. When we spend a
little time in the inner sanctum of our souls reflecting of Gods love
toward us, it
can change our whole outlook. Thats why camp meeting songster, Fanny Crosby, blinded
as a young girl by a botched eye treatment, could write these words:
I know I shall see in His beauty,
The King in whose law I delight.
Who lovingly guardeth my footsteps,
And giveth me songs in the night.
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
. . . His child and forever I am.
Another writer wrote, "I belong to the King, Im a child of his love."
Have you discovered that tender part of God? Have you taken advantage of God as Parent?
When we are at our religious best, beloved, now are we Gods children. When
were facing major surgery and the outcome uncertain, beloved, now are we Gods
children. When we are at our highest, when we are at our and lowest, beloved, now are we
Being aware that we are Gods children in the now can buoy us up in hope and can
give us a sense of soul-cleansing. Our lesson tells us that we dont know what we
will be, but if God chooses to address us as his children now-when we dont earn or
merit such a title-only Gods love can imagine what lies ahead of us at the end of
the destination. In the meantime we respond to Gods invitations, we worship by
living sunsets, laugh more and cry less. And face life as a child of Gods love-now!