The Promise of our DNA
Nov 05, 2023
All Saints’ Day
Text: 1 John 3:1-3
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
It’s a fairly common thing these days to do a DNA test in order to discover the details of one’s ancestry. I did one a number of years ago; the reason was actually more interesting than the results of the test. My Dad had a cousin named Betty whose father was my grandfather’s half-brother, or so it was believed. But someone in the family had done research which indicated that might not be the case, for reasons that would have been unacceptable at the time the half-brother was born. The only way to solve the mystery was for Betty, at the time in her 90’s, and I to do DNA tests to see if we were indeed related. So, we took the tests and waited to see if a family scandal would be uncovered. It wasn’t; the tests clearly identified us as second cousins. I have to say, though, that I know of at least two cases in which people were surprised – not always happily – by such secrets being revealed.
Today’s reading from 1 John is a sort of a DNA test, one for which we can give thanks. In it the writer boldly proclaims, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” There is no question about our paternity, and that is intended to be a source of hope.
This letter was written to an early Christian community that was troubled by a split that caused some of its members to pack up and leave. Commentator Audrey writes that there were significant differences between the two groups concerning Jesus; the people who left denied that Jesus was the Christ, the incarnate Son of God. So, the author of 1 John reminded those remaining that the glue that holds them together is God’s love, binding them as one family, the children of God. (1)
To add insult to injury, those who left claimed to be sin free, which is why, throughout the letter, the author continually stressed the importance of living in a way that reflected their walk with Jesus, their sibling. No doubt that is why today’s passage began with, “See what love the Father has for us….” The love given by God is visible and can be imitated.
They were, and we are, God’s children NOW. This is not a “someday” promise, but a present reality. And, to add hope upon hope, we may not know what we are going to be like when God’s work is completed in us, but we know this: we are going to be like Jesus. WOW! Given all this, the author proclaims, “purify yourselves”; in other words, become who you already are; live into your identity as God’s child. That, my friends, is a life-long renovation process.
Theologian C.S. Lewis once wrote that we think becoming disciples is “like coming into the house of our hearts and putting up some new drapes and slapping a few coats of paint on the same old wall. However, in reality, God come in, knocks down the walls, and starts to build something brand new.” (2)
This passage echoes what we read last week, we are no longer slaves to sin, but freed, beloved children of God. We know, though, that not being slaves to sin does not mean that we are sin free. That’s why, had we continued reading in 1 John 3, we would have come across some startling statements. Included are, in verse 6, “No one who abides in God sins….” And in verse 9, “Those who have been born of God do not sin….” We know that’s not the case, so what are we to think, that if we sin we are not God’s child? What happened to be being saved by God’s grace through faith?
In this case, it helps to know Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. According to commentator Stan Mast, in every one of these texts, the original Greek says, “we will not continue to do sin.” As he pondered this, he was reminded of a potential custodian that his church had interviewed. After discussing the job requirements, the woman said, “Oh, by the way, I don’t do windows.”
Now I’ll quote him, “That’s the sense here. We don’t do sin. We don’t, as part of our normal routine, our standard operating procedure, our habitual lifestyle, do sin. A child of God has a different perspective on sin, a different attitude toward sin, a different intention toward sin. I don’t do sin; I do righteousness. That’s my life, my desire, my goal, my increasing pattern.” (3)
In other words, we strive not to do sin, but when we fall short, we are forgiven, and the process of transformation continues in us.
Today’s Gospel reading is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which he spells out living into our identity as God’s children looks like. He begins by revealing God’s character; ours is a God who will bless the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted.
If that is who God blesses, then it also is a description of God’s children, and the initial description of what it means to live as a child of God. As the sermon continues, Jesus challenges his siblings to do that which they never thought possible, for example, to be merciful by loving enemies and praying for persecutors. This is what it means to, using the image from C.S. Lewis, have something brand new built in us.
Today is All Saints’ Sunday; the definition of a saint is easy: a saint is a child of God, and to be a child of God is to be set apart for God’s purposes. The saints who are still here – us – are keeping our eyes on Jesus, striving to be like him, being forgiven when we fall short, and then trying again to “do righteousness”. The Saints who have gone before us, 14 of whom we will be remembering momentarily and others for whom we give thanks in our hearts, are in Jesus’ care.
When God’s work is completed, we will see Jesus as he is, and we all will be like him. That’s what our DNA and God’s word promises. WOW! What a great and glorious day that will be! AMEN
“Commentary on 1 John 3:1-3” by Audrey West, www.workingpreacher.com
“1 John 3:1-7 Commentary” by Scott Hoezee, April 18, 2021, www.cepreaching.org
“1 John 3:1-7 Commentary” by Stan Mast, April 18, 2021, www.cepreaching.org