June 22, 2014
Psalm 69:7–10, 16–18
“Remember whose child you are.”
When I was in high school, as I headed out the door on a date or for an evening with friends, my dad would often call out to me, “Remember whose child you are.” Once, when I was annoyed that he seemed to care more about how my behavior reflected on him than my having a good time, we talked about this. He explained that he didn’t just mean, “Remember that you are Pastor Schneider’s kid”—though certainly that was part of the message. He also meant, “Remember you are a Child of God.” Yes, my dad wanted me to hear, “Conduct yourself in such a way that people will see you are a follower of Jesus in the way you handle yourself.” But more deeply than that, I think he also wanted me to remember that whether or not that cute boy paid attention to me, whether the popular girls ignored me or included me, whether I felt smart and special or not, I belonged to God. I was—I am—God’s beloved child. “Remember whose child you are” used to sound like a warning, but I’ve come to embrace it as a word of comfort.
I thought of that when I read today’s texts with an eye to the fact that we would baptize baby Alex today. Because the texts are actually kind of scary. First we hear Jeremiah’s lament, in which he cries out to God, “Look! I’ve been faithful! I’ve said and done exactly what you asked me to say and do! And what happened? People made fun of me, shamed me, and scorned both me and you!” It’s contrary to what people expect will happen when they behave well. We might expect some hard stuff to come our way if we are conducting our lives in way that is counter to God’s word. But when we are living as faithfully as possible, shouldn’t good things come our way?
I wish it worked that way. I know we all want it to. We want good things to happen to good people and bad things to happen to bad people. And if we were in a church that taught the prosperity Gospel, it’s what I would tell you. Live righteously and God will bless you with lots of material wealth. Keep the commandments and you will flourish. But poor Jeremiah contradicts that idea. Jeremiah gets flogged and imprisoned and humiliated. Pretty much the whole book of Jeremiah is devoted to his laments about how he gets treated for doing God’s will. And it isn’t just the Old Testament prophets who deal with this kind of treatment.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they should not expect their lives to be more comfortable than his. Jesus does not say, “Follow me and all will be well.” He tells them they will have to lose their lives to find them. And he talks about the cross. We all know that Jesus lived a perfect life, and yet, look what happened to him! To prepare his disciples for his suffering and theirs, he merely says, “Don’t be afraid. Terrible things may happen to you. But God values you very much.”
In other words, if we follow in God’s footsteps, we will be led to situations and people and places that are frightening and dangerous. Sometimes “Remember whose child you are,” can be a way of bracing ourselves to face challenges with courage. I think of the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement, those people who deliberately entered places where they knew they would be greeted with hatred and violence. They did it because they believed it was a way of demonstrating God’s desire that all people be treated as fully human. And I think of those who fought against apartheid in South Africa, many of whom were Christians. I have heard stories of their beatings, imprisonment, torture, and even death, consequences they were willing to take for the sake of standing up for all God’s children who were excluded from the privileges of citizenship.
Probably you know of other situations where someone suffered specifically because they were standing up for the well-being of God’s creation, and were not received well. Sometimes this is what it means to follow Christ. We who are baptized into God’s family are called to follow Jesus, which sometimes means risking danger and exclusion and suffering, not avoiding it. To be prepared for suffering and death for doing what is right is always part of what it means to be Christian.
Consider the Christians in Rome, to whom Paul was writing in today’s second lesson. In the earlier part of his letter, Paul reminded them that God’s grace is bigger than all their fears and anxieties, bigger even than all their sin and foolishness. In today’s excerpt from this letter, he goes on to remind the Roman Christians whose children they are, and urges them to embrace the grace that has been given to them in their baptisms. There will be difficulties– those are to be expected, he says, since we are baptized into the family of a God who endured suffering—but there will also be resurrection. We can expect to struggle, but we can also hang onto the hope that we are redeemed, named, and claimed.
Probably Matthew was trying to communicate something similar to his first hearers. In his faith community there were divisions among households and friends. Some people were rejected by their family and friends for remaining faithful to their traditional Jewish faith, and some because they embraced Jesus as the Messiah. Into their midst Matthew offers words of encouragement from Jesus, inviting them and us to remember that in our baptisms, we become part of a larger family. Perhaps there is some hope and encouragement in this somewhat scary lesson from Matthew. Because it is an honest look at how, sometimes, our own biological families do not, cannot, or will not be there for us. I think it is for this reason that we have baptisms in our worship services. Because as parents and family promise to support and care for the newly baptized, the entire Christian faith community also says, “We will help. We will look out for this person’s faith development. We will take it upon ourselves to make sure that we are family for one another.” This is one case, I believe, where we can honestly say, “Water is thicker than blood.” We are all God’s children, and we are given over into one another’s care.
No matter what happens, let’s remember whose children we are, and let us remember that Jesus urges us not to be afraid. We may come across opponents who are able to hurt us emotionally or physically, but they can do us no spiritual harm. God, who alone has power over both our bodies and spirits, has promised to guard and protect us and to be with us eternally. Even if our nearest and dearest turn away from us, God will not leave us. The God who created and tends every living thing, values us more than anything. Let us remember whose children we are. Amen.