The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 5/4/03
Text: I John 3:1-7
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

I ran across some interesting material the other day with the answers to science test questions as rendered by 5th and 6th graders.(1) For example, one described the law of gravity as saying, "no fair jumping up without coming back down." Pretty good. Another said, "You can listen to thunder and tell how close you came to getting hit. If you don't hear it, you got hit, so never mind." A couple of them responded to questions about clouds. One said, "I'm not sure how clouds are formed, but clouds know how to do it, and that's the important thing." OK. Another said, "Water vapor gets together in a cloud. When it is big enough to be called a drop, it does." Uh huh. One defined a monsoon as a French gentlemen.

A couple more. One youngster said, "When planets run around and around in circles, we say they are orbiting. When people do it, we say they are crazy." True. One defined the spinal column as "a long bunch of bones. The head sits on the top, and you sit on the bottom." OK.

None of those have anything to do with the sermon, but this one jumped out at me because it surely does. One youngster wrote, "Genetics explains why you look like your father, and if you don't, why you should." In the context of our lesson, this one really hits home: "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are..." Is there any family resemblance? There SHOULD be.

Several years ago, Stephen Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief,(2) looked at how our society wishes us to treat God as a hobby. Our culture sees faith as something that we should not bring with us into the public square when making decisions about life and how life might be lived. Our society's message is clear: Practice your faith, if you must, but please do it PRIVATELY. I John says no. I John tells us that what we believe will determine how we behave...and publicly. If we are children of God, the world should be able to see the family resemblance.

Wait a minute. Aren't ALL people children of God? Well, yes and no. One commentator explains it this way:
There are two English words which are closely connected, but whose meanings are widely different. There is the word paternity and the word fatherhood. Paternity describes a relationship in which a father is responsible for the physical existence of a [child]; but, as far as paternity goes, it can be, and it not infrequently happens, that the father has never even set eyes on the [child], and would not even recognize him [or her], if in later years [they] met. Fatherhood describes an intimate, loving, continuous relationship in which father and [child] grow closer to each other every day. In the sense of paternity all [people] are children of God; but in the sense of fatherhood [we] are only children of God, when God makes [that] gracious approach to [us], and when [we] respond.(3)
I love what follows: "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." God is not done with us yet. And amazingly, what lies in store is so wonderful it is beyond our comprehension.

Now, we encounter this audacious statement: "No one who lives in him keeps on sinning; no one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him." The expectation is not that we be sinless, because that is clearly impossible. Rather, the expectation is that at least we TRY. If we find ourselves off track, we will not be content to stay there. We will do our level best to get ON track once again. In other words, our profession and practice...our beliefs and far as is humanly possible, match. We do not just "talk the walk," we "walk the talk."

Does that mean we will all walk identically? Not at all. There are Protestant Christians: there are Catholic Christians. There are Republican Christians; there are Democrat Christians. There are pro-life Christians; there are pro-choice Christians. There are straight Christians; there are gay Christians. There are crew-cut Christians; there are dreadlock Christians. And on and on and on. There are some striking differences in this family. But there is one distinctive that will insure the world will note the family resemblance. Jesus himself said it: "By THIS everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."(4)

A Civil War chaplain approached a wounded soldier on the battlefield and asked if he would like to hear a few verses from the Bible. The wounded man said, "No, I'm so thirsty, I'd rather have some water." The chaplain gave him a drink, then repeated his question. "No sir, not now -- but could you put something under my head?" The chaplain did so, and again repeated his question. "No," said the soldier, "I'm cold. Could you cover me up?" The chaplain took off his inside coat and wrapped the soldier. Afraid to ask, he did not repeat his question. He made to go away, but the soldier called him back. "Look, Chaplain, if there's anything in that book of yours that makes a person do for another what you've done for me, then I want to hear it."(5) Walking the talk.

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" You are a child of God! You! Sure. I should have known. I see the resemblance. You look just like your Father.


1. Carl Horton via PresbyNet, "Bottom Drawer," #3156, 4/9/97

2. New York: Basic Books, 1993

3. William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, Daily Study Bible Series, (Philadelphia, Westminster, 1960), p. 87

4. John 13:35

5. Carlos Wilton, via PresbyNet, "Sermonshop 04 17 1994," #5, 4/12/94

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