Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. (1 John 3:2)
A few weeks back, I drove to Decorah, Iowa for a conference. One of the things that struck me was
the way the leaves had begun to turn; some fell from trees and landed on roadways; others fell across
windshields, only to be swept away a moment later. In some ways, I felt I was in an autumnal snow
globe (but without the snow). Enveloped in this scenery, I began to pay attention to the leaves in a
way I hadn’t before: I wondered what it felt like for the leaves to be released from branches and fall
to the earth. I wondered what it was like for them to be trampled underfoot. I wondered what it was
like for them to just lie there on the ground, a sign and memory of life.
While I drove, I listened to an episode of Kate Bowler’s podcast. It’s called Everything Happens. On
one of the episodes, Kate was talking with Tom Long, who is a retired Presbyterian pastor and
teacher of preachers at Emory University. Their conversation focused around death. It sounds grim
to put it that way, but I assure you it wasn’t. To talk about death as a Christian is also to talk about
life at the same time. Remember: death and resurrection are a package deal: wherever one appears, the
other is not far behind.
Their conversation came about because Thomas Long has written about funerals. There’s so much
that has changed across the landscape of how people ritualize death: maybe it looks like moving
from what we know as a traditional service, where the Word is preached, hymns sung, and the
deceased person’s body is buried in a casket and, instead, toward a celebration of life, where the main
focus is on celebrating the life of the one who has died.
While there are reasons for this shift, Thomas Long worries that in the process, we may have lost an
important element that allows people to grieve and heal. Funerals are a space and time to tell the truth
about the person. He doesn’t mean telling long-held secrets about the deceased. The practice of
telling the truth about a deceased person gives voice to two simultaneous realities about people: we
all are broken. We are all sinners. We are all in need of the grace of God on the one hand, and, in a
simultaneous way, that in God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, we are all clothed in God’s love and mercy
because God is just so gracious to us and for us.
This is the truth of our lives and our life together in Christ Jesus. Whether we make room for this
truth, God has made space enough for us under the shade and care of God’s love and grace. We are
both sinful and forgiven; broken and healed; we need God’s love and mercy, and receivers of God’s
love and mercy, because God is just so gracious and merciful to us. God’s grace falls on us like rain
each moment of every day. God’s love won’t let us go, even when we fall short of the glory of God.
We gaze at this truth simultaneously, trusting that our failures do not define us, and the end is not
the end. The writer of 1 John shows us how God neither judges us because of our pasts, nor avoids
Instead, even in death, God transforms us and the truth of our lives. The writer writes, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. Read this slowly: Beloved. We are God’s children. Now. In each clause of the sentence, there is a new beginning and a new hope. Whether in death or life, in fall or winter or spring or summer, in moments of joy or sadness, anger or anguish. Beloved: we are God’s children now, and forevermore. Amen.
In Christ’s Love and Mercy,
Pastor Paul Lutter