January 2020

The Beloved Child of God

1st Sunday after Epiphany, January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42:1-9, Acts 10:34-43, Matthew 3:13-17

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

Those who attended my son, Devon’s, ordination service in December 2018, may recall that I pointed to him as I referenced the words from Matthew’s gospel: “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” (3:17) You might also be interested in knowing that at his installation service several months later, the keynote speaker, Reverend Mark Mendes, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Essex Junction, wasn’t sure if I referenced Matthew’s gospel or Darth Vader’s “I am your father.” Nonetheless, it is important for parents to remind their children how much they are loved.

It is equally crucial for all members of the church to know that they are intimately loved as children of God, who plays no favorites and, as Peter professed, “shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34) What then are we to say of references to Jesus as God’s “only son” (John 1:14) or “only begotten son” (John 3:16)?

Some feminist Christians might muse that while God had only one begotten son, there were plenty of begotten daughters, but I prefer that we not stumble over anthropological metaphors about a divine Creator far greater than our human comprehension.

Christianity is not a Smothers Brothers comedy skit in which Tom is constantly whining at Dick, “Mom liked you best!” For when Peter said that God shows no partiality, he meant that those born of the spirit of God are one in the spirit of God. In that same spirit Paul stressed that every member of the body of Christ is linked to one another, so that “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; and if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1st Corinthians 12:26)

Christ awakened us to the awareness that God’s likeness and breath of life are grafted in all creation that remains part of our spiritual makeup despite our disobedience.

I’m inclined to challenge the traditional notion that our disobedience toward God resulted in God condemning us to a condition in which we were blinded to God’s goodness and redeeming love. Common sense would question that if God’s love is unconditional, why would God impose the condition of this curse?

Christ seems to question this notion as well in his Parable of the Prodigal Son where the prodigal, even in his fallen state, nonetheless has the capacity to realize his life was far better in his father’s household and makes the conscious choice to return and ask his father’s forgiveness. Yet his father, upon seeing him in the distance, does not wait for his son’s contrition, but filled with ecstasy and compassion, runs to greet and kiss him, and throws a banquet in his behalf, inciting the other son who remained faithful to feel that his father favored the prodigal. However, this sibling rivalry provides an occasion for the father to enlighten them both. In the presence of his prodigal son, he says to the other, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

We may in our hearts abandon God and wallow, as prodigals, in the muddy mire of the hell we’ve created; but God will never abandon us. God’s likeness and breath of life are grafted upon us enabling us to realize when we have fallen from grace, and granting us the wings to return.

You are God’s child, God’s offspring, with whom God is well pleased. Go, therefore, with God. Go in the faith that there is no valley so low, no wilderness so vast, no passage so winding, no hell so desolate and deep, that God is not already there waiting to be with you and guide you home. Go with God in the spirit of Christ Jesus; in the spirit that you are the one whom God loves. Amen.