(Jeremiah 1:4-10 ; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30)
This morning, I am going to begin with a poem, On Children, by Kahlil Gibran:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with his might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
He loves also the bow that is stable.
This poem was given to me when I adopted my children. It is easy to figure out why. Parents who adopt are aware from the beginning that their children are not their children in the biological sense. The sense of ownership that comes with creating, gestating, and giving birth to a child is absent for parents who adopt their children. Parents who adopt don’t create their children biologically; they receive them fully formed.
As an adoptive parent, I had to face the fact, right away, that my children are not my children; that, instead, they are the son and daughter of Life’s (with a capital “L”) longing for itself. They are with me, yet they belong not to me. I have been bent in the Archer’s hands to be my children’s mother, knowing full well that they have been gifted to me but that I do not own them. They are mine and not mine at the same time. They belong to Life and to the house of tomorrow, and my job is to help them fly into the future as the glorious creatures they are.
This truth that I had to face from the beginning of becoming a parent is true for all parents. Our children are gifted to us by God, but we do not own them. We are given them for a time, but they are, first and foremost, children of God. They come from Him, they are sent into the world by Him, and they will, eventually and ultimately, return to Him. We are, merely, the parents God has chosen for His children. We are His stewards of these precious lives. We are to take our stewardship of God’s children seriously, but we are to hold them lightly in our hearts and hands as we prepare them for the future God has planned for them. In truth, our children are not our children; they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
Our children are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself, and we are, too. Each one of us was a child at one time. Now, we are adults, but we are, still, children of God. Gibran wrote his poem for parents about their children, but it also applies to the parents, themselves! As we journey in this world, we often ask ourselves, “Who am I?” We have different answers for that question at different times in life. We are daughters and sons, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, wives and husbands, church members, co-workers, friends, lovers, and so on. The answers to the question, “Who am I?” are many and varied. But, as the poem, On Children, makes clear, we are, first and foremost, children of God. Each one of us is a son or daughter of Life’s longing for itself. Each one of us came from God, was sent into the world by God, and will – eventually and ultimately – return to God. Before anything else, we are children of God.
This truth is essential to us. If we don’t know this truth, then we have no foundation and are unstable. Our identity and behavior shift and change as we and our environment shift and change. How we feel and behave becomes dependent on where we are in our development and on our environment. We can see this in the scripture passages that were read today.
Jeremiah, the prophet, writes about his response when God calls on him to become God’s prophet. Jeremiah states, “Ah, Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (1:6)! Jeremiah’s answer to the question, “Who am I?” is, “I am only a boy. Since I am only a boy, I cannot be your prophet, Lord God, because I do not know how to speak!” But what does God say to Jeremiah? “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (1:7-8). God’s response to Jeremiah’s insecurity and fear is to remind Jeremiah that he is God’s child. God has a purpose for Jeremiah and Jeremiah is not to question what God has called into being in creating Jeremiah! Who are you, Jeremiah? You are a child of God!
In Psalm 71, the psalmist feels besieged by the wicked, the unjust, and the cruel. He could succumb to his feelings and give up whatever fight he is having with his enemies (a physical fight, a spiritual fight, a psychological fight – he doesn’t state what kind of fight). His answer to the question, “Who am I?” could be, “I am nothing; I am defeated; I am overcome.” Instead, he remembers who created him and on whom he has leaned since his birth: “In you, O Lord, I take refuge. . . . Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you” (1, 6). His answer to the question, “Who am I?” is, “I am a child of God! My enemies will not overtake me! I call on the God who created me!”
Jesus, when he preached in his hometown, experienced opposition. First, those who heard him spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth. They were surprised that Joseph’s son could be so gifted! “Is that not Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus began well when he preached to the members of his synagogue. But Jesus did not come to tell people only what they wanted to hear. He came to tell them what God wanted them to hear. So Jesus reminded the members of his synagogue of two stories from their scriptures: A story about Elijah and his saving of a Gentile widow, and a story about Elisha and his healing of a Syrian leper. In both of these stories, God sent the prophet to those who were outside of the accepted set of people: a Gentile and a Syrian. By reminding his listeners of these stories, Jesus was telling them that God saves the faithful regardless of their pedigree. Like the prophets who had gone before him, Jesus reminded his listeners that God requires faithfulness from them and that faithfulness requires expanding their understanding of who belongs to God.
Uh oh! Jesus held a mirror up to the members of his synagogue! He required them to look at themselves and discern if, perhaps, they needed to confess their sins, repent, and turn back to God! Needless to say, those present did not appreciate this! Quickly, they turned against Jesus. They were filled with rage and attempted to murder him by hurling him off a cliff! The passage states, however, that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (Lk 4:30).
Here’s the thing about Jesus: He always knew who he was. He always knew he was the beloved Son of God. His answer to the question, “Who am I?” was, always, “I am the beloved Son of God.” I came to understand this about Jesus in a class I took on the Gospel According to Mark. We read a book in that class that focused on Jesus’ ability to retain his identity and remain faithful to God and to himself despite being sorely tested and tempted along the way. The author called this Jesus’ singlemindedness. Jesus had “singleminded perseverance on the difficult ‘way’ from bondage to freedom.” Because of Jesus’ singleminded perseverance all the way to and through the cross to resurrection, he has prepared the way for us to follow him as his disciples. He forged the path that we now walk. And he was able to do so because he knew who he was!
Whether we are faced with a challenging call from God, like Jeremiah; or we are faced with an attack from enemies, like the psalmist; or we are faced with opposition from those who have known us since birth, like Jesus in his hometown; or we are faced with some other temptation or test; whatever it is, we must remember who we are and stand firmly on the ground of our identity as children of God. Who are we? Beloved children of God, that’s who! Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, January 31, 2016, the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany.
 Garrett, Susan. R. The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. William B. Erdman’s Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI. 1998.
 Garrett, 53.