Sermon for I John 3: 1 – 7, Easter 3 B, "Little Children"

“Little Children” is a sermon interpretation of I John 3: 1-7.  There is no love like parental love.

The theme today is based on one Greek word, “teknoi”, which means, “little children.”  MY little children.

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What is something that every person here in this room has in common?  That every single person here in this room has in common and no one is excluded?  What is the ONE  experience that we know for sure we have ALL had? 

Are all of us here in this room Lutherans or Methodists?  No. Are all of us Christians?  Probably not.  Are all of us American citizens?  Maybe not.  What is the ONE experience that we know for sure, that every single person in this room has had? 

Yes, we are all human beings.  Yes, we all breathe, drink water, and eat food to stay alive.  Another thing that every single person here in this room has in common with each other is the fact that every person here in this room has experienced childhood.  All of us have been or are children. 

Not all of us are parents.  Not all of us have been mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters.  But common to every person here is the fact that every person here in this room has been or is a child. 

 

And so we all can answer the question, “What is it like to be a child?”  Every person here in this room knows what it is like to be a child.

What is it like to be a child?  Fun.  Play.  Amuse yourself. Every child in the world knows what it means to play. Every child in the world has played with a stick, a ball, or had a race.  Every child in the world has known what it meant to “go and hide”.  To go hide in the bushes, to hide in the trees, to hide in the dark, and then have the thrill of being found.  Every American child has had some experience with a wagon, a tricycle, or a bicycle.  With some kind of toy with wheels.  Every American child has had an experience with a doll or a truck.

What is it to be a child?  Ask the children of the world.  It’s to have fun.  It’s to play.

What is it to be a child?  It’s to be creative, imaginative and explore the world around us. Every child has looked under a leaf.  Every child has touched a blade of grass and fondled it and wondered about it.  Every child is delighted to find a penny, a pin, a rock, a stone, something under the sofa.  Every child has been frightened by thunder and lightening. Every child has looked at the clouds and wondered what they are made of.  Every child has been fascinated by birds that are flying above their heads.  What is it to be a child?  Every child wonders about and explores the world around us.

What is it to be a child?  We all know.  We’ve all been children.  Every child is basically helpless.  Every child needs to be taken care of.  Somebody has to meet their needs for food and water and warmth and clothing.  Every child is vulnerable.  A child cannot take care of him or herself.  What is a child?  A child is basically helpless.  A child needs nurturing.  A child is dependent.

What is it to be a child?  It’s to be loved.  Even in the poorest of poor nations, a child needs to be loved by a mother and a father.  The same is true in the richest of nations. Children need to be loved by moms and/or dads. To experience the warmth and tenderness from a mother’s body.  To nurse at a mother’s breast, be held and squeezed and hugged and to be delighted in.  Every child in the world needs love by a mother or father, as much as the child needs food, water and clothing.

When I look at childhood, I often wonder what has happened to “the little child” that I knew so well, the little child that lived inside.  I wonder what happened to the little boy inside, the little girl inside.  When I look at all the Pee-Wee boys on my son’s baseball team, those fifteen little boys who are seven to eight years old; they are all so polite, energetic, fresh, vital, open, happy and kind. And then ten years later, by the time they are seventeen and have become young men, I ask a question, “What happened to the little boy inside?” I wonder, “What happened?”  They all seemed to perfect back then.  Is it the hormones inside of them? Is it the evil world that changes them?  Is it me?  Is it them?  What happens to all those nice little five, six and seven year olds who grow up to become potentially so malicious and unkind?  What happens to them?  What happened to me?  What happens to little children?  What happens to happy little children who grow up to become men and women who often seem to have lost that childish innocence, happiness and exuberance?  What happens to so many, many little children? 

What is it to be a child?  What happens to the child in all of us?

Common to every person here in this room is the experience of being a child.  All of us know what it means to be little children.  And it is with this image of little children that we approach the epistle for today.

In the epistle John writes, “See the great love the Father has given us, that he has called us God’s little children.” 

Eight times in this letter, John uses the phrase – “little children”.  It is the Greek word – “teknoi” – little children.  “Little children do not sin.”  “Little children, your sins are forgiven.”  “Little children, it is the last hour.”   “Little children, let no one deceive you.”  “Little children, love with deeds and truth.”  “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  Eight times the author addresses his reader with his pet phrase, “Little children. My little children.” 

The Apostle John was an older person when he called the followers of Christ “little children” or “my little loved ones.”  To call the adult followers of Christ,  “my little children” or “my little loved ones,” suggests that the author John was an older person when he wrote those words.  In fact most scholars say that the author of this letter had grown older and was now an old man. Old Grandpa John, I sometimes call him.

We know about John.  The most loved disciple. The favorite disciple of Jesus.  John, the disciple whom Jesus had entrusted with his mother Mary.  John, the leader of the Christian congregation in the city of Ephesus.  Some of you have been to Ephesus, and you have seen the places of the Apostle John, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Apostle John was the primary leader on the early church there in Ephesus. The years had flown by and he had become an old, old man.  We and artists imagine that his hair was long and white and he had a thinning white beard. We imagine that his eyes were old and wise.  His skin was old and wrinkled.  We imagine that his heart was old and wise and was filled with great, great love.  He had become the master, the beloved old teacher, the wisest of men.  He was the last living disciple of Jesus.  And people would sit around him, sit at his feet and listen to him teach. The wise old man would say, “My little children, do not sin.”  “My little children, your sins are forgiven.”  “My little children, do not love in words, but love in deeds and in truth.”  “See the great love that God the Father has for you, my little children, that he has called you his children.”

The favorite phrase of this old, old, old teacher was, “My little children.” 

Jesus also said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not.  For of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Little children.  Teknoi.  How we love the little children.

Every mother or father realizes what it means to love their little children.  We have this deep abiding love for our children.  Sometimes our love for them is just too overwhelming.  We parents have deep feelings of joy and happiness and elation with them.  We have a great love them.  There is no greater love than that of a parent for a child. 

And such is God’s love for us.  It’s for all the little children of the universe.  We are “his” children, and that personal pronoun “his” makes all the difference in the world.

When a child is your own, you love them so deeply.  You seem to love them in spite of their faults, in spite of their irritations, in spite of their problems.  You love them.  For example, I look around at the children here in this parish.  I think to myself, “I don’t love your children with the same intensity that you do, all those beautiful, older and younger and big and little children.  I don’t love your children with the intensity that you do, in spite of their beautiful little personalities, in spite of all their little idiosyncrasies, and in spite of their little problems, and their little irritations. In spite of their little irritation,  you seem to love them  very much.”  And I sometimes wonder, “Is there something wrong with me or something wrong with them that I don’t love your little children, your big children, in the way you do.”  No, there is nothing wrong with me for not having such feelings.  Obviously, the conclusion is that I am not their parent.  They are not MY children.  If there were MY children I would love them in spite of all their little idiosyncrasies, all their little quirks. But the quirks of your children which occasionally drive me up the wall, you love them deeply as human beings simply because they are your children.

And so it is with God our heavenly Father.  We are God’s little children.  We are his.  We belong to him.  And by calling us his little children, this reveals the patient and intense love that God has for us, because God loves his children just like a parent loves his or her own children in a way that another parent cannot love them.

And then, a few verses later in chapter three, the old teacher John gives us a test by which we can recognize and determine who are the children of God.  A test by which we can tell who are God’s children and who are not.  God wants to make it very clear who are his children. 

According to the Bible, not everybody who is born on this earth are God’s children.  Not every human being.  I mean, God loves the whole creation.  God loves every single leaf.  God loves every single blade of grass.  God loves every single human being ever born.  But not every human being is a child of God. 

In the Bible, and in Jesus, and in the old wise teacher named John; they are consistently clear about this.  You can be a human being and not be a child of God.  You can be a human being and not be a child of God.  So who are the children of God?

I John 3:10 is very clear about this.  “By this we may see who are the children of the devil.  The children of the devil are those who do not do what is right, and who do not love their brother or sister.” 

So who are God’s children?  Those who do what is right, and those who love their brothers and sisters of the world. 

And this theme which is repeated again and again and again in John.  Those who do what is right, and love their brothers and sisters are those who demonstrate they are children of God. 

Edited from a sermon by Rev. Edward Markquart