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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

As Usual

2014-11-02 1 John 3:1-3 As Usual?


"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God…"

Do you remember the last time you heard me say that? Remember what was happening? Maybe I say it more than I think, but I ALWAYS say it at a baptism.

After we stand up front, with the parents looking equal parts proud and scared to death that the baby's going to spit up on me or have a diaper explosion (a substance preachers are all familiar with)…

after the prayers and the sacred words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…

after that,

I walk up the aisle, holding the baby, introducing her to you, which really is the best thing in all the world. And if she's awake, she gets to look around at all these strange people, smiling and pointing, and trying to get their phones to do video.

And I say, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God."

And then, I say something like, "This sweet little baby doesn't understand what that means. She doesn't understand the words yet. It's our job to teach her. It's our job to show her what it means to be a child of God."

And then I usually add something like, "But none of us really understand what that means, though – to be a child of God, to be called a child of God by God. So this little baby -- and we -- will have to figure that out together. That's our promise to each other, and God's promise to us."

And then everybody dabs their eyes, and we pray or sing a song. And then we go on with the service, as usual.

We listen to scriptures, we have a sermon. As usual.

We sing, we say a creed, we pray. As usual.

We collect the offering, we pray and sing some more. As usual.

We benedict, we get in our cars and go home, go to lunch, and go on. As usual.

Watch some football, fall asleep in the recliner. As usual.

Make lunches, get the kids ready for Monday, diagram the week like Eisenhower planning D-Day. As usual.

Work in the yard, snap the pills into the tiny boxes. As usual.

I got to thinking about this and the scripture and I started wondering. I wondered for myself. I wondered what you would say. And so, let me ask you: Which words would you say better explain your life? Which words would you say describe who you are and predict what you're going to do? Which words would you say are the foundation of your days? Which drive you, which direct you? Which give you guidance on how to behave and what to think?

Is it this one?

"See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God"?

Or is it this one?

"As usual."?

Which would you say is your mantra?

If I'm honest, I know which one it is for me, and it's disappointing. Because if I believe what I say over those sweet little babies, I ought to live, I ought to think, I ought to exist as anything but, "as usual."

But I don't. And that's sad.

What about you?



When the babies get a little bit older we teach them to say prayers. The usual prayers they learn are the ones we learned when we were little, or have Googled and quickly memorized so we don't feel guilty.

"God is great. God is good. And we thank him for our food."

God is great. God is good. What else is God? God is King. God is Creator. God is All-Powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing. God is unchanging. That's what we learn. That's what we pass along. That's usual. God is… usual. If God were UN-usual, that wouldn't be God. That's why so many churches are upset these days, because their preachers bring in praise bands and wear skinny jeans. That's unusual. At least for Presbyterians, and thank you, Jesus, for that.

But here's the flipside. If God is usual, then "the usual," becomes God. Upholding the way it's always been becomes our Lord and Savior. Defending how it's always been done becomes our mission. Being normal IS the holy spirit. "I'll have the usual," isn't just what you say to your bartender, it's what you say to your soul. Anything that upsets your applecart of the usual is of the devil. It messes with our minds. It makes us mad and defensive and scared. Because the unusual freaks us out.

And if you think you're the first generation to try to exorcise the demons of the unusual, you're… well, you're pretty usual. The first Letter of John was written for people just like you. The folks who got this letter in the mail were desperately trying to figure out where God was in a crazy, unusual world.


The First Letter of John was written long after Jesus had been crucified. It was written long after the Romans burned and leveled Jerusalem in 70AD for the crime of one too many Jewish rebellions against the Emperor. It was written long after the surviving Jews had been scattered all around the Mediterranean. It was written long after a flurry of crucifixions of people who claimed to worship the seditious rebel Jesus that Rome had also crucified.

First John is less of a letter than a sermon. And unlike a lot of sermons, it's short enough that you can read it and still stay awake. It's a sermon about how early Christians should live AS they struggle to understand who Jesus the Christ was (and is). First John was written to and for churches who were largely making it up as they went along in a world where NOTHING was usual.

And that's important to remember. Nothing – NOTHING – in Jewish and Christian life was as it had been barely a generation before. The holy places, the Jerusalem Temple foremost, had been erased from the ground. The priests and caretakers of the religion had been slaughtered on the streets. The superpower, the Roman Empire was cracked and decaying. There was no "normal." There were no traditions to fall back on. Everything had changed, and WAS changing, daily. Even the single most absolute, most usual part of life was unusual. God was unusual. God – as known through Jesus the Christ – GOD was very, very unusual.

Do any of you feel as though there's nothing usual left in the world? Do any of you feel as though everything's changing, daily? Do any of you feel as though not only is your applecart of values being upset, you're not even sure where the apples have gone?

Welcome the world of First John.


See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…. Beloved, we are God's children now….

God loves us. God calls us his children. That is what we are. Beloved, we are God's children. Now. Right now. >From the day we are born, to the day we die. We are God's children. That is what we are.

I believe this, I believe this, it's what keeps me preaching, and going to hospitals, and doing baptisms, and funerals, sitting through meetings (and Lord knows, you need supernatural motivation for some meetings).

We honor the saints today. We thank God for them. We know that they were God's children, too. They each did things that were UN-usual. They broke the usual in their unique and beloved examples of how to be a child of God. Beloved, they were children of God, and we are children of God coming after them. That is what we are. That is what keeps us going. We are the UN-usual.

We ARE God's children. That is what we are. Right now. Sometimes we might doubt it, or the world might laugh at us for believing it. But that's OK. We are God's children, gathered in this little community to serve God's community. We are God's children whose purpose is to follow Christ's mission of Welcoming, Worshiping, Educating, Celebrating, Tending, and Sending. Because that is who we are. Because that is what we do. And we're going to keep on doing it. Not because it's usual, but because it's UN-usual. It's UN-usual to think that way.

Of course the world is changing. It's changing SO fast. But every generation says that, don't they? Our calling as Children of God is to do everything in our power NOT to worship the usual, NOT to idolize the usual, but instead to worship God.

But how can we tell the difference?


When I do weddings, I usually start with the same words.

I read from First John 4:16. I say,

God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.

And because it's a wedding, no one listens. They're all staring at the bride, and holding their breath over the five year-old flower girl and ring bearer.

It might catch someone's attention if I changed the words up a bit. I could say,

God is the usual. And those who do the same old usual things every day for the next 50 years…

Isn't that every bride's nightmare? "He's exactly the same at 75 as he was at 25!" And the groom's mother says, "I warned you."

First John says,

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…. Beloved, we are God's children now; WHAT WE WILL BE has not yet been revealed.

What will those little babies grow up to be? How will those marriages turn out? How will the world change around you next year, next month?

I have no idea. We don't know; none of us do. I guarantee you, usual won't be the same usual as usual is today.

We only know what we are right now. What we will be has not yet been revealed. What the saints see is not for our eyes. What our children will become is for them to work out.

But the one unchanging constant around which the whirlpool swirls is that we, and they, are and evermore shall be called "Children of God." Because that's how much love the Father has for us.


This week, when you catch yourself getting upset because dad-blamed unusual has gone and messed up your usual routine (and it will), ask yourself which is really more powerful: the dad-blamed or the Father-named? See – see what love the Father has given you, that you should be called a Child of God. That's very unusual. God's like that. And thank God that he is.