Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
Every year during the break between Christmas and New Year Hans and I travel to visit my side of the family. And what mode of transportation do we take whenever possible? Why the train, of course. This year was Elijah’s first big trip on an Amtrak train, overnight both ways, and he did very well. If Hans has anything to do with it, and he does, Elijah will grow up loving trains.
Five years ago, we were in the Amtrak lounge at the train station waiting to board the train to head back home after a family visit, and out of the corner of my eye I observed this odd guy in the corner. He was somewhere between 25 and 30, I’d say, slouched down, looking at his phone, but also staring furtively out from behind the phone, and he just had a way about him that let you know he was a little off and a little lost.
As a pastor I’m tuned in to these non-verbal signals, and as a Christian I am committed to making sure that people feel included, so for example, in a social situation if I see someone sitting alone, I’ll go sit with them. Of course, this usually means not sitting at the table with the fun kids.
When I saw this guy I thought, “Oh great, I wonder if God has something in mind.” And indeed, God had arranged for this oddball, this lost boy, we’ll call him Sean, to be in the roomette directly across from us, so, about three feet away. And of course, at our first meal in the dining car, he was randomly seated with us. And the second meal, and the third.
In your first conversation with strangers on a train, you start by asking where they’re coming from and where they’re going. Sean said he was going to Salt Lake City. “Oh,” we said.
And then apropos of nothing, he said, “You know, the Mormons aren’t the way people think they are.” “Oh, OK,” I thought, “We’re talking about Mormons.” “They don’t do polygamy anymore,” he said. “And they’re a lot less pushy than Jehovah’s witnesses.” “And they’re really nice. They make you feel included, like you could be friends.” “Oh,” I said.
“Yeah, I’m LDS. I was just baptized about six months ago,” he said. “I used to be Catholic. The Mormons are really nice to me. They’re sending me to school to brush up on my business skills.” “That’s great,” I said. “Good for you.”
At a subsequent meal we learned that he had been put in foster care as a kid because of bruises that he said were the result of a “falling off his bike,” that he spent 3 years in a group home as a teen where he was considered too troubled to be allowed visits with his mother. At least that’s what he thinks. I can only imagine what else went on.
He was a funny guy. He would get wound up and talk to loudly and interrupt everyone and then shut down, grab the rest of his dinner and scuttle out of the dining car back to his roomette and close the door.
I didn’t try to heal him. I couldn’t do that. I was just friendly. We were safe for him, for a bit, on the train. And this might sound funny, but I give thanks to God that he found the Mormons, and that they took him in.
He needed so much. He needed friends. He needed grown-ups, parent figures, to care for him and to give him direction. He needed to be adopted in some way and I truly hope his LDS congregation did that for him.
Our gospel lesson for this morning is John’s Christmas story. No Mary and Joseph, no angels or shepherds or sheep, but instead the most beautiful language in the entire scripture attempting to put into words the mystery of the God made flesh. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God’s presence and was God.
This Word was life, it was light, it was pure gift and truth, and this Word came into the world.
Let’s look at verses 11 through 14.
“He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of humankind, but of God.”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
In this prologue John is laying out the big themes, and here is one of them. Jesus Christ is God’s child, God’s Son. And those who believe in him are empowered to become God’s children also. John wants us to understand that what God has done for Jesus, God will do for us. We too can be children of God.
I love this text. I have always loved the image of adoption to understand our relationship to God, and you can imagine that now, with Elijah as my son, it is even more meaningful.
Whereas biology is limited, adoption is not. I have only one biological sister, and no other siblings. But through adoption I can be the sister of anyone, and anyone can be a sister or brother to me. Through adoption, Jesus becomes my brother, because we have the same divine parent-mother-father.
What Sean, the man we met on the train, needed most is what we all need: to belong, to have a family that honors us, to live in grace and in truth and connection.
This is the very gift of God in Jesus Christ. And I believe that God is big and wise and generous enough to give Sean the earthly family he needs in the way that is available to him where he is.
This is the beginning of the year 2020 and the scripture lesson for this day is about beginnings. Christ the Word was with God and was God from the very beginning. And what God has done for God’s divine child, God will also do for us. We too can be children of God.
How would you like to begin this new year with God? What do you need to do, or what does God need you to do, to be God’s child?
How is Holy Spirit calling us to abide in what God has done for us, and to trust in it, and build on it?
How might you start off this year with God that will take your relationship to a deeper place of intimacy and trust? For some of us it’s the need for regular prayer, for regular personal devotions. For some of us it might be getting to church more often.
It might mean getting more deeply involved in ministry. Last fall, members of Knox and TLC met together twice and Holy Spirit gave that group the vision of this place becoming a neighborhood church. The group imagined this church being a place that is known for caring about the neighborhood, where help and love are both available. Maybe pursuing that vision will strengthen your relationship with God.
But there can be more than one thing. Maybe this is the year in which you re-imagine God. You spend a year getting away from old images, old ideas, that make you sad or angry or afraid, and finding new ones that are filled with grace. Maybe you get to know your adoptive parent, God, who loves you and believes in you, in a new way.
Maybe this is the year when you re-imagine you. Maybe you spend a year seeing yourself as God sees you, as precious, beloved, worthy of love. Forgiven. Called. Included. Capable. Someone who has a place in God’s family.
I invite you to take about three minutes now. Write it down. Dear God, this year I hear you calling me to … And if you feel comfortable, share it in groups of three. Maybe you can take a moment to pray for one another.
Let us pray. Holy God, gracious Lord, our Mother our Father, the one who knows us best and loves us most deeply, hear our prayers and draw us closer to you. Let us know you and trust you more deeply. Fill our relationship with grace and truth. Make us your children. In the name of Jesus, the Word made flesh, we pray. Amen.