Lenten Noonday Preaching Series
Calvary Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee
March 13, 2001


You Are a Child of God
The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad
Associate Professor of Preaching
Union Theological Seminary
New York, New York

(This sermon is also available in audio)

The text for this day is from the book of Luke, the third chapter, beginning with the third verse:

John, the son of Zechariah, went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor; ' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham."

This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.

Well, clearly, John would not have made it too far as a minister starting every sermon by saying, "You brood of vipers," so I won't start that way. But I want to remind you of something you may have forgotten: Before there was Pokemon or Nintendo, before Teletubbies or Barney the Dinosaur, before Memphis had a new stadium, before cell phones or Palm Pilots, before any of those, there were pet rocks.

Anybody here remember pet rocks? Pet rocks were ordinary rocks. They came in a little carrying case that looked like a house. I can't remember if they came with names or if you named your own, but I once knew a boy named Harry who had a pet rock before anybody thought of inventing them. He got his rock for nothing.

I think it is now thirty years ago that I first met Harry. I was a youth director at a church in the Midwest, when I met Harry. He wasn't one of our kids; he did not go to our congregation. In fact, he didn't go to any church. I can't remember now if Harry found us or if we found him somehow. He lived about two miles from the church in a falling-down apartment building with his mother. There was no father around, but Harry said there were a lot of men. We didn't know if that was accurate or not, but that's what Harry told us. I do remember that Harry was a chubby guy. Actually, Harry was fat. For a sixth grader, he was very fat, and you could tell that a lot of kids had made fun of Harry over the years.

I met Harry some time before summer, and convinced him to go with us to summer camp. He had never been outside the city limits of St. Paul, and even though home wasn't always the greatest, at least he knew home. He couldn't imagine going to Bible camp, and once we got there, it was clear that Harry wasn't like the other kids at camp. One afternoon we were going to make collages. Anybody remember making collages? Well, this was the late Sixties. It was the era of collages, and everybody made them. You spread newspapers and magazines all over the floor, cut out some pictures from them, which you then pasted onto a big piece of newsprint. It was supposed to say something about your life. So all the kids tore into these newspapers and magazines there on the floor, except for Harry. Harry was done before anybody else had anything glued down. He had found one word. It was a street sign that said, "Wrong way." Later when we went around the circle explaining our collages, Harry didn't want to talk about it.

It was at camp that Harry found his rock. Harry took the rock wherever he went. This rock became his friend. The rock sat beside him in the dining hall while we were singing songs like "Get Your Elbows Off the Table" or other stupid songs that Harry didn't know. It was beside him at night when we were all singing around the campfire, and Harry sat silent as his stone. He didn't ever have to worry about being picked last for the softball team, which he always was, because his rock sat beside him on the bench.

As the week went by, people began to say, "Hello," to Harry's rock. And then, lo and behold, Harry began to translate what his rock was saying. Well, pretty soon it sounded like a real conversation. One night at the campfire, Harry even started singing.

At the end of the week, when the bus came to pick up all of the campers, Harry begged to stay. Something had gotten through to Harry that week. He begged to stay. He said, "I have to stay. You know, I can help the other kids because I am big for my age." So we said, "One more week." Who could turn down a boy and his rock?

"I tell you," said John, "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham." We might say Abraham and Sarah, although John forgot. I know that John wasn't talking about Harry and his rock; he was talking about something else. And I am not going to tell you that Harry went on to become a minister, but he did become, for the first time in his life, a child of God. When the new kids came that second week of camp, Harry said his name. He said, "I'm Harry," and it didn't sound like an apology.

I've preached on this text many, many times, usually in the season of Advent, and here it is Lent. Usually when I've preached on it, it is about all those people that aren't part of the church because we have been stepping on them like stones, and we have refused to see them as children of God. Tomorrow I may say a little bit more about that, but today I want to talk to all of you here in the church who have made time to come, but who may not yet believe that you are a child of God. This happens in the church sometimes. We can't even admit it because we've been members for so long that we can't tell anybody that we don't really feel that we belong or that God loves us.

My friend, you may be a person today who is lonelier than you can tell anybody. You may feel so much loss that the notion that you are a child of God is simply not possible. But the one that John talked about--the one that John said would come among us--this one named Jesus--cried out in his last hour, "My God! Why have you forsaken me?" Whatever lonely place you are in today--whatever forsakenness you may feel--it cannot be any deeper than where Jesus has already gone himself. Jesus comes to sit beside you today on that bench to say, "You are my beloved child."

You may not be a senior citizen. You may not feel any particular loss today or even be lonely, but you may feel the weight of tradition's stones on you in a particularly pressing way. You may be gay or lesbian. No doubt, there are some gay or lesbian people here in this sanctuary, or your son or daughter or your niece or nephew or your best friend -- and somewhere along the line someone told you or your children or your friend that you have no place here. You surely have no place coming to the table of God unless you are somebody other than who you are. So, I've asked a poet to help me. His name is Gerhard E. Frost, and he died a number of years ago. But his poems, in a little book called Seasons of a Lifetime, remain as gifts to us. The poem is titled "Loose Leaf."

When your options are either to revise your beliefs or to reject a person, look again. Any formula for living that is too cramped for the human situation cries for re-thinking. Hard cover catechisms are a contradiction to our loose-leaf lives.
(p. 57, Augsburg Press, 1989)

My friend remember, the one John said would come among us, that one named Jesus, bumped up against tradition almost every time he turned around. When he had the choice between healing a person and inviting him to dinner or following a rule, Jesus went with the person every time.

God is able from the stones of rejection to raise up children of promise, children embraced and loved into the fullness of life. But I am looking at some of you, and I know some of you love being a rock. Right? He's a real rock, they say about Doug Bailey, or maybe about one of the others of you-- it could be a man or a woman. You are steady and strong, and you know what you want, and you go for it. You will find the place without a map if it takes you all day

Remember my friend, the one named Jesus named one of his disciples Peter the Rock. Peter was strong and stubborn, and sometimes so sure of himself that he could say without flinching, "You are the Messiah." But Peter was wrong over and over again, and chastised by Jesus. Remember when he said so certainly, "Lord, I will follow you wherever you go"? Then when someone in the courtyard, the night of Jesus' arrest, said, "Aren't you also one of his disciples?" not once, but three times Peter said, "No. I don't even know the man."

I tell you, God is able to awaken the most stubborn stone. Whether you are sitting here now saying, "I believe what I believe, and nothing can change my mind," or you may be saying, "I don't believe any of this, and nothing can change my mind." God is able from the most stubborn stone to bring surprise. You may lose your grip but find your life.

Well, maybe I have missed you completely today. None of these stories are your stories. Then, I want you to write your own story. Think of what it is that keeps you from fully believing that you are named as a child of God. I don't care if you are a minister, a deacon, an elder, or if you've come to every Lenten Noontime Service since they started. What is it that keeps you apart from the embrace of God?

To hear John prepare the way for Jesus today in your life, I tell you: "God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham and Sarah." Oh, it makes for a very strange family tree. Stones get turned into people that we would rather have been left as stones. It surely is a strange kind of begetting, but one summer long ago it happened when a boy named Harry said his own name without apology. It is happening over and over, even in this time, even in this sanctuary, even to you.

Please stand for the blessing.

To those of you who do not yet feel that you can live up to God's expectations, know that God comes to you. To those who you feel that you have lived up to every expectation, and there is nobody quite as good as you, know that God has a surprise for you. To those of you who think there is nothing new, those of you who feel you are steady and strong as a stone, may God help you to lose your grip and find your life. Know that the God who can turn stones into children blesses you now and forevermore. Amen.

Copyright 2001 The Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad

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