Thursday, February 19, 2015

How to Become a Real Son


















 During this season of Lent our Sunday sermon series at Christ Church will focus on the way in which God calls us to be in relationship with him—his covenant faithfulness—his unbreakable promise to make us his children and be with us forever. We are calling it “The Promise Keeper.” 

Our heavenly Father keeps his promises. He has made a covenant with us, a solemn and binding vow and contract, to make us his people and to be our God. This covenant is much like the vows that couples make at marriage. At marriage couples make a vow to be with one another and to love one another for better or worse, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. In the same way God has vowed to be with us both in times of joy and in times of struggle. Even when we rebel against him and prove unfaithful, he has promised to continue to pursue us with his love. The Psalmist celebrates God’s amazing faithfulness in today’s psalm,

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,   
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

All of us have sinned and proven unfaithful to our God and creator, though He has shown great love to us. Rather than dealing with us according to the just consequences of our rebellion, however, God has remembered the promises he has made to us and has shown us pity rather than wrath. He loves us as his very own children. The Psalmist writes,

For he himself knows whereof we are made  
  he remembers that we are but dust.

Before he laid the foundations of the world God chose you. Before you existed he conceived of you and loved you. He molded you out of the dust of the earth, knit you together in your mother’s womb, and breathed into you the breath of life. He remembers the frailty of our nature, our vulnerability to being blown here and there by the winds of temptation, and yet he gives us grace to rise above our earthly nature and live as his children. In all our failings, when we slide back into the mire, he calls us to return to him and press forward towards our higher calling.

God’s love and his faithfulness to his creation is beautifully illustrated in a story I’m sure most us know well, the story of Pinocchio. In our culture the story is probably best known through the Disney animated feature. If you don’t know the story or if the details are hazy, let me remind you of the basic plot. 
Geppetto is an old toymaker who loves children, but never had any of his own. He lovingly crafts a wooden marionette made in the image of a little boy. Geppetto wishes more than anything else that this wooden toy might become a real boy and a son to him. The Blue Fairy hears his wish and graciously decides to grant it by bringing the wooden puppet to life.  Although he has been magically brought to life, Pinocchio is not yet the true boy his creator wishes him to be; he is still wood. In order to become a real flesh and blood boy, the Blue fairy tells him that he must prove himself “brave, truthful, and unselfish.”


You might say that Pinocchio is like us and Geppetto is like our heavenly father. Just as Geppetto made Pinocchio out of wood, God made us out of dust, and just as Geppetto wishes Pinocchio to become a real boy, God wishes us to be more and more conformed to the Image of his true and only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. You might also say that Geppetto is like our earthly Father who gave us life and the Blue Fairy like the Holy Spirit through whom our Father gives us a higher life, a real and eternal life like his own. 

If you know the story, however, you know what happens next. No sooner is Pinocchio sent into the world and charged to be faithful to the Blue Fairy’s instructions, than he is led astray by a deceitful Fox and into the clutches of a wicked puppet master named Stromboli, despite the protestations of his guide Jiminy Cricket who is the voice of his conscience. Again and again Pinocchio goes astray and again and again he is rescued by the Blue Fairy. Each time Pinocchio is untruthful, his nose grows longer -- eventually even sprouting leaves and branches and making him less like the boy in whose image he was crafted and more like the wood he was made from. When he repents and obeys the fairy he becomes more like a real boy. 

When we watch the film, we find ourselves (like Jiminy Cricket) continually exasperated, frustrated, and disappointed with the wooden boy and his continual rebellion, but if we are honest with ourselves are we not all more like Pinocchio than we care to admit? Are we not too easily lured into taking the easy way? Haven’t we all made an ass of ourselves on Pleasure Island? Like Pinocchio, as well, we have all been shown grace and given a fresh start again and again, but how easily we forget God’s mercies! 

God’s love and faithfulness was such that he did not abandon us when we ran away from Him, rather he came looking for us in Christ. He descended into the very depths of our sinful and fallen nature. Saint Paul says,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In Christ, God bore the consequences for human sin in himself. He went down to death in our place. Geppetto doesn’t give up on Pinocchio either. He goes out looking for him, and in the process is swallowed by a gigantic whale named Monstro. The obvious Biblical parallel here is of course with the story of the Prophet Jonah who was also swallowed by a whale. Jesus speaks of the story of Jonah and the Whale as a sign of his own death and resurrection. He says, 

“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

 The story of Geppetto speaks powerfully, therefore, of the way in which Christ descended to the dead for our sake. 

Through his death and resurrection Jesus breaks the power of sin and death over us. This is our salvation. In contemplating the amazing faithfulness of God that he should suffer the agony of death upon the cross for our sake, our hearts should be moved to repentance. Our Old Testament reading from Joel says,

Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.

God’s faithfulness should inspire faithfulness in us. Because he loved us we should love him also. Our faithfulness is not an attempt to win God’s favor but a response of gratitude to him because he is gracious and merciful.

How does this play out in the story of Pinocchio? When he reads the note from the Blue Fairy describing what Geppetto has done out of love for him, he races off to rescue him with no thought of himself. It is Geppetto’s love that finally inspires bravery, unselfishness, and truthfulness in Pinocchio. He follows him even into the belly of the great beast and ultimately gives his life to rescue his father.

If we truly understand the love of God in Christ, we will take up our own cross and follow him. Lent is a call to covenant renewal and faithfulness to God. Because God has declared us to be his own children, we must put to death our sinful nature and offer our lives as a living sacrifice to him. In doing so we become like Christ in his own sacrifice. This is what it means to grow into the image of Christ and to receive the life that comes from above. 

Jesus says, “he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake will find it.” Pinocchio lays down his life out of love, but in doing so he finds greater life. In his act of bravery and sacrifice, Pinocchio at last becomes the real boy that Geppetto always wished that he would someday become.

God created us from the dust of the earth, but he has heavenly aspirations for us. He made us in the image of his beloved son and it is his desire that we grow more and more like him in every way. Apart from his love, our lives are like the grass of the field, they pass away like a shadow, and to dust we return.  But as the Psalmist says, 

“the merciful goodness of the LORD endures forever on those who fear him, and his righteousness on children's children, on those who keep his covenant and remember his commandments and do them.” 

To those of us who put to death the works of the flesh through his spirit working in us, he will give us a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.