Proper 27, Year C, Church of the Redeemer, Shelbyville

“They cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” (Lk. 20:36).

“Children of God:” a phrase we’re very familiar with in the church, as in “you’re a child of God,” and “we’re children of God,” but which has an interesting genealogy. In our Gospel today, it’s a loose translation of the Greek, which reads “sons of God,” an expression reaching back to the very beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. These “sons of God” appear in the sixth chapter of Genesis (Gen. 6:2), without much clue as to their identity; and they appear also in the Psalms and the Book of Job as well (Ps. 29:1; Job. 1:6). If you want something interesting to do, you can look the Genesis reading up this afternoon for their sudden appearance and its context.

In these scattered references there’s an echo of the ancient pantheon of gods, of the presence of a multiplicity of divine beings, but now domesticated in the Old Testament and led into the service of the true God. Early tradition identified these “sons of God” in Genesis and elsewhere with the angels, the “heavenly beings” who lead God’s praises and act as his messengers.

In our reading, however, Jesus identifies “the children of God,” not with the angels but with those who are faithful to God, those who are found worthy of the resurrection and of the age to come. The “children of God” are mentioned in the same breath as the angels, as being “like the angels,” tracking with the traditional understanding, but now with a new meaning. Now Jesus is applying the term to us, his faithful followers.

In the passage, Jesus is facing off with the Sadducees, members of the priestly caste, on their home turf, in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or the age to come, or in angels either; and they give Jesus a marriage puzzle to untangle, one that is intended to show up how ridiculous belief in the resurrection is, and to undercut his ministry.

Jesus untangles their puzzle, for sure, but in doing so breaks new ground. “Children of God:” not an expression that finds much play in the four Gospels, surprisingly enough, with only a handful of examples, which makes its mention here that much more significant. On the lips of Jesus, these references are rare. When Jesus uses the term “children of God” it’s significant, pointing toward our kinship and connection with God himself.

There are a few other examples in the Gospels. In the sermon on the mount in Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9); and in the prologue of the Gospel of John we hear that “to all who received him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God” (Jo. 1:12). “Children of God,” was both identity and vocation: a gift we were given and a calling to which we were summoned.

Later usage was even more expansive. The Apostle Paul, of course, uses the term a number of times to describe the faithful in Christ. In Romans, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Rom. 8:14); in Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26). The phrase is a favorite of the Apostle John, as well.  In his First Letter, again addressed to an early Christian community, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1 Jo. 3:1).

Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees in Luke’s Gospel couples “children of God” with “children of the resurrection,” linking our kinship and connection with God to resurrection reality. As it says in our Collect for today, Jesus came into the world to “make us children of God and heirs of eternal life.” If we are children of God now, as St. Paul and St. John conceive it, then it is because we share now in Jesus’ resurrection life. John says in his Letter, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (1 Jo. 3:2). That future reality is advancing even now into our world, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As St. John goes on to say, “When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 Jo. 3:3).

Today we celebrate Holy Baptism and Confirmation, enacting here what is foreshadowed in the Gospel. Through Baptism we become children of God, claiming kinship and connection with the God who made us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The note of resurrection that Jesus sounds in our Gospel today reminds us that this kinship is not simply a function of our creation, but of our recreation. We are children of God, as St. Paul says, “through faith” (Gal. 3:26): faith that is rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This faith brings us to the font, to profession and confession and affirmation of faith.

All of us gathered here today in prayer and support of our candidates will have the chance to re-affirm our faith as we celebrate this liturgy. We are children of God, and that identity and vocation is advancing into our midst from the future that has yet to be revealed, but which has been made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee