Come to the Well #2 - We are Sons and Daughters of God
Come to the Well#2 – Sons & Daughters of God 7/4/19
Jesus cries out to us in a loud voice: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me! Let anyone who believes in me come and drink.!” (Jn 7:37-38)
What is that invitation about? What is the ‘thirst’ Jesus is talking about? I think our core thirst is – deep down – we seek affirmation of our true identity as loved, unique, sacred sons and daughters of God. Yet we so often go elsewhere to drink.
In Bret Barton Ellis’ novel ‘Less than Zero’, he offers a graphic depiction of the moral and spiritual poverty behind façades of wealth, success, popularity and power. He describes the life of sex, drugs and violence among the teenage sons and daughters of the super-rich entertainers in Los Angeles. They have everything the world can give, but the cry that arises from behind all this decadence is clearly: ”is there anybody who loves me? Is there anybody who really cares? Anyone to stay at home for me? Is there anyone who wants to be with me when I’m feeling out of control, or feel like crying? Is there anyone who can hold me and give a sense of belonging and meaning?”
That’s a cry we see all around us. Maybe a cry within us? Human love falls short. Jesus calls us to be in touch with the love that formed us, the eternal love that affirms our true identity.
In my early teens I did quite a few naughty, petty, criminal things. That hugely embarrassed my father to say the least. Which kind of complicated things – because it was pretty obvious that I was really crying out for a bit of positive attention – but it actually got the reverse. Negative inattention. We sorted those things out, kind of, but I could sense my father stopped wanting to spend any time with me. He loved me generally - providing necessary things - but I had no sense he liked me. Plus he had other bigger issues going on. That dislike and disconnection felt pretty strong. Thankfully, that changed a lot later in life. A crucial part of that change for me and my father was that we both discovered God’s love in profoundly life-changing ways – for me it was the beginning of discovering my true identity as a loved son of God, for my Father it was rediscovering it for himself. From that basis, we built a really good relationship.
So when Jesus calls out, “come drink from me”, it is a call to drink from the love that formed us, one that can sustain and deepen our human relationships.
What does it mean to be a son or daughter of God? My brother in law discovered - at age 40 - who his actual father was. He knew that the man who raised him was not his birth father, but he had no idea up to that time who his actual father was. And shortly after that discovery he also found out that his birth dad was Maori, of Te ati Awa descent. And further, that he was closely related to Sir Paul Reeves. So, suddenly, almost overnight, he realised he had a whole new family he’d never met, and was also part of a Marae at the top of South Island, and was being asked to be involved in it. A whole new world of belonging for him to grow into, with potential authority, responsibilities, blessings, resources.
For many of us, this illustrates something of our spiritual journey. Suddenly discovering that we are children of God – part of a whole new community in Jesus, and suddenly able to access the heart of love that is the origin of love in the world. But maybe we have blockages in the way of that? Maybe it’s too hard to believe? Maybe it needs a while to be lived in to?
By claiming for ourselves the truth that we are sons and daughters of God – we can be freed from a lot of things. Maybe the need to judge others, opinions, evaluations, condemnations. Putting people in the right place! To the degree we embrace the truth that our identity is not rooted in our success, power or popularity, but in God’s infinite love, to that degree we can let go of judgment, competition and comparison. It frees us also from the fear of being judged etc. We can become free! Freed by love - to love. Prayer gets us in touch with that freeing love.
Another blockage is that many of us can feel too unworthy – too unlikable for God to spend time with us. A friend mentioned last week that he had felt that way with God for a long time – loved generally, but not liked. He said “Why would God want to spend much time with me?” But through some very tough events in the last few years, and spending significant time in prayer, he sensed that in fact he was loved and liked by God. That God wanted time with him. Having had things stripped away, he discovered that bedrock of being a loved Son. He felt especially blessed by this new sense of deepening relationship – like the doors to a whole new world had opened.
Loved and like by God. That is the Truth that God wants us to know and dwell on so much that it becomes bedrock. A firm foundation for our whole life. To know we are sons and daughters of the God of love.
So, when Jesus welcomes us to the Well, He’s saying drink of the love I have for you. Drink of the truth of who you are – a beloved child of God.
When Jesus is baptised in the River Jordan, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descends in bodily form like a dove. And a voice from Heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, you bring me great joy.”(Luke 3: 21-22)
Through Christ – we have this same voice over us. John 1:12-13 says: “To all who believed in Him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn, not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”
Paul writes in Galatians, “You are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Loved Children of God. But how often are we aware of it? Are we prepared to simply stop, make time and receive this truth at a deeper level?
So often our question might be – “how am I to find God? – but the real question might be “How am I to let myself be found by God?”
Or instead of “how am I to know God?” rather “ how am I to let myself be known by God?” And “how am I to let myself be loved by God?”
Do you feel far away today? God is looking into the distance for you, to find you, to bring you home. In the 3 parables where Jesus is asked why he eats with ‘sinners’, he puts the emphasis on God’s initiative. The shepherd hunting for the lost sheep. The woman searching for the lost coin. God is the father watching and waiting for his lost son or daughter to approach, he runs out to meet them, embraces them, draws them home.
God wants me to be in touch with his first love for me – that original goodness with which I was made. To be in touch with that, and stay in touch with that, because without that I lose touch with my true self and search for it in the wrong places, use false strategies and maybe go hunting among the wrong people, or believe the lies of the advertising world.
Henri Nouwen describes one of the most identity challenging periods of his life – and how crucial it was to realising who he was. He describes how moving into the L’Arche Christian community derailed all his accomplishments, but shored up his true identity in Christ. He writes: “The first thing that struck me - when I came to live in this house of people with down syndrome - was that their liking or disliking of me had absolutely nothing to do with any of the many useful things I had done until then. Since nobody could read my books, those could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my 20 years at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard were meaningless. Not being able to offer any of the skills that had helped shape my identity in the past, I was suddenly faced with my naked self. This forced me to discover my true identity. Those broken, rounded and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of all my accomplishments, forcing me to stand on my sonship in God completely vulnerable, open to give and receive love regardless of any accomplishments.”
He later describes how the only way he could survive and thrive in that community was to drink deep from the Well everyday – to drink deeply of God’s love for him purely and simply as his beloved Son. God is love – only love. And God’s Spirit is the Spirit of love longing to guide us to the place where our deepest desires of our heart can be fulfilled – belonging, affirmation, identity. This will take us to the bedrock of who we fundamentally are.
Author Brennan Manning describes the importance for him of going to the Well every day: “The hour I spend in the prayer room is when I refocus, re-centre on Jesus, becoming fully aware of His presence again. When this happens I can carry God’s presence into the next 23 hours, knowing all the time he is with me, he is for me, he likes me and hears my thoughts. I’ll see people and situations the way He sees them. When problems arise I’ll pray in real time, right then and there instead of compiling lists for a later holier time. In fact, my life will become that moment: a continual conversation with God and reaffirmation of how loved I am.”
Carol Arnott writes: “There must be time for him, just to love him and have him love us. No other agendas, no list of prayer requests. These may come later, but we need to put loving him and receiving love first, because it is only as we are filled with love, knowing we are loved, that we have love to give away.”
Will we respond to this offer to drink more fully, more often from the Well?
But I will share an even deeper mystery, illustrated by the two previous quotes. An invitation to even deeper relationship. This is for those with ears to hear.
When he called his disciples, Jesus invited them to followhim, to march behindhim. Later on, He invited them to come a little nearer, to come alongside, to take the same yoke – to go in the same direction. Finally, on the evening before he was killed, believing his disciples were ready to hear something still greater, Jesus began to speak to them of a bond of unsurpassable depth - not behind, or alongside, but spiritually in Him, part of Him. No longer servants, but deep friends.
With this image of the vine, Jesus is describing a level of mutual spiritual connection that is exceptional, absolutely unique. We in him; he in us; what is this saying? No other rabbi before him had ever said such a thing!
Several times He states in that passage, “I have loved you”. He says that in the connection between the disciples and God, through Jesus, they are provided with all they need. All the love they need to love others. Just like the vine with the life sap flowing out into the branches and leaves, love appears here like a vast one-directional current proceeding from the love of the father, passing through the Son and spreading to the disciples. For sure, there is the place of reciprocity – our love for God - but Jesus is emphasising here that the origin, the source of love is from God, we are not the origin – we are loved before we love. He is asking us to allow ourselves to be loved by Christ – to keep opening ourselves to the life source.
Happy is the person who knows they are loved unceasingly, day and night, infinitely! Happy is the one who knows that the love of Christ is fully sufficient for life, and who lives by this!
We are God’s beloved sons and daughters, not because we have proven ourselves worthy of God’s love, but because God freely chose us. Our belovedness is eternal. God says to us, “I love you with an everlasting love.” This love was there before our fathers and mothers loved us, and it will be there long after our friends have cared for us. It is a divine love, an everlasting love, an eternal love. Unconditional, unlimited, everlasting.
Now, we can become servants overnight via contract. We can even become followers semi-easily. But we do not become deep friends overnight! It needs time and effort, lengthy companionship and intentionality - making time and space, planning even. Will we choose to go deeper in loving friendship with God, identifying more deeply with our true status as sons and daughters of God? Prayer is at the heart of it. Prayer is drinking from the Well.
“True prayer is nothing but love” – St Augustine
“Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself” – St John Vianney
“All of us must cling to God through prayer. My secret is simple: I pray. Through prayer I become one in love with Christ.” – St Teresa, Calcutta
Let’s spend a few minutes receiving the words – “you are my beloved child, you bring me great joy.”