If you are a parent, no doubt you’ve had that moment when you say something to your children, or react to them in some way, and all of a sudden it’s not you, but your mother who’s somehow speaking through you. In some moment of stress, you channel your parents and at the same time, watch yourself ,thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’ve become my mother!”
On the flip side, if you’re a parent, or a close uncle or aunt, or a regular caregiver of any kind, you may have also noticed the reverse: that there are moments when the children under your care all of a sudden repeat back to you the words that you yourself have said to them. And that is particularly disorienting. Children become mirrors of us. Their words and actions reflect our behaviour to them, and, this can be good or bad. Of course, most of the time, we only notice when they reflect our bad behaviours––impatience or annoyance, but there are the good things, too. Whatever you value, truly value, I mean, is what your children will often value as well, even if they don’t quite realize it.
It really comes down to that phrase we hear, and perhaps say, so often: Do as I say, not as I do. We repeat this phrase so often because, in fact, the reality is the opposite. Children don’t do what their parents say, they do what their parents do.
And this is where our Gospel reading comes in. Because this is essentially what Jesus is saying. He does what his Father does, his deeds reflect God. He says to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” and says that all of the words he speaks and all of the things he does are not his own doing, but “the Father who dwells in” him. This is why Christians confess that when we see Jesus, we see God. For the same reason that we might look at someone’s child and say, “Oh, I see your mother in you.” Only with Jesus, this reflection, or this embodiment, is so much more intense that we say, in the end, that Jesus is God.
And so, from Jesus, we see that God is compassionate, merciful, forgiving, and wants to see us live in wholeness. Through Jesus, we see that God values justice for the poor, love for one’s enemies, and mending relationships. Through Jesus, we see that God searches out and shines in every darkness, and is willing to die for us. And, in this Easter season, through Jesus we see that God values life over death, and commits everything to that.
But Jesus is not the only one of God’s children. We are, too. And so Jesus’ words apply to us, as well. We also should think of ourselves that whoever sees us has seen God, and that the words we say and the deeds we do are not our own doing, but God who dwells in us. And indeed, Jesus says this, when he says, “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Jesus is saying that we, too, reflect and embody God in our actions. When people see us, they see God.
Which is, frankly, intimidating. But true. When we are public about being Christian, whether that means our neighbours know, or we have some kind of cross bumper sticker, then every action and every word that we do or say is seen as a reflection of God. When we are kind, that is how people think God must be. When we are forgiving, or generous, or gracious, the world sees this as a reflection of the God we worship. Which is as it should be-––children who are gracious and kind reflect the graciousness and kindness of their parents. But when we are cruel, or bossy, or pushy, or intolerant, or hypocritical, or entitled, that is also how people think God must be. It’s not necessarily fair, but that’s the way it is. Children who are bullies or unfair reflect the cruelty of their parents. And when it comes to Christians reflecting God, when we speak words of hate, when we are silent in the face of injustice, when we deny that we have done any wrong, the world sees us, and they think that the God we worship is hateful, does not care about the poor, and is cruel, fickle, and power-hungry. They see our actions, and they think they are seeing God. And we see the results of this, which is people turning away from God. It’s not because they are horrible people, but because, throughout history and even now, we have been horrible people, and those who see us think that means our God must be horrible, too. We may not like to hear it, but this is the truth. Our works and our actions are taken to be reflections of God––good and bad.
So at this point, there are two ways we can go with this. The first is to become despondent and despair because we are bound by the limitations of our human nature and we can’t fully reflect the goodness of God, and as a result, people will never get the truest picture of God. We can accept this, and we can give up.
But the other way, which Luther himself emphasized, is to note that before Jesus tells us that we, too, are reflections of God, he reminds us that he will bring us to God. In other words, Jesus reassures us that our reflections of God, our attempts to do as God does, are not entirely up to us. God is involved. God comes to dwell in us, moving us to greater good. The Holy Spirit comes to be with us, inspiring us every day to be truer reflections of God. And every time we pray in Jesus’ name, as he says, which is to say, any time we pray that our lives would reflect Jesus, and thus God, it is done. If there is one prayer that I am sure thatGod answers, it is the prayer that we become more like Jesus, and that we do as he would do.
And this is our comfort, both as Christians and as parents: that the Spirit of God working in us is more powerful than we, which means that God’s goodness and mercy and love shines brighter our own human failings. Do not let your hearts be troubled: God’s light shines even in the darkness we create, as a church and in our families, and God brings new life to the deaths that we inadvertently cause.
Jesus acted so that we might see God, and we act so that others might see Jesus. And so we ask, in Jesus’ name, that our deeds be such that one day people might look at us and say, “Oh, I see your God in you.” And Jesus will do it. Thanks be to God. Amen.