Sometimes I imagine being in the pulpit of any of the congregations I served either full-time or part time. I remember their Sunday clothes and their Sunday faces. I also remember seeing behind their faces, seeing their burdens, their troubles. In one particular congregation there were so many personal tragedies that I called them “walking wounded.” They had relatives in prison or headed there, family members who were alcoholics but would not try sobriety; some had been hurt, torn, damaged beyond repair — but they would not despair.
They were wounded but still they walked on in hope — regardless of pain, disorder, illness, personal discomfort, grief, solitary burdens, broken family relationships, uncertainties of all kinds. Are there such burdens in almost any congregation? Each individual has a story, a need that only the Risen Christ can relieve by giving us allthat the Father gave him.
Jesus said to his disciples, “All that the Father has is mine. Therefore I said the Spirit of Truth will take what is mine and declare it to you.” What did the Father give to Jesus that he passes on to us? Nothing less than His glory, power, and his victory over everything. Jesus is described in Colossians as being the head of the body, the church, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. He is our chief; he is the conqueror even of death.
In the hymn Glorious things of you are spoken, we sing, “Savior, since of Zion’s city I through grace a member am, Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in your name.” Do we mean it? Fading are the worldlings’ pleasures, all their boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.
Solid joys and lasting treasures ? But outside these walls, the worldling’s pleasures are attractive to us. Who among us does not spend a lot of time and energy in pursuit of quick-fix joys and temporary treasures? To most people, Jesus Christ is not the one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell nor does he have first place in everything. We lust after the world’s pleasures, just like non-church members are dominated by the American obsession with things. We glory in what we are worth, and how others perceive us. Our energies are taken up with our losses, our defeats, our fears, and our uncertainties.
We live as though we are not already citizens of God’s kingdom through his grace. Is God with us? Every individual has a burden, a pain, a need that only God in the Risen Christ can relieve. Ours is such a universal condition that I wonder whether our age will be looked upon in the same manner as the black plague or the hundred year’s war in Europe when millions lived in fear and dread. But there is good news. Relief is at hand. As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in the age of the Spirit. We are people of the Holy Trinity — all that Jesus received from the Father is available to us through the . He said, “All that the Father has is mine. He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”\ In a world that threatens to undercut every individual’s value judgments and priorities, we can be assured that the Father is working through the Spirit of Jesus for us.
That makes us somebody with a name and an identity. As God said to the tribes of Israel coming out of Egypt, I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. Therefore we dare not give in to despair, for despair says we doubt that God has power to assist us and the love to comfort us.
One of the gifts Jesus received from the Father was his blessing at baptism. The gifts that came upon Jesus at his baptism have also come upon us. We who are baptized in the name of Jesus are given the everlasting approval of the Father. He is pleased with us. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit did not come upon him as a tiger or an eagle or a shark. The Spirit came as a dove. Jesus said, “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Jesus had just such a quiet power about him.
His ministry was one of tenderness, sensitivity, care giving. He could shed tears when his friend Lazarus died or when he was distressed over the city of Jerusalem. That same sensitivity as of a gentle dove makes us terribly aware of our failures and disappointments, terribly aware of life gone wrong. That same quiet power also gives us power to face whatever is ahead –because there is fluttering in the breast of every baptized person the gentle but powerful presence of Jesus Christ.
We believe in Jesus Christ; so also let us believe that the is quietly at work in us, conforming us to himself, and sending us out into the world with sufficient power to face whatever is ahead. It is no small gift in a sea of troubles that we have been promised the presence of God. With that presence, we have all the resources we need for living the Christian life fruitfully and for faithfully performing the mission God assigns to each of us.
Our burdens may not be lifted, but they become bearable. Therefore as we face life, we are able to claim the gift of our baptism. In spite of troubles, God is with us. And the effect of his presence gives us new life, new hope, new courage, new forgiveness and a new starting over. His mercy is new to us every day.\ Now we can face each day, each challenge, and each changing scene of the world around us.
We can face any past mistake, burden, or sin –and receive from God forgiveness, strength, and a new determination to be truly his people. There is no need to look backward and become bogged down in sins of the past, or the times we made wrong decisions. God has a new life in mind for us as surely as he had the whole sweep of salvation in mind when he created the world. His mercies are from everlasting.
St. Paul, toward the end of his life, wrote, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth for me there is laid up a crown of righteousness.”
Gladly then we offer what God has first given us — our selves, our time, and our possession, signs of his gracious love. Whatever we offer will be received for the sake of him who offered himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Out of gratitude for his mercy, then, we naturally respond by thanking him for his fatherly care and love. We have been forgiven much.
We are loved much. Now just as Christ gave himself for us, we can offer ourselves to him, and to each other. “Have this mind among yourselves,” St. Paul wrote, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
“but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” The form of a servant — that is the mind of Christ whom we seek to imitate in a world that is indifferent to all that we say and do and believe in here at worship.
God has declared his love for us through the person, the work, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, will endure beyond this world. Now we are, as Peter writes, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people.
There, that’s the name for ourselves in a sea of troubles from which only the Spirit of the resurrected Christ can rescue us. All that the Father has belongs to Jesus. Out of his love for us he will take what is God’s and declare it to us.
That makes our name and identity easy to remember. We call ourselves God’s family because we are the Beloved of God.