Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Who is God? We cannot answer that question without answering also: Who are we?
The writer Flannery O'Connor tells a story of Mrs. Turpin, a woman of many prejudices who is confronted by a young person as they sit together in a waiting room. Mrs. Turpin reveals her superior attitude toward herself and her disparaging of people who are not like her. The young person, able to take it no longer, throws a book at Mrs. Turpin and calls her a "wart hog."
Late that afternoon, as she hoses down her pigs, Mrs. Turpin still reels from that confrontation. She looks at the sky, where the sun's rays seem to be forming a highway from earth to heaven. In her reverie, she sees herself and all the people like her at the back of a line. In front are all the people like the ones she has disparaged all her life. Mrs. Turpin has a revelation at that moment. Clearly, God has shown her the error of her way, that God is the center of the universe; she is not.
Some of you have heard my image of such a people train going to heaven, a kind of metaphor for what I think one of our roles is in this life as Christians.
To be like Christ, to wear his clothes and act in righteousness that is ours through him, we will be thrilled to be at the back of the line, to be chosen as the caboose who could be strong for the uphill climb through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, given God's power as we push ahead all who may need an extra hand, a boost, a good word, encouragement to journey.
"Let's go on up, brother. Let's go on up, sister. We're hoping that we can go too; come on, and we will push together as hard as we can."
That metaphor does not imply that we at the rear are better or stronger, just that perhaps God has revealed to us through Scripture what it means to be last instead of first, to be put at the back of the line when maybe there was a time when we thought we should be the first, to be able to spread the good word of God's gospel in Jesus Christ even with the last breath that we have to offer in this world.
And, friends, the world needs that good word every day.
Who are we?
That is the question asked by Psalm 8.
How do we answer it?
We are children of God.
We are not God. God is Sovereign over us and the world.
We are created by God in his image.
We are redeemed by God in Jesus Christ through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.
Are we willing to be human, created by God in his image to be called children of God but acknowledging that we are not God? It's a legitimate question.
Are we willing to cry out: "O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
Do we declare that God's way will be our way? Do we give over our pride, our strong will, and our own agenda that has suited us very well, thank you, and accept in its place God's claim on our life as our Lord?
And here is the next question:
If we are willing to be the children of God, created in God's image, are we willing to acknowledge that as his needy children we are willing to submit to the redeeming love that he holds out to us? Are we willing to be truly redeemed?
This is not a trick question.
All of us are hurting. Our stories are not the same. But we all are human. We all have pain born of sin. We all feel wounded, from old hurts and sins that won't let us go and from new ones that have slammed us to the ground unexpectedly.
Hear this good news:
Our God, whose very heart consists of divine love and grace, pours down that love and grace upon us every day. Some realize it and receive it. For some, it goes unnoticed because the hearts have been hardened against the possibility that the good news is real or could have anything to do with them.
We are not equally wounded. Some wounds cut more deeply than others.
But we are equally redeemed.
When we sit gathered together at the foot of the cross, there is no difference between you and me; we are all souls that need curing, that yearn for God, and that cry out for grace and mercy.
There, at the foot of the cross of Christ is where the Holy Trinity most fully meets us.
There at the cross we find the power and the presence of our holy, grace-filled God.
There is the Father, creator and author of all.
There is our Lord Christ, his wounded body lovingly, painfully given to redeem us.
There is the Holy Spirit, hovering, comforting, persuading, sustaining -- giving life and breath to all.
We are equally redeemed at the foot of the cross. Forgiveness is offered equally to each one of us. But we can get up and walk away. We can refuse the grace.
We can walk away from the grace thinking we're not worthy.
Or we can walk away from the grace thinking we don't need it.
In the power and presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I say to you this day, right now:
You are worthy.
You are needy.
God has created us in love to love him and one another; God has willed for us a life lived in fullness and joy, not in alienation from him but in reconciliation with him.
The psalmist who wrote Psalm Eight did not live in the time of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what that poet did know was that God deemed the human being, even and especially when fallen from the grace of God, worthy of redemption.
In God's perfect plan for nurturing his needy human children, God came to dwell among us, Emmanuel, to dwell and to die for us in order to demonstrate just what the whole meaning of creation is -- in the sight of the great Creator.
God would not have creation fizzle out and become meaningless.
In Christ, God reveals to humanity a new way of living in holiness, grace, and love.
Jesus, like the prophets in ancient Israel, called out those people like Mrs. Turpin, who refused to love the "OTHER," the less fortunate, the outcasts.
Jesus Christ lifted up the fallen, cured the sick and hurting souls, and offered redemption to all who would turn and repent, and that is what he does today.
How do we answer the important question of Psalm 8:
"What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"
We are those whom God loves as his children; those whom God redeems from our sins through the sacrifice of the Son; those whose yearning hearts seek God's truth and beauty and find it because God places us in the loving presence of Christ through the power of his all-encompassing Spirit.
Jesus knew when he called his disciples -- that the day would come when he would send them out to gather other people into the fold of Christian fellowship. He knew that it would not be easy for them to understand. Nor would it be easy for them to accomplish. But what he did know was that he would send them in the power and the presence of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, and that their mission to found his church would succeed.
He sent them in the power of God the Father, the one who created the heavens and the earth, God who brought the world into being and named it "good."
He sent them in the power of the Son, Jesus Christ, the one who became like us in the flesh to show God's immeasurable love for us. This is Jesus who blesses us and loves us, who mediates for us, prays for us, and offers new life to us through his self-sacrificing love.
He sent the disciples in the power of the Holy Spirit, the One who inspires our faith, sustains our discipleship, and renews within us the grace and goodness of God every day.
Who are we?
We are those who called to continue the work of the disciples who received the commission that day. We are called to go out and teach the good news not just to those who are easy to love but to all those we encounter in our life.
Jesus accompanies us. When he gives us hard lessons and seemingly impossible tasks to perform in his name -- he empowers us with all the power of his own power.
His is the power. His is the glory. Whatever he bids us do, we can do because in all that power and glory he is still Jesus, the one who loves us; the one who gives us salvation through his grace; the one who is beside us when we serve in his name.
Let us give ourselves with abandon -- relinquishing our hearts to him.
Jesus will pour into our hearts the love, hope, and faith promised to us in the name the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.