Monday, November 8, 2010

Who are you? What will you become?

Sermon Preached for All Saints Observed, on Sunday, November 7, 2010.

    I confess that I have never been able to look into the face of a baby and see which member of the family that child looks like.  So I just nod and smile when somebody says little Heinrich looks just like Grandpa Herkimer.  But I have looked into the faces of babies and wondered who they will become.  Who hasn’t gazed into the faces of your own children when they were small and wondered what kind of people they would turn out to be. But who can know?  Life is so full of unpredictable twists and turns, the future is not only unknown to us but unpredictable to us as well.  The child will always be ours no matter what.  So we can only guess and wait and watch for the mystery to unfold before us of who those children will become.
    So it is in faith.  None of us can see or accurately predict what the future will be.  None of us sees the outcome of our life of faith.  But seeing is not everything.  We know the comfort that comes from being God's children now – His saints by baptism – and we are encouraged by the promise of a future that is locked, sealed, and wrapped in Jesus Christ.  We do not see the ending but only the unfolding image of what is becoming and yet, if we look to Jesus, we see the future that God has prepared for us.
    Listen to St. John’s words from the Epistle: “Beloved, you are God's children now.” Who are we?  We are God's children now.  We are God's children not because we want to be or have asked to be.  We are God's children because the Father has called us to be His own through baptism, declared us to be His children, and equipped us with faith to answer this call.  He looked into our faces and loved us still and this love could not leave us without a future or a hope.  He sent His one and only Son to be our Savior. In baptism He marked us with the death and resurrection of Christ and when the Father looks at us, He sees Jesus – the righteousness of Christ and His perfect holiness.
    The Father’s love for us in Christ bridged the gap of time and eternity, sin and righteousness, death and life.  Saints are not born but born again, not made but declared by grace.  Beloved, we are God’s children now – the saints whom He has called, cleansed, and marked to be His by the cross of Christ.  We do not always see this – when we look into the mirror we see our sin and guilt but faith sees through the lens of Christ and trusts in what God has said and not in the futile end that sin laid upon us.
    The world sees us as we are – sinners no better than anyone else.  The world sees all our defects, our hypocrisy, and our failures.  It does not understand us or the God who claims us as His own.  Only faith can know the promise of His presence now and the future He has made possible.  The world rejects us as it rejected Christ because the world does not see with the eyes of faith.  The world cannot call us saints but God delights to call us His own - the saints whom He has created in grace.
    But none of this answers the question of who we shall be.   Where our lives on earth will lead and how they will end are known only to God.  We walk not by sight but by faith – seeing and trusting by faith what our eyes and minds neither see nor understand.  And the promise of our future lies in Jesus Christ.
    What will we be like becomes the question of who we shall be like.  Here John gives us much to hold on to – we shall be like Jesus – just as He is.  We shall literally be like Jesus – glorious in body and eternal in life.  The saints are those whom God has declared His own now and those on whom He has bestowed the future that Christ has prepared.  Jesus is the first born of the dead, the down payment of what we all shall be, the pioneer and prototype of who we shall be when the baptismal miracle is complete in us.  Look to baptism and see who you are.  Look to Christ and see who you shall become.
    What does this mean “we shall be like Jesus?”  He rose on Easter Sunday not because there was some doubt about the outcome of Good Friday or because He needed the vindication of Easter’s triumph.  Jesus rose in order to display for the future that He has prepared for us – the glorious body that holds the promise of our own glorious body and the eternal life that holds the promise of our own immortal future.  Not only who we are now and who we will be are all answered in Jesus Christ.
    For now we see only in part, as St. Paul put it.  We see clearly temptations, doubts, and fears but only dimly the promised future we have in Christ.  But not for long will our vision be hindered; soon we shall see Jesus as He is – without any of His glory hidden.  When we see Him as He is, the scales of doubt and fear will fall away from our eyes and we will see Jesus and Him only – like the moment of glory the disciples saw on the Mount of Transfiguration.
    For now we live not by sight but by faith.  But this is not some blind faith in some mysterious and unknowable promise.  This is faith in Christ, who died never to die again and rose to live out in full the divine life that is His to live.  Our futures are not only made possible by this Christ, but our futures are wrapped up in Christ.  What He is, we shall be.  No more barriers shall separate us and no more troubles or trials shall afflict us.
    Here on earth we see glimpses of this future.  Think what we just sang in the canticle: This is the feast of victory for our God... Here in this Holy Supper we taste this future as the foretaste of what is to come, the appetizer to the full and complete meal in the marriage banquet of the Lamb.
    His joy and His blessedness will become our joy and our blessedness. For now they are mere glimpses, as lights that flash for a moment in the dark world where sin and death still seem to dominate.  But then we shall see its fullness, know first hand its incomprehensible joys, and experience its transcendent glory.
    Saints are those who belong to God because He claims them, because He washes them in baptism, He gives them new birth into His everlasting life, He marks them with the cross of Christ, and He imparts the faith to trust in this pledge and promise of what is coming but is not yet.  Our present life and our future flow from that same font.  It is from there we know who we are now as the children of God.  It is there we behold the promise of what is coming to us as the children of God.  Our present identity and the shape of our future flow from its living waters.  No more hindered or wounded by earthly afflictions or limitations, we shall see Jesus as He is.
    When He comes again we shall not only see Him as He is but we shall see ourselves in Him, for all eternity.  He holds in His hands the promise of our future as well as our confidence for this present moment.  Who are the saints of God, except those who know this truth by faith and who cling to it for forgiveness, life and salvation.  This is what it means to be His saints now and this is the future for the saints of God  – abiding in Christ by faith we have this pledge and promise now and abiding in Christ we have it for all life that is to come.  Once God looked into our faces like a Father looking into the face of a child, but unlike us whose vision is not clear, God saw us as we are and loved us still. Then He loved us even more so that He might forge a path for us to obtain all that is missing from today and all that only Jesus could fulfill.  Amen.

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