“To Be God’s People” is our theme for this year. I like it because it both challenges and comforts us, affirms and asks something of us. I suppose this is a tension we always live with as people of faith. We make the audacious claim that the One who created all that is loves and cares for us. We even claim to be made in the image and likeness of this Holy One. With both pride and humility, we say that we are children of the Living God.
In the southern USA, when somebody asks who your people are, they’re asking about your origins – where did you come from? What’s your tribe? Who are your mama and your daddy? We look back up the family tree and are bold to assert that we come from God. Our kin are the family of God. God is our mama and our daddy. I’m sure this sounds foolish to those who have not known God’s care and loving kindness, who have not sensed God’s grace or felt God’s embrace. We are God’s people because we have known it in our bones. This is a huge part of the good news we bring to those who are lost and wandering, unsure and wondering, lonely and hurting. Come on home. There’s plenty of room and plenty to share in the beloved community of God’s people. How do we know? We’ve experienced it.
At the same time there is lot work to be done if we are to fulfill our role as God’s people. It is a gift of grace, without a doubt, but it also entails enormous responsibility. To be God’s people is to share in God’s compassion and love for all creation. To be God’s people is to work for justice and peace. To be God’s people is to care or all those people who inhabit the planet, along with the earth itself. To be God’s people is to share from our abundance and privilege as we work for economic equity and opportunity for every human being to fulfill the life that God has given. To be God’s people is to join Jesus in bringing in the kingdom of God or, better, the beloved community of God, to reality right here, right now.
In looking for a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer to commemorate the anniversary of his birth this week, I found these words: “I discovered later, and Iʹm still discovering, right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this‐worldliness I mean living unreservedly in lifeʹs duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.” To be God’s people is take seriously the suffering those of God in the world, those not knowing fully God’s embrace, those not trusting the everlasting arms. To be the people of God is to trust that God is with us, challenging us and sustaining us every step of the way.
In a sense, growing into the fullness of what it means to be God’s people brings us full circle, back to that sense of value and affirmation with which we began. In the beginning, when God created everything, including God’ people, God called it all good. God delighted in our being and blessed us. There are many ways we have wandered, many reasons we turn our backs on God, refusing to participate, many justifications for responding to the siren sounds that lure us away from God. But we always have the testimony of that boy, sitting in desolation and despair, who remembered that home was still there and who hoped against hope that God would be waiting with open arms. When he came to his senses he risked throwing himself completely into the arms of God. Who knows? In the process his life may have been transformed.
To be God’s people – to recognize the One to whom we belong, the One from whom we come and to whom we return. To be God’s people – to realize that home is waiting and to see that in that home there is room and resource for all people, indeed, for all creation. To be God’s people – to join joyfully with God in shared love and compassion, responsibility and care for that creation and all those people looking and longing to claim their identity as God’s people, whether they know it or not. To be God’s people – to throw ourselves into God’s everlasting arms, trusting that those arms are big enough and strong enough to hold the whole world, including us.
To be God’s people – to accept the challenge and to rest in the affirmation. May this be our journey in the year ahead and may God bless us every step of the way.
TO BE GOD’S PEOPLE!