Beloved Saints

Emilie Bouvier, "Springing"(Cowling Arboretum; Northfield, Minn.)Image © Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

Dear Working Preacher,

You are a child of God — beloved, blessed, cherished, one of a kind, and God is doing great things through you. That’s the truth — so don’t you forget it!

Okay, so two things about that sentence. First, I know you know that. After all, this is a huge part of our theological heritage as Christians — that in Christ God has chosen each of us, set us apart, named and claimed us in Baptism to be God’s own child forever. Yes, I know you know that…

… at least in theory. And that’s the second thing. That while we know that we are God’s children intellectually, I don’t know how often we really revel in that element of our identity. Do you know what I mean? On the one hand, I’d wager that whatever else way may say about ourselves, the most important thing about us is that God loves us as only an incredibly adoring parent can love. On the other hand, though, this is incredibly easy to forget. Life, for most of us, is just so crazy busy that it’s really hard to find the time to acknowledge, let alone reflect deeply on, the fact that God so loved us that God was willing to send God’s own beloved child … for us.

But it’s more than that life’s busy. It’s also that most of us, day in and day out, don’t feel like beloved children. Or maybe don’t believe that we should be, could be, or really are. After all, all too often we speak and act in ways that aren’t loving, that don’t reflect God’s love for us, and that wouldn’t seem to invite God’s love.

And yet God loves us anyway. That’s the heart of the Gospel. Let John remind us: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are! (1 Jn. 3:1a). Yes, God loves us that much. Not because of what we’re done, or what we may do, but just because of who we are and, even more, because of who God is. More than that, God doesn’t love the person we might be, the person we’ve promised to be, or the person we’re trying to be. God loves us — the real us: warts, scars, and all. It’s an amazing confession.

But John’s not done. Look at the next couple of sentences as well: The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (3:1b-2). There’s a lot packed into these few verses, of course, but I love the idea that there is something about our true identity — the identity God has given us — that is somewhat mysterious, even hidden. It’s hidden from the world — those who cannot see beyond our accomplishments or failures, our wealth or poverty, our abilities or disabilities, our physical appearance or limitations. No, our true identity is hidden, unavailable to most of the world but established by God’s unconditional love and regard and therefore available to us.

Do you see what that means? No matter what you may have done, or had done to you, yet you are God’s beloved child. No matter where you have been or where you may go, God will be with you. No matter what you may said, or have had said to you, yet God will keep you in God’s heart now and forever.

Interestingly, our true identity is also something of a mystery to us. That is, we have no idea what God might do with us or through us. We only know that, in the end, all that we are and do will be caught into Christ and somehow the totality of who we are will look like him. That means, of course, that God is not done with us. That God has something in store for us — big or little, hard or easy, yet God is at work to love the world through the unique person God has created each of us to be.

I had a colleague who once confessed that she had some pretty horrific things happen to her as a young woman. She said that one of the most helpful things a pastor said to her was that God would use her despite what happened to her. I looked at her for a moment and said I believed that God would also use her because of what happened to her. At this point, let me be clear: by saying that I wasn’t trying somehow to justify or explain her pain, but instead suggesting that God is big enough and good enough to redeem our suffering and through it to work for the good of another just as God worked through Christ’s suffering to redeem the world.

That’s true of all of us. God honors, redeems, and works through the variety of experiences we have had and promises to use us to do something that perhaps no one else could. So perhaps you are called to care for a remarkably challenged — and challenging — child. Maybe you are called to teach kids no one else wants to teach, or to wait and watch with those who have no one else to wait and watch alongside them. Or maybe you’ve been called to be a friend to someone who most people find it difficult to befriend. Whatever it may be, God will take our characteristics and experiences, our strengths and limitations, our accomplishments and regrets, and somehow use all of them for the good of another.

To be honest, Working Preacher, I think this is what it means to be a saint — to recognize that God has called us by name, chosen us before the founding of the world, and promised to do great things through us for the sake of all the other saints God loves so much. We might seem like unlikely characters for God to choose and use, but anyone who is even a little bit familiar with the biblical story can tell you that’s pretty typical of this God. 🙂

And so maybe, on this All Saints Day, it’s worth reminding both ourselves and our folks just how much God loves us. This is why we can face the loss of our loved ones we remember on this day — because we know that God has loved and still loves each one of them and so has brought them over from this life through the gateway of death to new and abundant life with God and all the saints triumphant. And this is why we can go out into this week and world and face the challenges set before us — because we know that God accompanies us into this week and world and promises to use us to accomplish God’s will and by our very presence to sanctify this world God loves so much.

So let me say it again, Working Preacher: You are a child of God — beloved, blessed, cherished, one of a kind, and God is doing great things through you. That’s the truth — so don’t you forget it!

Thanks so much for telling others of this good news, too!

Yours in Christ,