Our readings today form a theme, a theme that was developed when I found out what Adam was singing for us this morning. He already sang Amazing Grace, a hymn we all know and understand it speaks of God's grace that saves us when we are sinners who come to God in repentance. But our theme comes more from his next song, some of the verses of which I will share with you in the message.
The title of the song is “You Are Mine.” It is a claim of God on those whom Jesus has brought new life. We are chosen by the Lord for this gift of life. Our scriptures suggest this truth; in John's gospel we read, “you belong to God, my dear children.” And in his gospel he identifies Jesus as the gatekeeper and says, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” He calls his sheep, his disciples, those who believe in him-- us--by name.
But isn't that too simple for us? We like to think there are things we can do. People struggle to accept this and we see people and even churches go through all kinds of contortions to earn redemption.
Kind of like Ruth T. They offered an aerobics class at Emmaus place and she signed up. She told me about her first day. “I twisted and gyrated back and forth, jumped up and down, perspired for over an hour.” But sadly she explained, “By the time I got those leotards on, the class was over.”
We don't have to twist and gyrate, we don't work our way into God's kingdom. Again from John's epistle, “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” Jesus did the hard work of salvation in his arrest, torture, crucifixion... culminating in the resurrection which gives proof to this promise of eternal life. The good news of the gospel right here. Again, we are reminded that God initiates this call to salvation and initiates the call to relationship. “ I have redeemed you; I have called you by name.” God calls and we are free to respond. God does not force relationship; there is no love in coerced relationship. I often talk about the importance of working on this relationship. We don't have to work to earn God's love but we don't enter into a full relationship without reaching out to God. We are given the opportunity to be in God's presence in prayer-- are you praying? God has given us the story of Jesus and the principles of right-living in the scriptures-- are you reading? God has sent the Holy Spirit to guide us with that still, small voice. Are you listening?
John's epistle puts God's motives in plain language, “God is love.” That is the basis of all relationship with the Almighty. It is also the focus that David Haas, the author of You Are Mine seems to aim for. Listen to these words Adam will share for us in melody in a few moments. Haas has put the words of the Lord into the mouth of the singer: “I claim you as My choice. Be still, and know I am near... Do not be afraid, I am with you. I have called you each by name. Come and follow Me; I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine. I am the Word that leads all to freedom, I am the peace the world cannot give. I will call your name, embracing all your pain.” Jesus has called you by name, called you to follow him and find his peace.
As I researched being known and called by name in my sermon prep, I discovered a verse I've undoubtedly read before but never really noticed. It comes from Revelation 2: 17 and it is John's words to the church in Pergamum. “Let them hear what the Spirit says... To the one who is victorious... I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” We get a new name? I didn't like this idea when I first read it in Max Lucado's book When God Whispers Your Name. But then I thought of new names we might be given here on earth. My first thought was Julie and Ariel. Ariel's special name from Grandma is Sweet Pea. That's is a special name reserved for a special granddaughter. We have lots of these in our family; Matthew Jr. is MoJo, Rebekah is Lady Rebekah, Viola is Smiley Viley, Maggie is Muggsy. You get the point. These all are special connections, a sign of a special relationship. So the idea of getting a new name from the Lord shows how special we each are. All of us are promised a special name only you and God knows. “I will also give that person... a new name... known only to the one who receives it.” A sign and seal of God's claim on our life and our eternity.
“Do not be afraid, I have called you each by name...you are mine” Adam will sing these words, words the Lord shared thousands of years ago through Isaiah. They are for us today as well. As Adam sings, understand the relationship these words indicate, the special love that Jesus has demonstrated for us. Hear these words as the call of Jesus to each of us: I am claimed by the Lord; Jesus loves me, I am his. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Amen.
Special music: You Are Mine, Adam Stern