Created for God's Glory
Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? I have, and in an act of total cowardice I’m not going to tell you what they are unless and until they eventually become demonstrably successful. I must say, though, that I was prompted, in writing this sermon, to think more expansively about New Year’s resolutions - to take them beyond the health/wellness/self-affirmation categories where they have always resided for me (that is to say, what I look like and how I feel about myself) and to broaden them into who I am. It’s not about going to the gym; it’s about being a Christian.
The baptism of Christ, which we celebrate this Sunday, signifies so many things, not the least of which is the inauguration of God’s new age and new stage in God’s history of salvation. The ministry of Christ is now beginning - the formal teaching and healing that reveal to the people around him that he is indeed the Messiah, the ministry and healing that are recorded in the Gospels and that have instructed followers like us for 2,000 years in how to walk the path of faith. In the baptism of Christ we remember our own baptism - whether that happened to us as infants (and we can’t literally remember it!) or as grown believers. We remember not that we once were baptized but that we are baptized. We bear a mark upon us - invisible to those on earth but not to those in heaven - a mark that shows that we are citizens of a new age - God’s new age - one that is so far from fulfillment now but that is active, working, moving forward to the redemption of our fallen world and species, one that will culminate in the realization of all the promises of our faith - an ultimate age of peace, harmony, justice, well-being - of the realization of the love of God and Christ as the all-in-all: the rule of the cosmos is divine love and purpose. Human suffering will be no more. Meanness, vanity, injustice - they will be past. All the ways that humans degrade one another will be over. Human criteria for goodness will be replaced wholesale by God’s design, Christ’s lordship, the Spirit’s fancifulness.
Our baptism is the eternal sign and our eternal reminder that although we live fully in the here and now - that we are engaged for righteousness, love, and justice in our daily surroundings - we are simultaneously citizens of a new age. We do our best to serve with faithful power in whatever setting we find ourselves as students, family members, working people. But we also remember that we are not under the ultimate power of this world and its rulers. We work to ensure that the laws of this world are as just as can be - we participate to the fullest (I happen to have jury duty tomorrow!). But we also know that we are ultimately not under the power of this world and its rulers. The reference point for our ethics is not this age but the one to come. The reference point for our hopes is not this age but the one to come. The reference point for how we see other human beings is not this age but the one to come. The reference point for how we understand ourselves is not this age but the one to come. Even now, while we work to improve the very temporal powers that govern our societies, we know that we are already citizens of the new age, that we serve its ends, that we are judged by its standards, that we are in no way confined to or limited by the standards of the world in which we live day-to-day.
And so let’s think again about our New Year’s resolutions - in what ways could we resolve to repent of “old world” values? How can we proactively resolve to live in the new age while daily we reside in the old? How can we resist conforming to the old and actively testify to the new? How do we live in a place where we’re not - spiritually, physically, ethically?
I encourage you to reflect for yourself on “old world” values of which you’d like to repent, and to expand upon what I’ll suggest now. A this-world value we must overcome is acquisitiveness, materialism - call it what you will, but the ownership of things is an old world value that translates in no way to the new. The “good” things of our lives - the things of meaning - are not the things that could ever be purchased. Another old-world value that we could resolve to overcome is hierarchies of value among human beings. We may say that we see all persons equally, but the truth is that because we are human we do not. In the age to come we will see all people through the eyes of the God who made us all in one fell swoop: beautiful, equal, honorable, loved, priceless, cherished, redeemed. All persons are already each of these things today; it is we who can not see it. Let’s resolve to see all persons with the eyes of ourselves in the new age.
And let’s repent, too, through our New Year’s resolves, of a kind of hopelessness that is absolutely tied to “old world” values. When we shrug and say, “Well, that’s the way things are,” when we absolve ourselves from caring about situations or persons, we give over the power for their rectification to aimless forces in the present age - we deny that God is, or can be, at work, we deny that the new age is indeed begun in Christ and in us, and we give a very human hopelessness the primacy of place.
Our prophecy from the book of Isaiah proclaims that all persons were, and are, created, redeemed, named and claimed by God - all persons. This text was first referencing the Judean exiles in Babylon, people who were, every day, having very derisive things said to them. They did not feel made or remembered by God. But all humans are, then and now - perhaps another of our “new world” New Year’s resolutions could be to let all people know that?
Our Isaiah lesson also reminds us that God knows our very names - God calls us by name and claims us as God’s own. I read a reflection this past week about naming - a pastor was talking about a man who helps in her ministry to the homeless. He is formerly homeless himself, and is also a one-time drug addict, now clean. At birth his parents named him Jeremy. When he was in jail for drug possession, however, the other inmates named him “Twitch.” Sometimes people still call him “Twitch,” and the pastor asked him if he minded that. He said no - he welcomed it. He hoped that other persons laid low by homelessness and/or addiction would be reminded constantly by that name of all that God had done for him, of how far he had come - that if they called him by the name of his most desperate self while they looked at a man redeemed, that they would receive courage to persevere in their own healing. There is a call in that to each of us to be honest about the ways in which we have been hurt, ways in which we have fallen or sinned or been ill-treated, ways in which we have been struck by grief, so that others who see us don’t just see a put-together person named Jeremy or Alison, but see a soul of God’s own redeeming, and dare to live for God themselves.
God Almighty tells us through the Prophet Isaiah that each of us was created for God’s glory. We weren’t created to hang out on earth a while, maybe prosper or maybe suffer, maybe have a good time or maybe struggle, maybe be professionally successful or maybe mediocre. No - we were created for an infinitely higher purpose - to manifest God’s glory. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Twitch is fully alive, fully awake, manifesting God’s glory in a homeless shelter. Being created for God’s glory does not equal achieving the glory of human standards of this world. Worldly glory may be about grades, job titles, promotions, and assets. Manifesting God’s glory is about being a beacon of God’s love, hope, and justice wherever we find ourselves - in a homeless shelter, at the chapel, in class, at a wonderful job, at home. In every place we testify to a new age that we certainly know is not yet fulfilled, but that is unfurling in our midst. We hasten its arrival by living by its standards, giving them further anchor in this world, and introducing others to its ways.
As we think about who we want to be in the next year and forever, let us remember that we were created for God’s glory, and have that be our guide. Who can we be in a way that testifies to God’s glory, and not our own? Drinking less coffee or building our physique doesn’t do it. Seeing the glory of God in others is more like it, then helping to ensure their human dignity. “The heavens are telling the glory of God,” proclaims Psalm 19. We are called to inhabit it ourselves. Truly, what could make for a happier new year?
Callie Plunket-Brewton, “Commentary on Isaiah 43:1-7,” www.workingpreacher.org, Jan. 10, 2016.