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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

Confirmation Sunday, May 18, 2014

 A People and a Place

1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

              Mark Ralls is the pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He tells of visiting a nursing home to spend time with an older gentleman in his congregation. But the whole time he is visiting this man, a woman has come to sit right next to them, only she ignores them, looks out the window, and recites a little nursery rhyme over and over again. “I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” As he visits with his member, the two of them hear this rhyme repeated over and over, perhaps a hundred times. So on his way out, Ralls approaches a nurse and out of curiosity says, “The woman who sits in the atrium who says the little rhyme over and over again – do you know anything about her?” The nurse smiled, and with a bit of drama said, “I love you little. I love you big. I love you like a little pig.” They laughed together for a moment. Then she said, “That’s Thelma. She taught first grade for more than thirty years. That little rhyme was her own special way of greeting her children each morning. As she helped them remove their coats, she would whisper those words into every little ear. It was her way to let each child know that they were special and important to her.”

             Thelma’s mind was ravaged by dementia, but here was this single memory to which she still clung. It is almost as if Thelma still carries her students, her children, in her heart. She still cherishes them.

             I thought about Thelma as I pondered our passage in 1 Peter on this Confirmation Sunday. 1 Peter is a letter written to the church in Asia Minor that was experiencing various trials and even persecution. It is written in Rome and sent to this struggling young church to sustain them in their suffering and trials. I love our passage today that is filled with Old Testament imagery! It is almost like God is bending over and whispering into our ear these marvelous words of love that speak of who we are: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

             Today as we welcome a wonderful Confirmation Class into our church family, it is a great day to remind ourselves who and whose we are as members of the Church. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy,” and “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In other words, we are precious to God, who cherishes us as a people, as a community that gathers to give thanks to God, to welcome any and all to this fellowship of faith.

             We belong to God, who calls us to be His own. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort, in life and in death?” I love the answer! “That I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” This is who and whose you are. And when you know who you are, and know where you belong, there is a great measure of confidence and strength in that knowledge.

             To be a Christian, and to belong to the Church, is to know that you are God’s. It is to know that you have received mercy, that you live by the grace of a merciful God who cherishes you, and who calls you “to proclaim the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” To be a Christian is to belong to God, and to share the Good News of God’s love for the entire human family. There is nothing narrow or exclusive or mean or parochial in this call. The Gospel is deep and wide!

             So today we remember that we are a people – God’s people. But we also remember that this God has a place for us. In our Gospel text this morning, Jesus is bidding farewell to His closest followers. He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” The King James Version said “many mansions.” The idea is that there are many places, and plenty of room in God’s house! Jesus says He is going to prepare a place for us. He is speaking of heaven, of course, and of eternity.

             But in a deeper sense, every dwelling place in which we have ever lived is a dwelling place in God’s house, since “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell therein.” Our first dwelling place, the water and security of our mother’s womb, is surely God’s dwelling place! Who else could have conceived of such an ideal place to grow?! But this whole world is God’s, and everything in it. Every place we have ever lived is God’s place, and every place we ever will dwell belongs wholly to God.

             And God has and holds a place for you – not only in heaven, but here on earth. In our Presbyterian theology, we talk about the Six Great Ends, or purposes of the Church. The sixth Great End of the Church is to be “The Exhibition of the kingdom of Heaven to the World.” This says that the Church is called to be a place where people can see and experience something of heaven here on earth.

             I know we usually fall short of this call. But I want with all my heart for this church to be a place where you feel welcomed. I want this church to be a place where you feel cherished. I want First Presbyterian Church to be a place where you know that you belong, a place where you know you can come and find welcome and the hospitality of genuine Christian community. I want this church to be a place that feels like your place, your church home.

             So on this day when we stretch our hearts to make room for a wonderful new Confirmation Class, let me whisper something in your ear, in this very place, your place, to remind you of who and whose you are:

             “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

             Thanks be to God!

                                                                                     Amen.

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