Claiming Your Place

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Most of us, at one time or another, have had the opportunity to claim our place in a congregation of believers. Such a claim was made when you arranged a time for you or your family to be photographed for inclusion in a pictorial church directory. Such a publication is a nice way for us to familiarize ourselves with our brothers and sisters—our spiritual family—that we call our home congregation.

Consider, for a moment, your earthly family. If you were taking a family photo and you arranged for this to happen at the most convenient time possible, when everyone from your family could be around, what would it say if your brother said, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather not be included in the photo.” It says rather a lot, doesn’t it? It would seem to say that your brother no longer lays claim to his birth place in your family. We pray that it would never be!  Certainly, he didn’t choose to become part of the family in the first place. It was God who included him in your family to begin with, but it’s your brother who, for reasons maybe only known to himself, is rejecting his God-given claim of sonship in that family.
The evangelist John, the very namesake of the congregation I serve, speaks of our spiritual family claim, one far greater than even our claim to earthly family. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) “Children of God!—That IS what we are!” What an incredible claim we have! This claim isn’t one that belonged to us by nature, however.

Our natural claim was on the other end of the spectrum:  children who could only lay claim to God’s wrath, walking about with sin’s deadly target on our backs (Ephesians 2:4-5). But God, in His great mercy, refrained from heaping His holy wrath upon us. Instead, He lavished Fatherly love upon us. Rather than destroying us, He adopted us as His dear children. He did this by showering us with Love that took human form. He showered us in the Love of Christ.

The Good News—the Gospel of Jesus—is the Love that accomplishes this adoption. The Gospel shares the lovely exchange that took place as Jesus took sin’s deadly target from your back and shouldered it Himself—dying for your sins.  The Gospel adoption papers express that Jesus, through your baptismal waters, drapes upon your back His sinless life, His “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). Through this love of God lavished upon you in Christ, YOU, dear reader, possess the saving claim “Child of God.”

Children of God. That is what we are! What a glorious claim we have through God’s love in Christ. A hymn writer invites us to sing of this claim:

Baptized into Your Name most holy,
O Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
I claim a place, though weak and lowly,
Among your saints, Your chosen host.
Buried with Christ and dead to sin,
Your Spirit now shall live within.

God included us in His family portrait by way of His love in Christ, His Son. He provides us a weekly opportunity to lay claim to our place in His family as we assemble together with our spiritual family around the Gospel of Word and Sacraments—the very Love that made us family in the first place. Our divine services are our weekly opportunities to  eagerly claim our place among God’s family. God grant that we cherish every opportunity to claim the childhood God has given us through His Son!  And may God the Holy Spirit move us to encourage others who may be neglecting their claim to include themselves again in their God-given family, as well.  To that end we pray:

And never let my purpose falter,
O Father, Son and Holy Ghost;
But keep me faithful to Your Altar,
Til You shall call me from my post.  
So unto You I live and die
and praise You ever more on high.  AMEN.

Kyle Madson is co-pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth, Michigan.