a "golden buzzer" moment on America's Got Talent
Guest Blog by Rev. Valerie Crisman, co-pastor at Pilgrim Church, Beverly, MA
I recently decided to join my local library’s book club with the goal of getting to know new people and discover books I might not otherwise. This past month, we read the book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb. In the book, Gottlieb shares both her experience as a therapist to several clients in their journeys of healing while chronicling her own journey in therapy. She mentions that one of the central questions for people coming into therapy is the question: “am I likeable?”. In fact, Gottlieb found herself wondering if her therapist liked her, not in a romantic way, but if he found her to be a likeable person. As our book club discussed this, many members revealed that they themselves struggled with this same question; one member in particular mentioned how much anxiety she experienced in meeting new people because she didn’t know if they liked her or not.
We all seem to have this very human desire to know if we are liked, maybe more so to know if we are loved. We desire to experience God’s “yes” to who we are. Our firm foundation in faith comes when who we are as God’s chosen ones, adopted, forgiven, and sealed in Christ becomes not only head knowledge but heart knowledge.
As Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians, he wants the Ephesians to be grounded in the many spiritual blessings they receive from God. First, he wants them to know that they are chosen. He says, God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (1:4). This means we’re wanted. And God chooses us not as you would choose someone to paint your house or cut your hair. We’re not chosen for what we can do for God. We are chosen to be part of God’s family. Paul says we’re adopted “as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will” (1:5). Maybe you’ve been adopted into a family before, either through a legal adoption or more informally through marriage or being welcomed into a friend’s family when you’ve lived away from home. When we adopted my son, his name changed to reflect that permanency and demonstrate that we were now his family forever. God’s adoption is like that, an act of permanency, security, and love.
Paul also describes the spiritual blessing of being forgiven. In Jesus “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (1:7). This means that nothing we can do can separate us from God’s love. Jesus went to the cross to assure us of this fact. And finally, we are blessed by God by being sealed by the Holy Spirit. We are marked with God’s Spirit when we first come to believe in Jesus. This mark Paul describes as a “pledge” or “guarantee” of our inheritance to live for the praise of His glory (1:14). This Spirit is God in us. We are filled with God’s presence and used by Him; we have a purpose.
Sometimes, hearing about these spiritual blessings can sound like a lot of theological mumbo-jumbos. But I encourage you to think about when these truths have reached your heart. When have you been overwhelmed by God’s “yes” to you, knowing you were undoubtedly loved by God? It may have been at the time of your conversion or a mountain top experience at a camp or retreat. Having grown up in the Presbyterian Church, I was baptized as a child, but I was confirmed at the age of 13. At my confirmation, I confirmed that all of the promises that my parents had made to raise me to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior I now believed for myself. I remember the day of my confirmation as a day I knew that I was marked as God’s own and that I was sealed by the Spirit with a purpose. But I also realized that I was part of a much bigger story of God’s blessings. My whole family came to my confirmation service, and after the service as we went back to our house, each family member shared his or her story of confirmation., even bringing mementos of their special days. It was a powerful moment to realize that God’s spiritual blessings were not just for me, but for all who believed. We were chosen, loved, forgiven, and sealed as Christ’s own forever.
But for all the beauty of God’s spiritual blessings, we can miss God’s “yes” in our everyday lives. And I think this happens for two reasons: we forget who God is and we forget who we are. In Ephesians 1, Paul makes it clear that he has not forgotten who God is. He blesses the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3) and describes Jesus as “the Beloved” (1:6). He tells the Ephesians that the goal of their lives is to “live for the praise of his glory” (1:12). When we don’t spend time in worship, seeking to humble ourselves and live in awe of who God is, we can miss God’s “yes” to us. And when we forget who we are, we can also miss God’s “yes.” This happens when those words of spiritual blessing become academic and don’t really get into our bones. Instead of knowing that we’re chosen, adopted, forgiven, and sealed, we begin to believe our own negative self-talk and the negative words of others.
So how do we experience God’s spiritual blessings in our everyday lives? I believe it is a balance of both individual and corporate spiritual disciplines that help us to know both the transcendence of God (that God is totally other than us) and the intimacy of God (God is very near to us). The discipline of worship is so key to this. We can hear in Ephesians 1 how Paul is just overwhelmed with God’s blessings, and this leads him directly into prayer in v. 15. Worship grounds us by reminding us of who God is and who we are on at least a weekly basis. Disciplines of gratitude, awe, and wonder also help us to remember that everything in life is a gift. We become thankful for our circumstances, whatever they may be. We spend time in the places and spaces that overwhelm us with God’s beauty and complexity, whether it’s the ocean, a music concert, or studying the human body.
Paul was also a man who knew intimacy with God. We hear this when he talks about the riches of God’s grace “that he lavished on us” (1:8) and when he describes Jesus as “the Beloved” (1:6). What spiritual disciplines make you aware deep within that you are chosen, adopted, forgiven, and sealed by God? This depends on our personalities, but for me, disciplines of silence and solitude, studying Scripture, music, and journaling often bring me to the place of knowing that I know that God loves me.
My family and I (or at least the women in my family) enjoy watching America’s Got Talent each summer. If you’ve never watched the show, it’s a reality show where different people share their talents, and the judges decide whether or not they get to move to the final round where “America” votes for the winners. Over time, we’ve discovered that some of the people who do best on this show are those who have inspirational stories of overcoming huge obstacles. Those who are singers often do best when they sing an original song where they declare to the world who they are, speaking their truth and not being afraid to share it. In reality, this “speaking one’s truth” about oneself is what our culture celebrates.
But as Christians, our firm foundation is in an identity bigger than whether we’re resilient or have overcome huge obstacles. Our firm foundation is bigger than an identity that rests in the fact we’ve declared to the world that no matter what the world thinks of us, we think we’re pretty awesome. Our firm foundation is rooted in an unshakeable identity, that before the foundation of the world, the Creator of the Universe chose us as His own, adopted us into His family, forgave our every sin, and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit as a sign of His guarantee that we might live to the praise of God’s glory forever and ever. And the most amazing thing is that this isn’t just our identity; we are rooted in a much bigger story. Our story is tied up in the story of every believer and all of creation itself because God’s story of ultimate blessing is coming as all things in heaven and on earth are gathered up through Jesus who makes all things right and new.
So just remember as you experience being overwhelmed by God’s love and His “yes” to you, that you and I are just one part of what God is doing in a vast universe to bring everything together in the love of Jesus. His love for us is both as near as our next breath and more vast than the ocean. We are wanted; we are loved; we are forgiven; we are sealed as Christ’s own forever.
 All Bible quotations are from the NRSV.
 This blog is adapted from a sermon given at Pilgrim church September 4, 2022, available at the website: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0Dl4Qz0zGc9Zz2QeVPBTCQ/featured