Putting on Christ Series:  Putting on the Heart of Christ               Philippians 3:4-14

It is quite a spiritual pedigree.  I am the child of a German Lutheran father who is the child of German Lutheran parents who immigrated to the United States, joined with other German Lutherans to gather for worship and service.  I was baptized as an infant; confirmed as a teen; married at God’s altar.  I volunteered with the youth program, went to an historic Lutheran seminary; married a Lutheran Pastor and have brought all my children to the waters of baptism and raised them within the Christian community.

It’s a fine Lutheran resume. But that’s all it is, a resume. If I am a Christian because of my parents or my past, then I am lost.  As a young adult, I admit I had little interest in faith or the church.  It was something I went to or did, but had nothing to do with what I believe.

Now mind you, I mouthed the words all the right words in worship and at my confirmation, but I didn’t know why I did what I did; didn’t know what I believed beyond the rote words of the Lord’s Prayer and the creeds.  And when difficulties arose in my life I had not a clue as to how all those words I was saying in church; all those hymns I was singing; and all those sermons I was hearing connected with my “real” life struggles. I walked out of church at noon on Sunday and into a life informed by faith but not lived faithfully.

When trials and temptations arose, I never thought to turn to God in prayer or to open the Bible and search God’s word; I didn’t call the pastor or search out a Christian sister or brother.  Instead, I turned to  therapy where weekly I would pay someone to listen to my litany of woes, write a prescription and set another appt. for the following week.

You see, I had all the spiritual pedigree but I didn’t KNOW Jesus.  I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus any more than I had a relationship with any of the historic figures I had been introduced to in my studies….George Washington, Abraham Lincoln,  Harriet Tubman….Jesus was for me a piece of history,  whose stories were kept alive in the Bible, and whose relationship with me was purely academic and historic.

I was a good girl, too, but not because of Jesus.  I was good because I have a built law and order police officer who continually whispers “Halt, you can’t do that” and “you’ll get in trouble and be embarrassed”.   I didn’t push the moral envelope not because I was following Jesus, but because I was afraid.  Afraid of punishment; afraid of embarrassment; afraid if I stepped off the straight and narrow I would fall down a cliff and perish.

There was no power of grace in my spiritual life; it was all law…do this; go there; say that; stand, kneel, stand, sing.

Just because I was a Christian didn’t mean I knew Christ.  I knew Christianity, but I didn’t know Christ. I knew religion, but I didn’t know Christ. I knew family expectations, but I didn’t know Christ.

I think you get the point.

There is a giant difference between having a Christian pedigree and being a Christian who is in a relationship with Jesus; one who by choice sits at His feet to listen to his teachings and ponder them; one who by choice spends time talking to him in prayer, reading his memoir and hearing his story, then sitting in quiet reflection as you get to know him, to know his heart and mind and Spirit.

When that happens, all the Christian/Lutheran pedigree in the world doesn’t matter because it’s about a relationship with the God of the universe.  It’s about falling in love with someone who has already fallen in love with you and has just been waiting for you to notice; to look beneath the surface of the rituals and the words and the expectations; to push past the fears.  Waiting for you to look deep into His heart, there to see all your fears and insecurities, all your worries and sorrows absorbed  and to see reflected back only love and compassion and a deep yearning to draw closer to you.

To know Christ is to be embraced in a holy love which we call grace.

A love which is unlimited in its depth and breadth.  A love which will sacrifice everything for the sake of the relationship.  A love which will take into itself your questions, your anger, your fears alongside your hopes and dreams and visions.

And being so loved, it is a love which will transform you into one who also loves.  Loving Jesus, being filled up in His love, sets YOU FREE to pour out yourself in love to others who, when, you look into THEIR eyes and you see their fears and insecurities, worries and sorrows, you know because of the relationship you have with Jesus that your heart is big enough to take into yourself their pain, reflecting back to them Christ’s compassionate love.

You can do this, take into yourself their hurts, because you trust and you know Jesus will take them from you into Himself each time you meet in prayer and worship.

And you are spurred on because you know one day you will meet this one who loves you and whom you have grown to love, face to face.  It is this promise, this expectation, this anticipation that motivated Paul and motivates me.  Oh how I yearn to see Jesus face to face; to be held in the embrace of his arms and to look into his eyes; to hear His words, “well done good and faith servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”

But that will have to wait.  It is not yet time though I know He awaits me. Until then, I press on in this marvelous relationship with all its joys and limitations,  knowing no sorrow is too deep and no joy is too great for His love to abide with me.

Today, my friends, as we put on Christ, we are reminded it is not about pedigree; ritual; or religion. It is about a personal relationship with Jesus.

So as we put on Christ, let us put within ourselves a heart… a heart filled with love; a heart open to receiving the love and forgiveness; the hope and the endurance, the righteousness and holiness that comes from God alone through Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Lover and our friend. Love that we then turn, and share with our neighbor.

Let  us pray…

Lenten Season Message 5