Rev. Brink was a delegate to the Reformed Church in America's General Synod. The following is excerpted from her sermon (video below) to the congregation upon her return.
“For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” I hope we can hear in these words a deep affirmation of who we are as people – because that’s what was intended by the author of I Peter as he wrote to people living in exile in the first century.
This past week I was at the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod, its annual assembly of delegates from across the U.S. and Canada, for several days. I knew I would need to “pack these words” and take them with me. And I knew, our culture being what it is – one in which there are sharp divisions and in which some feel compelled to take strident views – that there would be things said by people in the name of God and the Bible that are just not in line with how I and we at Marble Collegiate Church understand God. I knew these words would help me get through, reminding me that I am precious and loved by God. These verses speak of the gift of becoming something, of becoming someone, of belonging to God. We are all chosen and precious to God.
Friends, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity, we are God’s. We belong to God. And because of that we take on immeasurable worth. It is God who whispers in our ear: “Stand tall and don’t be afraid; you’re so special to me.”
These verses first took on meaning for me the summer after my freshman year of college, while working as a counselor at summer camp. There is one week that summer of 1980 that I will never forget. I had realized that one of my campers was deeply suicidal, filled with self loathing. That showing God’s love would require all the strength the 19-year old me could muster. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. The camp chaplain knew this camper personally and was an incredible pastor to her. Each evening the whole camp would come together for devotions led by this chaplain. The first night he told us all how we were a “chosen race” like the Israelites – though we might be wandering in the desert, we were God’s own, God’s treasured people. Out of the corner of my eye I watched my camper listen and prayed it would soak in. The next night the chaplain told all of us that we were a “royal priesthood.” He said to be a priest is to have access to God. My camper needed to know, and each of us does too, that we can go directly to God with our deepest pains and longings, that God is there to comfort us. The third night we came to know ourselves as a “holy nation.” This wasn’t so much about following rules, he explained, but that we were “set apart,” different, like light that could make a difference in the world. We listened intently as the messages of the previous nights piled on top of each other and we took in the reality that indeed we are “God’s own people.”
Each night I saw the chaplain speaking and whispering in the kids’ ears that they were chosen and precious. I knew, and more importantly, my camper knew, that the chaplain was speaking in a special way to her. I saw her nightly leaning in to listen for God’s whisper, edging her way back from the precipice of hurting herself.
As I saw her listening, I too was listening. I understood more deeply than I ever had before that God loves me.
When things get tough in your own life – when circumstances challenge your confidence or shake your faith – when you are heckled by others or by voices inside your own head – I pray that you will stand in this truth that you are chosen and precious to God.
I pray that you will know you do not stand alone.
The passage doesn’t say “You are a chosen individual” or “You are a royal person” or “You are a holy ‘island,’ self contained in and of yourself.” But rather it says that we collectively are a chosen race – not Caucasian or Black or Asian, but the human race. That we are a royal priesthood, each with access to God and together interceding for the good of the world. We are a holy nation.
That word “nation” speaks to me of a public sensibility. We together care for the good of all people; we want to make sure everyone has enough. We care about who has healthcare. We care whether our youth can walk from school to home without being frisked without cause. We care whether our educational systems are places where each child can grow into the fullness of their gifts and abilities. We are a holy nation, caring for the good of all people, both within our borders and beyond.
We are, together, God’s own people, but not God’s only people; God’s chosen, but not chosen to the exclusion of others. We are God’s heirs with the responsibility to build God’s kingdom here on earth, to bring God’s reign to the places we live and work. In short, we are chosen for something – blessed to be a blessing. We are bearers of God’s marvelous light.
As a country, we have struggled to live into the ideal of freedom and equality for all. We have a lot of work to do as a country that strives to be a leader in our world.
The church too understands this ideal and we seek to live by the words of the Apostle Paul – when he was at his best – declaring that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” These are the things we say we believe and in this we, as a community of faith, need to lead.
At General Synod there were ways I was proud of us – as we advocated on behalf of Indonesian immigrants, persecuted Christians who fled their homeland and now are caught in a tangle of bureaucracy. And then there were ways I was not proud of us – as a slim majority of delegates voted that simply affirming same-sex relationships is a “disciplinable offense.”
The church at times fails. Though the General Synod’s statement has limited power, being there in person to hear it was a painful experience. What got me through and gave me hope and pride, were the things I knew were going on back home at Marble Collegiate Church. As I watched Marble’s worship service by live-streaming last week and received photos via Facebook of the Collegiate Church’s Pride celebration, what got me through is that Marble Church is a church that celebrates Love, Period. Standing together, we are making a difference in this world.
Your actions were whispering in my ear, reminding me, and reminding the broader church and the world that all are chosen and precious in God’s sight.
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As Executive Minister, Rev. Brink supervises all program ministries, including strategic planning, and stewardship. She is pastoral advisor to GIFTS: LGBT Fellowship and the Marble Connection, and oversees Church Benevolence. Most recently she held the position of Director of Development for Auburn Seminary, an institute for religious leadership in today’s complex, multifaith, media-saturated world. She has also served on the national staff of The Reformed Church in America (RCA) as Director of Strategic Planning and Special Assistant to the General Secretary of the RCA. A native of Iowa, Rev. Brink is a graduate of Northwestern College and Fuller Theological Seminary.
Image courtesy of Rev. Shari Brink