Lombard CRC

Union with Christ, Part #4 - Mystery Not Merit

GEMS who’s good at math here?

Are you starting to get it?

I saw a tricky math problem this week,

can you help me try to figure this out?


The problem is:

"On the Lake Michigan coast

there are three lighthouses.

The first light shines for 3 seconds,

then is off for 3 seconds.

The second light shines for 4 seconds,

then is off for 4 seconds.

The third light shines for 5 seconds,

then is off for 5 seconds.

All three lights have just come on together.

  • When is the first time all three lights

will be off at the same time?

  • When is the next time all three lights

will come on together at the same moment?"



Well, the first part of the problem

can be solved visually:

look at the slide -


OK? The second part needs some math

along with conceptually creative thinking:

For problem 2,

the first light turns on every 6 seconds,

the second light turns on every 8 seconds,

and the third light turns on every 10 seconds.

They will all come on together

at the least common multiple of these numbers.

LCM(6, 8, 10) =

LCM(2×3, 2×2×2, 2×5) = 2×2×2×3×5 = 120

So the lights all turn on together at 120 seconds.


Get it? if you didn’t, just imagine that someday soon,

in the next couple of years,

a problem like this will be easy for you!

It will!

That’s amazing, isn’t it,

how beautiful and wonderful

is the order of this world

and the ability of our brains and minds,

God is a great Creator, amen?


A problem like this reminds us

that some things in life are difficult,

but they are not mysteries,

they can be figured out.

Some things that begin as mysteries can be solved.

Anybody who is a fan of CSI

or Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie

will tell you that.


But when the Apostle Paul talks about mystery

in these verses from Colossians,

he means something more:

26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.


The mystery is Jesus, Christ in you.

It’s a mystery because

this is not something we could have figured out

on our own.

The Lord revealed this to his people.

It’s a mystery because it’s true,

even if it’s hard to say what it’s like.

It’s a mystery because

it’s more than a secret revealed;

it’s a wonder that we do best to rejoice in,

be thankful for,

and live, rather than try to figure out.


If I asked you girls to explain it to me –

explain to me how Christ lives in me,

it would be hard to explain, right?

Jesus, the living Lord,

God and human, living inside of us,

how can you explain that?

What’s that like?

Kind of a mystery, isn’t it?


How can I help you?

Well, did you ever answer the phone,

and the adult starts talking to you

as if you were your mom,

and then you find a way to say sorry,

I think you want to talk to my mom,

and the adult says,

Oh sorry, you sound just like your mom!

Maybe you roll your eyes at that.

Or maybe you smile at that.

But the truth is dawning on you that

there is something of your mom in you.


Or someone looks at old pictures,

and compares you now to your grandma

when she was your age,

and someone says, you look just like your grandma!

There is something of grandma in you.


These examples help us receive the truth

that by the grace of God and the work of Holy Spirit,

Jesus lives in you.

Christ in us is the hope of glory.

Your life has that much value to God.

It’s not that someday your life may be worth something if you make a lot of money or have the right boyfriend or go to the best university.

With Christ in us our life is for his glory.

It’s not that we’re supposed to

physically look like Jesus,

or sound like him.

But spiritually we are:

the Holy Spirit is making us to love what Jesus loves,

to act as he desires us to act,

in loving God and our neighbors and his church,

to speak his truth with grace –

to be formed in his likeness and image.

And to want that!

I want to live like Jesus:

when things go bad

I want that power and presence

so I don’t add to the pain, or violence, or hurt,

but bring peace, healing, blessing, joy . . .

something new instead of the same old.

So that when you are with other people for a while

the Spirit may help them to see

something of Jesus in you.

And our Heavenly Father sees glory

in a life lived like that.


You may say ‘wait a minute!’ at that.

How could I ever be like Jesus?

But didn’t we just do a math problem that was hard

and I told you after a few more years of math

problems like that will be easy for you?

You might not think you can master math or science or your musical instrument right now,

but you can learn to master those things.


I’m not saying you can learn to master holiness,

but you can learn to BE MASTERED by Jesus,

who is holy.


And that’s the difference:

Christ in us

is by mystery NOT merit.


We’re not going to master faith

or Christianity or worship or Jesus,

right? he is the master, we are his servants.

And our hope is that he is within us through his Spirit,

forming and shaping us

through things like worship,

like your GEMS club,

or wherever two or three meet together

in Jesus’ name,

across generational lines,

across any divisions of economics or race or politics or anything like that

to pray or serve or share in the word of God.


Colossians 1 & 2 want us to know these things:

that Christ in us is our hope,

it is our glory,

we become the persons God is making us to be

as little by little Christ shows

in our words and actions,

that’s how we become beautiful, wonderful,

that’s the glory . . .

Your GEMS theme - To walk in His steps

we will remember who Jesus is,

remember who Jesus says we are,

and then step in and love and live like Him.


And then Colossians 1 & 2 want us to know

this comes by mystery and not merit,

that is, it comes by grace alone,

by the Holy Spirit’s work,

not by anything we can fashion or manipulate

for ourselves.

So we may not notice it right away.

We may think we’re failing more,

that faith is difficult for us,

that for all our striving we don’t see

much good coming out of our belief.

So we’re reminded this comes mysteriously,

in God’s time and God’s way.

By grace alone.


That’s why once we’re told of this great thing:

that through suffering,

through God’s mercy,

through our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior,

through trust and obedience

and confession when we sin,

through all this Christ lives in us . . .


Once we accept that these are but our loving responses to the love of God for us,

only our thanks that God so loves us,

these verses in Colossians

want to make sure we know

we didn’t accomplish this

by our own efforts

or deserve this because of what we have done.

So the Bible reminds us of our baptism:

Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.


Paul is teaching mystery, not merit.

Merit meaning this is something I can do,

I can earn,

I can be good enough for this life,

just tell me what I have to do,

tell me how to be spiritual and I will figure it out.

That’s the flesh speaking, remember?

We talked about that a few weeks ago.

Taking the glory of God

the sacrifice and love of Christ

and making it all about me.

But baptism puts the flesh in its place.

We don’t merit Christ in us,

it comes by the mystery of God’s promise,

sealed to us in baptism.


Elizabeth Scalia writes in reaction to a phrase many Americans use today:

I’m spiritual but not religious,

which is really just a way to justify one’s self

or excuse one’s self from

the loving yet difficult commitment

to belong to a church community

and share life gifts and service together.

Elizabeth writes that the opposite

is more to the truth of it all:

most Americans are RELIGIOUS but not spiritual.

That is, tempted to live

as if by choosing certain opinions or behaviors

or practices I can feel good about myself

and satisfy any need I have for God.

They live by the flesh:

be for the right things

be against the wrong things

and give yourself a break for all the rest,

and you’re good enough,

who needs Christ and his cross then?

Colossians 2 teaches,

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

The everyday hollow and deceptive philosophy

says you don’t need Jesus

and you can do it yourself.


Instead, the truth is

we live by God’s grace alone.

Paul teaches us to remember our baptism.

That’s a mystery in itself.

What actually happens at baptism?

Don’t just think of it as a church thing.

Some people do that.

They aren’t really active community participants

in a church,

but then they have a child and say,

we should have our child baptized.

They’re being religious, not spiritual.


But baptism isn’t a mere religious rite.

It is a sacrament.

It points to what God does.

It is a confession that we live by the promise of God.

Just as circumcision was done in the Old Testament at a time when the male child

knew nothing of God

and was merely a child in need of love and care,

so baptism speaks the promise of God to a child

who knows nothing of God

is unable to respond with any faith just yet

and is only in need of love and care.


At such a time God makes a promise.

A promise to be your God.

To surround you in a community of Christ,

the church

so you belong with people who live by faith.

To insure you will hear the gospel

and grow up in it.

To say in Christ alone you find your hope:

forgiveness, belonging, identity, acceptance,

and a place in God’s kingdom.

And all this comes by accepting the promise

given to you,

trusting that Jesus loves you and is with you always.


Don’t turn baptism into something we do,

or we earn,

or we merit . . .

live in the promise,

the mystery, Christ in us

is the hope, the hope of glory.


Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper

teaches us to experience the same grace.

We receive communion, is the language we use.

A gift. To receive in humble thanks.

Jesus giving himself to us.

Mystery to reveal the reality.

Did you have to buy a ticket

to take the Lord’s Supper?

Did you pass a test

in order to merit your participation?

In fact, one theologian has said,

I don’t take the Lord’s Supper

to say I’m a good Christian,

but to testify that I am a bad Christian,

it is Jesus who is good for me,

whose goodness is in me

and I hope at times shines through.


Our calling and task, purpose and meaning,

is not to solve the mystery,

but live in its goodness.

Frederick Buechner talks about Christ in us this way:

I have come to believe more and more that God speaks through the fathomless quiet of the holy place within us . . .  I believe that this quiet and holy place in us is God’s place and what marks us as God’s. Even when we have no idea of seeking it, I think various things can make us fleetingly aware of its presence – a work of art, beauty, sometimes sorrow or joy, sometimes just the quality of a moment that apparently has nothing special about it at all like the sound of water over stones in a stream or sitting alone with your feet up at the end of a hard day.” (Telling Secrets)

We are made for transcendence after all.

We are made for God.

And our lives are for his glory.

Yes, even yours.

Trust the promise,

be open to the power:


And take joy in the presence,

Christ in you, the hope of glory.

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit

we celebrate at Pentecost.

When we think of the Holy Spirit

we confess he makes us share

in the presence of Christ

through the gifts of the Spirit

which produce the fruit of the Spirit.


Continue to live in him –

so Paul can talk about rejoicing in what he suffers,

because Jesus, who suffered for him,

lives within him.

What did Bishop Curry preach yesterday

at the royal wedding?

He said, Love can be sacrificial,

and in so doing, become redemptive.

That’s embracing the mystery,

that tho this burden you suffer is bad,

God is working all things

for the good of those who love him.

So I can choose to lay down my rights and my wants

to bring instead the loving presence of Christ

and suffer with another for Jesus’ sake.


And Paul could encourage us in thankfulness.

You may admit failure, but Christ is in me –

so I can be thankful for the power of his cross

that forgives my sin

and quickens my heart for his righteousness.

Old Bible teacher Jurgen Moltman - 

Genuine hope is not blind optimism.

It is hope with open eyes,

which sees the suffering

and yet believes in the future.


You may admit fear –

you’ll talk with classmates about

another school shooting this week,

and again the adults in America

don’t do anything about it.

So you may want to be about more than fear,

but there it is.

But Christ is in you,

the one who suffered injustice

in order to bring the justice of God,

and your love for what is right and true

can change our society.

Pastor Eugene Cho observes:

our common responses to gun violence are:

1 – apathy

2- thoughts and prayers

3 – paralysis, we don’t know what to do

4 -  frantic anger, defending our politics.

and then we move on.

But this is not healthy grief

nor acting justly, as we are commanded in scripture.


Instead of fear,

start with your own thankfulness to God

for all his benefits to you.

And out of that humility

apply the love of Christ to love of neighbor,

then consider how we may respond in a way

that is not defensive or excusing

but helps to display the kingdom of God.


The mystery of Christ in us

opens us up to the living word

of God’s transforming power and presence.

And that’s what Pentecost tells us,

as Frederick Buechner says, pointing us to the

hope of glory,

“It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name....That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still.”

― Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale


Christ in us.

What is that mystery?

God’s promise, power and presence.

Our hope for all things being made new.




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