Do you remember what happened in this sanctuary exactly on this day six years ago, July 1st, 2012? Can anybody guess? That day was also Sunday… Yes, it was the very first Sunday that I had the worship service and delivered my sermon as a pastor right in this pulpit. That was six years ago already. And it means that today, another year of my ministry has started. How do I feel? I am truly grateful that I can have this worship service with you today and still belong to my loving church family from both congregations. In a way, I feel like I have been through a tough journey with you, a journey with many roadblocks, with many ups and downs. But above all, I am truly grateful that through the journey, I have witnessed how God is working among us to grow and enlarge our circle of blessing.
Looking back on those years, personally, I have many testimonies. But beyond everything else, what I can testify in all confidence is just one simple assurance engraved in my heart. That is, “God never gives up.” God never gives up on us because we are the children of God. And God never gives up on us until God’s will be done in our lives. God never gives up. This is the assurance I have come to hold through my short and humble journey in ministry.
Last week as I was reflecting on the assurance and preparing another sermon in the sermon series, “Polyphony of Grace,” I felt like God reassuring my faith by the beautiful message of the hymn that we are looking into today. This favorite hymn of our choice is “Blessed Assurance.” Yes, what else would it be?
This hymn was written by one of the most famous hymn writers of all time, Fanny Crosby. She became blind at the age of six weeks,but with her extraordinary talent, She began composing hymns at age six and eventually became an author of more than 8,000 gospel hymn texts. And more importantly to us… she was a lifelong Methodist. History tells us about the day in 1873 when Crosby wrote “Blessed Assurance.” On that day, her friend, Phoebe Palmer Knapp, visited her and played a melody to Fanny Crosby and asked, “What does the melody say to you?” Crosby replied that the tune suggested the words, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!” And she immediately proceeded to recite the entire first verse of the hymn.
From the story, we can imagine, Crosby must have kept her assurance so faithfully in her heart that it could be immediately crystalized into words as soon as the melody inspired her soul. Then, how does her vivid assurance come to be expressed in a form of hymn? The hymn begins by describing the foundation of Christian assurance, the ground on which we can keep our faith in God. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of his spirit, washed in his blood.” The first verse of the hymn tells us, the foundation of our blessed assurance is Jesus who comes to us and reveals God’s steadfast love for us. True, through Jesus, we are assured that we can experience the “foretaste of glory divine” in our lives. Through Jesus, we are assured that his sacrifice on the cross makes us the “heirs of salvation” “born of His Spirit.” And through Jesus, we are assured that God loves us always and therefore, God never gives up on us. In today’s Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul proclaims that nothing can change God’s love for us, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Romans 8:38-39). Indeed, upon Jesus Christ, who is the firm foundation of our faith, the rock of our salvation, the cornerstone of our church, we can stand assured of God’s everlasting love for us.
Following the foundation of our blessed assurance, the hymn moves on to teach us the way of Christian assurance, the way we can remain assured of God’s loving presence. How can we always feel blessed, beloved, joyful, redeemed, and esteemed on the ground of our faith? One thing for sure is that we cannot stay assured by our own will, by our own power and effort. Even though we have the assurance of God’s love, we are still humans whose faith easily gets weakened by our fears, doubts, and despairs. And we are still humans who seek other grounds of assurance than Jesus Christ because we crave some short-term guarantees of evanescent happiness, and we strive to fulfill instinctive human needs of security, power, and affection.
Then, what is the way we can permanently live on the ground of our true assurance? The hymn tells us the way in two words, “Perfect submission.” “Perfect submission, perfect delight! Visions of rapture now burst on my sight; Angels descending bring from above, Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.” Yes, the way that we can be always assured of God’s love and joyfully abide in that love is perfect submission of our will. When we surrender our stubborn will and let God take the steering wheel, we will be able to find the glimpse of “perfect delight.” When we deny our strong ego that blinds our eyes and deafens our ears, we will be able to see the “visions of [joy]… burst on [our] sight,” and hear the “echoes of mercy” and “whispers of love.” So let us surrender our will and let God’s will be done through us. Let us submit our ego and let only Christ live in us, let our Good Shepherd find us the way to green pastures. This is the way, the only way, we can always have the “foretaste of glory divine” and live in the assurance of new life, of new hope, of the new heaven and the new earth.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today we are standing on the foundation of our assurance, that is, God’s steadfast love for us in Jesus Christ. With this divine love, we surely become confident that God never gives up on us, the beloved children of God. Delivering this sermon on the day that marks a new start of ministry here, I can certainly say to you that this is my story and this is my song. God has never given up on us, and I know, God never will. So I praise my savior, all the day long. On our way of assurance, let us remain assured in Christ; let us surrender our will and let God’s will be done in our lives. Through the blessed assurance and the perfect submission, I hope and pray that we can find a true joy of salvation and a true hope for the kingdom to come always. Amen.