I wrote earlier this week about persons vs. people and how it's hard for me to wrap an individual, even a group of individuals, into something so vague as a people. Because in the sense of making an honest connection, you lose something when you do that.
That doesn't mean there's not a place for a people. Certainly, there is. Case in point: today.
Today is American Thanksgiving, a nationwide celebration of the mythical feast between Pilgrims and Natives and a tradition honoring what it meant to have landed in this new place of opportunity and freedom. On this day, we gather - a whole nation - for a day of family, friends, food, and yes, football. I love this day. Not just because it's delicious, but because there's something special happening in what we the people are doing in recognizing this moment.
And it just wouldn't be the same if it was anything less than the American people doing it.
That's what being a people is. It's having these things that draw us together, these stories that are bigger than us that bind us. These things we do together, even when it sometimes seems we're doing them separately, that honor something. That something, in this case, is America. It is that thing which holds us as people.
God knew a thing or two about a people. One of His most oft-repeated promises is that "I will be your God; you will be my people."
A day like today helps us understand what that means. It means that collectively, we are together. We are bound under this thing called God, who holds us as a people. It means that there are things that we are doing here that are absolutely, undeniably better because we are doing them together. In community. As one people. God's people.
That is the church. That is worship. That is service. That is mission. That is ministry. That is love with skin on. That is what we do. That is who we are. That is how we live and celebrate and honor what it is to live under God's reign as God's people. One people. (And you thought "people" was plural. It almost never is.)
The first few times I read those words of God - that we would be His people - I was kind of disappointed. In my slim knowledge of the Bible, I'd always thought what He actually said was that He would be our God and we would be His children. So when I kept running up against "people" instead of "children," I thought my Bible must be broken.
But on a very few occasions, God does use "children" and when I saw those, I realized the wisdom in that. He uses that second promise - that we will be His children - in Revelation and once in the New Testament (to my finding) to refer to the day that He returns. To refer to our relationship beyond this world and past this life and into eternity. When God redeems His world, we will be His children.
That one small shift takes us from the temple to the table. It takes us from the fellowship to the family.
As children, it is our one heart that matters. Just as it has always been one heart that matters to God. He never counts us by the people; He counts us by the one.
Here, though, in this place where we are not yet children, our one heart so often finds that it still needs another. It needs more. It needs backup. It needs this bigger story. And it finds tremendous rest, peace, hope, and strength in being a part of this bigger thing doing God together. It finds its courage to be one heart, oddly enough, by being in the people.
Which is why by divine wisdom, we are today a people. We need each other right now. We need to be this community drawn together under God's love, a people bound by His mercy, telling His story. And it's better because we're doing it together. We, the people...of God.