Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

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1 St. Mark s Episcopal Church Albuquerque, New Mexico Sunday January 10, Epiphany Preacher: Christopher McLaren Text: Luke 3: 15-17, Theme: Remember Who You Are My mother was a wise woman, and while I was not a bad or particularly rebellious teenager, she often had a single piece of advice for me as I went out the door on a Friday or Saturday night to go on a date or out with friends. She would look me in the eye, smile and offer these words, Christopher, don t forget who you are. I think you know what she was trying to tell me. She was not afraid that I would forget my name, lose my ID, or not remember how to get home. She was reminding me of something much more important. She knew that there are moments in our lives when we can literally forget who we are and act in ways that do damage to ourselves and to the person we are becoming. I was interested in reading a recent newspaper article about three young girls who broke into Wilson Middle School and did over $80,000 worth of damage. I asked my daughter why she thought that they did that. She said, I don t know, but their dad said that he was shocked by it and that he felt like he didn t know the girls who had done it even though one was his daughter. The girls evidently had forgotten who they were and their father could not recognize them in their actions. Now some people might call what my mother did a threat or a warning (and in truth there may have been some of that in her speech). There is, after all, nothing wrong with being a little afraid of what your mother might think of you, or do to you, if you make poor choices. However, I prefer to think of my mother s words at the threshold of our familial front door as a maternal benediction - a blessing and a prayer for safe passage. My beloved, don t forget who you are. The truth is, that in our modern world it is sometimes difficult amid the myriad of voices and names to remember who we are. There are so many identities calling out to us that it is all too easy to forget who named you and to whom you belong. Our world actually seems to encourage us to pursue false identities. So, we know people who are constantly forgetting who they are and trying to construct a new identity from what seems like no substance at all. Now don t for a minute think that I am unsympathetic. The question, is an important and pressing question, especially for youth. If you live with a teenager or have recently been a teenager, or can remember your teenage years, or will someday have a teenager, you know that much of these youthful years are dedicated to trying to discover the self, to the searching for one s own identity. And amidst the cacophony of voices and media there are plenty of people who would like to tell us who we are and too often we are tempted to believe them. 1

2 You are mostly a sexual being, our pop culture tells us. I ve got my mind on your body and your body on your mind, as one popular song proclaims. Your body is your most important possession. You should worship it, resource it, love it, caress it, reveal it, and show it off. You are your intellect. You are a rational, reasoning, thinking being, ingesting great quantities of information, facts and figures, and learning how to demonstrate them on a myriad of standardized tests. Class after class, school after school, degree after degree you are invited into endless school. You are told that you should live to learn, not learn to live. It is not your peculiar way of life, or the character you possess that matters, rather it is what you know that defines who you are smart or dumb, bright or stupid, success or failure. You are a consumer. You are what you can purchase and possess. You are nurtured in the fine art of shopping, in the practice of acquisition. You are a maker of money and a spender of money. You are a contributor to the gross national product, to economic growth, and to the market. You are an investor, a homeowner, a capitalist, a mortgage holder, and a debtor. You are a person to be manipulated and convinced of how much better off your life will be if you only have the right things, the newest models, the coolest gadgets, and the best toys. I know people for whom buying and having the gear is more important than the experience of actually using the gear. It is so easy to become people surrounded by stuff from the stuff mart and to believe that this makes us important to the American way of life. You are a self-made, autonomous being - our modern, scientific, faithless world tells us. You are the most important person in the universe. Nobody has your best interest at heart so you must look out for number one. Don t worry about being selfish, you are the most important project in your life; nurture, care for, invest in, and love your own valuable me. In our culture today the question of identity of, often extends well past our early 20 s and college age. Adolescence it seems is edging into the 30 s and 40 s in a culture that sometimes seems to exalt in immaturity and avoiding responsibility. Lacking a sense of identity some people seem to be constantly experimenting with who they are, changing the recipe of their life, hoping to find the right ingredients and mix that will make them happy and successful and better looking. People keep trying on new personas and answering to all kinds of names hoping that one will finally fit them. 2

3 To this important question, the church -- the people of God -- have traditionally given a powerful answer. You are baptized. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ s own forever. (BCP p. 308) You are God s person in the world. The way we discover who we are is not to listen to the myriad of voices clamoring around us for attention. The way we discover who we are, is not to go on a quest of selfdiscovery on the backroads of America on a motorcycle, as fun as that might be. The way we discover who were is to come to the waters of baptism, to approach those grace filled waters and look deeply into the sacred mirror to discover there our own face, transformed by the love of God, our own identity buried deep in the waters with Christ who himself has come through the waters. Even today when we baptize a child you will hear the priest say, The name of this child to be baptized. In fact, you heard me say those words just a couple of Sundays ago. It s not because the priest has forgotten the child s name, (though that is not out-of-thequestion in the moment). It is because in ancient times, baptism was an occasion for naming. The child already had their family name and in baptism they were given their Christian name; perhaps after a saint, or hero of the faith, or family member who was beloved. It is true that in ancient times, children were actually named by the church christened at their baptism. But even though this custom is rarely if ever followed now, baptism remains a time of naming. At baptism, each of us is given the name, Christian as a gift: unearned, unmerited, underserved. It is like salvation itself: full of grace. In bestowing upon each baptized person the name Christian the church is doing something quite surprising and subversive regarding identity. We are telling the baptized person that their identity is a gift, a grace offered by the people of God in the power of the Spirit. It is such a radical idea in a world where we are told that discovering who we are is an endless search through the dark and difficult recesses of our minds and egos. Our primary identity comes to us as a gift not as something urged into existence by our own effort and sheer willpower. We discover who we are by grace. We can cease our striving. We can let go of our anxiety. We know who we are by God s naming of us in baptism. Baptism tells us something that we probably have a hard time accepting. We are belong to the royal family. We belong to the king of kings and lord of lords. We are part of the glorious kingdom, because of the one who has trampled down death by death. We have been adopted by the most high, and made worthy because of Christ s great love for us. Belonging to this family does not mean that we are better than anyone else, or that we have any status, aside from that of a servant of being God s person in the world. It does not mean that we don t sin or make mistakes, or hurt other people, or act out of fear or selfishness. It simply means that we belong to God, and that we know there is a more excellent way and that we are people on an adventure called, being Christian. That when 3

4 we fail we seek forgiveness and purpose to live more fully in the ways of Christ that others might know the love of God through us. The Christian message is not that you are supposed to act like somebody. The message is that you already are somebody. You are God s beloved. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ s own forever. Everyone is destined to belong to God, and thus, the mission of the church is vast. We are not to rest or become complacent as long as any of God s heirs is miserable, hungry, naked, oppressed, persecuted, or homeless. These things are an affront to the God we love and serve and to whom we belong. So as long as there are institutions, governments and people who harm and distort the image of God, in any of God s creatures, there is plenty of work to do for God s people in the world. Our mission is all around us. In preparing for this sermon one writer reminded me of a scene from Alex Haley s book Roots, that I remember watching as a child. I realize that this is dating me a bit here. There is a powerful scene the night the slave, Kunta Kinte, drove his master to a ball at a big plantation house. Kunta Kinte heard the music from inside the house, music from the white folk s dance. He parked the buggy and settled down to wait out the long night of his master s revelry. While he sat in the buggy, he heard other music coming from the slaves quarters, the little cabins behind the big house. It was different music, music with a different rhythm. He felt his legs carrying him down the path toward those cabins. There he found a man playing African music, the music which he remembered hearing in Africa as a child the music he had almost forgotten. Kunta Kinte found that the man was from his part of Africa. They talked excitedly, in his native language, of home and the way of life they remembered. That night, after returning from the dance, Kunta Kinte went home changed. He lay upon the dirt floor of his little cabin and wept. The terrifying, violent and degrading experience of slavery had almost obliterated his memory of who he was. But the music had helped him remember. We can take this story to be a baptismal parable. It is a story that tells us how easy it is, in the midst of this life, to forget who you are and to whom you belong. So the church is here to remind you, to remind one another, that we have been bought with a price, that someone greater than us has named us, and claimed us, and seeks us, and loves us, with only one good reason in mind so that he might love us for all eternity. That someone is Jesus, who waded into the muddy waters of the Jordan with all of sinful humanity, because he desired to come to us where we are at, not demand that we come to him. He did it because he loves us and wanted to show us God s ways in 4

5 person. In coming among us, in joining us in the flesh Jesus, heard these beautiful words, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:22) Remember who you are. Remember your baptism. Remember you are God s beloved. Note: This sermon is based heavily on the writing of William Willimon in his piece entitled Remember Who You Are: Baptism a model for Christian life. Nashville, The Upper Room. 5

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