Who Are You?
September 30, 2018/19th Sunday After Pentecost & Confirmation Day /Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Micah 6:6-8 /Second Reading: James 5:13-20/Gospel: Mark 9:38-50
Who Are You?
Do you know who you are? This seems like an obvious question – a real no-brainer. Yet beyond your name, your birthdate, your occupation, and all the historical information on your personal resume – who are you really? It’s an essential question for each of us. Fundamental to living well is realizing (and remembering) who you are. We need to have a clear sense of identity.
Psychologist Erik Erikson is emphatic about this: “In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.” It can take a while to figure out who we truly are. This is, perhaps, the main agenda as a person moves through adolescence to adulthood. Some people never quite manage to get a handle on who they are. We call this having an identity crisis.
As Christians, our identity is not something we have to find or create on our own. Our identity is given to us at baptism. You and I are not what we do or what we have – not who other people may say we are. We are beloved children of God. We have been named and claimed by our Father in heaven. You and I have been formed in the image of God. We have wondrous, God-given capacities for: creativity and imagination, thinking and feeling, communicating, loving and caring, trusting and forgiving. By water and the Holy Spirit, you and I belong to God – and we belong to a community, a family: the church.
This is who we are. Our baptismal identity is a gift – yet it is a gift that must be claimed, and remembered, and lived. Embracing our identity as beloved children of God is what confirmation is all about. Every Tuesday session of confirmation concludes the same way: We gather here in the sanctuary to sum up the lesson. We have a prayer. Then the students proceed to the baptismal font, where each receives a blessing by name – and a cross is traced on their foreheads. I like to say, “If you remember nothing else from that class, remember you are a child of God.”
The week the students spend at Campfirmation is built around themes of Baptism: You are chosen by God. Your sins are forgiven. You belong to the Body of Christ. You have the promise of Eternal Life. You are to love others as God loves you.
Confirmation is a two year process leading up to this day when students will claim their identity. They say, in effect: I want to live as a child of God, as a follower of Christ, as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. Of course the journey doesn’t end on confirmation day. As we change and grow, we need to keep remembering who we are. Each year in January, as we commemerate the Baptism of Jesus, we all come to the font to remember our baptismal covenant: remembering and reclaiming our identity. “You are a child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
These days we are aware of the threat of identity theft. Unscrupulous hackers and thieves can get hold of our personal information, credit card numbers, social security number – and they can pilfer our bank accounts, ruin our credit scores, and make life miserable. It’s a terrible thing.
There’s another kind of identity theft. It happens when the world around us tries to determine our identity. In the eyes of the market, you are a consumer – nothing more. You are worth what you have to spend. Your purpose is to accumulate stuff. In the eyes of some employers, you are simply a cog in the machine – you are an interchangeable and replaceable part. Your purpose is to do your job. Some people regard other persons as objects that are to be used, exploited, manipulated and discarded. In their eyes your only purpose is to satisfy their desires. All of these are forms of identity theft.
Because this world doesn’t always recognize or appreciate who you are it’s vital to have a strong sense of your own identity. The good news is that our baptized identity as children of God can never be taken from us. We can forget this identity. We can reject this identity. We can neglect this identity. But nobody can take it from you or me. And here’s the crucial thing: When we know who we are, then we also know what we are to do, how we are to live. You and I are to live each day as children of our heavenly Father – loving God with all our heart, and loving one another as God loves us. We are to be intentional about following Christ. Christ becomes our way, our truth, our life. His way of living is our way. He is the true model of a good and worthy life. Jesus shows us what an abundant life really looks like. And we are to be willing instruments of the Holy Spirit: Letting God work in us and through us, to bless this world with grace and mercy.
How do we do this? For centuries, many thought that the best way, the preferred way, to live our identity as children of God was to become a priest, or a monk, or a nun. That is, to be a truly faithful Christian was to be “RELIGIOUS”, with a capital R, to have a full-time, permanent, religious vocation. The real Christians were clergy. Martin Luther had a fresh insight. He realized that God wants us all to be Christians, but not all pastors or priests, or deacons, or monks or nuns. The truth is God knows that this world needs: bakers and bankers, farmers and plumbers, accountants and teachers, scientists and salesmen. Every one of us is called by God to serve, and whatever we do, we can do it to the glory of God.
Today we heard the prophet Micah remind us that God has shown us what is good. It’s not like we have no clue. We don’t have to make it up as we go: It’s about doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God. Whatever we do in this world, we can do it with justice. We can live with honesty and integrity. We can have the same concern for everyone, treating them with fairness and respect in all our dealings. Knowing God’s commandments, we have a clear sense of what is good and right and true. (Why we take time to study them.)
In whatever capacity we may serve we can always go about it with kindness. For starters, common courtesy is no small thing. St Paul says “Love is never rude.” We can show mercy and compassion. We can choose to go the extra mile to help someone in need. We can be eager to try to understand, and slow to judge – always placing the best construction on the actions of others. We can always be ready to forgive. And we can make our way in this world by walking humbly with our God. Humility is simply seeing things clearly: recognizing the greatness and goodness of God, appreciating the vast wonder of creation, acknowledging our small place in the big scheme of things, realizing that life isn’t all about you. When we walk closely with God, humility follows in due course: God is great, we are not.
You have a true identity – one that cannot be stolen. You are a child of God. You are called to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with you God. It’s a good way to go.