The voice of the LORD is upon the waters. (Ps. 29:3)
Who am I?
I think this is the central question of our lives. We’re searching for existential meaning. Other questions, why am I here? What am I about? What should I do with my life? These are really all bound up in that first question- who am I?
Some might say that this is the question adolescents and young adults deal with. We imagine that high school and college are times in which youth explore the world, testing their ideas against the realities they find.
When we hear of someone doing the same type of questioning or changing jobs in mid-life, we dismiss them by saying they’re going through a mid-life crisis.
What can we say then about Jesus? Today we find him traveling out into the wilderness to meet John the Baptizer. John’s baptizing for repentance, for a complete change in and among a people. He’s re-forming them into a new people, preparing them for a new way of life. And here comes Jesus, probably established in his father’s carpentry career, a devout Jew. What does he need from John? Does he need to be changed and re-formed?
John seems to have some questions about this arrangement, too. We expect a young child to need his shoes tied by an adult, but not that an adult would come to a child asking that favor. John acknowledges that he should be as the child, receiving something from Jesus. But there is something that drives Jesus to need to be baptized by John. He’s ready to be re-identified.
Who am I?
It’s a question with ready answers. Everywhere we look we can find someone telling us who we are.
My sister in law turned 15 this year. We just celebrated Christmas with her and the family yesterday. When I look at her, I’m really excited to know that she is growing up and has so many possibilities opening up in front of her. I’ve known her since she was ten years old. Her brown hair was long, cut straight across, with bangs dusting the tops of her glasses. She liked to read, to go to camp, to tease her big brother with sisterly devotion. Now she’s becoming a young woman. Her hair is styled, her face perfectly made up, she walks with confidence. And it’s not just her physical appearance. She’s responsible for her horses and raising her 4-H pigs. She’s wondering what she wants to continue studying, what her vocation might be.
For Christmas I gave her a cd. I tried to find songs with some message that might help her know that she will be faced with many people trying to tell her who she is, but that she doesn’t have to listen to those other voices. The cd starts with the lyrics “I’m just a girl in the world, that’s all that you’ll let me be”. I know that someday, someone will look at her and call her- girl- just a girl- and on the basis of that identification, tell her she’s not good enough, or strong enough, or someone else enough, and so she can’t do whatever it is that she’d like to do.
American. Westerner. Immigrant. Foreigner. Woman. Man. Black. White. Asian. Hispanic. Working class.
We are told who we are. We tell others who they are.
What is it that makes us need to know who we are- and to name who others are?
We name others to classify them, to make them different than ourselves, to draw boundaries. Somehow naming other people helps us feel better because putting an identity on another gives us some control over them.
I think our identity crisis is really about fear. We don’t know who we are, or we aren’t who we think we should be. We can listen to the voices around us, trying to name us, and we can think about how we don’t live up to those names. Perhaps people look at us and say, “successful, compassionate, smart, patient, Godly”. Those are nice names to have, but they can be easily lost. In recent years, it seems we’ve heard a lot about abuse by clergy. It’s horrible and it happens in all denominations. Clergy are people we identify as holy and good. But that is simply not an identity that belongs to anyone. If you’ve been a part of our book study, you’ll remember that in Bill White’s book “In Over our Heads”- there is a chapter called “Holy and Messed Up”. We are all “holy” and “messed up”, saints and sinners at the same time. We’re not going to be able to sustain an identity as “holy”. We are not good. As much as we might want to sell ourselves to others as a good person, we’re just not going to cut it. Are you thinking, “tell us something we don’t know!”? Or maybe, “there’s got to be a way to be the good person I want to be!”? Or- are you like me, and knowing that you are not perfect, that you are not good, leaves you terrified. I’m afraid. I’m afraid because we live in a world where we are constantly judged. And I’m trying to become a pastor – and people expect you to be good if you’re a pastor. But I can’t be good. I can’t be perfect.
We’re always trying to reinvent ourselves to fit in, to be ok. In a new group of people, we think we have a new chance. We think we can live up to their expectations and we can be that perfect person we want to tell others we are. But that’s only going to last long. Jeff and I have started watching the TV show “Lost” on DVD. It’s about a group of 46 people who are in a plane crash between Australia and LA, and are stranded on an island. We’re watching the first season, and I find it so captivating because the stories of the each person’s life is shown, and how their former lives are affecting them in their relationships with these strangers. The problems and issues that haunted them before the crash remain struggles. Given a clean slate, they simply can’t create themselves as perfect people.
If we’re so afraid and focused on painting our identity sparkling bright, and trying to sell that to others, we can’t move out into mission and ministry. All our fearful energy is directed at ourselves, and we look at others with suspect.
Jesus comes to John in the wilderness. He is one amid the crowds who have come to learn from this holy man. Whatever his identity before he emerges from the waters of his baptism, it is clear who he is afterwards. A voice from heaven declares, “this is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased”. In Matthew’s Gospel, it seems that this message is for the whole community of John’s disciples. Jesus and the community know who he is, the Son of God. Once Jesus’ identity is declared, he goes out into the wilderness and begins his ministry. We don’t need to search for our identity, or live up to the identity someone else has put on us, or try to create an identity for ourselves that is beyond our ability to sustain. God has already given us our identity in Jesus Christ. We are united with Jesus in baptism. As we are washed with the waters, human constucted identity is washed away. We are marked with the sign of the cross. Thus we are identified through the symbol of love and sacrifice as Christ’s. Do we want to give up control and allow God to identify us? I think it’s the only way we can experience love- God’s love and a good self-love— if we rest in the identity we are given through God’s grace in uniting us with Jesus.
And if we are identified with Jesus, we are identified as children of the same God, brothers and sisters with Christ. If this is who we are, and if this identity will not be taken away from us, what can we fear? We are freed from fear, ready for mission and ministry.
We opened our service with the Thanksgiving of Baptism liturgy. There’s one line I want to repeat: “By water and your Word you claim us as daughters and sons, making us heirs of your promise and servants of all”. Living out of our baptismal identity, we can look at strangers and name them brother and sister. We can love them because we know who they are. We don’t name their identity in a confining way, but welcome them into our hearts as siblings.
We are the Church, the gathered children of God. At baptism, we welcome new siblings into our family. We affirm that they are named “children of God”. Look around. Your identity is being held in the community’s trust. The community of believers- those who have shared the baptismal promises to teach us and pray for us- are those who remind us who we are- children of God. We are holy, saints, because we are united with Christ, but we will remain “messed up”, sinners, for our whole lives. It is our calling as the church to remind each other of this identity. To offer forgiveness and reconciliation for the sin, and to rejoice and remind each other of the grace of God that has made us holy. We are daughters and sons of God. We are brothers and sisters of Chirst. This is the identity God has given you. God loves you.
May the grace and peace of God be with you, my sisters and brothers in Christ.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment