“And isn’t that what God wants? For us to be successful? For our identity to be found in such success: family, security, a nice home and rewarding career? Surely God is blessing us for what we do to better our loved ones and ourselves.”
Who are you?
A sermon by Pastor Bob
December 11, 2011
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28
John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. …
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
–Who are you?
–When someone asks you this, there are usually three common answers:
–First: “My name is so-and-so.”
–Second: I do such-and-such for a living: “I’m a doctor or lawyer, or I’m raising a family, or recently retired.”
–And third (depending on the tone of the voice asking): “It’s none of your business!”
–Now as we look at our gospel reading this morning, you kind of feel sorry for the guy that has to go ask John the Baptist who he is.
–Just imagine, you cast the short lot in Jerusalem, and are assigned to go find out if there is any truth to the rumors that the man covered in camel’s hair and snacking on locus and wild honey just may be the Messiah, the very hope of Israel.
–Thankfully, other priests and Levites accompany you, but then once again, you are the one chosen to go wade into the waters and ask him, “Who are you?”
–So there you are, waiting patiently for an answer, trying to look priestly and everything, while your clothes are soaking up the Jordan River like a sponge.
–And finally, after a pause in the submersions, this very wet Baptizer looks at you and simply says, “I am not the Messiah.”
–“Oh no,” you say to yourself. “This guy isn’t going to give me a break. I have to guess who he is?”
–“Elijah?”you ask hopefully.
–This is not going well.
–By now, you have followed him ashore, and your other colleagues are getting agitated.
–They, too, press this unmovable person who says he is neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor a prophet.
–They ask him: “What do you say about yourself?”
–And then emerges words straight from Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
–Great. That helps a lot.
–But before you can ask another question, the Baptizer continues with the ominous words that he is here only to prepare the way for another.
–Someone whose sandals he is not worthy of untying.
–Now, I’ve taken a little liberty in interpreting this gospel scene for us this morning. But questions of identity not only run throughout the gospels, but shape our everyday lives.
–One of the first things we learn is our name.
–We hear our name long before we completely understand what it means.
–We hear it in the facial expressions of our family members as they smile and play with us.
–And over the months of (remarkable!) development, we absorb the reality that these sounds help us and others identify who we are.
–But what if you don’t really like your name?
–What if you want to change it at a later age?
–Have you ever noticed that making such a change is not so easy, particularly around people who have known you your whole life?
–I remember when my Uncle Rob started work down in Oklahoma, and began dating the women whom he would eventually marry.
–Suddenly, my beloved Uncle Rob, the one who taught me how to fish and play baseball, had the nerve to begin calling himself, “Bob.”
–Bob. Bob! How could he do that to us? To me?
–He’s my Uncle Rob, not Bob.
–Uncle Rob would spend endless hours taking me to ballgames and playing pool in downtown O’Neill, Nebraska.
–Who was this Bob character? Were we even related?
–But to my horror, the people he worked with, his wife and kids and close friends … all started to call him Bob.
–His identity evolved—and so did the people around him.
–By the way, I still call him Rob. Uncle Rob.
–Now if our name—a few random words chosen at the beginning of our life—helps shape who we are, how much more are we defined by what we do in our life?
–Sports, crafts, music, dance, schooling, jobs—and the biggie: relationships.
–Surely these things that we do make us who we are.
–As the saying goes, our actions speak louder than our words.
–A good friend shows how much they care.
–Hard work makes us an invaluable employee.
–We parent by example more than by just what we say we will do.
–So, if who we are is what we do, then life becomes a rather simple calculation.
–The more I do (especially for others), the better I am.
–If I work harder, I will be a better person.
–If I buy flowers, vacuum the carpets and don’t forget my anniversary, then I should be good to go.
–Yeah. It seems simple.
–Infuse a Puritan work ethic into the whole of our lives.
–And in reality, such a strategy is often quite successful, especially financially.
–And isn’t that what God wants?
–For us to be successful?
–For our identity to be found in such success: family, security, a nice home and rewarding career?
–Surely God is blessing us for what we do to better our loved ones and ourselves.
–We hear about this all the time on television and online.
–Many books are written by many successful people who just want you and I to be just as successful.
–It makes you kind of successful just thinking about it, doesn’t it?
–Knowing that with a sure-fired plan life will be better, if we just get a good night’s sleep, and work a little harder, maybe eat more vegetables.
–We are what we do.
–This works well most of the time.
–Until we lose our job.
–Until a long-time friendship dissolves or we prematurely lose someone.
–Until our home is in foreclosure,
–Until, until, until.
–Until we realize, that there is more to life than just what we do.
–That who we really are is more than the sum of our actions.
–As anyone knows, you can spend years and years working to build something only to lose it, or them, or yourself.
–The equation of success is equally the equation of despair.
–So, I ask you this morning, “Who are you really?”
–John the Baptist answered this question by framing his identity in terms of another.
–Sure, he had a great name, a name that struck fear and awe in those who heard it.
–And certainly he always kept himself busy; there was always more work for John to do.
–But when the priests and Levites and Pharisees challenged his identity, he simply pointed to the one whom he had spent his whole life preparing for.
–The Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God.
–It was in this Christ that John the Baptist found ultimate meaning and ultimate identity.
–John’s words and actions, which would by almost any definition be labeled as bizarre and perhaps even crazy by today’s standards, were founded and fed by a God who called him and loved him for who he was.
–Friends, we are God’s beloved.
–We are loved for who and what we really are.
–Not the name we were given at birth.
–Not the vocations that occupy much of our life.
–But, who we really are, deep down, and all the way through.
–We are God’s beloved.
–This is everything.
–Christ died so that this would be so.
–So that you and I can look in the mirror at the person whom God loves.
–Not necessarily who we love all the time, but whom God loves forever.
–Amazing, isn’t it?
–Someone loves you and I, just because. Unconditionally, freely.
–If you think about it, God does not have to love us.
–God could just make a whole new batch of folks.
–God could make them a little more compatible with the world, more likable.
–Maybe vegetarian, or capable of singing on key all the time.
–But instead, God chooses to work with us.
–And not only to work with us, but also to live with us, even to die for us.
–All so that we might love, too.
–So that we might see this world and its creatures differently, lovingly, unselfishly.
–So that we might be caught up in a relationship that has been extended to us before we were even born.
–Before we were even baptized.
–God loves you.
–That is who you are.
–That is who we are.