Who Am I? Sermon for Sunday, January 8, 2017


One of my favorite movies is “Bourne Identity,” starring Matt Damon. It’s a fictional story about a secretive military project of our government in which government officials change the identity of selected individuals without their full consent so that the government can use them to accomplish their military purposes.

One of these individuals is Jason Bourne who begins to have flashbacks of who he really is. When the government discovers that he is beginning to remember his past identity, they do everything in their power to kill him to protect their highly secretive project from being leaked to the public.

It’s one of my favorite movies because not only is it filled with action and suspense, it also deals with a very basic question of life that we all struggle to understand. That question is, “Who am I?”

Someone once said that if you don’t know who you are, someone will tell you. That’s why it’s important that we know who we are.

Comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “I’ve always wanted to be somebody, but I see now I should have been more specific.”

In the book, The Mask Behind the Mask, biographer Peter Evans says that actor Peter Sellers played so many roles he sometimes was not sure of his own identity. Approached once by a fan who asked him, “Are you Peter Sellers?” Sellers answered briskly, “Not today.”

When God created human beings, we were created in the image of God. And when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River to begin his ministry, a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Whenever we celebrate a baptism, it’s God’s ways of reminding us that we have a very special identity. We belong to God. We are God’s sons and daughters.

Regardless of how bad of a day you had or if you experienced rejection, the good news of our faith is that we can know our identity. We belong to God!

This is why Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. It wasn’t because he sinned and needed to be forgiven by God. Jesus’ baptism confirmed his identity as God’s Son.

I wonder how many times Jesus thought back to his baptism especially when he faced adversity and challenges. Right after Jesus was baptized, Matthew tells us that Jesus was sent into the wilderness for forty days and forty nights. It was in the wilderness where he faced the temptation to accept a different identity.

Since Jesus knew who he was and what God had called him to accomplish, he made it through that wilderness experience. If anything, it provided even more confirmation of his true identity.

During the week before his death, the leaders of the temple challenged Jesus. They demanded to know by what authority he was doing these things. Do you remember how Jesus answered them? He indirectly referred to his baptism and he told them, “This is why I do what I do.”

And when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” I believe that he had his baptism in mind because he knew that he had totally lived out his identity and fulfilled the mission that God had given him to do. Jesus was able to be who he was and do what he did because God had claimed him for this special purpose at his baptism.

If that’s true for Jesus, then I think that’s true for us as well. As we go through our day to day living, we can be pulled in so many different ways. Our culture is more than willing to tell us who we are if we don’t already know who we are.

Tara Woodard Lehman is a Christian blogger who has many thought provoking articles. She’s also a Presbyterian pastor and former chaplain at Princeton University. In one of her articles, she tells about a conversation she had with a college student who was spiritual but was very suspicious of organized religion.

He asked, “I mean, I get why you’re into being spiritual and helping people and everything, but why bother with church? I just don’t get that part. Do you really think you need it?”

He went on to describe how irrelevant the Church was. In his view, all the Church once provided can be found elsewhere in secular life.

From community service projects to book clubs; from outreach to the poor to putlucks; from meditation groups to support groups; he described the many other places that provide much of what the Church used to and occasionally still does provide.

As Tara reflected on this student’s honest question about why bother with church since you can do pretty much the same types of things in other places, she offers this thoughtful response.

“After giving it much consideration, I’ve decided that there is at least one very good reason why I need Church: I have a really bad memory.

     It’s true. I have a terrible memory. Especially when it comes to remembering who I am as a child of God. Especially when it comes to remembering what God has done, and continues to do, in and through Jesus Christ.

     I forget who I am. I forget who God is. I forget God’s epic story of redemption and liberation and renewal and beauty and hope.

     I forget. A lot.

     On top of that, there are a gazillion other demands and voices that are vying for my attention all the time.

     So I admit it. I get tired. And I get distracted. And more often than not, I forget.

     I need church, because church reminds me of everything that’s important.”

    I love Tara’s response. It’s through the church that the Sacrament of Baptism reminds us of who we are since we can so easily forget. Baptism is one of those events in life that can mean more to us long after the event than when it actually took place.

The day of our baptism is like the day we go to the bookstore to buy a travel book about a city we will be visiting while on vacation. The book can tell us all about the places we should go and eat, but eventually we have to take the trip and find our way around.

Our whole life is a journey that first begins at our baptism. Baptism is just the beginning of the long journey. And like most journeys, there will be challenges and struggles along the way.
I love how Queen Elizabeth has been in the news all because she hasn’t been able to go to church the past several weeks because of an illness. She really misses it on those rare occasions when she can’t make it to church. We need to be reminded of our true identity throughout our life.

We will need to discern when to play it safe and when to get out of our comfort zones and step out in complete faith. We will wrestle with what is right and what is wrong and what’s important and what’s not important. We will experience temptations that are very enticing and there will be times that we will question if we really are who God claims us to be.

Regardless of what age we may have been baptized; as an infant, as a teenager, or as an adult, baptism increases in meaning as we journey through life. God’s claim on our lives through baptism will guide us along the way especially during those times when we experience self-doubt and confusion.

It has been said that whenever the great 16th century Reformation leader, Martin Luther was going through a challenging time in his life that he would place his hand on his head and say to himself, “I am baptized.”

Whenever I go running along a path that follows a stream or a river. Often times, the sound of the water going over the rocks prompts me to remember my baptism and of who I am in Jesus Christ.

In the movie, “The Help,” a black maid named Aibee cares for a little white girl whose name is Mae Mobley Leefort. Aibee witnesses the child being hurt over and over again by the child’s mother. Aibee decides to do something about it.

Every day, she tells the young child in her care something good about herself. Several scenes in the movie bring us to Aibee holding baby girl, Mae Mobley, and sharing these words to her.

“You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley. You hear me?  You is kind, you is smart, you is important!”

As soon as Mae Mobley learns to talk, Aibee is having her repeat this self-affirmation. When Aibee is forced to leave the household, she reminds Mae Mobley of these words one last time. Let’s watch this scene from the movie, “The Help.”

The words that Jesus heard at his baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” were words that stayed with him throughout his ministry. These were the words that sustained him when he felt alone. These were the words that helped him face opposition and adversity. These were the words that reminded him of his mission and purpose in the world.

 

When we hear the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful,” that’s how we remember who we are. We belong to Christ.

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