Christ Lutheran Community Church
March 10, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Who Are You"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Romans 10:8b -13, Luke 4:1-13
We human beings spend an awful lot of our lives trying to figure out who we are. We take personality tests. We have our DNA analyzed. We study astrology. Perhaps we find our identity in the work we do: we tell people “I’m a nurse” or “I’m a teacher.” Or maybe we look to the groups we participate in to understand who we are: we identify with a political party, or a religious group, or we explore our family tree to find out what that says about us. Some people even find their identity in the objects they purchase. I heard a comedian tell an audience that he bought an android phone and half the audience started to clap…as if his buying an android phone somehow validated their own identity as android users.
We spend so much time trying to figure out our identities because we want to feel good about ourselves. If there are things about ourselves that we feel ashamed of, we look for other things that will make us feel proud.
I think that’s part of why nationalism is on the rise around the world: it’s people who find their identity in their race or their ethnicity and they’re looking for ways to feel good about that. Sometimes nationalists will try to re-write history in order to feel better about themselves. Last month, a big diplomatic crisis broke out between Poland and Israel because Israel accused Poland of trying to rewrite history in order to minimize its involvement in the Holocaust. In our own country, we’ve wrestled with this as we’ve tried to figure out what to do with confederate monuments. Do we acknowledge these stains on our national identity or do we try to pretend that they aren’t there?
God seems to understand the deep need we have to establish an identity for ourselves; so, much of the Bible is directed at helping us understand who we are. The Bible is like our spiritual family tree: we read it to explore who our ancestors were, so that we can better understand who we are as human beings. Our scripture readings this morning are, in part, about finding our identity. In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people to perform an annual ritual once they settle in the land of Canaan. The purpose of the ritual is to help the people understand who they are. Once the first fruits of the harvest are gathered, they are to take an offering to the temple and, after giving the offering to the priest, they are to repeat these words:
“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Moses wants to root the identity of this new nation in this awareness: they are people whom God rescued from slavery and brought into the land. The people should never delude themselves into believing that they did it on their own. They shouldn’t try to rewrite history. Only by understanding what God has done for them can they truly understand their own identity. And this understanding of their identity will, hopefully, shape how they treat others, especially those who are vulnerable and without power. Notice in Deuteronomy, after bringing the first fruits to the temple, the people are to have a big feast and Moses instructs them to invite the resident aliens to participate in this feast. They are to include the resident aliens because they too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.
In Luke, the question of identity comes up in the way the devil goes about tempting Jesus. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil tells Jesus, “then turn these stones into bread… If you are the Son of God, throw yourself off the temple.” Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is something that had been revealed to him immediately prior to this at this baptism. After Jesus came up out of the Jordan River, while he was praying, God said to him, “You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased.” Now, the devil is trying to mess with Jesus’ understanding of himself by questioning what it means to be God’s Son.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is very similar to the one we read about in Matthew; but the Gospel of Luke has a slightly different emphasis than the Gospel of Matthew. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus identifies completely with the poor and the marginalized, as opposed to the rich and the powerful. So when the devil tempts Jesus, it’s as if he’s saying, “You’re the Son of God. You don’t have to go hungry, like all those masses of hungry people out there. You can turn stones into bread…. You don’t have to be powerless like all those masses of slaves and peasants. I’ll give you the nations of the world…. You don’t have to live in fear of danger like all those masses of victims of war and violence. You can throw yourself off a pinnacle and nothing will harm you.”
As we saw in Deuteronomy, God identifies with the poor and the powerless. Jesus, as the Son of God, must also identify with the poor and the powerless. He describes his mission: to proclaim Good News to the poor and release to the captives. The devil tries to undermine Jesus’ identity and his sense of mission, but Jesus remains resolute.
So what does all this have to do with us and our search for our an identity. Well, for starters, we, like the people in Deuteronomy, are called to understand that everything that we are and everything that we have has been given to us by God. We didn’t rescue ourselves from the oblivion of non-existence. God created us and gave us what we have. So there’s no room in our identity for boasting, “I did this and I did that.”
Also, our identity is rooted in Christ. Remember, in baptism we have been joined to Christ. As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” So, as in baptism, God called Jesus a “beloved son,” so God calls us beloved sons and daughters. Remember what that means, though. As sons and daughters of God, we share God’s identification with the poor and the powerless. That is foremost in our understanding of ourselves. We are the poor, whom God rescued from sin and death and in Christ we join in the mission of rescuing others.
Christ Lutheran Community Church