Friday, February 10, 2017

Identity Crisis

Who are you? A silly question, perhaps.  At least on the surface. But, nevertheless, it’s a question that needs to be asked in this confusing and chaotic time.  Just who are you? Have you ever asked this question of yourself? Have you ever dared to peer deeply into yourself, with a fierce and unbound curiosity, to figure out just what it is that defines you…just what it is that you identify as the primary source of your ‘self’? Daily, it seems, something comes along and attempts to make a claim on who we are.  From political parties to social clubs…from our careers to our sporting team of choice…there are so many labels that stretch their tendrils into our souls, and we ultimately lose the grasp on what we might call the ‘ground of our being’…that which defines us at the deepest part of who we are when all superfluous and superficial labels fall away.

But then lessons from Scripture like those we have heard today come along and force us to reckon with our own self-understanding.  “The Lord will guide you continually,” says the prophet Isaiah, “and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” Written to a people in exile, a people who had lost their land, their places of worship, their sacred sites…this word from Isaiah was meant to remind the exiles who they truly were.  It was meant to reorient them during a time of chaos and confusion.  It was meant to set them back into a relationship with the God of Israel, to give them hope amidst the ruins of their exile and to fix their minds on the promise of God.  “Though you are now beaten down and broken, you will be redeemed.  You will be restored, and in turn, you will restore those around you.” Not content to just offer a promise of hope, this oracle was also a challenge to the people.  “You will be a repairer of the breach.  You, my dearly beloved, will take this message of hope and sing it aloud to all the world.  Salvation is coming.  Redemption is at hand.  Do not fear.”

Generations later, St. Paul spoke to a young Christian community still figuring out what it mean to be a Christian in a pagan world. “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified…we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory…we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God…we have the mind of Christ.” This congregation was full of people from every conceivable walk of life.  Former prostitutes.  Violent tradesman.  The rich and the poor alike.  These were people who needed to catch a glimpse of their true identity in Jesus Christ.  And the words St. Paul used were astounding.  To a people surrounded by pagan practices and cultural inequality, St. Paul declared that they were infused with the very Spirit of God and the Mind of Christ.  To these people St. Paul declared, “You are not merely worshippers of God.  You are recipients of the deep wisdom and enlightenment of God’s Spirit.  And you now possess the mind of Christ. Forget who you once were.  For the most significant treasure in all of time and space now belong to you.”

And in the words of Jesus Christ himself: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” What is so striking about this phrase is that, in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the light of the world.  Yet here, he turns the phrase onto his disciples.  He gives to his disciples such a clear and profound identity marker.  “You, my friends, will continue my work and set the world ablaze with your light. You will draw people into my kingdom.  You, dear friends, are what the world will need once I return to my father.”

Though all of these ‘identity markers’ were first given to particular people in particular contexts, we believe that, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they are also given to us this morning.  What was said of the people in exile, what was said to the people of Corinth, and what was said to the disciples…all of those things are meant for us.  They are meant for me, and they are meant for you.  Yes, you who might be filled with self-doubt.  Yes, you who might be crippled with a low sense of self-worth.  Yes, even you who have a closet full of shameful skeletons.  You are called to be a ‘repairer of the breach.’  You have been given the Spirit of God and the Mind of Christ.  And you are the light of the world.

You are not just another warm body.  You are not merely human.  You are not primarily somebody’s mother, father, brother, or sister.   You are not just another lover, friend, or partner.  You are not, first and foremost, an American, or a Briton, or a citizen of any earthly nation.  You are a Christian, within whose bones resides the Spirit of the Living God.  You are a Christian, whose body is the very temple of the Lord our God.  You are a ‘repairer of the breach’, someone called to declare to a broken world that restoration and salvation is possible, here and now.  You are one who has the mind of Christ, enlightened and illuminated with the wisdom of God that called creation into being and gave salvation to the world.  You are the light of the world, set upon a city on the hill, meant to lead the world out of darkness and into the blindingly beautiful light of Jesus Christ.  You, my dear friends, are meant to be wonderworkers among those who have become transfixed by the mundane and the mangled things of this present age.  And I solemnly charge you, in the name of Jesus Christ, to leave this place, head out into our community, and proclaim the healing Gospel of Jesus Christ with a passion that demands recognition.

*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM on February 5, 2017.  The texts were Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12], 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16], Matthew 5:13-20, and Psalm 112:1-9, (10).

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