Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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Who Are You?

Matthew 3:13-17 and Isaiah 42:1-9

 Who are you?

 That’s an easy question.  Amnesiacs aside, you know who you are.  But try to go a bit deeper.  Who are you?  How do you define yourself?  How do you differentiate yourself from others?  In what ways do you spell out your identity?  

 The most obvious is your name, right?  But there’s more.  You might talk about your family of origin.  You are the child of so-and-so.  I find now that I’m a parent, I more often describe myself by my family of procreation:  I’m so-and-so’s father, so-and-so’s husband.  Or you might talk about where you come from, your hometown.  Or where you live now.  You might talk about where you went to school.  Or we often define ourselves by our profession:  I’m a pastor.  I’m an electrician.  I’m a teacher.  In certain contexts we might describe ourselves by our citizenship, our nationality.  We might talk about our interests:  I’m a fisherman, I’m a woodcarver, I’m a birdwatcher, and so on.  

 I remember when I first went off to college.  That was a very interesting experience in self-identification.  Suddenly, I am on a campus with 600 other freshmen students.  I knew one of them from high school.  The rest were complete strangers.  And there seemed to be a ritual for meeting new people:  What’s your name?  Where are you from?  What’s your college major?  And there you go.  Your life was reduced to three facts:  Your name, major, and hometown.  

 It’s not always easy to find our identity.  One of the major struggles of adolescence, the time between childhood and adulthood is to find your own identity.  As a child, you are the son or daughter of ______ and ______.  That’s it.  And somehow you need to go through this time of “self-actualization,” or whatever phrase you want to use, and come out on the other side as a full and complete person.  And not everyone finds that easy.  Some don’t really do it at all.

 And I think that very often in this world we go astray because we forget who we are.  We forget who we are in relationship to other people or in relationship to God.  What is sin except forgetting who we are in our relationship to God?  What is adultery if not forgetting who you are in relationship to your spouse?  When we steal or murder or harm another person, is that not forgetting who we are in relationship to each other?  It’s not always easy to find or to keep our identity.

 Earlier we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism, and I would suggest to you that his baptism was the moment of his identification.  Who was this man Jesus?  A Nazarene?  A carpenter?  The son of Mary?  An illegitimate child?  A nobody peasant from some obscure corner of the

Roman Empire?  All of those seemed like legitimate answers.  But at his baptism, we find He is more.  He is the “one on whom the Holy Spirit descended and settled.”  He is God’s own beloved Son.  He is “the one with whom God is fully pleased.”  Jesus’ true identity has been revealed.

 But there is more to the story than just that for us.  Because we have also been baptized into Jesus.  And in being baptized into Jesus, we have been identified with him.  There is a whole new category of how we can identify ourselves:  I am a Christian.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  I am a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  And I would say that it is in Jesus that we find our truest identity.  

 We are children of God.  We talked about that last Sunday.  We learned that while we are created by God and therefore children of God in one sense by our birth, our sin separates us from God.  But when we come to Jesus Christ, we are adopted into the family of God.  And as adopted children, we gain full rights in our new family, and so we are heirs of all of God’s promises and co-heirs together with Christ.

 We are also filled with the Holy Spirit, as we saw at the first Pentecost.  God has placed his Holy Spirit in all believers, to guide them into the truth and empower them to do his will.  And the Spirit is the deposit, the guarantee that all of God’s promises are truly ours.  If he would not withhold his Holy Spirit, neither will he withhold every good gift.

 And we are also people with whom God is pleased.  Not because of our own righteousness, but because we have been covered with the righteousness of Christ and our sins have been forgiven through his atoning death on the cross.  

 In Christ, we find our true identity.  Whatever else I might say about who I am, whatever else you might say about who you are, our most essential identity is this:  We are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.  And everything else about who are should flow out of that identity.  

 When we go astray, it’s because we have forgotten who we are.  When we doubt our own worth or value, it’s because we have forgotten the value God places on us, that he loves us so much that he would send his own Son to die for us.  When we question what we can do that is meaningful, it’s because we have forgotten that God fills us with his Holy Spirit for every good purpose.  When we lose hope for the future, it’s because we have forgotten that we are heirs of God’s promises through Jesus Christ.  And when we go astray and sin against God and against neighbor, it’s because we have forgotten who we are in Jesus:  We are holy children of God who should love God above all else and love neighbor as self.  

 Our baptism is our identification.  You are children of God.  And our baptism is also God’s calling on us to live into that identity, to live into who we really are.  Just as Jesus’ baptism was God’s calling for him to be about God’s work, so it is for us.

 We also heard from Isaiah 42.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus’ baptism bears so many resemblances to Isaiah 42.  It is one of several prophecies in Isaiah that describe God’s chosen servant.  They have been called the Servant Songs, but that’s a misnomer because there is no evidence that they were ever sung or even meant to be sung.  The other “songs” are found in chapters 49, 50, 52, and 53.  

 These are somewhat debated passages.  The debate centers on “Who is this servant of God described in these prophecies?”  Some say it is the nation of Israel.  Others say it is a faithful remnant in Israel or an idealized Israelite.  Others say they only refer to Jesus the Messiah.  

 Well, we can read plainly in the Old Testament that Israel as a nation failed to live into the work described in these prophecies.  And especially in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is pictured as an ideal Israelite, and his faithful followers as a new Israel.  So maybe that’s the best answer to the question, because they are said in the New Testament to refer to Jesus, and they certainly fit him.  

 If Jesus is the ideal Israelite, and if we the Church are a “New Israel,” then we are to be about the kinds of work that we see described in these Servant Songs.  

 We are to reveal righteousness and justice.  Righteousness is right actions, behaving rightly in relationship to God.  Justice is right relationships, living at peace with God and neighbor.  Our baptism calls us to be encouraging, to build others up in love and gentleness, to help those who are weak or struggling.  Our baptism calls us to be a light, to teach the truth to all people, to open up the eyes of the blind, which I understand to be more about spiritual blindness than physical blindness.  We are called to set the captives free, to proclaim release from the bonds that hold people in hopelessness or addiction or sin.  And we are called in our baptism to give glory to God, to build his Kingdom rather than building up our own kingdom.

 When we do these things, we live into our true identity.  When we fail to do them, we forget or deny who we are in Jesus Christ.  So, the question again is, who are you?  Where do you find your true identity?

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