Sunday, August 21, 2011

Who are you?

Tonight I preached from Luke 9. I'm getting more and more comfortable preaching.  Today it was Pillar church. When I preach at Pillar, we set a podium up and the congregation sits on one half the sanctuary.  Usually that is fine.  Today though, they all sat about 6 rows back.  I wasn't okay with that. So I just picked my stuff up and moved up a few rows, and preached between two pews.  I told the congregation what I was doing and why.  Also, during prayer time no one would talk, so I called the children by name and asked them what they were thankful for.  After they shared, I told the adults that the kids could do it, so what was their problem?  The adults shared after that. :)
I have an audio copy of the CD.  If you want a copy, let me know and I'll make you a copy.  I'm not going to make a video to post here because my internet has been so sketchy lately. (currently I'm sitting on my front stoop to type/post this)
Anyhow, without further ado, here is my manuscript from tonight.  I kinda sorted followed it...not really, especially towards the end. I just let the spirit talk. Also, I've included the benediction I used tonight.

Who are you?
Luke 9:18-21
Once, when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others say that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “The Christ of G-d.”
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone.

Who are you?  Not just your name, but you.  Who are you? Sure, you have a name.  Maybe your name even means something, but most of us are given names because our parents liked the name.   But your name is not necessarily who you are.  It is what you are called.  If I started calling you Bob or Jane, you would not cease to be who you are now.  You’d just be called something different.   After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose. So, who are you?
Somewhere we all have an answer to that question.  In fact, most of us probably have multiple answers to that question, depending on who is asking it.  Right now, I am your preacher.  Later on I will be a pair of listening ears for a friend or a roommate.  In a couple days I will be a student.  In a few months I will be a flower girl.  Throughout it all I remain someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s friend, and many more things.  So who are you?

One time I was at a family reunion with part of my mother’s side of the family. I grew up with my dad’s side of the family so I knew all of them, but my mom’s side of the family was a new thing for me.  They’d all been names on pages without faces.  At the reunion I was asked who I was.  The question stumped me.  I knew who I was.  I was Joy, a student at Central College studying German and Psychology.  But that wasn’t what family members were asking me.  My name tag told them my name.   What they were asking was who I was in relationship to them, which branch of the family I fit into.  Finally, I figured out what they were asking and grabbed a family member who knew the family better than I did to make the tie for me.  By the end of the day I knew who I was to these people.  I was so-and-so’s daughter, so-and-so’s granddaughter, so-and-so’s great granddaughter... That day people could have told me that I was anyone in the family I probably would have believed them.  That day it didn’t matter who I said I was, but who people said I was.

Jesus’ disciples are presented with a similar question on that mountain in the region of Caeserea Philippi when Jesus asked them who the crowds thought he was.  Compared to the question that was going to come, that question was easy.  Dutifully the disciples parroted back what they had heard the crowds say.  The word on the street was that Jesus was the John the Baptist or Elijah or a prophet of long ago who had come back to life.   But then Jesus changed the game a little bit.  No longer was he interested in hearing the disciples parrot back what the crowds said.  He turned to them and said “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”   This was no longer the same question.  No longer could they parrot back what they heard on the street.  Now they had to answer for themselves.  Bold Peter turned to Jesus and confidently answered that Jesus was the Christ of G-d.   The Gospel according to Matthew elaborates on this and records Peter’s answer as being that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living G-d.
This answer, a mere 10 English words in Matthew and only 4 English words in Mark and Luke, is such a powerful confession of who Jesus was and is, that it was recorded in three of the four Gospels.   The Messiah, the Son of the Living G-d, the Christ – these were the words that were going to make all the difference for both the disciples and for us today.  The Gospel according to Matthew records Jesus responding to Simon Peter by changing his name to Peter and declaring that he would be the rock upon which Christ would build His church.     Simon Peter was no longer simply Simon Peter the ex-fisherman who had become a disciple of this radical Jewish rabbi from Nazareth named Jesus, but he was Peter, the rock upon with the whole Church was going to be built.   Who Peter declared Jesus to be made a difference and who we declare Jesus to be makes a difference too.
If we declare Jesus to be a wise teacher, we are left with a collection of wise teachings and advice on how to live our lives.  If we declare Jesus to be a prophet of G-d, we can attest more authority to his wise teachings and advice.  If he were a prophet we could even accept his new teachings such as the one about turning the other cheek instead of taking an eye for an eye.  But we wouldn’t have much more than that.  But if we declare him to be the Son of the Living G-d, the Messiah, then everything changes for us.
If we echo Peter’s declaration it no longer matters who we say we are.  It no longer matters who other people say we are.  It only matters who Jesus says we are.  As He did with his disciple Simon Peter he will also do with us.  2 Corinthians 5:17 assures us that if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, the old is gone and the new has come. 
The old going is a beautiful thing. When the old goes, the identities that we have created for ourselves and the names we have taken for ourselves or been given by the world go with them.  I have had the honor of walking alongside several young people who have struggled with eating disorders and self-esteem issues.  They have identities for themselves.  They have named themselves.  They call themselves worthless, fat, useless, ugly, unworthy of love, lonely, afraid, guilty, and the list could go on. That’s the old talking.  When they finally step into the new, their name, their very identity begins to change.  They start to see themselves as worth something, as beautiful, as worthy of love, as strong, and so on.  Every old identity is replaced with a new one.  No one, none of us, can make that replacement on their own.  Many try.  Many try to find their identities in the work, their relationships, their outward appearances, their talents and abilities.  But most often they fail.  When someone recognizes who they are in Christ, that’s when the new identity that will actually stick starts to form.
Living in a fallen world we all struggle with our identities, some more than others.  It would be wonderful if we were all super comfortable in our identities in Christ, but I’ve met very few people who answer the question “Who are you?” with “A child of G-d” or something similar.  More often we answer the questions with our job titles, our names, our vocations, or our roles in our families.  At least, that’s how we answer to the outside world.  To ourselves we are often not as kind may answer quite differently.  It’s when we are talking to ourselves that the more negative names, the ones that hurt the most come up.  
But those are not who and what we are called to be.  We are in Christ and therefore we are new creations.  This is good news.  Better than good news, it is great news.  In Christ we are justified.  We belong to G-d.  We members of Christ’s body, citizens of heaven, we are forgiven.  We have hope and a future and peace.  We are not alone.  We have the promise of eternal life and full life.  We are hidden with Christ in G-d.  We have new identities.
(This is where I inserted something about evangelism and how we have a choice whether or not to share the gift of a new identity with those who don’t know Christ.  Not sure what came over me right then.  It just happened.)
Jesus turned to Peter and asked him who he said he was and he turns to each and every one of us and asks the same question: But what about you?  Who do you say I am?

Before we close this evening I’d like to share the words on a simple praise song with you as our benediction.  It is called “I will change your name”.  Listen to these words as if the Father himself were saying them to you.
I will change your name,
You will not longer be called,
wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.

I will change your name.
Your new name shall be,
Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One,
Faithfulness, Friend of G-d,
One who seeks my face.

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