January 24, 2010

“Who Are You?”
Luke 4:14-21

Do you know who you are? It is one thing to have a decisive moment, like we spoke about last week, and it is quite another thing to have a sense of your own identity and purpose that arises from deep within yourself.

I may be dating myself in mentioning this, but when I was in college, it was not uncommon for parents to speak of their children who appeared to be without direction, as ‘finding themselves.’ Do you remember that? Young people went off to find themselves through a series of experiences, a trial and error experiment, to ‘find yourself.’ Ever since the advent of depth psychology there has been a movement in the human community to ‘find yourself.’ Theorists suggested that there was part of you which you could discover but was veiled, needed discovering. I don’t really know about this. I do know that there are different personalities and preferences that shape our attractions and our professions.

Since when has deciding for yourself ‘who I am’ ever been all that helpful to anyone? Even on the television show “American Idol” relies on so-called ‘experts’ to tell people who they are and who they are not. It is obvious that some of those people think they are someone they are not and need to be told.

Now, In the case of Jews and Christians, it has never been too important who we decide for ourselves we are, but who God claims us to be; and, the gifts that God gives each of us to live out that particular identity.

Luke’s Jesus arrives back on the scene, fresh from his retreat in the desert. Luke notes that he comes ‘in the power of the Spirit.’ A retreat can do that to you. A true Sabbath experience can do that to you. Time away where you have the opportunity to listen to God and discern what it is that God desires for you can be empowering.

He arrives and gets about his work. Jesus is an itinerant Jewish teacher.

He comes to his hometown, which is always a tough crowd, and preaches there in church. As is the case in our Christian worship, preaching is never divorced from the text. Scripture is read first. And, in the synagogue the lessons are part of a continual reading from the scroll. There isn’t any of the jumping around we do today by virtue of pages and not scrolls. Ironically, or providentially, the text was from the prophet Isaiah. It is apparent that he has taken this text as ‘his own.’ A person of justice, a prophet. The Messiah.

The value of knowing who you are is a sense of contentment when your life is in sync with that identity. We are not all called to be itinerant teachers, as Jesus was. It is obvious, when you read the second half of Luke’s Gospel, the book of Acts, that there were believers who came into discipleship with very different abilities. Paul’s correspondence to the church in Corinth confirms this fact as he urges the believers there to be gentle with one another; in a sense he urges them to quit forcing a square peg in a round hole. So one aspect of this whole process of self-awareness is the realization that we are all different, called to service in different ways, but one is no better than another.

In a congregation our size it is important to recognize the fact that there will be groups whose ‘call’ or ‘Christian vocation’ varies from another group. Some might have a certain fervor over doing hands on food pantry type things. Others might have an interest in music and sing their praises to the Lord. Others might be teachers, others evangelists, you get the idea. My point is that while our congregation might have a ‘personality,’ it will be made up of a variety of interests and activities.

Now, there has been a certain movement in congregations lately to sharpen up their ‘mission statements,’ to describe succinctly who we are and what we are about. There is a pile of church and business books written in the last five years that attempt to help people discover who they are and what they are supposed to be about doing. The most popular of these, for the religious set, was Rick Warren’s “A Purpose Driven Life.” I know of one Sunday school teacher that used the book as the curriculum for the better part of a year. The proceeds from this book has added to the kingdom of Warren’s “Saddleback Church” in California. The book is full of biblical references, as you would expect. But I was surprised to know that this text from Luke’s gospel is never mentioned. Apparently this brief, concise, statement of purpose for Jesus’ ministry is not that relevant for informing modern Christian’s lives.

Isn’t it? If this same Jesus is the Christ, is the one whom we believe in, in whom we live, in whom we die, does not this statement pertain to our mission? I think this announcement from the prophet Isaiah does matter. It notes, as we have always believed, that identity does not rise up from within ourselves, but is given to us by God. And, the resources which we are given are not resources for our own exploitation, but rather are to be used in the exercise of this identity…in service to the world.

Let us note that this identity is all about mission. It does not indicate that Jesus will be doing all this himself, but it does describe a certain proclamation that will undoubtedly move and motivate others to be the hands and feet of this mission, even as he is the heart. If we affirm our place in the Communion of Saints, in the Body of Christ, then our particular skills, gifts, interests, abilities, are purposely given in service to the greater mission of Christ…not to fulfill our own particular needs.

The lesson from First Corinthians makes the same point, but in a different way: that all parts of the church come together in different ways to serve the mission of Christ. Today, as you participate in the Eucharist, I challenge you to remember that it is in and through this feast we are united with Christ and with one another. This is not for our own mental health or physical well being, we do not benefit from the mystical presence of Christ so that we might reach some new spiritual plane. Christ offers himself to us, so that we might offer each other and the world the best of what we have: Ourselves. For some of the poor, the marginalized, the hurting of this world; we may be the only Jesus they ever meet. Each of us is one part in this body, with an opportunity to serve and reveal that whole body in the world. That is who you are.