Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays

Sermon: “Who Are You?”

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Who Are You?

Rev. Julie Jensen
FPC Cartersville., GA

May 24, 2015

breakfast club

1 John 3:1-7

1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

4Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

“Who are you?”  I am a child of God.  These are the first words to the Shorter Catechism – -a catechism used to teach children about our faith.

“Who are you” is a question we ask ourselves all the time.  Who are you?  Do we define ourselves by our jobs or careers?  “I’m a teacher, I’m an accountant, I’m retired, I’m a parent.”  Do we answer the question in terms of relationships – -“I’m a parent, I’m a grandparent, I’m a sibling, I’m a …”  Do we answer the question in terms of hobbies and activities?  “Who are you?”  “I’m a painter, I’m a dancer, I’m a biker, I’m a soccer player, I’m a sports fan.”   There are lots of labels we can put on ourselves.  Lots of identities we can claim when we answer the question.  However, for us, as Christians, we claim to be a child of God first and foremost.

Perhaps the recipients of today’s reading may have been asking themselves the same questions – -“who are we?”  The Epistle of 1 John was written some time after the Gospel of John to a community that knew and loved the Gospel of John[1].  When you read the letter from beginning to end, you get a sense that the author is writing to a fractured community.  The community is fractured, it is in crisis and conflict.  We do not know the exact nature of the disagreement, but it seems to have created a schism between those who hold what the author calls “the right faith” and those who are “false prophets.”  The argument may have been about Christology – -those who held the “right faith” believed in Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine.  Those who left the church community, the Docetists, professed a belief that Jesus was a spirit, not a physical human being, and that his death did not have any value for salvation.  Those are some pretty bold claims, and so it makes sense that there was a pretty heated argument happening.  This Epistle was written for those who stayed, to reassure them, but also to remind them to stay the course and be true to their beliefs.  This community believed that the return of Christ was eminent – -any day now – -and that when Christ returned he would divide the righteous from the unrighteous.

What we hear in this passage however goes deeper than the division.  It comes back to the question “who are you.”  What do you believe and how do you live that belief every day?  Listen again to the first three verses:  “1See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

It is through the grace of God that we are called the children of God.  God claims each of us as God’s own child.  When I hear this passage, I hear echoes of a phrase we may recognize – being “in the world but not of the world.”  Living as the children of God, we are called to live in ways that the rest of the world may not recognize, in ways that they may not understand.  The world does not know us as Christians because the world does not know God.  We are called to live in a way that can be counter-cultural. This Epistle calls for community, a call that is just as important today.  The world calls us to live in a state of individualism, of looking out for ourselves and our individual families – not the larger community.  “What’s in it for me” seems to be the underlying context of a lot of what we see and hear. Even things that seem to be community oriented are presented in a manner that is just the opposite.  Take Earth Day and being Green for example.  Have you noticed that being green is portrayed as being good because it can save you money, not because it can save the earth for all of us.  We are encouraged to serve the poor and feed the hungry because it makes us feel better, not because it is the right thing to do or because of the difference it makes.

But we are different – -we are children of God and so we serve and conserve and minister because it is for the community, not only for ourselves.  The world may tell us we are to live for ourselves, but we, those who follow the commandments are God’s children know differently.   Listen to the first 5 questions of the Shorter Catechism:

Question 1. Who are you?

I am a child of God.

Question 2. What does it mean to be a child of God?

That I belong to God, who loves me.

Question 3. What makes you a child of God?

Grace — God’s free gift of love that I do not deserve and cannot earn.

Question 4. Don’t you have to be good for God to love you?

No. God loves me in spite of all I do wrong.

Question 5. How do you thank God for this gift of love?

I promise to love and trust God with all my heart.

Question 6. How do you love God?

By worshipping God, by loving others, and by respecting what God has created.

Our identities as children of God is this:  We belong to God who loves us in spite of what we do wrong because of the grace of God.    In response to that we promise to love and trust God with all our hearts, worship God, love others and respect what God has created.  Our identities begin there, and who else we may be grows from that.  So we live lives that may seem counter-intuitive to the rest of the world.

Thinking about identity led me to the classic 80’s movie “The Breakfast Club.”  The basic story is a group of high schoolers is sent to detention on a Saturday morning for breaking various school rules.  Each one is one of the high school stereotypes – -and at the beginning that is all they see in each other.  The principal has pigeonholed them all into the category of “troublemaker” and assigns them an essay to write about who they think they are.  Over the course of the morning, this odd group interacts with each other and a deeper level than they normally do, and learn that there is more to each of them than what is on the surface.  The identities they seem to have – brain, athlete, basket case, princess and criminal, are the identities they have on the surface – -how the world sees them.  So instead of writing an essay, they send a letter[2]:

Brian Johnson: Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…

Andrew Clark: …and an athlete…

Allison Reynolds: …and a basket case…

Claire Standish: …a princess…

John Bender: …and a criminal…

Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?… Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Who are you?  What would you write in the essay for the principal?  Our day to day lives look like most everyone else’s, that’s for sure.  Being a child of God does not mean that we don’t make mistakes, or that we do not go to work and school, pay our bills and worry and celebrate.  But the difference is that our hearts rest someplace specific – -with God and Jesus Christ.  We know that God’s love made us God’s children.  That is our identity.

We have lots of documents that show our identity – -birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, passports, social security cards.  Those show our name and address and where we reside and if we may travel outside of the country.  Workplace ID cards and security badges and business cards offer our professional identities.  We tell the word how we identify ourselves in real time through social networking sites.  But our true identity is not revealed on any of those documents.  As Ronald Cole Turner puts it, “Our birth certificate states our natural identity.  Our baptism certificate declares our true identity.  By God’s love, we are no longer strangers, orphans lost in the cosmos, without hope or direction, except for our own imagination and self-rescue.  We are loved, claimed, and redefined as nothing less than God’s children.”[3]

“Who are you?”  I am a child of God.  In that simple statement is a deep part of our theology.  We are children of God.  We are loved by God, we are claimed by God, we belong to God.  In belonging to God, we make a statement about who we are and how we encounter the world.  We make the claim that being a child of God is the first claim we make about our lives.  The rest all stems from there.  We can be anything as a child of God – artist, engineer, athlete, teacher, parent.  Being a child of God is the foundation of our identities, the foundation of who we are.  That claim is made for us in our baptism, and we claim it for ourselves when we make an adult statement of faith.  “Who are you?”  You are a child of God, now and always.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Feasting on the Word: Year B Volume 2.   Barbra Brown Taylor and David L. Bartlett, editors. Third Sunday of Easter: Exegetical Perspective by David L. Bartlett. P 419-423.

[2] http://www.imdb.com

[3] Feasting on the Word: Year B Volume 2.   Barbra Brown Taylor and David L. Bartlett, editors. Third Sunday of Easter: Theological Perspective. P 420.

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