IDENTITY POLITICS

It’s tough to figure out what we’re worth. Have you ever thought of
someone, someone famous, a sports figure or actor or businessperson, and
googled how much so-and-so is worth? You can find out, for example, that
Steven Spielberg is supposedly worth $2.7 billion. Then again, he did direct
Jaws, ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones trilogy,
Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, etc., etc. He’s worth a
lot.
As far as you yourself go, you can look at your own bank accounts or
whatever financial portfolio you have. Bank accounts are good for many
things but figuring out who we are and whose we are isn’t one of them. I’ll
prove it: Even if we’ve got a large account or accounts, we still have to get
on with figuring what to do with it. What we do with all that depends on who
we see ourselves as, who we measure ourselves by. Who we are determines
what we do. If we don’t have as much, we must be careful about measuring
ourselves as someone who is less than others. What we have, no matter on
which side we fall or if we’re in the middle somewhere, only lets us show
what we’re made of and what we value and who we want to be.
But you’re in church now. Here, you’re not as worried about keeping
up with the Joneses or a sibling or a college friend here. We’re in church, so
you know I can’t mean that our bank account is how we define our value.
You know there’s a different yard stick we use here. Of course, whether we
use it the rest of the week is another story, but here we’re in training; here,
we’re attempting to reset our mindset, so that we find our worth in the One
who values rightly everything, without partiality, truly. It’s not like we can
stand up to the Lord and say, “Look at all my money and see how amazing I
am.” Or “Look at the little I ever made and see how I’m not much at all.”
That doesn’t work because, well, we’re made in a way that money can’t
reach. No, here, we claim our birth right of belonging to God on high, and
there’s no money ladder that gets us there, no amount that gains one access.
Here, we claim our value in the face of all that has a way of devaluing us
because we know what we’re hearing elsewhere isn’t right, isn’t us, isn’t
from God.
What we’ve heard and listened to way too much certainly wasn’t what
Jesus heard or listened to that day we see described in our scripture. Jesus
heard God claim him as his own. He is God’s beloved. God identifies with
Jesus and Jesus identifies with God. It didn’t matter what anyone else said
before this, and it wouldn’t matter what others said in the future—because
Jesus would hear a lot of things said about and to him. He kept his ears tuned
to the baptismal proclamation God blessed him with, “This is my son, the
beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
I hope you’ve heard that same message. With Paul, “I pray that you
may have the power to comprehend… what is the breadth and length and
height and depth, and to know the love of Christ… so that you may be filled
with all the fullness of God.”
It’s not easy to get there. Our spirit is strong, but our flesh is weak. We
have a way of hearing bad news as real news and good news as fake news or
as temporary news. We take to heart what breaks our heart and let wash off
us what should build us. Reject the school of negativity you’re still a student
of. Those teachers were wrong. They passed on misinformation. They
wanted to make you into their image when you belong in God’s image.
You’re beloved. You’re a daughter of the most high You’re a son of God’s
love.
Our Open and Affirming message is a stance that proclaims the
baptismal message for all, including LGBTQ humanity. We take this stance
explicitly because churches and others are wrong and loud in their error
about God’s love of all. Sometimes the volume needs to be turned up so the
truth can be heard.
I once heard someone say clearly that message. When I was in college,
I would come home, and dad and I would go play volleyball at the local
junior high school. One of the men there would bring his son, who was too
young to play with the rest of us. He and his boy would practice together on
the other court or when both courts were taken, he would practice between
games with him. I still remember how he would address him. He wouldn’t
call him by his first name. He would call him “son” out loud from across the
net on the other side of the court. “It’s your turn, son.” That was good, son.”
It was unusual and interesting. Hearing that, I couldn’t help feeling that he
was a good dad.
Think about it: Anyone could call that boy by his first name. His
teachers could and did, his pastor could, his friends did. All it would take is
for the boy to say his name to a stranger one time and a stranger could use it,
too. But only his dad and mom could call him son. To them, he was more
than what his name, used by anyone and everyone else, said. He was their
son and only they could say it. The dad proclaimed it and spoke it out loud.
He was proud of his boy, he was unique and special to him, and he told him
unequivocally that he was claiming him as his own, for all to hear.
Say your love. Proclaim someone’s value. Show them by your words
and actions, by how much time you take with them, what you say, how well
you listen, by how much you’re willing to be there, to change for them, that
they are worth tons and tons.
You know, it’s good to gush over somebody else. Isn’t that what God
did? Isn’t that in the Bible here. Perhaps that’s what’s so surprising about
Jesus’ baptism. God is gushing over this guy. There is some big love
between them, and the Lord isn’t afraid to say it. What a big softy the Lord
is. How emotional and verbal God is about his beloved.
Don’t be afraid to praise someone, especially if you’re given to not
being afraid to speak a truth or two. We’re responsible for truth, but not just
unwelcome or the cold hard truth. We’re responsible for the welcome truth,
the warm and wonderful truth. Do some gushing about someone. It’ll make
you feel good and says what you’ve kept bottled up for too long.
So many have a tough time knowing their identity. They don’t know
who to identify with. We accept this person’s view of us and that person’s
anger toward us. We reject someone who talks nice to us as naïve. Our
failures, what all people go through, weigh on us, but someone else’s don’t
seem to affect them—though they probably should. We’re the tall one or the
short one in the family, the smart or not quite as smart one, the strong one or
the weaker one, the hard working one or the lazy one, the lucky one or the
unlucky one. We’re wealthy now when we weren’t before. How much has
that changed who I am and my identity? Or the other way around. What we
do well doesn’t matter to us or others. What we do wrong sticks out like a
sore thumb.
So many mixed messages. It’s hard to sort them all out and figure
which ones are true and which ones are false. This is probably why so many
people get into finding out their family tree and even take their blood to get it
sampled for DNA content. “Hey, what do you know! I’m 6.5% North
African! I never would’ve thought that, or I’m 12% Scandinavian. What do
you know!” OK, now what? I’m not putting it down at all. It’s cool. I’m just
pointing out that the impulse to know this comes from the impulse to find
one’s identity, to give oneself an identity, to know who we are and whose we
are. We want to fit somewhere and be at home. It’s a big world out there and
it’s often a jumbled-up world in here. I get it. But does it end up making a
difference? Not really. It becomes more of a curiosity piece, an interesting
one no doubt, but not something we can really hang our hat on or identify
with.
Being Christian or a Christian is an identity. We are here in training to
identify with Christ Jesus. But not of course just any Christ because there is
more than one Christ envisioned and represented to us. I like what one pastor
wrote. Pastor John Pavlovitz wrote an article on why he is a Christian – or as
he puts it, why I am still a Christian. In too many people’s minds, he says,
Christianity has been identified with beliefs and behaviors that are the
opposite of what Jesus lived and taught. Then he said, “I refuse to be a
Christian who lives in fear of people who look or speak, or worship
differently than I do. I refuse to be a Christian who believes that God blesses
America more than God so loves the world…
I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy
with Grace. I refuse to be a Christian who can’t see the image of God in
people of every color, every religious tradition, every sexual orientation.… I
refuse to be a Christian devoid of the character of Jesus: his humility, his
compassion, his smallness, his gentleness with people’s wounds, his
attention to the poor and the forgotten and the marginalized, his intolerance
for religious hypocrisy, his clear expression of the love of God.
I refuse to be a Christian unless it means I live as a person of
hospitality, of healing, of redemption, of justice, of expectation-defying
Grace, of counterintuitive love… I am still a Christian—but I refuse to be
one without Jesus.”
I don’t understand how anyone can claim Christ as theirs and not
proclaim him in this way, with this character, these attributes. But it happens
all the time. I have trouble with how some churches and Christians express
their Christian faith, though most of the time they keep Christ out of their
more controversial views and instead validate them some other way, by
saying it’s in the Bible, for example. Sometimes I think it’s because they
believe they know the Bible, what it says, and that determines everything
else. I know this sounds like the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s not. It’s
backward. We’re not supposed to identify the Bible first and then squeeze
Christ into what we take the Bible to be saying. Who Christ is defines what
the Bible means to Christians. Who we identify Jesus Christ comes first, and
that shines light on scripture.
Of course, someone may say, “But it’s the Bible that shows us who
Jesus Christ was.” Not exactly. The Bible shows not one single Christ but
rather communities of Christians making Christ the center of their lives.
Matthew tries to bring Christ to life in a way that make sense to Jewish
converts. The Gospel according to Luke does the same for Gentile converts.
Paul’s letters have aspects of understanding and faith that other letters don’t,
such as James and the Letters of John. The Bible witnesses to people living
in Christ, who identify with Jesus Christ in their world. If anything, when
understood properly, the Bible reveals the importance of Christ being made
alive in one’s present world, and itself argues against making the impossible
pilgrimage to a long-gone biblical world, so that somehow it can be put on an
endless loop. That’s not possible nor necessary nor called for by God.
Our identity is in Christ. Who we see him as means a lot. It means who
we look to be and look how to live. Now of course, we have many identities:
moms, dads, sibling, grandparents, white, biracial, black, Hispanic, well off,
struggling, highly educated, working for a long time, talented, loving, sharptongued, kind, angry, elderly, young. We can go on and on.
Find your final value not in any of these, but in Christ. Make the center
of them all Christ Jesus. Come to the Lord’s life and see for yourself you
belong there. God identified with Jesus and said, “That’s my beloved.” If
God identifies with Christ, so should we.
Can the church say Amen

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