Friday, March 27, 2009

omega talk: being tested


Who was the fastest person in the Bible?
Adam. The Bible is quite clear that he was first in the human race.

Speaking of races …

Did anyone here, by chance, run in the Austin marathon back in February? (Has anyone ever run a marathon? Heard of a marathon?) Good, we have a lot in common. I too have a history of competitive racing. Of course, it’s been a while, but back in 1994 I ran in the All Saints’ fifth grade 5K charity “fun run.” I didn’t win or anything, but I did receive a green “honorable mention” ribbon for my efforts. And so, all in all, I deem the race a success. Mainly because I finished. And as I’m sure you can imagine, finishing a race is a glorious thing.

But the most enjoyable part is always the beginning, or phase I as I call it. Phase I is when the race begins – because in phase I, running is actually fun. The body’s loose, the heart’s pumping, the blood’s flowing, and the sun’s shining. In phase I, your body feels like a well-oiled running machine. Now, how long this stage lasts depends on a runner’s athleticism and conditioning. For me, it lasted seven feet.

I wasn’t what you’d call “fit” back in fifth grade. And after the first of five K’s, I shifted from phase I to phase II, which is when running gets difficult. In phase II, your whole body aches, you can’t breathe, and the temptation to stop is overwhelming. And frankly, I wanted to stop, but I heard a voice. “Keep running,” it kept repeating. Keep running, keep running, keep running …

Marathon runners have a name for Phase II. It’s called “hitting a wall.” And to run well in phase II – to hit the wall and keep going – this is the ultimate test of a runner – because races are won or lost at “the wall.” You see, whenever we hit a wall we have to make a decision – we either quit or we invest everything in finishing well. Because starting a race is easy – anyone can do that. But to finish well – that’s glory. And finishing well, in a very real way, is the goal of Christian discipleship.

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” the writer of Hebrew says. In other words, “let us not quit whenever we hit the wall. Let’s do all we can to finish well.” This capacity to finish well is what the Bible calls perseverance. Perseverance is that virtue that enables us to honor long-term commitments – lifetime commitments – especially when honoring them becomes difficult.

Now, obviously, this raises a question: why is it so hard to finish well in the first place? The easy answer – we hit a wall. Or to put it in Biblical terms, our faith is tested. “Being tested” is what makes perseverance in the Christian life hard.

Now, we need to go ahead and acknowledge that as students – or as former students – we come to the table with a dysfunctional view of what “being tested” actually is. In other words, we can’t take what we’ve learned about “being tested” in the classroom and apply that to our spiritual life.

For example, let’s consider the parable of the unfair teacher. I mean, this guy’s impossible. He gives one test a year, and your entire grade is based on this one, impossible final. And for kicks, let’s just say you’re studying the American presidents. Well, you’ve studied pretty hard. You know the material. But when you walk into the classroom on the day of the test, you see 44 pictures on the wall – not of the presidents’ faces – but of their feet. And your test is to identify each American president by looking at his feet. Well, that’s an unfair test – an impossible test. Passing this test would be, shall we say, quite the feat.

And so you complain. “This test isn’t fair and it can’t be done.” “Then I’ll be forced to fail you,” your teacher responds. “Fine, fail me then” you shout, and then you storm out of the classroom. “Wait, I need to know your name,” the unfair teacher shouts as you’re leaving. “You’ve failed my test, you’re going to fail my course, and so I need to know your name.” And so you take off your shoes, show him your feet, and say “you tell me.” Get it?

The point behind the parable of the unfair teacher is this – each of us brings a skewed view of being tested to the table. You see, the purpose of the tests that we’re used is to evaluate us on a system of “works righteousness” – to use a theological term. In other words, we’re evaluated on how well we perform. After all, have any of you ever seen the word grace on one of your syllabi? Didn’t think so. You and I don’t associate being tested with fairness, or with love, or with competent teachers for that matter. And in our world, being tested isn’t always fair, and it’s rarely an act of love. But in God’s world – or in God’s kingdom – things are different. And so with that in mind, let’s hear what Paul has to say to the Corinthians:

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. These things happened to them to serve as an example to us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that isn’t common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide a way out, so that you may have the strength to persevere. (1 Cor 1, 3, 5, 11-13)

How many of you have ever seen a sign like this? Or perhaps you’ve seen those electronic signs that say something like “slow down: 64 deaths on this highway last year” or “320 speeding tickets issued last month.” The purpose of these warning signs is simple: they want you to consider what’s happened in the past so that you don’t make the same mistake – so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

When it comes to the Corinthians, Paul is very concerned with history repeating itself. You see, a lot of the Corinthians are Gentile converts – people that don’t know a lot about the history of how God initiated a relationship with the people of Israel. And yet, here they are at the very center of God’s plan to save the world through Jesus. The Corinthians are like actors who have stumbled onto the stage in the middle of the play and they don’t even know what act they’re in. And so what Paul is doing in today’s reading – a portion taken from chapter 10 – is trying to help the Corinthians see what’s happened so far in the “play” of salvation so to speak. Paul wants the Corinthians to see how the characters in the previous act – the people of Israel – managed to get things wrong – how God’s people were tested, hit a wall, and were unable to finish well. You see, it’s not that the Corinthians aren’t believers. It’s just that Phase I has come to an end and the Corinthians have reached a place where perseverance isn’t easy.

And because Paul’s rooting for the Corinthians to finish well, he retells the story of the Exodus. Paul wants this story to be a “warning sign” for the Corinthians. And because time only permitted us to look at a portion of chapter ten, I’ll give you a brief recap of this foundational Biblical event. A long time ago God chose a nomad named Abraham and promised that through his children the entire world would be blessed. But over time, Abraham’s children became slaves in the land of Egypt, and so God used Moses to set Abraham’s children – the Israelites – free. But to get to the Promised Land, the Israelites first had to travel through the desert. The distance between Egypt and Canaan, by the most direct route, was 250 miles – about a month’s journey. But did it take the people of Israel a month? No. It took forty years.

If you’ve never done the math, that’s a whopping 0.0007 miles per hour. To put this in perspective, a snail travels at .03 miles per hour. In other words, a snail can go from Egypt to Canaan in less than a year. And so the question is, why did it take Israel forty?

In part, God wanted to test his people. It’s not that God didn’t know a quicker way. It’s that the shortest and the easiest way, from God’s perspective, wasn’t the best way. God wanted to spend time teaching the Israelites about His character and about His laws. God wanted the Israelites to learn obedience before they entered the Promised Land. And God wanted to test their character, their faithfulness, and their allegiance to Him alone. In other words, it wasn’t enough for God to just bring them to the Promised Land. God wanted to transform these former slaves into people that were truly free. And in order to do that, the people of Israel had to be tested.

Now, phase I of the Exodus was awesome and exciting, but this too lasted about seven feet. Because then God began to test his people. For example, God sent the people bread from heaven and the people complained to Moses because it wasn’t pizza. Or another example – when God called Moses up the mountain to receive the Law, He told the people to wait patiently. But instead of obeying, they made a golden calf, worshipped it, and then had an orgy. If 60 is a passing grade, the people of Israel made a negative 42. In other words, the majority of the people that God saved from Egyptian slavery were tested and failed miserably. And so the question is, why did they fail?

It’s a complicated question, but in short, I think they failed because they didn’t understand God’s character. What they didn’t know was that the Promised Land was so much closer than they could ever imagine. It’s not that they didn’t believe God was trying to teach them something. They just thought that God was an unfair teacher. And what they failed to understand is that being tested presupposes grace. Let me say that again – being tested presupposes grace. You see, only after rescuing the people of Israel from slavery – an extravagant act of grace – did God begin to test them. And God did so to teach the people of Israel about His character and about His laws. God wanted them to learn obedience in order to transform them into people that were truly free – into a people that were faithful to God even when they hit a wall.

Now, before moving on, I want to acknowledge two things. First, I’m not a big fan of using scare tactics to motivate people. It’s like 1 John says, “God is love and perfect love casts out all fear.” But like Paul, I do think we should take the Bible’s warning signs to heart. Many have started the race and quit, and we don’t want history to repeat itself. It’s like Jesus’ parable of the sower – sometimes the seed is planted in good soil and bears fruit, but sometimes it falls on the rocky ground, springs up really quickly, and then withers because it doesn’t have any depth. Starting a race is easy. But finishing well, that requires depth. And being tested, above all else, is about becoming a person of spiritual depth.

The second thing I want to acknowledge is that for many of us, the idea of a God that tests us is a little foreign and maybe offensive. But never forget that being tested in God’s world is different than being tested in our world because being tested by God presupposes grace. In other words, God only tests those with whom He’s initiated a relationship. And when God tests our hearts, it is always an act of love. You see, it’s not that God doesn’t know what’s in our hearts. It’s that we don’t always know what’s in our hearts. And sometimes God tests us to bring that into the light.

The author of Hebrews writes the following about Jesus: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. For we have [a teacher] who has been tested in every way as we are, but did not sin.” (2:18, 4:15) When it comes to our life with God, we’re all at very different places. Maybe we’re young in the faith and following Jesus seems really, really easy. Or maybe we’re seasoned disciples and we’ve hit a few walls along the way. But regardless of where we happen to be, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Because for a reason unknown to us, we’ve been placed in the final act of God’s plan to save the world. You and I have been invited to run the only race that’s going to matter when all is said and done – and we we’re not running for some honorable mention ribbon, but like the Bible says, for a crown of glory that never fades. And if that seems a little overwhelming to you, just remember that in Jesus, we have a fair teacher, a competent teacher, and a loving teacher – a teacher who knows from experience what it means to hit a wall and to keep going; a teacher that became human to run the race with us and to run the race for us; a teacher that ran it to the end – all the way to the cross.

The life of faith is a marathon. The excitement and enthusiasm of Phase I – it only lasts so long. Because ultimately there is a cross. And what God wants, and what Jesus died for, is to gather a people for himself who see the cross, embrace the cross, and then make a decision to finish well. God’s looking for people who, when tested, trust in the goodness of His character – for people who truly believe that He’s a fair and loving teacher – a people who are willing to bet set free.

Remember – the Promised Land is so much closer than you could ever imagine. Jesus is so much closer than you could ever imagine. And so keep running …

Monday, March 9, 2009

sermon: god's great promise

“God’s Great Promise
Gen 17: 1-7, 15-17; Rom 4: 13-25
Lent II, Year B
March 8, 2009 (Preached at ESC)


When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty;* walk before me, and be blameless. 2And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.’ 3Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5No longer shall your name be Abram,* but your name shall be Abraham;* for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring* after you. God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’ 17Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’


For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations’, according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’ 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already* as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith* ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ 23Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’, were written not for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

It’s hard to exaggerate how excited I was to find out that I – of all people – was a winner. I was online – doing a little web surfing as they say – when all of the sudden a big box started flashing on the screen informing me that I’d won the grand prize. I was a bit skeptical at first but time was of the essence. After all, the box was clear. I had three minutes to call or the grand prize would go to someone else. And I had no intention of letting that happen. So I called the 800 number immediately, and when I did, they began making promises. They promised me a free vacation. They promised there were no strings attached. They promised that they only needed my credit card info to verify my age. Perhaps some of you savvy students have wondered who actually falls for those schemes. ME! To this day, I’m still haunted by what I said when they answered the phone. I’m pretty sure the exact words I shouted were, “Hi, my name’s John Newton, and I’m a winner!” I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say that this was hands-down the most ironic thing I’ve ever said. Because they had no intention of keeping of their promise. They were promise-breakers.

And the truth is, we live in a world of promise breakers. That’s why we have sayings like “if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.” Because when it comes to making promises, we’re great. And if you think about, that’s all advertising is – making promises. Already this week, Miller Lite, Tag Body Spray, and Express Men’s clothing have all promised me that if I use their product, swimsuit models will love me. Well, as one who’s faithfully used two of those three products for years – not so much. Because we’re great at making promises – we’re just not very good at keeping them. To put it in Biblical terms, we lack “righteousness” – an ability to keep the promises we make to God; an ability to keep the promises we make to one another. [1] Our world is full of promise breakers – we lack righteousness so to speak – and because of that we have become skeptical. We have become skeptical of great promises.

According to tonight’s reading from Genesis, so was Abraham. After all, God makes a pretty amazing promise. God tells Abraham that he’ll be the father of many nations, and that through him and his children, God intends to bless the world. And God calls this an everlasting “covenant,” but another translation of the Hebrew word is promise. And so God is making an everlasting promise – a great promise. And Abraham, to be honest, is a bit skeptical.

For starters, this isn’t the first time God’s made this promise to Abraham. In fact, it’s the fourth time. According to Genesis, thirteen years have passed since God first appeared to Abraham, telling him to leave his home and his family, all on the grounds of this same promise – this great promise to bless the world through him and his descendants. But since God’s initial promise, Abraham’s experienced a few setbacks – famine, war, problems with his nephew, problems with his wife, and let’s be honest, problems with his body. After all, he’s a 99 year old nomad. Today’s reading from Romans doesn’t really water it down. To quote Paul, “his body was as good as dead.” And so Abraham’s old – and he’s heard God’s promise a few times before.

But that’s not the main reason he’s skeptical. Because practically speaking, in order to be the father of many nations, first, you have to be – a father. And in Abraham’s case, for it to really count, the mother had to be his wife. Because the rules of his society were a bit different than ours. But the rules of biology? They were the same. And Sarah, his wife, was 90 years old at the time. Now, not only is this slightly gross, but from a biological perspective, it’s impossible. And that’s the reason Abraham is skeptical. And like Genesis tells us, Abraham falls on his face and he laughs. Abraham laughs at the great promise of God. “If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.” Because what God’s promising, from a human point of view, is impossible.

Now, to be fair, that’s not the whole story. And what our reading from Genesis leaves out tonight’s reading from Romans fills in. Because according to Paul, Abraham’s laughter was temporary. And though skeptical, Abraham was faithful and he lived a life of faith – a life firmly rooted in the great promise of God. Did he experience setbacks? Yea. Times of testing? Sure. Moments when the promise of God seemed laughable? Apparently so. And yet, Paul tells us today that Abraham is our model for the life of faith. But that’s not all. Paul goes on to say something else, something amazing – that Abraham’s faith was “reckoned” to him as righteousness.

Now, I mentioned before that we lack “righteousness” – a word that’s tied to integrity, to promise-keeping, to being put “right” on the insides. To make a long story short, righteousness is something we need. Something we’re missing. Something God requires. And the great promise of God to us is that the one thing we need, the one thing we’re missing, the one thing God requires – righteousness – is now available as a gift. Through faith in Jesus. And in essence, that’s God’s great impossible promise to us.

You’ve got to love that Abraham, of all people, is our model for the life of faith. Because it shows us that the life of faith isn’t always smooth. It sure wasn’t for Abraham. It wasn’t for Moses. It wasn’t for Peter. It wasn’t for Paul. It hasn’t always been that smooth for me, and if I had to guess, each of you knows something about setbacks, about anxiety, about times of testing, and about moments when the great promise of God seems laughable. But the difference between people of faith and people without faith isn’t that some have trials and that some don’t. It’s not that some are better than others. The difference is this: people of faith base their lives on the conviction that the great promise of God is true. They may be laughing one minute – but they’re dancing the next. Expecting setbacks, and regardless of what happens, they cling to the great impossible promise of God, they refuse to let go. And is very act of clinging, Paul tells us, this refusal to let go, is what makes us righteous before God.

The truth is, you and I are weak. We’re shaky. We make promises. We break promises. One minute we’re walking the walk, the next minute we’re laughing at God. We’re not righteous. And deep down, we know that no one else is either. But the good news of the Christian Gospel is that our God is. And I know that in a world where the things that seem too good to be true probably are, it can be hard to cling to God’s great promise. Because it’s one thing to recite a Creed once a week, but to base our entire lives on the conviction that the great promise of God is true, that takes courage. In the midst of setbacks, in the midst of skepticism, it takes a lot of courage to refuse to let go. But this refusal to let go of the God that refuses to let go of us – that’s what faith is. And not only that, but this refusal to let go is what makes us righteous before God.

The truth is, you and I will never perfectly keep the promises we make to God or to one another. But I want you to know that that’s ok. Because in spite of our inability to be faithful, our God remains faithful. And in spite of our skepticism, our God’s plan of salvation is certain. This is God’s great impossible promise to promise-breakers like us. And make no mistake; the God we worship is a Promise-Keeper.

[1] This is a fitting connection because one of Paul’s uses of dikaiosune in Romans (translated righteousness) is “covenant faithfulness.” In other words, God is righteous because God keep’s God’s promises.

Monday, March 2, 2009

sermon: who are you?

“Who are you?”
Mark 1: 9-15
Lent I, Year B
March 1, 2009 (Preached at ESC)

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;* with you I am well pleased. And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news* of God,* 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;* repent, and believe in the good news.’*

I’d like to begin tonight’s sermon with a question. Who are you? In other words, I am __. How would you fill in the blank? A seminary professor of mine once said that “the question of identity is the question of difference.” And I agree. Our identity matters. How we define ourselves matters. And so how we choose to answer this question matters. Who are you? I am __ ?

That’s the question I’d like to wrestle with tonight, but first, we’re going to play a little game. Mad Libs. Mad Libs is a game of filling in the blanks. And it’s a funny game because the way we fill in the blanks is usually ridiculous. And if you’re anything like me, or your average 2nd grader, this is hilarious and it never gets old. A normal sentence like “Jeff parked a car in the lot,” after a little mad-libbing, becomes “Jeff spanked a gorilla in the oven.” And that’s funny because, I don’t care how crazy Jeff is, he’d never spank a gorilla, let alone do so in an oven of all places. Because that’s just ridiculous. And so, if it’s OK with you, I’d like to play a quick game, which means I’ll need a little CC – congregational cooperation. And so, if someone could please give me a …

(1) A past tense verb – ending in the letters “ed”
(2) A noun – the name of someone you admire
(3) Adjective
(4) Noun

If you’ll look in your worship bulletin, you’ll see the “Mad Lib” we’re filling in. And so, after filling in the blanks, this is how our sentence would read. Define yourself radically as one ___ by ___. This is your ___ self. Every other identity is a (an) ___.

Now obviously, this is ridiculous. It doesn’t even make sense. At the core of your being, this isn’t who you are. If someone were to say, “Who are you?” your answer wouldn’t be “I’m one __ by __.” In terms of defining your identity, that’s a ridiculous way to fill in the blank. But how should you fill in the blank? I am ___. Who are you?

When it comes to defining our identity, the way you and I fill in the blanks can be really ridiculous. In fact, our favorite way to fill in the blank is to tell people something we do. Who are you? I’m a priest. I’m a business student. I’m an athlete. I’m in a fraternity. I’m in a band. I’m involved in the church. I’m the president of the Chris Brown fan club. Now, don’t get me wrong. What we do is a part of who we are, and what we do matters to God. But at the core of our being, our identity – who we are – can’t be tied to any of these things. Because what happens if we preach a bad sermon? Or graduate and can’t find a job? Who are we going to be then? A bad priest? An unemployed ex business student? I’m not so sure that’s who I want to be.

The truth is, you and I have hard time standing firm in the knowledge of who we are. And when we’re not sure who we are, we panic and start filling in the blanks in ridiculous ways. After all, we have to be someone. And so we make our life about perfecting an image. We find something the world values – money, power, our intellect, our sense of humor, the way we look, how religious we are, how well we’re doing in school – and we build our identity around that. We make our life about perfecting an image. The only problem is, always working to perfect our image is competitive and exhausting, and before we know it, our lives become motivated by fear; fear of not measuring up. Fear of not living up to the expectations of others. Fear of losing our sense of self-worth. And a person driven by fear – well, I’m not so sure that’s who I want to be either.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. And at his baptism, Jesus hears a voice from heaven telling him who he is. Jesus receives unique insight into his identity. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Now remember – Jesus hasn’t done a thing to prove himself yet. He hasn’t healed the sick or cast out any demons or preached a single sermon. And yet God tells Jesus that he is the beloved. Jesus is told that his life is pleasing to God. And so if you were to ask Jesus on the day of his baptism, who are you? What do you think Jesus would have said? “I’m a carpenter. I’m a Jew. I’m the son of Joseph.” No, Jesus would have been beaming from ear to ear and told you, “I am the beloved son of my Father in heaven. I am one with whom God is well-pleased.”

The miracle of grace is that, by virtue of our baptism, the Living God looks at each of us and says to us what He said to Jesus on the day of His baptism. It’s like Paul says in Colossians, “you have died, and your identity is hidden with Christ in God.” [1] In other words, God sees us – not as we are in ourselves – but as we are in Jesus Christ. God looks at us – at every single moment of our life – and says to us what he said to Jesus – “You are my dear, dear child. And I’m absolutely delighted with you.”

But our story doesn’t stop here, because after hearing these words, Jesus doesn’t begin his ministry just yet, but like Mark tells us, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. And for forty days Jesus is tempted. Now, Mark doesn’t tell us how. But my guess is that Satan makes Jesus question his identity – I bet he tries to get Jesus to question who he is at the core of his being. For those forty days in the dessert, I think Satan’s plan was to make Jesus think that he had to do something to earn God’s love – to make Jesus think that he had to prove himself for God to be well-pleased with his life. And I’m willing to bet that each of us fights that same temptation too.

As many of you know, today is the first Sunday of Lent – a season of intentional repentance. And the word repent means to change one’s mind. And what I think you and I need to change our mind about more than anything is who or what we allow to define our identity - we need to change the way we fill in the blanks when it comes to defining who we are. Because at the core of our being, we are not what we do. We are not what others say that we are. We are not what we feel. We are not how we look. We are not our portfolio. We are not our I.Q. We are not as good as our latest sermon or our latest relationship or our latest test score or our latest service project. Because who we are – at the core of our being – has nothing to do with us. And it has everything to do with God.

In other words, in order to know who we are, we have to know Whose we are. And we are beloved children of God. Before we were even born, God knew us. And we belong to God. And to define ourselves in any other way is ridiculous. To define ourselves in any other way just doesn’t make sense.

I began tonight’s sermon with the question who are you. Believe it or not, Moses actually had the guts to ask God that same question a long time ago. And the more I think about God’s answer, the more it amazes me. When Moses asked God – “who are you” – God said, “I AM.” “I AM.” In other words, God doesn’t have any blanks to fill in –because God just IS –He’s the only One who has an identity in and of Himself. And the miracle grace is that gives us an identity – that God tells us who we are. And what he said to Jesus he says to us. “You are my dear, dear child. And I’m absolutely delighted with you.”

And so get out your worship bulletin and take a look at our mad libs again. The question is – who are you? How should you define yourself?

Define yourself radically as one LOVED by GOD. This is your TRUE self. Every other identity is an ILLUSION.

[1] Col 3:3. “Identity” is my translation of zoe, which is usually translated “life.” But the words are interchangeable, and for the purposes of this sermon, mean the same thing.