Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sermon on 1 Peter 1:22-25, for Lent 2, "I'm Being True to Myself"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about how life is better when we entrust it into the hands of our God. Tonight I invite you to reflect on the question of “identity.” Is our identity something that we create ourselves, and that’s subject to and shaped by the changes and chances of life? Or is our identity something graciously given to us by God, that anchors us and shapes who we are? Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

You’ve probably heard people say before, “I’m being true to myself!”. Usually it comes in somewhat of a defensive mode, when someone’s defending their actions. “Hey, I’m just being true to myself.” It sounds like “I’m doing my own thing, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine with me.” But how can you say you’re being true to yourself unless you know your true identity? In today’s world it would seem that more than ever, our identity is up for grabs. It used to be that identity was more strongly determined by your family or culture or community. But today we’re led to believe that we can’t really know who we are. So we’re told that we’re made up of so many different influences and changing circumstances that our identity is akin to a constantly changing patchwork quilt made of our shifting desires, fashion tastes, relationships, experiences, pieces of our parents, pieces of the Bible, pieces of the media.

Perhaps that’s even an appealing view of our identity for some people, in our increasingly fragmented and disconnected world where bonds to family, to hometown, to community are more and more tenuous. We’re even encouraged in many ways to create our own identity, especially through the virtual world of the computer. Facebook, MySpace profiles, dating services and social networks that connect people with common interests all allow us to create and modify our “profile.” We can project ourselves however we want to be seen. By selecting what pictures will be seen, by choosing different descriptions and affiliations, by associating with certain groups, we shape and project the identity we want to be seen. We don’t even need a computer to do this. In our work place, in our social relationships, in our church, we also let people see only the certain identity that we want to be seen. We may be consciously or subconsciously changing that as time goes by. It gives us a sense of control, and ability to put aside old identities and choose new ones.

But is this really being true to ourselves? Or more importantly, does it allow us to be true to God? It does not. To find our identity in these ways, is to drift aimlessly on the changing currents of our desires, of society’s pressures and influences, and all the other unexpected circumstances of life. This is a recipe for an identity crisis.

Jesus said heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Our reading from Peter quotes from Isaiah, “The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). We’re assured that change and decay are constant. The world and all that’s in it is temporary and perishable. But the word of Jesus will never pass away—our Lord’s word remains forever. In a world that’s constantly shifting and changing, there’s one thing eternal that’s an anchor for our soul and for identity. That’s God’s Word. How’s that related to our identity? Hear again those verses from 1 Peter: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” That living and abiding word of God that’s imperishable, that’s eternal and unchangeable, is the seed by which we’re born again. Whether by hearing the Word as an adult, or being baptized with the Word and water as a child, we’ve been born again for a new and living hope.

Guess what? Being born again by God’s Word means that we have a new identity! Whatever fragmented or patchwork identity or identities we’ve created for ourselves, whatever posturing we’ve done, genuine or disingenuous, whatever old identities we’d really rather be free of, these are all part of the old. They’re all the fragmented pieces we tried to put together to make ourselves into whatever image we thought best. It’s the ‘old you’ produced by thinking that life is better in my own hands. But for all who’ve been baptized into Christ Jesus, we’ve been gifted with a new identity. We have a grounding, a foundation of who we’re, that centers us and gives us meaning and purpose in our life. The identity of being ‘Christian’ means that first and foremost, who we are is shaped by Jesus Christ. We’re set apart from the world. We don’t take our cue or define who we are by what the world dictates to us. And it’s not true that we can’t really know who we are.

Our identity is given and shaped by God’s Word and His forgiveness. Jesus invites us to learn who we are as God’s children, and what that new identity means for our lives in this world. This new identity is God’s new creation in you. It’s the blossoming of that imperishable seed of God’s Word into a life that’s wholly given to His purposes. A life bearing fruit of the spirit that shows we’ve been transformed from the inside out. A life that’s washed clean of old sins and desires; no longer shifting, changeable, confused and lost. But now a life that’s anchored on God’s Word. A life that knows the guide between right and wrong, laid down in God’s Law. A life that’s shaped and motivated by the desire to love unceasingly, and to be a neighbor to whoever we meet.

All of this new identity is possible for us because of what Jesus has done for us in dying on the cross. In our baptism we were reborn into that event of Jesus death on the cross. Our identity as a condemned sinner is changed to an identity of forgiven saint in Jesus Christ. Our identity of trusting no one but ourselves is changed into an identity of trusting our heavenly Father who has given us an eternal salvation. Our life is bound to Jesus Christ. That’s true for you, for me, and for us all. Our “Life Together” is about our identity as children of God! We don’t have to pay for this identity and cannot earn it through hard work. God sees you and me through His Son Jesus.

Our new identity in Christ will be under constant challenge and attack. We’ll be tempted to obscure it. Especially for those of you who work outside of the environs of the church and its schools, you may spend most of your time surrounded by non-Christians. Will we choose to be identified by the perishable things of a world passing away, or will we choose to hold fast to the imperishable seed of God’s Word that will outlast all? It’s in God’s Word that we find that God is always true to Himself and true to His promises. And if He’s true to His promises, then we can anchor ourselves and our identity firmly on Him, because He will always be true to us. Therefore, living in that new baptismal identity, daily and weekly fed and nourished by His Word, may we be true to our God by holding fast to Jesus in faith and in Christian life together.

And may the Word of God grow in you richly through “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:16-17). Amen.

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