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Who Do You Think You Are?
We are living in dark days, standing on the brink of war. We are facing not just a skirmish, but a war fraught with the potential of holocaust, a Middle East Armageddon. These times call for people of strength. Whether you are among those who will be called to combat in Kuwait, or among those who anguish over loved ones who are there, or among those who pray for peace, or among those who keep up the pressure on our leaders to work for a peaceful solution, these times call for strength. You need to tap your inner resources, be firm and solid in your faith, and know who you are. So, I ask this morning, who do you think you are?
But, let's back up and first ask, Who do other people think you are? The Gospel lesson this morning about the baptism of Jesus by John tells us about John and Jesus. They called John the baptizer, the one who baptizes. I knew a man in Manteca who thought the Baptists had it over the Methodists because they called John the Baptist, not John the Methodist! I tried to explain that John lived centuries before there were either Baptists or Methodists, but I don't think I convinced him!
John was known by what he did; he was the baptizer. John was also identified with the one prophesied by Isaiah, "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness." John was the messenger who prepared the way of the Messiah by preaching repentance, and baptizing people who were willing to repent. "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight," was John's message.
John was also known by what he ate and wore. (Mark 1:6) "John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." I used to feel sorry for John, but I now understand that locusts are considered a delicacy in some regions. I also remember one night when I was a child the neighbors gathered at our house and went with my father out into the woods where a bee hive had been discovered. They dressed to the hilt and went forth laughing, thoroughly enjoying their adventure. Our neighborhood there in Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, had lots of fun together. And, the honey they brought back was delicious. Perhaps John's diet was not all that bad.
Who do people think you are? Some people are defined by what they do: Joe Montana is known as the best quarterback in football. Some are defined by their wealth or lack of it. Some are defined by their personality: She is a happy person. He is a grouch. Some are defined by their looks: She is beautiful. He is fat and ugly. Some are defined by their behavior. She is a saint. He is a cheat. When one of my younger cousins was a teenager, a friend said to him, "I hear your cousin Doug is a minister." My cousin replied, "Yeah, but he's all right. He's not very religious!" I'm still wondering about that! I don't know if I want to be known as the not-very-religious minister!
Of course, we do not have complete control over what other people think of us; but who we are, what we do, how we look and how we behave certainly influences their perception. Who do people think you are? Take a moment to reflect. What have you heard other people say about you? Step outside yourself, walk about ten feet away, turn around and look at yourself as others see you. What do you see? Do you like what they see and say about you? Is it accurate? Is the picture others have of you consistent with who you think you are?
Who do you, not other people, think you are? In the Gospel lesson, Mark 1:7, John defined himself in relation to Jesus. John saw himself as the messenger, preparing the way for the Messiah, the pointer to the Messiah. John said, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals."
Who do you think you are? Begin with your name. Names are important. They tell a story in journalism schools about a cub reporter who brought in his first story and was reprimanded by the editor for not identifying the people in the story. He just referred to them as "the victim" or "a witness" or "bystanders." "You've got to get people's names," the editor thundered, "it not only makes the story accurate but it sells newspapers." The cub reporter's next story was about a fire--a dairy barn burned down on the edge of town. The reporter had learned his lesson well, for his story read, "A fire destroyed a barn at the Simpson Dairy last night. The victims were named Bossy, Guernsey Girl, and Matilda."
Through baptism, you are given a name and received into the family of God. Your identity begins with your name and how you feel about your name. Do you like your name? Are you proud of your name? If not, what do you have to do to make your name mean what you want it to mean? Not what other people think of you, but who you think you are. Be yourself, not what other people think you should be. Don't imitate or try to be someone else. Be yourself. The cartoonist Jules Feiffer pictures a boy named Danny engaged in self-discovery. Danny says,
Ever since I was a little kid I didn't want to be me.
I wanted to be Billie Widdledon. And Billie didn't even LIKE me.
I walked like he walked. I talked like he talked. I signed up for the same High School he signed up for...
Which was when Billie Widdledon changed. He began to hang around Herby Vandeman.
He walked like Herby Vandeman. He talked like Herby Vandeman..
And then it dawned on me that Herby Vandeman walked and talked like Joey Haverlin and Joey Haverlin walked and talked like Corky Sabinson.
So here I am walking and talking like Billie Widdledon's imitation of Herby Vandeman's version of Joey Haverlin trying to walk and talk like Corky Sabinson.
And WHO do you think Corky Sabinson is always walking and talking like?
Of ALL people--dopey Kenny Wellington--that little pest who walks and talks like me.
Be yourself. And, who is that? Carl Sandburg once said to Harvard students at a commencement, "You need the spirit of Lincoln, who in the divided house of his day knew what to do because he knew who he was." We live according to the definition we have of ourselves. If you think too lowly of yourself, you will sell yourself short, and be vulnerable and susceptible to what others think of you, and allow them to manipulate you and turn you into someone you don't want to be. If your definition of yourself does not correlate with your talents, skills, and abilities, you will encounter frustration and disappointment. Who do you think you are?
I have not finished with the questions. I believe you cannot really answer the question--who do you think you are--until you have answered this next question. Who does God think you are? When John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, the heavens parted, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and a voice spoke, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Jesus was given his identity, the beloved Son of God with whom God the Creator and Spirit was well pleased.
When the heavens part above your head, and the voice speaks in your heart, what does it say? I believe, I firmly believe God gives you the same message. To you, God says, "You are my child," not son with a capital S as Jesus, but son and daughter. God says, "You are my child. I made you. I created you. I redeemed you. I love you. I am with you. You are mine. You belong to me." God also said to Jesus, "With you I am well pleased." Does God say that to you? Do your behavior, priorities, and actions reflect your unique relationship with God?
God is your father, God is your mother, you are God's child. God reaches out and claims you through your baptism. God calls you day by day, moment by moment to live as his child. This relationship with God is called a covenant, like a marriage covenant. God initiates the covenant. God does the proposing. God reaches out to you, and you respond by covenanting, promising, pledging, committing yourself to belong to God. You are then in covenant, in partnership with God, which determines who you think you are.
One of our Christian heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer who knew who he was. He went to his death at the hand of Nazis because of his stand against Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer wrote a poem called "Who Am I?"
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.
Regardless of who people think you are, who do you think you are? Your answer begins with God. God claims you as a son or daughter. Whoever you are, you belong to God.
I invite you this morning to affirm or reaffirm your covenant with God. Will you join me in praying the Covenant Prayer (No. 607 in the hymnal) written by Charles Wesley.
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low by thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
o thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
hou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris