Monday, December 15, 2008

Who Are You? -- A Sermon

To be honest, I’m not sure “Who Are You?” is the best sermon title today.  Yes, that is the question the priests and Levites asked John the Baptist.  And yes, he did answer with that profound satemet that he was merely one sent to prepare the way.

But lost in there is what goes behind the answer.  Because when John answered “I am not the Messiah,” he was forever changing the way people would see him.  Up until this point, while he was preaching and had the people eating out of his hand, while he had the leaders impressed by his fiery rhetoric and power, he could have told even the priests that he was the messiah, and they might have accepted it.  

At that moment, when they asked the question, John had a choice to make.  Do I take on the role they are practically handing me?  Or do I tell the truth and consign myself to mere messenger status?

With 2,000 years perspective, we can only imagine John standing there, quoting Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.”

But in truth, it was a tempting moment, one in which for John to identify himself meant for him to commit himself.  He had to take a stand, to say, “This is who I am, and this is where I place my allegiance.”

So it is for us, too.  

When we identify ourselves, we are telling people where we belong and to whom we commit ourselves.  Even in simple ways.  “I’m a Yankees fan” or “I’m a Mets fan.”  Those simple statements determine what hats you’ll be wearing, what tickets you’ll be buying (if you could afford them).  

Or, “I’m a Granados-Kramer.”  That little statement tells you that I’ll do everything in my power to feed, clothe, shelter and protect the others who belong to that little group.  It means giving up some things in order to do so, but it doesn’t matter.  I’m committed to them.

The same is true for OUR common name: Christian.  When we identify ourselves as Christians -- and more particularly as Episcopalians, and even more particularly as members of St. James’ -- we make a commitment.  A big one.

By claiming that identity, we commit ourselves to a radical way of life that is never easy.  We commit ourselves to seeing all people as valuable in their own right rather than as something to use in order to get what we want.

We commit to working for justice and peace, not just for those nearby but for people a world away -- even if others think we’re flaky.

We commit ourselves to forgiving even those who have hurt us the most.

We commit ourselves to gathering regularly because by claiming the identity of Christian, we assert that belonging to the Body of Christ can’t be done in isolation.

Mostly, we commit ourselves to following Christ wherever that may lead.

And there is a real likelihood that Jesus will lead you to places you don’t want to go.  Place where you are not respected or understood.  It might be close -- say at school or work -- or it might be the far corners of the world.  I don’t know.

All we know is that when we say “I am a Christian” it means that we commit ourselves to THIS identity above all others, and that the one we follow WILL lead us.  

When John the Baptist said, “I am not the Messiah,” he was essentially ending his career.  What would come after, he did not know, but whatever it was, he was ready to embrace it because he knew who he was.

As we prepare for the birth of the Christ, the one we have so easily claimed to trust, it’s good for us to ask ourselves, “Who am I?”  Amen.