1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 7, 2023
Who am I?
At times we all ask that question – though, as we age, we’re more likely to express it as: Who have I become? But we all want to know who we are really.
So how do we find out?
We can take an honest look at ourselves. But can any of us be entirely trusted to see ourselves accurately?
We can ask others who they see us to be. But can any of them be entirely trusted to see us accurately and then to give it to us straight?
And what, after all, shows us our deepest identity? Our productivity? Our personality? Our notoriety? Community? Spirituality? Who are we?
Maybe we should ask the One who made us in the first place – and who, for those of us who have given ourselves over to Him, re-made us in a second birth through the Holy Spirit. Wouldn’t He know us best? And wouldn’t He give it to us straight?
The Bible says that every human being is a person of great value: made in the image of God and so loved by God that for them He sacrificed His Son.
The Bible further says that every human being born again by the Spirit is “a new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and a “masterpiece” of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:10).
Today’s scripture, written originally to people who were as much “mixed bags” as we, specifies this identity. This scripture says we are, in our essence and in our potential as those in a process of change, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”.
This assertion is hard to believe. For we who follow Jesus don’t look all that different from other folks. We too are sometimes unjust, self-centered, sinful. Hence, our deep but mostly hidden identity is grasped more by faith than by sight. We believe in it more by what we have heard from God than by what we have seen with our eyes.
It is then a challenge to believe, say, Romans 6:11, which tells us to “think of” ourselves as those who are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” We rarely feel dead to sin. At best, we feel dread about sin.
The biblical concept here is that God gives the redeemed a new identity by putting in them a new heart on which His law is written and from which a powerful zeal to do right arises. That new heart is beneath the surface and thus hidden from sight. But, the Bible says, it really is there, pumping its new blood into all the other parts of our being and changing what they are like. Alas, it takes a while for that transfusion of new blood to transform every part of us; and, while eventually the transformation becomes visible in transformed conduct, there is, in almost every instance, a time lag for the rest of us to catch up with the best of us: this new heart we have.
It takes practice and perseverance to believe in our new identity in Christ. But to the extent we can, we expedite the alignment of our outer reality with our inner reality. Our faith in our identity helps us fulfill it.
When late in the seventh and last game of the 2016 World Series the Chicago Cubs, the franchise that had gone longer than any other without winning a World Series, lost their three-run lead late in the game and let Cleveland tie the score, you could see on the Cub players’ faces that old familiar look of despair: that the curse was still in effect and that the Cubs would yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But then a storm struck and forced a tenth-inning rain delay. Huddled in the dugout against the cold dampness, Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward (now a Dodger) saw his teammates’ deflated and even doomed look. So he stood up and, with hot fervor, exhorted them to “remember who you are”. He reminded them of their identity as the team with that year’s best regular season record, as the team that had won two other playoff rounds to get to the World Series, and as the team that had come back from a three-games-to-one deficit to force a Game 7 in this World Series. It was, he passionately preached, their game to win rather than to lose. His pep talk, reminding them of who they were, invigorated and inspired the Cubbies. They rallied for two go-ahead runs in the top of the 10th; and, fired up by their “seeing” and owning their real identity, the team that almost rolled over rose up and brought Cubs fans their first championship in 108 years.
Seeing and owning our true identity fires up us all, especially those of us to whom Christ has given a new identity. He has in fact given us His own identity and made us – not victims of identity theft – but beneficiaries of identity gift. He has given us before God His own identity so that His blessings, privileges and assets become ours. We have, so to speak Christ’s credit card and thereby access to all His wealth. No, we can’t charge to His account purchases of gas and luxury items, but we can charge to His account the acquisition of His love, joy, peace and power. His riches become ours!
By God’s identity gift in Christ, we gain so much we can live as generous as He and feel no loss – like John of Kronstadt, a 19th-century priest who served his world at a time when most clergy stayed in their churches and waited for people to come to them.
John embraced his new identity in Christ and grew strong in Christ’s love. So he ventured out into the streets to “proclaim”, in word and deed, “the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. John, for example, would lift hungover, foul-smelling drunks from the gutter, cradle them in his arms, and assure them that their present state did not set their true identity. He would say to them, “This is beneath your dignity. This does not define you. You were meant to house the fullness of God.”
We fulfill our identity in Christ as “a royal priesthood” as we proclaim to others, in word and deed, everyone’s present identity in God’s grace and their potential identity in Christ’s. Let us, as those who house the fullness of God, be who we are and help everyone else be who they’re meant to be!
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