Who Are You

September 30, 2018

Summary

Who are you? We often get asked when it means, “What’s your name?” But, the question “Who are you?”  with a bit of thought, gets more complicated.  How do we define ourselves?  Job titles, personal accomplishments, life experiences, family roles such as parent, child, aunt or grandparent.  In an international community, nationality and cultural traditions become a bigger part of how we define ourselves.  Our self-identity is a part of — Who am I?

There is also part of our identity defined by those we choose to have around us.  How are our self-images shaped by our spouse, parents, and family?  Work colleagues or fellow students?  Social media – what groups are we in, Or even how many friends we have on Facebook?  The mass media can affect us with its constant barrage of finding divisions, we-them constructs that impact how we see ourselves in the world.  So, our identity is shaped both from within ourselves, as well as by those people we choose to have around us.

In today’s text, Mark sends us a challenge of thinking about our identity.

The disciples had seen someone doing works in Jesus’ name.  They tried to stop  him.  When they couldn’t, they ran to Jesus.  John (John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James—one of the Sons of Thunder, volcanic, overeager to act precipitously).  spoke up for the 12 – “Teacher, we saw someone doing works in your name….This man was not following us, and we tried to stop him.”

Did you notice that John did not say, “he was not following YOU, Jesus,”?   No,  John’s words were “He was not following US.”

He wasn’t following us. The disciples were clearly distraught by what they had seen.  So let’s probe  a little — why?

Were the disciples coming to Jesus with genuine faith-filled concern that Jesus’ name was being used inappropriately?  In part, no doubtedly, yes.  But re-reading John’s words ”He was not following US” suggests that this is also about the disciples’ own identity – in this case, in relation to others.

Perhaps the disciples, upon seeing the other healer, were feeling some insecurity – could it be that there is another teacher, another healer equal to Jesus?  Had they had chosen the wrong Teacher to follow?  There certainly could have been some jealousy – it’s not fair — WE are the chosen, the elite 12 who have diligently followed you.  Such activities must go through us, YOUR disciples, lest we lose control of the movement, your message.

Additionally, from a historical standpoint, it is likely that Mark chose to include this episode because, within this community at this time, there was a percolating conflict that had arisen between different groups of believers.  Yes, even with the earliest of believers, there were disagreements about what practices were required or prohibited as well as what one should believe to be a true follower.  This is often a reflection of the local traditions and customs.  Like we experience here at ALC – coming with so many places across the globe.

So in his writing here, Mark was trying to help these early believers seek into the question of how to define themselves.  To think deeper than simply being anti other believers.  Than making it WE-THEM, the OTHER man healing, the OTHERS following him.  To discover their own identity in following the growing numbers of believers across communities.

And just a few verses earlier (last’s week’s Gospel) Jesus had overheard the disciples arguing over who was the best among themselves, the disciples.  Jesus, which of us is best – you know us all,  you’ve seen us in action.  Just tell us – answer the question.  Did Jesus say, well, Peter you are the Rock, Thomas you ask great questions?  No.  Jesus took a child in his arms and said “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the One who sent me (Mark (8:37).

Similarly today, the disciples posed a question of identity in comparing.  And what does Jesus do?  Jesus does not give kudos.  In fact, He doesn’t even ask about the specifics as to what was actually said and done in His name.  Jesus completely reframes the event.    Like picking up the child, again, he disarms their accusations.  He answers, This is not about we-them, guys.   This is about God-you.  This is not where you get your identity as children of God.

The disciples had flipped their identity upside down.   In the heat of the moment, they defined themselves against this other person, the THEM.  WE are the leaders of this fledgling movement.

I wonder if Jesus was disappointed – again.  The disciples went from infighting, from asking “Who am I?” amongst themselves as to who is the greatest to, well, at least we are the greatest of everyone else.  Going from comparing between themselves with their group of 12 to comparing as a group to others.  Not much of an improvement, Jesus must have thought, perhaps shaking his head, maybe even a roll of the eyes.

Perhaps you have heard the adage, “You can divide the world into two groups of people.  Those who believe you can divide the world into two groups of people, and those who don’t?”

Yet, Jesus shaped this into a teaching opportunity.  Do not worry about stopping someone doing work in the name of Jesus, just because YOU don’t see her/him as one of US.  Jesus continues, use your energy to find ways to hold and lift up children, to give cups of water to others, to not be a stumbling block to others.  To have salt in yourselves — meaning to have your own sense of identity in your distinctive relationship with God, to have a special seasoning.  To seek and be at peace with one another – in other words, find your own identity, your own favoring, your own spice – and how to be peaceful in service to others.  This is not about we-them, but you-God, this is where your identity lies!     This is how we are to discover and grow in seeking “Who am I.”

And we also hear this message we also hear this in today’s Old Testament reading.

In today’s 1st reading in the book of Numbers, a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying … Joshua follows up, Moses, stop them! .. Moses rebukes Joshua, What do you mean stop them?  How much better the world would be if more others, followers,  would join in!! (Numb 11;26-29)

That said, Jesus does remind us that, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  God does make distinctions, God does declare not all are believers.  But that is God’s job.  It’s above the disciples’ pay grade, it’s not their job to figure the we-them out.  Their job is find their own identity in Christ, a relationship with God that allows them to be able make God’s love shine through them, to add to the flavor of God’s love.  Yes, there are believers and non-believers, but not in your job description.

Jesus is constantly teaching his followers to redefine we-they norms at both the individual and societal levels.  It is so natural to say, well And isn’t this so innate to us as human beings – comparing to others can be much more comfortable that digging into our own self-identity.  But Jesus thinks salty — associating with the marginalized – woman by the well, tax collectors, lepers. He also conversed with religious scholars, rabbis – there were no boundaries for Jesus in his teaching, in healing.

God’s love is abundant – it is not about how to slice the pie, but making the pie bigger!  God’s love is bigger than exclusive, and even inclusive.  God’s love is EXPANSIVE, expansive beyond our comprehension. And all of you with children experience this – love comes to the 1st, 2nd, and you explain that yes, I love you all.  My husband is the youngest of 8. Making God’s love bigger by being spicy, bringing flavor not division.  That’s what seeking “Who I am” can get us to as a child of God.

Mark Labberton, in his book The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor, says that before we can truly love our neighbor, to make a difference in society, we must first understand ourselves.  Labberton uses the phrase, “to understand our own address.”   What does he mean by this?  To examine ourselves, where we come from as part of who we are through the power, grace and wisdom of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.   We all come with biases, preferences, cultures and traditions.  So to put this in Christ’s context.  To know our inner self in new ways – and ever changing ways as our lives unfold — in my relationship with God, as God’s child within this ever shrinking global village.  What is my address? Who am I?

Who are we?  What do we as believers have together as the community in Christ.  Scripture gives us guidance.

  • We are created in God’s image. (So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  (Gen 1:27))
  • We are the branches of Christ the vine and God the gardener. (Jesus is the true vine, we are the branches – how do we grow into the strongest vine (John 15:1,5))
  • We are a friend of Jesus, no longer slaves, but friends. (We are no longer slaves, but friends of Jesus through his revealing from God (John 15:15))
  • We are in one in Christ Jesus. (There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in  Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28))
  • We are the body of Christ. (Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Cor 12:27))
  • We are joined to the Lord and am one spirit with Him. (But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with him (1 Cor 6:17))

These are among the gifts of God for all of us as believers.  We are in the image of God, the branch of Christ, a friend of Jesus, in fact one in Jesus.

We also know we are together as Christian community in our sinfulness as humans. Luther says, we are simultaneously saints and sinners.  There are times that we come to Christ – less about genuine faith-filled concern and more, if we are honest stumbling blocks of jealousy, insecurity.  Yet, as children of God, and as family in Christ, we are saved – justification by grace through the gift of faith (Romans 3:24).  God does not ask us literally to cut off our hands or eyes or feet – we have the gift of salvation through Christ’s death on the Cross.  It is this amazing gift of a God who wants to be in relationship with us to give us our identity.

To know this as community of church is awesome.  With this foundation, let us dig deeper in learning “our own address,” to seek our unique relationship with God.  Only then, Labberton says, as we begin to bear the fruit of love toward others that can make a difference in individual lives and the greater society.  Because we are assured we are God’s children, God commands us to share the Good News, to love our neighbor!

Are we salty enough – do we have a distinct character as a child of God?  What evidence is there that we have shaken the salt, spiced up the life of someone who is hurting or lonely?  Are we intentional in finding places in which to replace division with flavor?

To have salt in us!  To use our distinctive flavor to seek ways to hold the child, to find those thirsty for cups of water, to dig within ourselves – to not be a stumbling block.  To get more salty in seeking who we are as Christians, and live in peace with each other  as God’s children.  That is how we seek in growing to  answer each and every day, “Who am I.” What is my address?  to flavor the world with the salt of Christ.

Amen.

Bible References

  • Numbers 11:4 - 6
  • Numbers 11:10 - 16
  • Numbers 11:24 - 29
  • Mark 9:39 - 50

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