Sermon Pentecost 10 – August 21, 2011

August 21, 2011 at 10:18 am Leave a comment

As I preach this sermon,
many college students are back on campus or there for the first time.
Some of you work with these people or have worked with them.
Some of you are these people.
They are the young, the hopeful, the shy ones, the outgoing ones,
the rich ones, the poor ones,
the ones who know why they’re there
and the ones who don’t.
But they are there – coming from a certain place,
and moving towards a certain place,
all asking who they have been, and who they are,
and what they are going to be.

This is a key time in their lives.
At our most recent Youth Encounter event,
our speaker, The Rev. Jay Gamelin, was talking to junior-high
and high school students,
most of whom believe that college will be a great liberation
from boredom and routine.
Instead he had this to say about college:
“a four-year-long identity crisis.”
I doubt he was doing it to scare people away from going to school.
As a full-time campus minister at the Ohio State University,
he has a unique perspective on the possibilities and pitfalls of college life.
But many of you can see it too,
whether you’ve been to college or work at a college
or have a son or daughter in college.
At school, away from family and community and church,
young people have the opportunity to try on different and endless identities
from the ones they have been given.
Some of this can be positive, as young people can feel liberated
to discover more about themselves than they could before.
But some of this is negative, as in trying different identities
people become lost, or indeed begin to wonder if any identity is real,
if we simply have masks that we put on for different situations.
Perhaps the process begins before college begins.
I have my church life, my home life, my school life, my social life
my personal life that no one sees,
and I can put on masks and attitudes and different identities
depending on where I am and who I am with.
If you have been paying attention,
you have heard this before from this pulpit.
Why bring it up again?
Especially to a crowd of people
who are mostly not of college age?
Because our identifications,
who we say we are and who we say others are,
define our lives and what we do.
And as others identify us, so we start to think of ourselves.
Ever get one of those loan or credit in the mail
that identify you as a “preferred customer?”
Here’s the part of the sermon where I plug for Vince and Diane’s
presentation of Financial Peace University.
When someone calls you a preferred customer,
that makes you feel pretty good, doesn’t it?
Doesn’t matter that some people’s dogs have received mail
identifying them as “preferred customers,”
if you’re not aware of that,
you might feel pretty positive about the offer they’re making you.
Or that letter you got from AARP the other day, or five or ten years ago.
And suddenly you are a “senior citizen.”
How you’re identified, how you identify yourself and how you identify others,
changes the way you feel and think and how you act.

In Isaiah, the author urges the people
not to identify themselves with the Babylonians
who have them in captivity,
not to identify themselves as lost people whom God has forgotten,
but to identify themselves as Abraham and Sarah, their ancestors;
wanderers whom the LORD brought home,
those lost whom the LORD found.
those solitary two from whom the LORD brought forth a great nation.
The promises that the LORD fulfilled for Abraham and Sarah
he would certainly fulfill for them.
For those who believed, for those who “looked to the rock from whom they were hewn
and the quarry from whom they were dug,”
they were the ones who took the opportunity
to return to Jerusalem after Babylon had been conquered by a greater empire.
There were many Jews who stayed in Babylon.
There were only some who returned to their true identity.

In Romans, after eleven chapters of enraptured prose in praise of God,
Paul turns to the issue of identity.
Because of this God’s identity, this is who you are.
and this is your neighbor.
You are members of the body of Christ and indeed members of one another.
Paul identifies the members of the Roman church
based upon the identity of God in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, do not be conformed to how the world identifies you,
as producers or consumers, superstars or losers, those who matter and those who don’t,
be transformed into the image of Christ, and use your different gifts
in the service of him who bound us into one body.
Our doing is so closely related to our being that we can hardly imagine
one without the other.

And of course we cannot leave this sermon on identity without Jesus’ question:
“Who do you say that I am?”
Last week we heard of a Canaanite woman,
someone who was outside of the people of God,
someone who would be identified as a godless person,
address Jesus in terms of his kingly identity – “Lord, Son of David.”
Her identity is inexorably tied to who she names as her authority, as her source of life.
This is only logical.
After all, we have been born United States citizens,
but for whatever crazy reason we should wish to renounce our citizenship,
it would be possible.
Our identity is who we say we are and who we say others are.
It wouldn’t change the USA, but it would change us.
And so while it does not change who Jesus is one bit
no matter who anyone says he is,
it certainly makes a difference to us.
When Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,”
he does not need to say, “And I am your servant.”
If we call Jesus “Lord,” then we necessarily are committing ourselves
to be his servants, to listen to what he says, to do what he does.
The Church is the community of those who with St. Peter, call Jesus Lord,
who are identified as his in the Sacrament of Baptism.

At Ohio State University, at Pennsylvania College of Technology,
Lock Haven University, Mansfield University,
and on college campuses all over the nation,
people like Jay Gamelin, Sharon Comini of St Mark’s, Jeff Seeley of recent ,
Detlef Huckfeldt from St Michael’s,
and others like them will be calling arriving college students,
all searching for who they are,
to an identity based upon God’s identity in Christ.
They will call these students to affirm an inheritance already given
or announce to them an inheritance yet to be received.
they will call them to acknowledge an authority who has a claim
on what they think and say and do,
but who also calls them by name, saying, “You are part of my Church.”

This past week the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, strapped for cash,
announced a 38 percent reduction in grants for campus ministry.
Perhaps they were reading the last line of today’s Gospel –
“Then he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”
But maybe that’s not so much about the state of this particular Churchwide Assembly
as it is about the state of the Church.
Why talk about the identity crises students face on campus
when it doesn’t apply to us?
It does apply to us.
These are our children and our grandchildren and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The answer to Christ’s question, “Who do you say that I am,”
cuts to the heart of our response to the needs on campus today,
and perhaps cuts to the heart of why our congregations are graying.
Whether the answer is heightened synodical funding
or engaging in local financial and personal support of our campus ministries
or praying for and staying in touch with those who are out there,
what we do, we do because of Christ and his Lordship.
Let us then pray in solidarity for those on campus who seek who they are,
that they may remember who they have been,
who they are now,
and who they shall always be:
children of God our Father, made known to us in the Messiah Jesus Christ,
Son of the living God.
So may they and we always stand, on the rock of this faith. Amen

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Sermon August 14 – Pentecost 9A The need right now…

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