“Keeping Our Identity!”

First Sunday in Lent 14 February 2016
(Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Psalm 91 Romans 10:8-13 Luke 4:1-13)
“Keeping Our Identity!”
I was going through my tee-shirt drawer the other day and I found lots of these tee-shirts. [Pull tee-shirts out of bag.] I remember wearing some of these at work camps, others at ELCA Youth Events, Confirmation Camp, and Winterfest.
Each shirt gives a message: the message is that the one who is wearing the shirt can be identified with a particular place and time. Each shirt says something about who we are, to whom we belong to. It is about having an identity.
In the Christian community, the great sign of identity is the sacrament of Holy Baptism, that dramatic moment when we are washed with water, signed by the cross, we are promised God’s Spirit, and invited into the church, named as one of Christ’s own. Baptism is our identity-defining moment! Almost like putting on a tee-shirt!
The text from Deuteronomy is one of the key O.T. texts for identity for the Israelite people. I invite you to go to your pew Bibles to follow along with me, page 226 in your Pew Bibles, beginning of Chapter 26.
In this reading, we see the people of Israel coming before the priest with a thanksgiving offering. As part of their worship they want to publicly declare their identity as a people of God.
There are four affirmations that are at the very core of their faith.
[Vs.5]. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.”
[Vs.6]. The Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us.”
[Vs. 8] The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
[Vs. 11] Then all of you shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord has given you.”
So they gather and celebrate who they are!
• They were exploited as cheap labor.
• They were delivered by the wonder of God.
• They were brought to a place of abundance.
• They continue to come together in worship to confess that the faithfulness of God is the basis of their own life.
In this action, Israel accepted an identity as a people of the God who saved and blessed them. This is the identity Jesus, a true son of Israel embraced in his life. It doesn’t take much to imagine Jesus standing with the other adults reciting the same words we heard from this Deuteronomy text.
So now we get to the temptations in the desert. Here, at the beginning of his public life, Jesus is tempted by Satan to give up his identity, to abandon his vocation, to forsake his calling.
The devil who comes to Jesus is not a guy with a pitchfork and a long tail; but rather, the quiet voice of seduction, that voice that comes to us and entertains us with scenarios of having a better life on our own terms. So the Gospel writer Luke tells the story and then turns to us and asks, “What about you?” “How are you doing with your Baptismal identity as a follower of Jesus, as child of God?”
Luke asks that question of us because he knows that we all face those same seductions in our lives today. It is so easy to forget our baptismal identity, especially with so many conflicting choices offered to us every day.
The voice of seduction takes many forms among us today, just as it took many forms in the life of Jesus. I will name only three (related to the three temptations).
1.) The seduction of power, where we figure we can flex our muscle and have it our way because we have such a sense of entitlement, when we always need to be in control at whatever level. Teaching: The seduction of power thwarts the vulnerability of Jesus and hinders the practice of mercy and forgiveness.
2.) The seduction of self-indulgence, fed as it is by market consumerism until we imagine that when we have more, somehow we will be happier. Teaching: The seduction of self-indulgence prevents self-discipline, obedience and sacrifice to truly guide our lives.
3.) The seduction of anxiety, in which we give control to a thousand worries, such as: the “outsiders” are taking over our society; our kids will not get into the best college unless they do soccer, dance and band all at the same time; the people with different sexuality or different skin color will erode our values. Teaching: The seduction of anxiety frustrates the civility for neighborliness or the calmness of heart based on the assurance of God’s love.
When our baptismal identity is forgotten and we embrace the seductions of power, self-indulgence, and anxiety, let me tell you how it takes hold of the church.
When we are seduced by power, the church loses its edge for mission.
When we are seduced by self-indulgence, the church forgets its capacity for generosity.
When we are seduced by anxiety, the church forfeits its passion for forgiveness.
If, indeed, the church is in crises, it is because we have given into the temptation to give up our Baptismal identity that calls us to trust and obey and love God with a singular passion, to love neighbor with total concern, and to entrust our own lives not to our weapons, our money, our beauty, our youth, our technology—but to the mercy of God.
Our gift from God, as we hear it from the writer of Psalm 91, is this: “I will deliver those who cling to me; I will uphold them because they know my name. I will be with them in trouble…..I will show them my salvation.” It’s time to put on our Baptismal tee-shirts and show the world who we are! Amen.
Gratitude to Walter Brueggemann for some stirring thoughts from his book, The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann, vol. 2.


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