Just Who am I?

8-27-17 Scriptures:  Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20

Theme:  Our identity as followers of Jesus is a constant element of our faith understanding and our sense of being – who am I?  who do others say that I am?  But the most important – and most clearly answered – question of all is, who does God say I am?  It is that answer that keeps hope alive, regardless of what comes our way.

          This past week, I received a very big surprise.  I was attending a meeting of the Montana Interfaith Network, a new group started this year to explore how the different faith traditions in our area and beyond can work together to make a positive difference in our state.  During the meeting, one of the pastors said, “by the way, are you all aware of this publication?”  It was a newspaper-like journal called “The Mountain Christian Journal;” have you heard of it?  I had never heard of it before.  As the paper was passed around, one of the pastors said to me, “Hey, John, you’re quoted in here!”  I thought for a second that someone had quoted one of my amazingly eloquent expressions that profoundly impact the world around me (you don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?!?); I thought perhaps I was a bit famous?  With interest, I took a look at what he was talking about – the page and article looked like this (on screen):

The article referred to a rally I spoke at in January, a rally meant to address the rise of Islamaphobia and to speak against hatred.  There I am, with our improvised microphone (I don’t think I’ve ever used a bullhorn to give a message before….).  I don’t know if you can read or make sense out of this, but as I read some of the details of the article, I realized quickly what it was.   According to this article, I am a pseudo-Christian, an anti-wesleyan Methodist, and a “useful idiot” in the style of Karl Marx.  The comments came from the readership, where they called upon building a bigger wall to keep other faith’s out of our country; they called all interfaith efforts “a conduit for Islam to take over our country;” the article attacked anyone who didn’t realize that all Muslims had an agenda to bring our country down; and they labeled me a diluter of the Christian faith.  Someone had been in the audience that day with an agenda and a camera – and was intent upon gaining evidence to label us as un-Christian.  And they let me have it.

I was shocked.

I was dismayed.

I was infuriated.

And, I must admit, I was entertained, for I have never been called a “useful idiot” before – and I kind of like that!  Not in the way they meant it, but, still, if we are called to be fools for Christ as it says in I Corinthians 4:10……….it fits rather well……but back to the point…………….

I had no idea I was seen this way by anyone.

I had no idea that these people I had never met hated me.

Leave out the fact that I was misquoted in the article (I had been speaking about the three Muslim friends I knew, who were foremost speakers of peace in my experience).

Leave out the fact that I was speaking against hatred and fear, and for love, cooperation, and seeking common ground to shape our way forward.

Leave out the fact that John Wesley said that “the world is my parish,” with which I fully agree.

Leave out the fact that I was not interviewed or asked any questions by the person who was present at the rally.

The author of this article, and the ones leaving comments, had obviously made up their minds – I was the enemy, and needed to be exposed.

 It made me pause, and ask myself a question:  “Just who am I?”  Am I who The Mountain Christian Journal says I am?  Or, am I something or someone else?

 I hope to God I am something else!  And I think, thanks to God, I am something else.  I may be an enemy in the eyes of those who promote the agenda of The Mountain Journal; but if I am their enemy, it turns out I am in good company.  Further on in the article, it mentioned the others who are in the same camp.  The list includes all individuals and groups which support interfaith efforts.  The list includes:

The Montana Association of Christians (MAC)
The Living Democracy project based in Germany
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
The ACLU [13] The Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN)  [14] The Students Alongside American Muslims (SALAM) (it’s actually “Standing Alongside American Muslims”
The Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
The Refugee Congress

The Montana Immigration Justice Alliance (MIJA)
Har Shalom Synagogue – (Interfaith Jews for Palestine?)  [15] The Muslim Student Association (MSA) –The Montana Racial Equality Project  [20]
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR); and
The International Rescue Committee.

          I call this, good company!

         This whole experience seems quite relevant when considering the issue that is before us today in the gospel lesson, a question motivated by Jesus himself when he asked his disciples some questions.  Jesus asks , “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  Jesus then asked, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

          Who am I?, asks Jesus.  And we can sense that he asks this question in three different ways:

         Who do I think I am?

         Who do others think I am?

         And, who does God say I am?

And we know that it is the last question that is the most important.

So, let’s ask that question:  who does God say we are?  In our passage from Romans, it says that we are one body in Christ, that individually we are members of one another.  Paul goes on to say, “3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” 

The scripture is telling us that we are members of one another.  We could put this another way – we find our identity through each other.  Our identity in Christ.  Our identity from God’s perspective.  Our identity through faith in Jesus.  Loved beyond reason.  Forgiven for the asking.  Accompanied by grace.

         Now, here’s another question – how are we called to live out this identity of ours?

         I had an experience yesterday that floored me.  You may have noticed that our building is undergoing some changes; we even had a miracle occur in that the pastor’s office did get moved!  Our renovation is proceeding with a due amount of chaos.  I was coming to the church yesterday to get some things ready for worship, and I met two individuals trying to get into the church to attend the noon Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  As we got the door opened, I asked how they were managing navigating around the building to their gathering space; they said fine.  I said that I was glad, and that we as a church were glad to have them use our facility.  One of the men turned to me, and said something that stunned me – he said with surprise in his voice, “I’m just glad that you like us!”

         Think about that for a moment – his reaction, a simple statement, reflected possibly that his identity was tied up with being disliked.  Possibly his identity was connected to feeling unworthy, or maybe even unloved?

         You and I, as members of the body of Christ, have our identity confirmed by God’s presence in our lives made possible through Jesus.  But we are invited to employ our identity to help others understand the value God sees in them, that they are loved by God and welcomed into his fellowship.  Our place is in helping others discover their identity as beloved children of God, regardless of their station in life, their religious background, their experiences good or bad, or the way others perceive them in this world.  The only identity which is real is that which God gives, and Jesus has made that identity clear.  All are loved, no exceptions.  This is the love that has showed us who we are in God’s eyes; this is the love we are invited to share, to help others see the same thing.