Friday, January 13, 2012

Who Are You

Sermon preached January 8, 2012

Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11

This time of year is a time when pop culture awards begin to make the news – Grammy nominations, Golden Globe nominations, Oscar nominations. So I thought I would begin this morning with a little pop culture – music and movies. Last week’s song did not play as well as I thought it should so I wanted to try the music system again.

The Who, “Who Are You?” (play part of the song)

Here is another version of the same question. Shrek the ogre and Donkey are having a conversation. Donkey wonders why Shrek had not gone “all ogre” with a group of people.

There’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Example? O.K. Ogres are like onions.
They stink?
They make you cry?
Oh, you leave them out in the sun they get all brown and start sprouting little white hairs?
No! No! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. Do you get it? We both have layers.
Oh! You both have layers. You know not everybody likes onions.

Shrek and Donkey on layers

Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. People have layers. You and I have layers.
Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian and founder of the journal Sojourners, a journal dedicated to asking how Christian faith shapes our engagement with the issues of our day and time, wrote the following in an on-line column in November. One of the greatest failures of Christians in this country is when they don’t think and act like Christians first. Instead, they think first as Americans, consumers, partisans, and sometimes even as Red Sox fans…. Now Christians can and do identify as Americans, consumers, partisans, and even Red Sox fans (the latter being my particular temptation!). But, it should never be our primary identity. (“Evangelical Consistency and the 2012 Elections” 11-30-11).
Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. People have layers. Christians have layers. You and I have layers. I am a husband, father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, minister, baseball fan (Minnesota Twins are my particular temptation), avid reader, music aficionado, American, Minnesota, Duluthian, Christian. I have layers. Peel away the layers, though, and who am I at the core? Who are you at the core? Who are we at the center? Where do we go to find out?
For Christians, being a person of God who follows Jesus is our core, and one place we go to find our center is the baptismal font.
I have had the opportunity this week to talk about baptism with two adults, one of whom I baptized. It was a wonderful serendipity knowing that the text for this week was the text about the baptism of Jesus. During the baptism of the young man I baptized, these words came out of me. “Baptism takes such a little time, but it’s impact is intended to last a life time.” And its true. Baptism does not take long, but the commitments made are lived out over a lifetime. The God whose grace and love are as penetrating and plentiful as water works with us and in us and on us our whole lives. At baptism we say “no” to the spiritual forces of wickedness – those tendencies and trends which take on a life of their own and degrade, dehumanize, destroy. It is a pledge for life. At baptism we say “yes” to using the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice and oppression. It is a pledge for life. At baptism we profess our faith in Jesus as the Christ, as the embodiment of the wisdom and love and power of God, and say “yes” to following his way in the community of faith we call the church, a community open to all people. It is a pledge for life. These pledges are pledges for life – intended to last a lifetime and to give us life at its best.
And at baptism we believe God meets us. God tears through whatever distances there may be between God and us, and meets us. God’s gracious love penetrates all our layers to say “yes” to us at our core. God’s Spirit speaks words to us: “you are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.” In a slightly different rendering, adapted from Eugene Peterson: “You are my child, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” God says “yes” to us, pledging to be with us as we resist evil, work for justice, do good, create beauty, speak truth, follow Jesus.
Just after Christmas our family gathered for an evening in the Twin Cities. In our hotel room we watched the evening news and there was this fascinating ad for a car dealership – Cornerstone Auto Resource. “Cornerstone Auto Resource is a Christ centered, pre-owned auto dealer in Plymouth Minnesota.” It reminded me of the ads I have seen for the jeweler in Superior who believes Jesus is coming back soon, but in the meantime, if you want jewelry, see him. A few years ago I remember seeing a billboard for a “Christian” plumbing service. These kinds of ads unnerve me a bit, the create discomfort. There is something about using Jesus to sell a secular product or service that makes me uneasy. When I call a plumber, I really don’t care if the person prays for me. I would appreciate it if he or she would fix my pipes, and perhaps wear pants that stayed up when the person bent over. When I look for a car I want a place that will treat me fairly and be there if something goes wrong. If the end of the world as we know it is just around the corner, I am not sure that jewelry is my next purchase.
Yet there is a certain truth here. Being Christian at our core should have an impact on every area of our lives. The waters of baptism should permeate every layer of who we are – mates, friends, parents, grandparents, workers, owners, citizens, neighbors. Using that identity to sell may not be the best move, but if I own a business, I should let my faith affect how I run that business, how I treat my employees. Our primary identity is meant to be as people of God who follow Jesus, as those who have met God in the waters of baptism, and have let those waters penetrate and permeate our lives.
Who are you? We are layered people to be sure. We are also those who have experienced the Spirit of God claiming us. We are God’s watermarked people, marked by God’s love. Let that love permeate and penetrate. Let that love flow freely to others. Amen.

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