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Who Are You?
a sermon based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
by Rev. Tom Hall

Being a PK-preacher’s kid-took a long time for my son to get the hang of. At the time, his sixth grade mind formed this peculiar moral code on how his father, the minister, should behave. No ribald jokes. No walking down the parsonage hallway in skivvies. Ministers must cover all human flesh. And ministers aren’t mushy either. No tears in the pulpit. So on those occasions when I slip out of my halo and into more earthly concerns, Ben comes to my rescue warning me, "what would the church members think if they saw/heard you now?" Good point. Ben makes sure that I remember who I am lest any unwholesome behavior come from me that would not meet his high expectations of the office of minister.

I guess I should thank my son for reminding me of who I am because it’s difficult in modern life, with its conflicting claims and confusion of names, to remember who we really are. Many of us go through life changing from name to name in an attempt to define us, to name who we are.

William Willimon tells us that this question, "Who am I?" is the question that forms a life-long crisis of identity. Whether in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or well into retirement, the question still stands on our doorstep to haunt us. Who am I? Culture is all too obliging to answer our question.

Who are you?

"You are young and active." Go to college. Go clubbing. Go jogging. Drive a Beemer. Drink Miller. Shop at Gap. Wear Abercrombie. Spend your weekends at the shore. Join Gold’s. Listen to YoYo. Slip in to Victoria’s. Get Nokia, $54 dollar plan. Always run, never stop. You are young, so party hardy.

Who are you?

You are sexy. Watch the movies. Watch TV. Watch the videos. Walk Center City. Your body is your most important possession; nurture it, love it, display it, caress it, if you got it, flaunt it. Cider House Rules. You are hetero, homo, or bi-, craving, seeker of intimacy, sexual object, pursuer and pursued. That’s what media says you are. You are sexy.

Who are you?

You are old. Get old in style. Luxuriate in Springfield Gardens, Simpson, Granite Estate Farms. Don’t be a burden. Sell your house. Cling to the life that’s left. Travel, spend money. Cruise the Caribbean. Get Personal Health Care. Get the right specialists. The right investment plans. Say good bye. Start again. Meet new friends. Spend more money. Play bingo. Dine every day. Sleep alone at night.

Thousands of us have bought into these names and other conflicting and confusing labels. And maybe we’ve forgotten who we really are. Hear the Good News! In this place you’ll hear a simple answer about identity.

Who are you?

"You are baptized, that’s who you are." Scripture records the story of John the Baptist preaching about identity crisis. People came by the truckloads. Word was out that something authentic was happening in the Jordan with John. John told the crowds to "turn from your sins and turn to God and be forgiven." Then he added, "but don’t think you can do it with just some cosmetic changes here and there. Only God can change you."

So people came by the hundreds down into the Jordan and John used that water as a way for people to express their desire for a new identity, a new life.

But it doesn’t end there. Jesus himself stepped into the water and as he was praying, the Spirit came on him. That’s a major identity change! Because when he left the Jordan that day he began a new adventure of ministry to others. In a sense, that’s when his life really began. In the waters of baptism with the Spirit.

In baptism, God acts through the church, through water to enlarge the family of God and to save them by joining them to the death and resurrection of Christ. In baptism we are cleansed, forgiven, initiated, chosen, embraced, adopted, gifted, killed, reborn, and sent back into the world. Take a long look at this baptismal font. When you look in it you see a reflection of yourself -that’s who you are.

Christian baptism gives you name. In earlier times children were "christened" and given a Christian name. In ancient times, the Church literally named the child. Even today among cultures in Africa, when a person becomes a Christian, they replace their given name for a Christian name. They want to express an identity change. Like when Abram becomes Abraham once he received God’s promise to make of him a mighty nation; Like when Cephas became Peter when Jesus promised to build his church "upon this rock." Saul the Persecutor becomes Paul the Apostle. Name changes signify a new beginning, a radical break with the old. At baptism, God takes you and says, "Your name is Christian."

A number of years ago, Jesse Jackson began worship in his inner-city Chicago congregation with a two-line call and response:

I was a nobody,
But now, thank God, I’m a somebody!

Every name around them told them that they were nothing more than nobodies, but the Church dared to claim a different name and shouted that because they were God’s children, they were somebodies. The Christian message is not that we should try hard to "act like somebody." The Christian message is simply, "we are somebody."

Rise up, Church and say at every baptism: "This one is ours. This one belongs to us. God has a lot of promise riding on this one. This one is set aside for God. We’re calling this one Christian."

Baptism says that not only are we named but that we are owned by God. God keeps what God purchases and on the cross an awesome price was paid. In times of great doubt, when the reformation faltered and seemed about to disintegrate, Martin Luther would sometimes touch his forehead and say to himself, "Martin, be calm, be calm Martin; you are baptized." In those times of our greatest trials, confusion, spiritual dryness, and hopelessness, we might do well to touch our foreheads and remind ourselves who and whose we really are.

In a memorable scene in the Roots series many years ago, Kunta Kinte waits beside the horses while his master attends a ball. While he sits in the buggy he hears other music coming from the slaves’ quarters. Different music. Strange rhythms. His legs practically take him down the path to the little cabins behind the big house. There he sees a man playing African music, the music which he remembered hearing in Africa as a child-music which he had almost forgotten. Kunta Kinte found that the man was from his section of Africa. They talked excitedly in his native language of home and stories. That night Kunte went home changed. He lay upon the dirt floor of his cabin and wept, weeping in sadness because he had almost forgotten; weeping for joy because he had remembered. Slavery and humiliation had almost erased his memory, but the music helped him to remember.

It is easy in the confusion of this life to forget who you are and more importantly, whose you are. So the Church is here to remind you, we are here all of us to remind each other that we have been named and purchased. That someone greater than John the Baptist has claimed us and loves us with a love that will never give up on us. Remember your baptism and be thankful, for this is who you are. Amen.