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Second Sunday after Epiphany                        _    John1:43-51                      January 14, 2018

Most of us at some point in our lives have had our refrigerators decorated with children's drawings. The really wonderful ones are the family pictures where the sun is shining, mom and dad are twice as big as the house and the family dog "Rover" has a great big smile on his face. Sometimes, when our children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews get on a roll, we just might wind up with enough drawings to paper our entire home! When there is an appreciative audience, children love to draw and the only limits on their creative energy is their imagination.
Another thing about children's drawings is that they can be very powerful statements about a child's identity. I ran across a story the other day that involved a social worker at a family treatment center who asked a little boy named Eric to draw a picture of his family. The boy's father was half way through a 30-day residential treatment program. In the boy’s picture, it was raining. Mom was taller than the house and dad was shorter than both mom and the house. A sister was holding mom's hand. There were no smiles on the faces. And it seemed the boy was missing from the picture. The social worker said, "This is a very nice picture Eric. I see mom and dad and sister, but I don't see you. Why isn't Eric in the picture?" The boy pointed to a small black scribble in the corner of the drawing and said, "There I am!" The social worker and all who witnessed this conversation became misty eyed when Eric spoke those words. The issue of identity for this child will be a life long struggle.
Can you imagine feeling like a small black scribble in the wider picture of your life? Sadly, I suspect, many of us can or have related to this at some point in life. Our struggle may not be quite so horrendous as that young boy’s, but no one escapes the inner question; "Who am I -- really?"
I had a parishioner from a previous congregation who after he retired struggled with his new found identity or perceived lack of identity. I remember him telling me about in his life prior to retirement--he was responsible for overseeing and managing a huge budget and over a hundred employees and staff. But now, now that he was retired his only responsibility was making sure the garbage was on the end of the driveway by Thursday morning. He was struggling and searching for a new meaningful identity.
In this first chapter of John’s Gospel we encounter some very strong statements about identity. It is quite clear on the identity of Jesus -- and if we will look closely – this Good News contains persuasive clues about our personal identity. In the verses prior to today’s reading we encounter the heart of John's passage--the amazing declaration about the person of Jesus. This is not just another religious "wannabe" who has come upon the scene. John the Baptist, who has turned religious Jerusalem on its ear and rattled Herod's household with his preaching, makes an assertion that compels a response.
Think about it. John says, "This is the Son of God." If John is not seriously mistaken and the gospel of John is not involved in some serious fiction, then the identity of Jesus is absolutely germane to the issue of your identity and mine. Listen closely to what John says about Jesus. He is: + The Lamb of God + The Son of God + The Messiah
The most amazing statement is, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
Here's how this impacts your identity -- and mine. Sin is anything that keeps a person from becoming everything God designed them to be. Most of us think about sin in terms of breaking the Ten Commandments or violating all the laws of God. And indeed, there is commandment and law breaking in sin -- but the heart of sin is that it keeps me from everything God made me to be. Jesus, according to John's statement, takes away that which keeps me from becoming everything God wants for my life. (Even if it's something I'd rather hang on to!)
How important is the identity of Jesus? Congregational pastor and author Martin Copenhaver tells about a conversation that challenged his view of Jesus. "An early conversation with a feminist friend was a turning point. With passion and no small hint of exasperation, she said to me, 'If Jesus is just another wise teacher; I have no interest at all. I'll be dammed if I'm going to let another man tell me how to live my life! If he is not the Son of God, God's Chosen One, the Messiah, then forget about it!' Her words expressed a conviction that began to overtake me.' " [Christian Century, 10/14/98, p,938]
If John the Baptist was even close to the truth, the identity of Jesus is very much a part of discovering who we are. It will be helpful to take a quick look at how Jesus' identity impacted those who encountered him in the gospel lesson.
If you could sit John the Baptist down and ask, "Who are you?" -- the answer would come quickly, "I am a herald. I came to point to someone else. I was sent to prepare people for and point them to the Messiah." John's identity was grounded in who he was in relation to Jesus Christ and the clear purpose God had for his life. Because he was secure in his identity and relationship with Christ, he did not trip over his own ego.
Andrew (brother of Peter) is one of John's disciples who left John to follow Jesus the moment he heard John say Jesus was the "Lamb of God," he was gone. If you could interview Andrew about his identity, you would have to ask your questions on the run because after discovering who Jesus was, Andrew was forever after on the go! After spending a bit of time with Jesus, Andrew can't wait to find his brother Simon. "Have I got news for you!" he said to his brother, then he brings his brother to Jesus. Once Andrew came to know Jesus, he didn't sit around and ask a lot of introspective questions about who he was. In relationship with Christ, he found new purpose. The only information we have about Andrew comes from John's gospel where all three instances that mention him have to do with Andrew bringing someone to Jesus.
In today’s reading Jesus encounters and invites Philip to follow him, and as a result of this invitation, Philip seeks out his friend Nathaniel and extends the ultimate evangelism tool: “Come and see!” While Nathaniel might have been a bit skeptical at first, he in turns make the bold confession of Jesus’ identity:
· Rabbi
· Son of ! God
· King of Israel
Jesus has that effect once we move from knowing about him to actually knowing and experiencing his love and grace. It is clear that the lives of everyone in our text were shaped by their relationship to Christ.
Does that hold true for us? Today? Many people have the sense of "that was then -- this is now" when it comes to New Testament times and New Testament people. Face it. I'm no John the Baptist or Simon Peter or Philip and I live in a different world. What does all of this have to do with discovering who I am today? There is a strong message in today's gospel reading that transcends time and place. We can discover ourselves in the presence of Christ. What are the first three things that come to mind when I ask the question, "Who are you?" Right off the top of your head. "Who are you?" Did you think of your name? Your occupation? Did you by any chance answer, “I am a child of God!"
As with John, Andrew and Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel we will discover most fully who we are in relationship with the God who made us. At the heart of today’s gospel reading is the gracious invitation to “Come and see.” On a deeper level this invitation encourages us to come and be. Be what God has called you. Be the person the world needs. Be all you can be. Be the beloved child of God.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if young children like Eric could have a deep sense within that says, "I am a child of God." Instead of, "I'm a little black scribble." There is value and hope and comfort in knowing who I am in relationship to Christ. When I see myself in light of my relationship of love with the One who made the universe, I gain courage to disregard the identity other people want to hang on me. Eric didn't become a scribble by himself. Eric will need love and care and help to get a new identity.
I pray to God that someone will point Eric to the One who made him and that he will discover who he is in the arms of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! I pray that you too, by the grace of God, will discover who you are -- in Christ! Amen

Pastor Stephen Blenkush

Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353

Love like Jesus!

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