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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Who Are You?

Date: 01/16/2005

Feast: 2nd s in o

Church: LHPC

James McTyre

Bible text: John 1:29-42

Theme: Identity of Jesus & Self

Who are you? And who is Jesus Christ? More importantly, who is Jesus Christ to you?

John Calvin, who is as close to a patron saint as Presbyterians can get, wrote that all knowledge worth anything comes in two parts: knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern. In the first place, no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he “lives and moves.” For, quite clearly, the mighty gifts with which we are endowed are hardly from ourselves; indeed, our very being is nothing but subsistence in the one God. [Institutes, Book One, Chapter 1]

Dr. David Myers, a writer and psychologist from (appropriately named) Hope College, recently said these things in another way. When asked what he believes is true, even though he can’t prove it, he said this: “As a Christian…, I start with two unproven [ideas]:

1. There is a God.
2. It's not me (and it's also not you).

Together, these [ideas] imply my surest conviction: that some of my beliefs (and yours) contain error. We are, from dust to dust, finite and fallible. We have dignity but not deity.” (Edge.org – the annual edge question, 2005)

John, the man who baptized Jesus the Christ, said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him. But I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

John knew enough about God and enough about himself to be able to say – Here is the Son of God! It’s not me (and it’s also not you). I may not know much (and what I know really doesn’t matter). God let me baptize him so the world might know… who Christ is (and who he is to them).

Who are you? Who is Jesus Christ? And who is Jesus Christ… to you?

If John the Baptist, and John the Calvin, and others are correct, everything – everything of any importance derives from these questions. If you have some idea who you are… if you have some idea who Jesus is… if you have some idea who Jesus Christ is to you… you may not know everything, but you’re on the right track. If you base your life on figuring these things out, your life has meaning and worth. Will this make you the smartest person on the block? Not necessarily. Will this make you rich and good-looking? John the Baptist dressed in animal hair and ate locusts, so probably not. But what you will have is purpose. What you will have is a sense of who you are. What you will have is meaning that transcends the dust you stir in this life. You will have worth in God’s eyes, and a place at God’s table.

You may remember one of the great rock anthems of the 1970s, by a band named (of all things) The Who. Pete Townsend, the writer of the song, a brilliant but troubled soul, smashed out reverberating guitar chords while Roger Daltrey screamed and growled the words as if he were the Grand Inquisitor himself: “WHOOOOO ARE YOU?” And John Entwhistle owlishly echoed in the background, “Who, who, who, who?” (Ah, showing my age.) If you go home from church with that song stuck in your head, well, that’s just far out. The song was right for its age, and it captured the howling anxiety of a lot of young people in a world they weren’t sure how to fit into. Bob Dylan had told us back in the 60’s the times they were a-changin’, and by the 70’s they had. But people change more slowly than the times.

Prophet Isaiah was a poet. And a poet whose words weren’t all that well-received by the establishment. These were the days before windmill power strums and audience dives, but he did do some pretty off-the-wall stuff. “Who is that weird guy?” people no doubt wondered. “Putting wild ideas in the minds of young people.” Isaiah spent years trying to grab the people of Israel and make them deal with one central question: “Who are you?” Are you the people of God? Or not?

And in the 49th chapter, the word of God comes to Isaiah himself. “Do YOU know who YOU are, Isaiah? Do you have a clue? You are my servant. I made you in your mother’s womb. I put you together for one purpose, and one purpose only: to gather up all the scattered people of Israel, to bring my people together, so that I can tell them who they are, and so they will never, ever forget again.”

“But even that’s too small of a thing, Isaiah. My servant will do more. You are going to tell not just Israel that they are mine; you are going to be a light to all the nations. You are going to tell all the world, every race, every kingdom, every people – you ALL are mine. I am your salvation. I am your strength. I am your God. And you shall be my people.”

“That’s who you are, Isaiah. That’s what you were created to do. That’s what you were born to do. That’s what you are called to do.” And in Isaiah’s poetic words there isn’t any teenage anxiety or middle-age crisis angst or old-age regret. What Isaiah thinks isn’t important. It’s as if he becomes transparent before the brilliant light of the Lord. God’s purpose is now Isaiah’s purpose. To know Isaiah is to know God, not because Isaiah as a person is so godly goody-good. But simply because God has chosen him.

And then on the day when John the Baptist sees Isaiah’s prophesies fulfilled, he realizes that God has gone a giant leap farther than even Isaiah dreamed. Because to see Jesus is to see God. To know Jesus is to know God. “There he is!” John shouts. “The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” In the light of Jesus, John becomes transparent. John points to Jesus and his own purpose comes clear. When John sees who Jesus is, John sees himself. When John knows Jesus, John knows himself. Not because he (John) sees a reflection of himself in Jesus, or because he’s anything like Jesus. John sees Jesus and he knows – 1. There is a God. 2. It’s not me.

Who are you? Who is Jesus? And who is Jesus in relation to you?

In one of Woody Allen’s movies, someone says to him, “You just think you’re God.” And his character responds, “Well, I have to model myself after somebody.” In his preaching, Jesus’ most fierce criticism was aimed at the scribes and Pharisees, not because they were impious or because they broke laws. Jesus called them “hypocrites.” That’s what the Greeks called their stage actors. The folks who caught Jesus’ ire were the ones who pretended to model themselves after people or gods they weren’t.

Here in the 21st century, it’s hard to know who you are. We get more information, more images, more advice than we know what to do with. It’s like the Far Side cartoon where the little boy raises his hand and asks his teacher, “Excuse me. May I be excused? My brain is full.” Kids model themselves after Brittney today, Brad and Jen tomorrow (bless their hearts), and who knows who next week. Do we get advice from Dr. Phil, or Dr. Laura, or Dr. Ruth? Should we be seen driving a Hummer, or a Prius? When people have beliefs, ethics and lifestyles that don’t square with ours, should we accept them, reject them, or ignore them? What would the neighbors say? There is no shortage of people and images to model ourselves after. If you like role-playing, then game on.

Isaiah and John found themselves, and found God, when they gave up the search for their own identity, not that they ever worried about that stuff in the first place. Jesus said it plainly to all who would hear, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matt 16:25). Role models are wonderful. But they’re still only models of the real thing. And even modeling the best is still just playing a role.

The New Testament scripture today, when you look at it on its surface, is just a series of introductions. It’s all about saying, “Hello.” John says hello, some of his disciples say hello to Jesus, they tell some others about Jesus and they want to say Hi, too. Jesus says Hey back. But we know the scripture’s more than that. A life of substance begins with the recognition that on our own, we are nothing. On our own we have no purpose beyond ourselves. But once God enters the picture… once we say Hello to Jesus we shake hands with true and lasting meaning. If we only begin to grasp who he is, and what he’s about, we realize how incredibly much God must care about us. We’re somebody special because God makes us somebody. We have worth, you have worth, what you do has worth – because God gives you worth.

The hardest part of this lesson is that God’s worth isn’t meant to be grasped. It’s meant to be shared. And that means shared with everybody and anybody who might be somebody. It wasn’t enough for Isaiah to be prophet to Israel alone. It wasn’t enough for Jesus to be Messiah of the county. God intends this news, this purpose, this relationship to go through ALL the world. Life is intended to be good, because God created it good, and God cares about it well.

I kind of wince when I go into my bank and I see all these posters saying, “It’s all about YOU.” No it isn’t. It’s all about God. But that doesn’t sell IRAs. And rock anthems where the lead singer screams, “Who is Jesus?” don’t get much airplay. Oddly enough, a gracious Hello from the Almighty has always been a hard sell.

Who is Jesus Christ to you? You may be able to say with sure and certain confidence, “I KNOW Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.” Or, you may not be at that point. You are someone to Jesus Christ. And so is the person next to you. And so is the person on the other side of world. Like the disciples in the story, you may not be so sure who Jesus is. And Jesus doesn’t condemn them, or us, for lack of faith and knowledge. Jesus says, “Come and see.”