Our Ultimate Identity

January 22, 2017

Our Ultimate Identity

Matthew 4:12-22

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—

the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Change your hearts and lives! The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

One day as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Be in agreement with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be united in the same mind and the same purpose. My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 

Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else. Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with eloquent words, so that the cross of Christ won’t be emptied of its meaning.

* * * * *

Last week Trip introduced the word “Adulting” as the theme of our sermon series on 1 Corinthians. It’s a word I’ve actually heard a lot, but that’s probably because I live with a 20 year old and a 23 year old. It’s such a great word. And the definition Trip found is perfect: 

‘The act of engaging in responsible actions and tasks that make you feel like a real adult.”

1 Corinthians is a book that says a lot about what it means to be grown-up in Christ, to act like a responsible Christian. What the baby Christians in the new church in Corinth discovered is that maturity can be really hard. I’m with them; I just hate that, too. Why can’t it be simpler and easier? 

Oh, right. Then it wouldn’t be Adulting. 

Growing up isn’t easy, and growing up in faith isn’t easy, either. 

There were a lot of issues in Corinth, but right off the bat Paul addresses the one at the very core. It didn’t have to do with behavior, it had to do with identity. Paul was trying to create Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ; instead what devolved were factions. “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Peter,” “I belong to Paul.” As if it were a smorgasbord and you chose what you liked best. “No,” Paul says. “You belong to Christ, or this has no meaning at all.” 

It’s a matter of identity. Is our ultimate identity as followers of Jesus, or do we find our meaning somewhere else? 

Now, personal identity is complicated, and it’s an evolving mix. When we talk about our identity, it usually involves a lot of intersecting spheres of meaning. 

* One is relational: I’m a mother, I’m divorced, I have a sister and brothers, I’m an aunt. 

* Another is heritage: I’m Armenian and German, and my Armenian side likes to think we’re exotic and different, and my German side likes hard-nosed practicality. 

* Another sphere is occupation: I’m a pastor, my dad was a dentist, my son’s a musician, my niece is a librarian. 

* It could be affiliations: Some of you are Rotarians, or Masons, or belong to PEO or Kiwanis. 

* It may be political: both the people celebrating Friday’s inauguration and those cheering Saturday’s march experienced a powerful sense of identity. 

You see what I’m getting at: identity is this complex mix of affiliations and relationships and communities and work and passion that changes and evolves over time.

But what’s at the core of who we are? 

You belong to Christ, Paul would say. You belong to him. And all of the affiliations and relationships you have, all of them are penultimate to this. 

I think about the first disciples, leaving their boats and their nets and even their family behind to follow Jesus. For them it was dramatic, this decision to follow him. It’s easy to see how they made every other part of their identity secondary to this one purpose. For us it’s a lot murkier, to be sure; we’re still at the lake fishing, if you will, living with our families, trying to make a living, involved in our communities. And we should be; we’re supposed to be. 

But all of it – all of it – is penultimate to belonging to Christ. 

Having a fully-formed identity is part of what it means to be an adult. We know who we are, and what we believe, and what we stand for, and what it is we’re willing to put our lives on the line for. 

But what Paul insists on is that all of it is shaped by Christ. 

I am a descendent of the proud Chakoian clan – but I belong to Christ.

I am affiliated with a political party – but I belong to Christ. 

I am devoted to my family – but I belong to Christ. 

I work as a Presbyterian pastor – but I belong to Christ. 

Over the next few weeks we’ll dive more deeply into what that means, as we hear Paul’s teachings to the church in Corinth about what it means to be mature in Christ, which often means rejecting the things the world values. We’ll hear how “Adulting” means

* valuing humility instead of arrogance, 

* cultivating compassion and generosity of spirit instead of self-absorption,

* and creating community instead of competition.  

In the meantime, we’re about to ordain and install leaders for our congregation. And I for one am incredibly grateful for these men and women who said “yes” to Christ’s call, and for their deep commitment to belong to Christ above all else. What was true in Corinth in Paul’s day is as true today in Granville: we need adults in the room to be a healthy congregation. 

Thank God we have them. Thank God.