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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
July 24 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Audience participation. How do you identify yourself? At home – put your answers in the chat. But in here, out loud. How do you identify yourself? If someone were to ask, “Who are you?” – after you tell them your name, how do you answer? Not, “What do you do?” but “Who are you?”
Last week, one of the questions that Pastor Paul asked you was to recall the people who helped you become who you are. Who are they? How did they teach you to become who you are? What are some of the things they did? What are the things you hold onto today from them and teach to others?
Our identity is important, right? It shapes how we interact with other people, with the world at-large. It shapes how we respond to current events and to people who are in crisis. And while parts of our identity might change throughout our lives, the core part of who we are tends to remain constant.
So, one more question, as people of faith who or what is our core?
Yes, Jesus. At the end of the day, Jesus is the core of who we are, he is at the center of our lives individually and as a congregation. He is the source of our identity, always. And, ideally, we’re aware enough of that that he’s always at the center of what we do and the decisions we make, particularly as a faith community.
But there are things in our world that compete for that center spot, aren’t there? Not just in our individual lives, but in our life together as a faith community. And as a faith community, maintaining an identity rooted in Jesus isn’t a new struggle.
We hear about that in scripture, and it’s the main theme in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. That letter is all about Jesus’ identity and the faith community’s identity in Jesus. Because the community, the early church at Colossae, was being bombarded with false teachings about the gospel almost every day.
These false teachings included things like: in order to follow Jesus, you gotta stick to a strict set of rules – and that means observing certain days on the calendar; you can eat this but not that; you have to deprive yourself in this way. And the problem with all of these teachings is that they’re rooted in a philosophy that views the human body as being inferior to the soul and spirituality, and it’s a form of idolatry.
It sought to bump God out of the center of people’s faith and put itself in God’s place. In effect, it said that these teachings were more important than God. So idolatry was as much a threat to the church then as it is today. Paul’s main concern here was that this particular idolatry went against the incarnation, which is foundational in the Christian faith.
So Paul took that idol apart by reminding the believers that God became human and was fully embodied in Jesus, and that Jesus’ followers participate in that fullness through him. In other words, Paul reminded them that Jesus is embodied in those who believe in him.
And that embodiment is the source of identity for those who believe in him, and it’s what keeps people rooted in Jesus and in their faith in him. And that rootedness creates stability and a foundation that sets the way Jesus’ disciples live their lives.
When we talk about being Jesus’ disciples and what that looks like in our lives, there’s a tendency to focus on action and the things we do as we live a life of service for the sake of others. And that’s important. But it’s just as important to remember that we’re called to simply live in such a way that our lives are a response to Jesus’ love for us.
What that means is that our actions – whether they’re service, worship, or prayer – aren’t just empty gestures that we do because Jesus expects it of us. But that they come from the foundation he sets in us, which roots us in Christ’s teachings and in his love.
It’s a way of living that turns us away from human tradition and a human way of thinking, and turns us toward God and God’s way of thinking. It’s a life of conscious trust that’s based in God’s love for each one of us and keeps God at the center.
I am on I-don’t-know-how-many email lists, and some of them offer suggestions for how to make our congregation bigger and better and flashier. Telling me that we just “gotta do this” and then people will come pouring in. Or that we just “gotta do that” and people’s faith will grow exponentially. And it’s easy and we’ll see the results in a heartbeat.
What’s troubling about these ads is that they say these are the things we should want. And it’s implied that if we don’t want those things, or if we don’t achieve them, then we aren’t good enough.
Fear is what drives that. And fear is probably the most powerful idol we face as a congregation.
And this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t want better. But as a congregation, if we want “better” we need to be able to define what that is for ourselves in terms of our mission and ministry. That is, how can we do better in our mission and ministry while still being true to who we are and who Jesus is?
Because when we don’t take the time to figure that out, it’s easy to find ourselves chasing after what someone else has said is the “next best thing” and lose sight of Jesus altogether.
And when that happens, Jesus gets bumped out of the center of our faith and fear is there in his place. And the temptation to let that happen, to live with fear at the center of who we are instead of Jesus, is really overwhelming sometimes.
And when it happens, we aren’t able to live our lives in Jesus. We aren’t able to extend compassion and mercy and grace and forgiveness to others, let alone to ourselves.
The foundation that Jesus sets in us isn’t based on the things that we do or don’t do. It isn’t based on how well we honor tradition, or respond to social pressure or threats. It’s rooted in Jesus himself. And Jesus the strongest foundation we could ever have. No contest.
As our foundation, the source of our identity, Jesus turns us away from human tradition and a human way of thinking, and turns us toward God and God’s way of thinking. And even in the face of fear, it allows us to live a life of conscious trust that’s rooted in Christ’s love for each of us.
A couple of more questions. What are the things that help you remember Jesus is your foundation, the source of your identity? Who are the people that help you remember that?
The foundation that Jesus sets in each one of us, the embodiment of Jesus in us, dismantles every idol that the world seeks to put into the center of our lives. Whether it’s fear, or anger, or another person’s claims about what he or she can do, the embodiment of Jesus in us roots us in his teachings and his love and puts him at the center of our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.