Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon for Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, "Encounter with Jesus: Jesus and The Woman at the Well," John 4:5-42

Sermon 3/19/17
John 4:5-42

Encounter with Jesus: The Woman at the Well

            I came upon this video of The Woman at the Well many years ago, and it has remained one of my favorite reflections on this passage of scripture. “For to be known is to be loved, And to be loved is to be known. Otherwise what’s the point in doing either one of them in the first place? I WANT TO BE KNOWN. I want someone to look at my face And not just see two eyes, a nose, a mouth and two ears; But to see all that I am, and could be.”
            The gospel of John is the only gospel where we find this passage, and it marks the single longest conversation Jesus has with any individual in the scriptures. Jesus is travelling from place to place and his destination causes him to travel through a Samaritan city. The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along. In fact, that’s putting it mildly. They considered each other enemies, Jews and Samaritans. They had shared religious ancestry, but over the centuries they had divided and come to have deeply different religious beliefs. When John says Jews and Samaritans don’t share things in common, he’s understating. But, Jesus travels through this Samaritan town, and stops at a well.
A Samaritan woman, unnamed like so many women in the Bible, comes to the well, and Jesus asks her to draw him some water to drink. She’s surprised he would address her, an unknown woman, a Samaritan. But Jesus tells her, “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is [that is talking to you], you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman is naturally confused by Jesus’ strange talk. How can he get water without a bucket, she wonders? Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman responds, even if not understanding fully, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus goes on to tell the woman all about herself. He asks her to bring her husband to the well, and she says that she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus responds, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” The woman responds to this saying only, “Sir, I see you are a prophet.” They debate a bit, about their different religious views. Jesus tells her, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth.” The woman says she knows that the Messiah is coming. Jesus says he is the Messiah.
The disciples show up, and Jesus’ one-on-one encounter with the woman comes to an end, but the story doesn’t stop there. The woman leaves her jar at the well, perhaps a sign that she is ready for a more lasting kind of water, and goes to the city, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” Because of her witness, many Samaritans come to be followers of Jesus, and Jesus stays in town longer than planned to be with them.
There are so many parts of this long passage we could focus on, and still just be skimming the surface of this text. It’s hard to process the whole thing. But I found myself this time particularly drawn to the woman’s response to Jesus telling her about her life. Jesus says she has had five husbands, and that the man she is with currently is not her husband. So many interpretations of this text focus on The Woman at the Well as a sexually immoral woman. What kind of woman, especially in the time of Jesus, would have had five spouses? Still, Jesus doesn’t say anything condemning. There doesn’t seem to be any judgment in his words. He’s very direct. He states the truth about her. And yet, somehow, in his words, Jesus says enough for her to feel transformed. When she goes and tells the other in her city about Jesus, she doesn’t tell them about the rest of their long conversation. She just says, “This man told me everything about my life.” Surely, the fact that she was married five times, and living with yet another man would have been common knowledge. Clearly, the woman hears more in Jesus’ words than just the words themselves. Jesus sees her and knows her.
What about us? Does Jesus see us? Know us? For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been sorting through all of my photographs – the ones that I actually have printed out, from the pre-digital era. You see, I bought a certificate that will allow me to get 1000 photos scanned by a service that will then put them all on a disc, so I can have them in a digital format, and share them online, and send them to friends, and do all the other things we like to do with our photos these days. As I was sorting and sorting, I was struck by the change in photography over the years. Of course, there’s the improvement in the quality of our cameras. Today’s images are crisp and sharp, and I have so many piles of pictures that would have been great images if they weren’t dark and blurry. But you know what else is different? So many of my old photos include images where someone’s eyes are closed, or where the shot isn’t centered quite in the right way, or someone’s thumb is in the photo a bit, or you’ve caught someone in an awkward pose or making a funny face or otherwise messing up the perfect photo. Today, I can easily take a dozen photos if I’m trying to capture a moment, and I can delete the eleven versions that aren’t quite right, so that the only one I’ll share is the one that looks perfect. No more eyes closed. No more hairs out of place. No more someone looking the wrong way, at least not with a little extra effort. But I wonder about all the real life we’re deleting in those other photos that never see the light of day. Of course, I want to look my best. But I wonder what it says when we only want to show each other these perfect versions of our lives.
Does God see us? Know us? The non-perfect version of us? Do we want God to see us and know us? I think of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Along with some influence from the serpent, Adam and Eve disobey God’s commands, and they eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And once they eat of it, they become aware that they are naked, and they’re ashamed, and they hide from God. They become acutely aware that God can see them – really see them. And they’re ashamed and scared because of it.
Do we want God to see us and know us? At one of my churches, we studied together the classic work by Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline. In the book, Foster examines several spiritual disciplines, like prayer, worship, solitude, and fasting, and invites readers to try engaging in each practice. My class members did fine – until we got to the chapter on confession. In the chapter, Foster talks about the meaningful impact confessing his sins – not just privately to God – but confessing them to a friend in Christ – has had on his faith journey. He writes, “Confession is a difficult Discipline for us because we all too often view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners. We feel that everyone else has advanced so far into holiness that we are isolated and alone in our sin. We cannot bear to reveal our failures and shortcomings to others. We imagine that we are the only ones who have not stepped onto the high road to heaven. Therefore, we hide ourselves from one another and live in veiled lies and hypocrisy. (145) Foster shares about writing his sins out, one by one, on a sheet of paper, and reading them to a trusted friend and guide. When he was done, he went to put the paper with his confessions back into his briefcase, but his friend took the paper from his hands, ripped it into a hundred tiny pieces, and threw the pieces into the trash can. In this fact, Foster felt overwhelmed with a deep sense of forgiveness. He writes, “We do not have to make God willing to forgive. In fact, it is God who is working to make us willing to seek … forgiveness.” (153)
We do not have to make God willing to forgive us. Do you know that? Believe that? Do you know that God is working to make you ready to seek and receive God’s forgiveness? You do not have to make God willing to forgive you. This is the truth: Jesus already knows you. Jesus can already tell you everything about yourself, even what you’d rather keep hidden. God already knows you. In fact, God created you – every part of you. God knows you inside and out, and love you entirely. Listen to the words of Psalm 139: “For it was you [God] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” God already knows you. Or there are the words from 1 Corinthians – I’ve already told you that they’re some of my favorite: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” God knows us, and knowing us, loves us.
Jesus really saw the woman at the well, and he really knew her. And she wasn’t afraid. She didn’t hide. I think she was relieved, overjoyed that someone finally really knew her. Even thousands of years later, it’s easy for us to tell ourselves we know her story. Married five times! Well, at least we would never do that. Do we stop to ask ourselves why she’d been married so many times? A woman in Jesus’ day could only initiate a divorce in extremely limited circumstances. Or was she widowed? Did she lose more than one spouse to death? Was she considered barren? Did she keep getting offers of water to drink that weren’t the living water of which Jesus spoke? Maybe she was looking for someone who would come to know her fully and still want her, still love her, even after all they knew. Jesus knew this woman, and she was relieved. He didn’t speak with judgment. He told her the truth. He actually took time to speak with her, to spend time with her, to treat her as someone of worth. She was so moved by this, she couldn’t wait to tell others. “He told me everything I have ever done,” she says. And her unspoken words are: “And he still wanted to talk to me.” Jesus saw her, knew her, loved her. She didn’t hide from it, being known. Instead, she let it change her life.
Friends, God already knows you. There is nothing, nothing that you have to hide from God. You don’t have to convince God to forgive you. God is already longing for, working for a deeper relationship with you. What would our lives be like if we let ourselves believe that? What if we remembered, when we are ready to stand in judgment of each other, that God knows that person already too, loves them too. Come and see, friends. Come and see this Jesus, come and see God who knows all about me, and all about you. Amen.  

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon for Second Sunday of Lent, Year A, "Encounter with Jesus: Jesus and Nicodemus," John 3:1-17

Sermon 3/12/17
John 3:1-17

Encounter with Jesus: Jesus and Nicodemus

            When I was little, the small country church I went to in Westernville had a big emphasis in Sunday School on memorizing Bible verses. Every week we’d spend some time going over verses, and in the older classes, we’d actually get 5 cents for every verse we could memorize. I was certainly inspired by promise of such riches, and could memorize quite a lot of verses! Today we don’t focus so much on memorizing verses, which has some pros and cons – a single verse taken out of context doesn’t always do you much good, and in fact, can lead you to wrong conclusions when you don’t know the rest of what’s happened in a passage. Remember, just last week we read about Satan quoting scripture verses to Jesus, which didn’t mean a lot to Jesus taken out of context. Well, you may not know many Bible verses by heart, but if you know any, John 3:16 is probably on your list. You might even know it in the way you learned it as a child – in the King James Version. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Yet, even though we know that verse so well, here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about – do you know the context? How do we hear these words? What happens before and after they’re said?
            Today, we’re listening in on an encounter between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, an interpreter and scholar of the Law of Moses. And not just a Pharisee, but Nicodemus was a leader among the Pharisees. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, which was kind of a Supreme Court, a group of high-ranking judges. So, Nicodemus is a person of some stature in the community. John’s gospel tells us that Nicodemus comes to Jesus “by night.” John uses themes of light and dark a lot in his gospel, so the time of day here is significant. Nicodemus perhaps doesn’t want anyone to know what he is doing. Jesus and the Pharisees were often at odds with each other over how to interpret and implement the words of scripture, and increasingly, leaders among the Pharisees view Jesus as a threat. Nicodemus wants to talk to Jesus himself, but he’s not ready to be out in the open about it.
            Nicodemus address Jesus as a teacher, a sign of respecting his authority. “Rabbi,” he says, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Nicodemus’s admissions are significant. He and his colleagues know who Jesus is, he says. They believe he is from God. They’ve seen evidence in the signs Jesus has done that have convinced them that Jesus is from God. Nicodemus doesn’t ask Jesus any questions, but Jesus responds as if he had nonetheless. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Jesus says. Nicodemus and other leaders might recognize that Jesus is from God, has God’s presence with him, but that’s not the same as experiencing the kingdom of God, God’s reign, God’s vision for the earth coming to fruition, which is the focus of Jesus’ ministry. Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying though. He takes his words too literally “How can someone be born after growing old?” he asks. “Can someone enter their mother’s womb again to be born anew?” He doesn’t get what Jesus is saying. So Jesus elaborates, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” He continues, saying: Don’t be astonished that I said that you have to be born from above. The Spirit is like the wind: you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it goes, but you hear it, and feel it moving. The Spirit works in the same way. That’s what it means to be born from above, born of water and Spirit. Nicodemus still doesn’t understand. “How can these things be?” he wonders. In turn, Jesus wonders that one who is meant to be a teacher and interpreter of the law can’t understand what he’s saying. Jesus concludes, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
So, what’s this Jesus mentions about Moses lifting up the serpent? His words are strange if you don’t know the context. Jesus is talking about something we can find in the book of Numbers, chapter 21, this story of the bronze serpent. The Israelites were still wandering in the desert, on their forty year journey to the Promised Land. They were complaining again to God and Moses about food and water. This is something that happens repeatedly on their journey from slavery to freedom. These passages are known as the “murmurings,” although I wonder if “mutterings” would be a more apt description. The Israelites are on their way to the land God has promised, and they’re on their way from a terrible life of slavery and oppression. God has been coming through on every promise God has made to them. And yet, whenever things get difficult, they complain, muttering and murmuring about their plight. 
This particular time when they start complaining, poisonous snakes are sent among the people. The snakes would bite the people, and the people would die. The people understood these snakes to be a punishment on them from God. So finally, they come to Moses and confess their sinfulness, and ask Moses for help. Moses prays for the people, and he hears God’s voice, telling him to create a serpent out of bronze that would be fixed to a pole. The passage concludes, “Whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” I find this story kind of bizarre. Making a bronze snake seems like a strange solution, a strange cure for these snake bites. But this strange sequence of events makes them look their fear and sin and mutterings right in the face. The snake has become a symbol of their turning away from God, and they have to look that right in the face in order to experience healing. The Israelites need to believe and trust in their relationship with God and God’s promises to them, and as they look their sin in the face, they experience reconciliation and life.
That brings us back to Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” In the Greek, the word “lifted up” is actually the same as the word “crucified.” Just as the Israelites looked their sin in the face in order to live, so too we look at Jesus, face to face, raised up in offering his life for ours, and so too we look our sin in the face, our turning away from God, that we might live. And that’s what Jesus wants for us: that we might live, that we might have eternal life – that we might live completely in God’s kingdom, that we might experience God’s vision for us in all its fullness, that we might be born anew in the full potential that God wants for us and for our world. Nicodemus knows that Jesus is a teacher, and knows that he’s from God, that God’s presence is in Jesus. But does he “get” the heart of what Jesus is trying to tell him?
I was always a good student throughout school. I wasn’t always a vegan, or even vegetarian, but even still, I didn’t want to take biology and dissect animals, and so in tenth grade, when most of my peers were taking biology, I signed up for physics. Most of the rest of the tenth graders who chose the physics over biology wanted to become engineers and were trying to get a jump start on the classes they’d need so they could get an AP physics class in before we graduated. For me, physics was the most math-centric, something I liked, so I thought I would enjoy it. Indeed, I did get good grades in physics, mostly because of the math. Math always made sense to me. You follow rule one and rule two and you get the right answer. At one point, my teacher even called my parents to suggest to them that I should consider a career in the sciences. But I knew better. Yes, I could get the right answers because I could memorize the formulas and I could apply the formula in the right situation to get the right answer. But physics made me feel in a way that I hadn’t in any other class that I really didn’t understand the why of what we were talking about. I could get the right answer, but I didn’t really understand why thing work like they do. The concepts didn’t really make sense to me. And even if I didn’t understand the concepts, I did know that really being a scientist would mean knowing more than how to get the right answer.
            Sometimes, when it comes to our journey of discipleship, we can get hung up on believing and knowing in ways that miss the mark a bit. We can believe an awful lot of things about Jesus, about God, about the Bible, about faith. We can know a lot of things about Jesus. We could recite some creeds, or share some facts, or affirm, “I believe Jesus is my Savior.” Those things are important and have their place, just like knowing the formula is important in physics. But it won’t get you very far if that’s all you have. We need to shift our focus from “believing in Jesus” to “believing Jesus,” from “knowing about Jesus” to “knowing Jesus.” Nicodemus knew about Jesus. But he hadn’t yet come to know Jesus. He was a scholar, and yet his faith was immature, because his life hadn’t yet been transformed by his relationship with God, by his encounter with Jesus. I think of him, and then I think of the disciples: they weren’t scholars. They didn’t know what Nicodemus did. But they knew Jesus, and they left everything to follow him.
            Nicodemus sort of fades out from this encounter with Jesus. We don’t how Nicodemus responds, at least immediately, to what he hears from Jesus. Clearly Jesus’ words have overwhelmed him, and the scriptures record no response. What we do see in the gospels is Nicodemus appearing later – first when the Pharisees are urging action against Jesus, and Nicodemus reminds them that the law doesn’t condemn people without giving them a trial first. And then, after Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus assists Joseph of Arimathea with Jesus’ burial. So we know that Nicodemus doesn’t immediately drop his nets, so to speak, to follow Jesus. But it seems like something might be sinking in by degrees. I hope eventually Nicodemus let himself know Jesus, and know new, transforming life in the Spirit, in God’s kingdom.
            What about us, friends? What conversations do we bring to Jesus by night? What do we see in Jesus, as he is raised up, and we look at him face to face? And what does Jesus see in us? I pray that we will let Jesus draw is into the light, that we might not just know about him, but know him, and be known by him, as our lives become new creations, transformed by God’s love. Amen.      

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Sermon for First Sunday in Lent, Year A, "Encounter with Jesus: Jesus and Satan," Matthew 4:1-11

Sermon 3/5/17
Matthew 4:1-11

Encounter with Jesus: Jesus and Satan

            This Lent, our theme is Encounter with Jesus. Each week, we’ll be looking at some one-on-one conversations that Jesus has with folks – Nicodemus, the woman at the well, Martha of Bethany – and even, today, Satan. And as we listen in on each of these conversations, we’ll have a chance to put ourselves into the conversation. When we encounter Jesus, what does he have to say to us? What do we have to say to him? What is he calling us to do? Or maybe an even more basic question: Do we encounter Jesus? If not, why aren’t we meeting him?
            Today we start by listening in on a conversation between Jesus and Satan. In the lectionary, the three year cycle of scripture texts for the church year, Lent always begins with what is known as “the temptation of Jesus.” The scene from Matthew takes place immediately after the baptism of Jesus. We read about Jesus’ baptism together in January. Remember, Jesus is baptized by John, and as he emerges from the Jordan, the Spirit of God descends on him like a dove, and God’s voice says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We move directly from Jesus’ baptism to Jesus’ time in the wilderness, being tempted by Satan. The text says that Jesus was in the wilderness fasting for forty days and nights, and that at the end of this period he was unsurprisingly famished. I always pictured the wilderness as a kind of wild forest place, but actually the word means desert. Jesus is alone in a desert place, a desolate place, for forty days. Scholars have sometimes disagreed about whether or not Jesus was literally in the wilderness for forty days, and they’ve debated over whether he was truly and completely fasting from food or water that whole time, something that would surely be impossible for any mere human, but I think those questions are missing the point. The number forty in the scriptures is laden with meaning. The flood lasted forty day and nights. The Israelites were in the wilderness with Moses, seeking the Promised Land for forty years. Jesus is in the desert for forty days and nights. It means he was there a long time. And so our season of Lent is also shaped around forty days. Lent is a way we commit to walking with Jesus, trying to join him in this wilderness place and in his longer journey of heading resolutely to Jerusalem and the cross. We begin Lent with this text so that we can begin our walk with Jesus.
            Matthew tells us that the Spirit – the Spirit that just marked Jesus at his baptism – the Spirit leads him to the wilderness to be tempted. This experience, this encounter with Satan, is as much a part of his preparation for his public ministry as his baptism was. Not until after these forty days apart will Jesus begin preaching and teaching. After the forty days, when I can only imagine he is exhausted, physically drained, and emotionally raw and vulnerable, Satan comes to him. The text doesn’t describe Satan, and the Bible as a whole offers a lot of different interpretations of Satan. Whatever form comes to your mind, Satan’s purpose is to separate us from God. I’m suspicious of any time we try to use a concept of Satan to remove the responsibility for our sins from ourselves to something else, as in “the Devil made me do it.” But I certainly believe that there are many forces that seek to separate us from God, both within us and around us. Again, focusing too much on the form of Satan misses the point. The point is that Jesus experiences in this encounter three temptations, three opportunities to turn away from the path he’s about to travel.
First, Satan encourages a famished Jesus to turn stones into bread to eat. “If you are the Son of God,” Satan says, and you can almost hear the heavy emphasis on the if, the doubt laced into the words. Jesus responds with scripture: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Then Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem, and tells him to throw himself down “if you are the Son of God,” “for it is written,” he says, “’He will command his angels concerning you.’” Satan quotes scripture right back at Jesus, taking words out of context, using them to cause harm. Jesus is not taken in. “It is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” he responds. Finally, Satan takes him to a high mountain, overlooking the kingdoms of the world, promising them all to Jesus if Jesus will worship him. Jesus rebukes him: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God; serve only God.’” Defeated, Satan leaves Jesus alone at last.
            What is the meaning of these tests that Jesus faces? Satan urges Jesus to believe that he can’t depend on God, that God won’t give him enough, that Jesus needs more, and has to take it when he can get it. He tries to convince Jesus to test God, to believe that he can’t trust God or God’s love. He tempts Jesus with power, to believe that he needs power of a particular kind – earthly power, power over others, power that comes from being in charge of everything. And yet, I don’t know why any of these things would be particularly tempting for Jesus. Jesus seems to so easily knock down what Satan throws his way. Is he really tempted to say otherwise? To take him up on any of these offers? I can read this passage and almost think, “Gosh, I could have avoided those temptations too!” It seems so easy to see through the motivations of the devil. It seems so clear that Jesus must and will refuse these sham offers of fame and glory and fortune. Did this “temptation” really cost Jesus, or stress him, or push him, or bring him great pain? Was he teetering on the brink of giving in? I don’t see it. I’m skeptical. And yet, for the gospel writers, the passage is clearly important. What are we missing?
Satan doesn’t ask Jesus to do anything that it is outside of his power to do already. The devil encourages Jesus to turn stones into bread for food. Well, we witness in the scriptures Jesus turning water into wine and Jesus feeding crowds of thousands. The devil tells Jesus that he will give Jesus glory and authority over the kingdoms of the world if Jesus worships the devil. But Jesus speaks occasionally of knowing that if God had chosen, Jesus could have been an earthly king with kingdoms to rule – he wouldn’t need this power from the devil. And the devil tells Jesus to test God’s love and care for him, but Jesus has just come from hearing God say directly at his baptism that Jesus was God’s beloved son, that God was well-pleased with him.
So these temptations aren’t tempting because Jesus can’t do them without the devil’s help. They are tempting to Jesus in a different, deeper way. Remember, I said that Satan is what or who tries to separate us from God. And remember that repeated phrase that Satan speaks to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God…” Satan wants to separate Jesus from who he belongs to, and he tries to do it by making Jesus have an identity crisis. What the devil offers is what Jesus already has and already can do, but in a short-cut way that corrupts and twists. What the devil asks Jesus to do is to forget who he is, what he is called to do, whose child he is, what his purpose is. Jesus knows what he’s come for – but the devil is trying to convince him that he can get the same things in a supposedly easier way. Satan is trying to convince Jesus that there’s an easier path to power and glory than the path God has him on. After all, the path Jesus is on includes being abandoned, denied and betrayed by his closest friends, being beaten and tried, and being put to death. Shouldn’t Jesus choose his own path, his plan, instead of God’s? And that is tempting. Satan wants to cut Jesus off from his source, from his true identity, from the grounding he has in his parent, in God who has set him on this difficult path. Thankfully, Jesus knows better. He knows who he is, whose he is. He belongs to God. He is beloved. He is God’s child. And he will follow God’s path.
What about us? Are we tempted to forget our identity? Can we be separated from God, forgetting whose we are? Here is a temptation that seems very real, very hard, ever present. There are so many things that seek to separate us from who we belong to. David Lose writes, “I would argue that temptation is not so often temptation toward something … but rather is usually the temptation away from something – namely, our relationship with God and the identity we receive in and through that relationship ... On one level, we experience specific temptations very concretely, but on another they are all the same, as they seek to shift our allegiance, trust, and confidence away from God and toward some substitute that promises a more secure identity … Consider the media barrage of advertising to which most of us are so regularly subjected. Nine times out of ten the goal of such ads is to create in us a sense of lack and inadequacy, followed by the implicit promise that purchasing the advertised product will relieve our insecurity … People are under assault every single day by tempting messages that seek to draw their allegiance from the God who created and redeemed them toward some meager substitute.” (1)
Lose writes, “You only know who you are when you realize whose you are …Our identity comes from the people with whom we hang out and is always received, rather than created. It comes, that is, always as a gift and a promise. And that’s why it’s so important to [remember] that you only know who you are when you realize whose you are.” (2) Who we are, dear friends, are God’s beloved children. That’s who we are. Don’t be tempted to let anything get in between you and that knowledge.
            I’ve been encouraging folks to make a special effort to attend worship and to attend some of the “extra” experiences of worship and community that Lent brings because remembering who and whose we are is easier when we ground ourselves in our faith, ground ourselves in our relationship with God, ground ourselves in the community of faith that is supporting us, encouraging us, trying to walk with Jesus too, like we are. The best thing we can do to resist the lure of separating ourselves from God, forgetting our own identity, is to make sure we stay firmly rooted in God, so that whenever something tries to separate us from God, we’ll be far too secure in God’s promises to be drawn away. Jesus knew who he was and whose he was. Let’s make sure we know too. Amen.

(1) David Lose,

(2) Emphasis added. Lose, David,