Remember Whose You Are
Topic: Biblical Verse: 1 John 3:1–3:1, Luke 4:1–4:13, Deuteronomy 26:1–26:11
First Sunday in Lent[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
1 John 3:1 (Luke 4:1-13; Deuteronomy 26:1-11)
“Go and Be Reconciled: Remember Whose You Are”
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
I’ve got this mirror here that comes in handy. It does a pretty good job of showing me what I need to see when I use it to shave my head – which can be a bit tricky sometimes. I’ve got to hold it out and angle it so that I catch the view from yet another mirror. And even after years of doing so, it’s still a little odd to see the back of my head. That’s not how I’m used to seeing myself.
What about you? Do you see yourself when you look in a mirror? Or do you see yourself in some way that doesn’t quite match with your outward appearance?
What defines your identity? What is it that tells you who you are? Is there some intrinsic attribute that helps you understand your relationship to everything else, or does something from the outside give you that guidance?
In America today, our culture seems to be obsessed with identity. Whatever identity you claim – or whatever identity others see you with – shapes your relationships, your connections to community and the world at large. Gender identity, racial identity, political identity, topics such as these that may once have been taken for granted now seem to be in flux. And people that identify with a different group, another identity, can often fall into strained relationships or, even worse, outright conflict.
What defines your identity?
Do you live under “the tyranny of the self?” Are you enslaved to what people put on you from outside, or what you put on yourself? Generally speaking, our society values the concept of the importance of the self, even though, in practice, our interactions with each other fall short when our “selves” don’t see eye to eye. In practice, we get broken relationships and unhealthy self-image. Each self is naturally holding itself up as first and foremost in our relationships, each of us inclined to look for the means by which we could have things go favorably for us. It’s been this way since Adam and Eve doubted God and ate the forbidden fruit. That’s when conflict entered the world.
Ever since Adam and Eve hid from God, then Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent, our relationships have been broken. We live with this discord between people because sin separated us from God and from each other. Conflict is part of life as we know it. Conflict can get bad – really, really bad. And even if conflict fades, that doesn’t mean that life is restored to the way it should be.
In this penitential season of Lent, we’re going to explore what God does to bring reconciliation into the lives of His people in this broken world. In one sense, reconciliation is the opposite of conflict. It’s not simply the cessation of hostilities. Reconciliation brings a restoration of relationship. It heals that which was broken. Forces that were in opposition can once again be together in harmony. For real reconciliation to take place, something greater than the self needs to act.
On this first weekend in Lent, we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Aside from Luke’s report of Jesus’ genealogy – his identity as the supposed son of Joseph – this episode in Jesus’ life is place right after his baptism. The devil challenges Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, the same identity that the voice of the Father from heaven had confirmed only 40 days earlier at the Jordan River. Jesus responds to the devil’s temptations, rejecting them, setting aside his own hunger and his glory. You see, Jesus knows his own identity. He knows who he is. He knows whose he is.
We Lutheran Christians tend to emphasize the importance of Holy Baptism. (“Holy Baptism.” It’s even right there in the name of the sacrament!) But why is Baptism so important? First as foremost, it’s God’s work to declare you as His child. He does it all. I often tell baptismal candidates and their sponsors and families that “God does the heavy lifting” with the baptismal rite. But that’s not the whole story. God does all the lifting. He’s the full moving crew. You, as the one being baptized, don’t even have to get up off the couch. He moves the couch with you still on it! And He brings you into His home. He says you are His, and that’s who you are.
You are given a new identity in Baptism. You’ve been taken out from death in sin to new life in Christ Jesus. This new identity comes from outside of you, as a gift. And nothing can take this gift away from you. God has declared that you have worth to Him, so much worth that He became like you.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” These words speak volumes. This is the quantity and quality of God’s love for you, that He makes you to be His own. He gives us more than we could ever deserve. What are the lengths to which God goes to bring reconciliation into our broken lives and our broken world? Look to the cross.
You are God’s own child because Jesus has welcomed you in as his friend, as his sibling. No other identity is worth as much. Look back to today’s first reading from Deuteronomy 26. As His people were entering into the Promised Land, God called the Hebrews to continually remember their identity as His chosen people. It would be foundational for everything else in their new life in this, their new home. It’s the same for us today. God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus, and that changes how we get to live.
Your identity as a baptized child of God is the cornerstone for all reconciliation. Because God has reconciled you to Himself in Christ (the “vertical”), you can have reconciliation with all for whom Christ died (the “horizontal”) – and that’s everybody. The forgiveness that’s at the core of reconciliation is only truly possible because you have forgiveness through Jesus. And the restoration of broken relationships that reconciliation brings only happens because something outside of the self is stepping in to bind up what was broken – just what Jesus does for us.
As we journey through Lent, we confess our faith that Jesus is the Son of God who lived, died, and rose so that we could be reconciled with our Father in heaven. We confess our identity as Christians, followers and disciples of Christ. This is who you are, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 10. And this is whose you are. You are saved – brought into restored relationship with God – because of the lengths that He has gone to bring you back and reconcile you to Himself?
So how does reconciliation play out in the lives of God’s people? Sorry – you’re going to have to come back to hear that. We’ll continue our focus of “Go And Be Reconciled” each weekend throughout Lent. We’re also exploring this theme during our education hour at 9:30a each Sunday morning, diving into particular topics (such as Anger, Bitterness, Confession, Forgiveness, etc.) to learn how God’s Word brings reconciliation where it’s needed. Come along with us!
Through this season of Lent, we’ve placed the baptismal font at the entrance to the space where God brings us together for worship. Whenever you come in or whenever you leave – or both, even – take a moment to pause at the baptismal font. You’re welcome to take some of the water and make the sign of the cross on our forehead as a reminder that God has declared you to be His own. But I’d also encourage you to take a moment and look down into the font and see if you can catch your reflection. As you look in the mirror of your baptism, remember that when all is said and done, this is your identity: you are a beloved child of God.
Remember whose you are.
[i] Passage for memory:
[Paul writes:] “[B]ecause, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9