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Sermon for 22 February 2015

FIRST READING Genesis 22:1–18

1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. 9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”


PSALM Psalm 25:1–10

1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2 My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. 3 Let none who look to you be put to shame; rather let those be put to shame who are treacherous. 4 Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long. 6 Remember, O LORD, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD. 8 You are gracious and upright, O LORD; therefore you teach sinners in your way. 9 You lead the lowly in justice and teach the lowly your way. 10 All your paths, O LORD, are steadfast love and faithfulness to those who keep your covenant and your testimonies.


SECOND READING James 1:12–18

12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved. 17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.


GOSPEL Mark 1:9–15

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”



In baptism, one of the many gifts we’re given is that we’re identified as a follower of Jesus. For the past 2000 plus years, the church has tried to find its identity, not in baptism, but in leadership. In the book of Acts we read about the struggles of the early church with replacing Judas, of how to support the widows and orphans, what to do with donations and the list go on. In all this and more we see that leadership is a function. Being a disciple is an identity. There is a difference. This morning I think it would be good for us to examine these two categories and see why the confusion of these two terms is a problem, and so debilitating to the body of Christ. As a way of emphasizing the point, it might be good to start by asking, “What’s in your wallet”?
This is, of course, the take-away line for a credit card company that wants their card to be front and center in your wallet. But I want you to forget the advertising pitch for the time being. The question itself is a good philosophical question. “What’s found in your wallet”? It’s a reflection of who you are, where you are, and where you’re headed in your journey of life.
Some of us can remember getting our first nice leather wallet or purse as a kid? I know my first wallet made me feel more “grown up.” Mine had a place for change, pictures and had a zipper. But as a young man, the first question I had was, what could I actually put in it? An ID card. My allowance for the week or the money I received for mowing the neighbor’s lawn. Maybe a few of those “wallet sized” school photos of my best friends. Later came my driver’s permit and still later, hopefully, thankfully, my driver’s license. But it still all made for a pretty flat fold. It’s a big change from the wallet I carry today.
My wallet today is so much different than the one I carried 40 years ago. Yes it still has my driver’s license, but now it’s filled with bank, credit and loyalty cards. It has an even more important card, my retired Military ID which serves as both my insurance card and VA benefits card. As far as money goes, I don’t have a zipper pouch for change and the place that holds paper cash is about as full as it was back then. Maybe I need to go back to mowing lawns! And things are continuing to change.
With the advent of Apple pay and such, the wallet we now carry is evolving yet again. The wallet you and I now carry is fast becoming an app on our cell phones. You might want to show your wallet to you kids and grandkids because soon everything might become a digital wallet. We’ve gone from flat to fat and soon back to flat again. But either way, leather or digital, our wallet lets us and others know our identity and makes statements of who we are.
If your wallet has credit cards (you’re a consumer). If it has business cards (you’re an employee). If it has a library card (you’re a reader). If it has health insurance cards (you’re a lover who loves your family). If it has loyalty cards (you’re considered loyal). If it has auto insurance cards (you’re law abiding and not foolish). If it has mileage plus perk cards (you’re a traveler), if it has key access cards (you are an “in” member of your tribe). A gym card (hopefully means you’re fit). A discount “big box” store cards (means you’re “thrifty”). And we can’t forget all those required “photo-id” cards — driver’s license, employee id, Military or Veteran’s ID card — all these cards that make you “legitimate” and a citizen “in good standing, ” a “leader in your community.” But does all that “card counting” really make up your identity? Is “what’s in your wallet” (or if you have upgraded to “apps” instead of “cards” — “what’s in your smart phone) really define who you are?
Ironically, the more we pin down and definitively define who we are, the more at risk we are for having that identity “stolen.” This is an electronic, everything-online world, and identity theft is only a few keystrokes away. We’re only in the model-T stage of the Internet, since the “Internet of Things” is only in its infancy. One of the most important two words we can teach our kids is “Don’t Click.” It could, very well be, considered the new 11th Commandment: “Don’t Click.” One click can crash your computer and crash your life. With one misplaced click, a savvy hacker can access all your personal information and graft your identity onto a new series of accounts, “apps,” and “cards.”
In the past twenty-five years, if you invested in security and storage, you couldn’t help but make money. But one of the fastest growing security industries is not “home security” but “identity security” — businesses that promise to safeguard your personal information, your personal identity, all those snippets of information that have made you — you. But, in reality, those information bits, those card numbers, those pass codes are not your identity. What you have in your wallet, hopefully, is not who you truly are.
The really good news, in this identity theft conscious world, is that if our identity is based in being a disciple of Christ, our true identity can never be “stolen.” We might need services like Life-Lock in this world to protect our temporal identities, but as faithful followers of Christ we’re not defined by “cards” or “apps” or “functions.” Faithful followers of Christ are identified by an MRI discipleship (Missional, Relational, Incarnational).
In this week’s gospel text we read Mark’s version of Jesus’ baptism. This isn’t an identity that starts out well. Jesus is first tagged as someone coming “from Nazareth of Galilee” — a nowhere place known as the boonies, the wrong side of the tracks, a kind of scuzzy, worthless parcel of what used to be Israel. It definitely wasn’t a “prime real estate” address. As we’ll see later it’s used as a byline; people used the term Nazarene like they had bile in their mouths.
Next Jesus is baptized by John — whose baptism is for “repentance and for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). If Jesus is the one John has been waiting for and proclaiming as “the one who is more powerful than I,” the one who will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit,” why does Jesus need John’s baptism of repentance in the first place? But without answering the question the story changes: Everything changes.
Jesus’ baptism at John’s hands becomes a moment of divine revelation. As Jesus goes under the water, He’s seen by His peers as fully human. As Jesus comes out of the water He’s seen by His peers as fully human and as fully divine. Jesus’ baptismal moment is when His authentic humanity and revealed divinity come together. His one identity as human and divine is forever sealed in this moment. Jesus is one with us in our human frailty. Jesus is one with us in His divine ability to love all of us and turn our frailty into healing streams of love, mercy, and strength.
In Mark’s gospel, after the first miracle of “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, things don’t go all that well following this baptismal experience. Jesus’ solidified identity as both human and divine gives Him a one way ticket to the “wilderness.” Instead of Jesus’ baptism being a “get out of jail free” card, it seems to be a “ship you off to Siberia” card.
Lent, the church season we started on Wednesday, lasts for forty days, excluding Sundays. Those forty days are to reflect the “forty days” Jesus spent as a newly baptized and blessed individual. Clearly the notion of “blessing” needs to change when the first post-baptismal blessing story is to get shipped off into the “wilderness” – that is, to a really “bad place,” to be “tempted by Satan.” Then to add insult to blessing, Jesus was surrounded by “wild beasts” (don’t dare think those “beasts” were just four legged creatures the worst “beasts” come with two legs all too often). I guess we could say, Happy Baptism Day, Jesus!
Jesus’ baptismally revealed identity didn’t win Him any immediate fanfare or loud applause. But Jesus’ baptismal identity remained with Him throughout His lifelong mission and ministry. Jesus’ identity was never “safeguarded.” Jesus’ identity was always a target. If you’re looking for a safety-first, risk-free life, then don’t follow Jesus. As the pews in our churches are emptying out, and the “nones” and the “dones” constitute the fastest growing religious segment of the population, the subject of “evangelism” is becoming more and more relevant in many congregations, including ours. But in some churches this presents a problem.
A favorite way of teaching “evangelism” in some churches is to show how we can “lead” people back to church and to Christ. But this presents a problem. This “lead people to Christ” mentality is what’s getting them into trouble in the first place. In fact, the whole “lead people to Christ” notion is a category mistake, and the worst mistake you can make is a category mistake. A “category mistake” is when you frame wrong, in your brain, a perspective or an idea or a metaphor. You say, what’s wrong about the notion of “leading people to Christ?”
The problem is that there’s only one “leader.” That’s Jesus. He is our leader. We are His followers. Evangelism is following Jesus, our Leader, in what He’s already doing…in a person’s life, in a family, in a church. As baptized people, we’re not “leaders.” This isn’t to say that using the term leader or leadership is bad in the correct context. Christian leaders as servants who help guide a council, committee, class, group or congregation are necessary. But that isn’t our primary identity, that’s a function.
Our principle identity is as disciples. We’re followers of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was sent to us by God for our salvation and redemption. Sometimes Jesus summons us to join Him at the front of the line, but when we step forward to exercise “leadership” that is a function, not an identity. And even when we are “up front,” we’re still behind Jesus. How did Paul put it? “Follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1)
Many of us here at some time or other have attended a “leadership conference.” But how many of us have ever attended a “followership conference?” It’s interesting that the military academies are starting to reinvent their “leadership academies” into “how do I learn to be a better follower.” And one of the top Harvard Business School professors (Barbara Kellerman) wrote a book in 2012 on “The End of Leadership,” since the more we talk about leadership, the worse things seem to get. Barbra might also agree that thinking of our baptism from a leadership perspective is incorrect as well.
Our baptismal identity as a “category mistake” is when we think that it makes us “leaders.” Jesus is the Leader; He is our Vision. We don’t need to come up with a “vision” when we have Jesus as our “vision.” With Jesus we’ll have more “vision” than we can handle. Our ministry, our mission, is to be committed “followers” of Christ wherever that takes us. From time to time we sing the hymn, “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow.” And in the words of Thomas Merton: “Every baptism implies a distinct individual vocation…We aren’t called merely to vegetate in the Mystical Body, but to act and to grow and to help the growth of other members” Our Christian vocation is to point others to Jesus through our words and deeds. We’re called to shine the light of Christ in us to the dark places in this world. The Holy Spirit is the One who leads the person to Jesus. That’s our Baptismal call, that’s our Baptismal vocation.
Not long ago, I was asking for old pictures of the Historic church and events associated with the Historic church. One of our members brought their Baptismal certificate with them to show me as well. I think this was not only interesting but great. I looked for mine and couldn’t locate it and I bet if I asked how many here today knew where theirs was, I wonder how many could locate it. But the real question is, how many brought their baptismal certificates with you? I don’t mean in parchment; I mean the one inscribed in our souls. Our truest “identity” cannot be found in our wallets. Our truest identity cannot be lost on the internet. Our truest identity is found in our baptism.
We are “baptized” disciples — followers of Jesus, disciples of the greatest leader who ever lived, God-with-us, who calls us to do more than self-serve, to feed more than self-feed, to love others even more than we love ourselves. Our moment of baptism is our transformation time from the world’s category of leader, to the Jesus category of follower.
One of the most famous “baptismal scenes” in the world of literature comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1970). Eliot Rosewater is an eccentric do-gooder. In a moment in the book, he’s in conversation with his estranged wife Sylvia. They’re discussing the recent birth of twins to a half-witted townsperson named Mary Moody. Sylvia says, “Congratulate Mary Moody on her twins.” “I will,” replied Eliot. “I’ll be baptizing them tomorrow.” “Baptizing? I — I didn’t know you did things like that,” said Sylvia. “I couldn’t get out of it,” said Eliot. “She insisted on it, and nobody else would do it. I told her that I wasn’t a religious person by any stretch of the imagination. I told her nothing I did would count in Heaven. But she insisted, just the same.” “What will you say? What will you do?” inquired Sylvia.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Eliot said as he became enchanted by the problem. “Go over to her shack, I guess. Sprinkle some water on the babies, (and) say, ‘Hello babies. Welcome to earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It is round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: Darn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
Sorry, Mr. Vonnegut. Baptism is so much more than “you gotta be kind.” It’s God’s work where we become children of the covenant, where we take on the identity as followers of Jesus, and where we find our authority to minister in the body of Christ the church and to exercise Jesus’ mission in the world. To say “I am baptized” is to proclaim an identity found in a love that cherishes the most when it lets the loved one go. It’s more than a “kind” love. It’s a sacrificial love. It’s a love that “lays down” one’s own preference so that others can “pick up” the truth.
Martin Luther had mood swings that went from euphoria to utter despair. While he holed himself up in a castle and translated the Greek Bible into German for the first time, he was beset by all sorts of wild beasts, of doubts and discouragement, of betrayals and theological fist-fights. You probably have an image of Luther throwing ink-pots at the devil, because we all remember that image. But what Luther was famous for saying while he careened through the castle yelling at God, shouting at Satan, and dealing with his wilderness time, are these words that resounded through the castle grounds: “I am baptized.” Notice, he didn’t say “I was baptized.” But “I AM baptized.”
Every day we need to look in the mirror and say two things: “God is God and I am not.” That’s first and most important, since every commercial that bombards us daily says “You’re a god; you’re #1; you deserve it; you’re a leader!” The second is this: “I am baptized.” It’s a “category” mistake to confuse our “function” with our “identity.” Our “identity” is that of a disciple. Our “function” might possibly include leadership in two shapes and form.
First, your baptismal certificate, your “card,” is also your ordination certificate into ministry. I was ordained not to do your ministry for you, but to equip and empower and enable and embolden you to do your ministry. If I were to ask this morning, “How many ministers do we have here?” and you’ve been baptized, you’d have no choice but to raise your hand. Your baptism ordains you into ministry. You have a ministry to the body of Christ. Second, your baptismal certificate is also your papers credentializing you as a missionary.
If I were to ask, “How many Missionary Kids are here this morning,” all our hands should go up. We have a ministry to the body and we have a mission in the world. A “mission trip” isn’t something you go on for a week or weekend. A mission trip is another name for the life of a baptized disciple. Are we raising missionary kids? Are we building a missionary family? Do you have a missionary marriage?
Your baptismal certificate is your identity “card” that proclaims your identity as a minister and missionary for Christ and the kingdom. If you do still have it, why not get it reduced to card size and laminated like an ID card. Slip that ID card into your wallet. That card will be the most genuine, theft-proof identity you could ever put into your wallet. It’s an identity that can never be “stolen.” So…“what’s In Your Wallet?”

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