Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sermon Prep, and Identity Crisis (Updated)

I’m looking at the lessons for Proper 16, for this coming Sunday, using the Genesis lesson for the Old Testament. One thing stands out for me immediately: there’s something important about personal identity in this.

Look, for example, at Moses. Was there anyone more set up for an identity crisis? Born of a Hebrew mother, nursed and raised by her, but as an Egyptian prince – is it any surprise that he will find himself very conflicted when he grows up? If you think about it, his confusion comes into focus with his murder of an Egyptian overseer brutalizing a Hebrew slave (something that is, unfortunately, skipped in the lectionary course). Is he the prince, with power of life and death? Or is he the Hebrew, defending his enslaved brother? Even the slave he saves will ask him, “Just who are you?” Is it any surprise that he will have to run away, in a sense to leave both identities, before he can encounter God and so find himself?

And then there’s Jesus’ question to the Twelve: “Who do you say that I am?” We know Peter’s response, because we know the story; and because we know the story, we think we understand what Peter’s response means. But, did Peter and the others? After all, Jesus tells them to keep it a secret – something that must have been a real trial for them. And he gives Peter, whether personally or as representative of the Twelve and so of the community, the Church, a specific role as the foundation of what will come after, with authority to speak for God: “Whatever you bind is bound, and whatever you free is freed.” Just who were they to have this authority, authority that they couldn’t tell anyone about?

And identity is central to Paul’s metaphor for the Church as Christ’s body. “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” That’s a real challenge to a community that has been given authority from God to bind and to free. “How do you know who you are, except in the concept of the Body and your specific vocation in it?”

So, while it may not be all about identity in these lessons, that issue is there. Who are we, if we are in this world but not of it? Who are we, if we are citizens of the Kingdom? Who do we say Christ is, and what does that say about who we are as Christ’s body? Sunday is yet a long way off, at least in how I prepare a sermon; but this is where I am today.

Update: I dashed this off today after reading the lessons, and then discovered this post at Miriam's Tambourine from Memphis Theological Seminary (and a hat tip to The Text This Week). I had not read this, but, seeing as it's been available a while, it was clearly written first, and we share a theme. Having lived in Memphis at one time, I have great respect for the folks at MTS. So, you might it to your reflections.

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