April 19, 2015: Who am I?

April 19, 2015

1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48           
Year B, Easter 3                                                 

            I went to an Indigo Girls concert Friday night.  They played with the Virginia Symphony which was beautiful but far different from the various venues where they typically play.  As I sat there listening to them with the symphony accompanying them, I remembered the first time I saw them live. It was an outdoor festival that featured a ton of female artists.  I was in college with my best friends from high school.  It was a perfect day full of music and friends except for the torrential downpour.  I barely remember the music because I just wanted the music to end so we could go home and put on dry clothes.  Since then I have seen them four different times, each time spread out over a couple of years.  I saw them right after college, then in seminary, then just a couple of years ago.  Each time it was with an entirely different group of people.  It made me realize that no matter how much things change, there are constants in life.  The Indigo Girls have been this rather bizarre constant following me from place to place…meeting me at completely different points in my life.

            That said, the Indigo Girls, or any group, person or place is an artificial constant.  They change just as the rest of the world changes.  In college, sitting there in the mud with 1000s of people, had you told me I would be watching them play with a symphony in a quite dignified setting, I would have told you that you were crazy. I would imagine that we all have these artificial constants in our life.  They might be a place or a person.  It might even be the church.  When I say artificial, I don’t mean these constants are inauthentic or fake.  That is far from the truth.  But they are not true constants.  No person, no band, no place lasts forever.  It is only God, the one true God who lasts forever.  God is our only true constant.

            That’s all fine and good, but sometimes God seems to be more of an elusive mystery than a constant.  A lot of the people writing the Bible had personal encounters with God.  Either that or they knew people who had those very personal encounters.  I imagine that I would be a much more credible source if I could tell you that I had seen Jesus in the flesh.  It would be even better if I could tell you that I sat down and ate a meal with the resurrected Jesus.  That is what all these resurrection accounts that we have been hearing are emphasizing…that this really happened. 

Last week, Thomas touched the scars of the resurrected Jesus.  This week, Jesus appears to the disciples and eats with them.  It seems an odd detail to mention the broiled fish.  I mean, who really cares what they were eating or how it was made.  But it did matter because it puts Jesus (Jesus back from the dead) in the real world where people cook and eat.  Not only that, but he ate the food.  He sat down and picked up pieces of the fish.  He spat out the little bones on the ground beside him.  Afterward his hands smelled a bit like fish.  It all happened. 

            But I wasn’t there.  I didn’t sit down and eat a meal with Jesus and neither did any of you (at least not that I know of).  That may make it difficult for God or even the love of God to be a constant for us.  Even if we are able to summon the faith to believe in a God who we have not seen or touched…is that faith enough to make Jesus a real constant in our lives?  A constant is more than just a memory or an emotional touchstone, it is something that defines who we are.  Is Jesus then real enough to take precedence over our friends, our family and our jobs…those things that seem to define us? 

             That’s really up to you.  If I could define each one of us I would define us as children of God.  I know that has become a little trite.  When John wrote this in his letters, it was anything but trite.  In that time period the world was all oriented around the human father.  The father was who defined you.  I have a father who I love and respect, but even I would not choose to be defined exclusively by my father.  In that time it had even more confining ramifications because it relegated women to 2nd class citizens. If they were not defined by their father, they were defined by their husband or brother.  And if God forbid they did not have a man in their life, then they were nobody.   So when we are proclaimed children of God, we are given a new identity, an identity that frees us from narrow expectations about who we must be. 

            While that gives us freedom, it also gives us responsibility.  One of the things that John was frustrated about was that the Christians in his community were not acting like Christians.  They weren’t even trying.  They were satisfied with being Christian.  It gave them a way to access and worship God.  But it did not affect the way they lived.  In his letter, John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  That is both comforting and frustrating.  It is great that we are God’s children now, but what about our identity tomorrow?  Where is the constant?  How can we know that we can depend on God when what we will be is not yet revealed?  John goes on to say, “What we know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”   That means that our identity is in God, the God who created us, the God who loves us, the God who demands that we love him back and in doing so that we love our neighbors.    

            Seeing the Indigo Girls made me realize how much I have changed and how much I have stayed exactly the same.  I was about the same age as our celebrities when I first heard their music.  We talk about you becoming women and men, and you are in that process of moving from childhood to adulthood.  Yet I worry that sometimes the way we talk makes it seem like you don’t have an identity yet, as though you can’t possibly know who you are at this age.   I bet people have told you that. I know people told me that.  But if you have God as your constant, then you have an identity.  You have an identity that will carry you the rest of your life.  Your friends will change.  Your school will change.  Your relationship with your parents will change.  You will change! Some of that change will be heart breaking.  When you go through that, I hope you will depend on God as your constant.  Never forget that with that gift comes responsibility.  That is true for all of us.  We are all children of God now.  If we are to one day be like God as John says we will be, then we need to start acting like that…now.  That is how we claim the identity that has been given to us.