Sermon for Friday, 19 January 2007 and Sunday, 21 January 2007
“Who Am I?”
1 Cor 12: 12-14, 27-30
Luke 4: 14-21
Who am I?
It’s a question we all ask ourselves.
Teenagers, in particular, seem to focus on this question. Where should I go to university? What should I study? What am I meant to do with my life?
Who am I?
My daughter has changed majors in college twice already, and is still considering adding minor courses of study to the mix. My older son has changed from film production to screenwriting, and I suspect that once he graduates from college this year, his life will twist and turn and he will redefine himself once again. My niece Hannah has pondered five different majors in her first semester.
Some of us revisit the question later in life. Perhaps seeking the answer to that question is what brought you to Qatar. Perhaps you hadn’t even thought of the question until you found yourself here. It’s true that a mid-life question brought me to this place. I left a career in business and government after more than 25 years to study at seminary in preparation for ordination to the priesthood.
It’s easiest to think of this question within the context of work. All of the examples I’ve just mentioned have to do with career choices of one sort or another. What I’d like us to think about today, though, is how we face this question as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ, as members of this church.
It’s a question that’s repeated over and over again in both the Old Testament and the New.
So it’s not just a question of the 21st Century, this pondering of our basic identity. It intrigues us, challenges us, sometimes haunts us.
Contrast the troublesome nature of the question, then, with Jesus in our gospel reading this morning. In Luke’s gospel, this story is in the early days of Jesus’ ministry. He’s just come back in from forty days in the desert and a duel of wills with Satan. He’s begun to teach in the synagogues in the Galilee, and word of the power of his teaching is beginning to spread. So he comes home to Nazareth, and as is the custom, he’s invited to read the Scripture and to preach on it.
What was it like to be in the synagogue that day?
Here he comes into the synagogue, a local boy, the son of Joseph the carpenter. We watched him growing up. We’ve heard that he’s developed quite the reputation.
He stands, reads the Scripture. It’s a powerful text from the prophet Isaiah
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Familiar words to us; we’ve heard them before. What will he say when he preaches on them?
He sits down, as we expect, for the time of teaching. He says “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That’s all. He’s just said “It’s me. I’m the one Isaiah is talking about.”
We’re shocked. We’re excited, because we’ve been waiting for a Messiah, an anointed one, for a long time and through a lot of trouble. We’re a bit proud that it’s one of our own. We’re doubtful that it could be one of our own. And yet he seems so utterly sure, so completely convinced and convincing.
He isn’t asking that hard question of Who am I? He’s absolutely unambiguously telling us that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be so clear on who we are?
Very few of us are ever that clear about our own identity.
That’s true of Roshan, who was baptized this morning. We look into his beautiful eyes and wonder what he will be like, the person he will become as he grows in the loving embrace of his mother and father and as a part of this, his church family. All we know is that he will be unique, and in his uniqueness are the gifts that he will bring to life in the world and as a Christian.
Who am I?
That’s certainly the problem for some of the members of the church at Corinth, a church of primarily Gentile membership that Saint Paul founded. They are worried about all sorts of things and have sent Paul a letter asking for guidance. As Father Ian told us last week, some people have been misbehaving, and some have been trying to establish a pecking order of who’s more spiritual than the other.
That never happens in churches today does it? Of course it does. So how does Paul address the issue? Just as Jesus taught by painting a picture through parables, Paul paints a picture for the Corinthians, using a metaphor, that of the human body. He says, “Listen, you’ve all been given gifts, talents, from God. They’re all different. They’re all important. This is not a competition about which gift is the best. They’re all the best, because they all come from God, and you’d best set about using them to do God’s work.”
He talks about the human body, how it is made up of different parts, how each part, even the lowliest, has an important function that the other parts rely upon. One can’t exist without the other. Then he takes that metaphor one step further, and speaks of each of us as a part of the body…the Body of Christ. For the human body to function at its best, all parts have to function well. For the Body of Christ to function at its best, all of its members, with all of their varied gifts, have to be honored as well as put to good use. One part of the human body is no more important than another. One person’s gifts are no important than another as we live in Christian community. All these gifts are important, to our life and Christ and to each other. None can be dismissed.
So it is not only in Corinth, but here at the Church of the Epiphany in Doha. I have been here this month working with Father Ian and visiting with you all to help understand how a community of members from so many different nations, and so many traditions, become a family of faith and nurture each other and support each other. I’d be foolish if I didn’t recognize that a large part of it is Father Ian, who has served as pastor, friend, teacher and advocate for so many of us. But it is also you. It is you who do the music and you who serve as acolytes. It is you who bring blankets out to the work camps and you who bring food for after Friday morning services. It is you who lay out the fair linens and you who reach out a hand to someone who is sick in hospital. It is you who smiles at the person who is occasionally unlovable and you who reads the Lessons. It is you who sweeps up and you who puts things away. It is you who preaches and it is you who works in the crèche. All your gifts, given to you by God, are put to good use for the work of God’s people in this place.
So this is the lesson I have learned here, so far away from home, the answer to that question; “Who am I?” I am, we all are, members of the Body of Christ. We are all the recipients of gifts, of talents, from God, who has given these gifts out of love for us. We all have something to offer another, and our Lord wants us to freely offer that which we have been given.
This community, even when Father Ian moves on to the next phase of his life, will still be a community of people with a myriad of gifts. And you are called, as you have always been called, to use those gifts to support and love and nurture each other as members of the Body of Christ.
Who are you? You are unique, with gifts given to you by God. You are a part of a community of faith here in Doha, and you are part of a much larger community of faith wherever you go in the world. You have been transformed by these gifts, and by the way you put them to good use. Your gifts will strengthen the community of faith and the world, if you dare to use them. Be strong. Be brave. Know that the Lord is always with you. And never forget, you are beloved members of The Body of Christ.