Who are you?

Imagine someone asked you to answer the question “who are you?” in just three words. You can use any three words, but you can use only three words.
This is the scenario that as it was explained to me at the Mellow Mushroom on Cary Street on Tuesday night. Our University of Richmond College students and I always go to dinner together one last time at the end of the semester before they take their final exams and head home for Christmas break. So, on Tuesday we were sitting around the table with a couple pizzas in front of us, and as we were catching up, two of the senior students mentioned that for the last few weeks they have been doing a lot of mock interviews, getting ready for real interviews for jobs that would begin after spring semester of next year and one question they are frequently asked is: Who are you? And define who you are using three words to describe yourself. Any three words. But only three words. We talked about what a good question this is and how it cuts to the heart of our identity. I asked them how they answer the question and one young woman said: “I always say the same thing: positive…hardworking…caring.” And we all agreed she should get that job. Because, after all if you’re willing to give your best, can be positive in the face of challenges, and you care for others and see your work as part of the mission of the group, you are likely to add a great deal to any team. Interviews are all about putting your best foot forward. You want to be honest, but you want to be honest in a way that makes you look as good as possible.
The Pharisees send chief priests and Levites to interview John and ask this very popular question: Who are you? It’s their job as the religious leaders of the day to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening and they need to know about this strange man baptizing out in the wilderness and what kind of message he’s sharing. But John fails the interview because he is not going to say who he is. He’s willing to use just three words, but he will only say who he is not. I am “not…the…messiah,” “I’m…not…Elijah,” and I am “not…the…prophet.” When he is pushed to tell his identity, all he will say about himself is that he is a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of Lord.” He is not concerned with making himself look good, or doing well in the interview. He is intent upon pointing beyond himself…in pointing to God…and telling the wonderful thing God is about to do in the world through the One who is coming after him.
In the world today so many people are willing to tell us how wonderful they are. Politicians tell us how wonderful they are and how they are the only one who knows how to fix things. Celebrities tell us how wonderful they are and tell us we should want the life they have. Companies and businesses tell us how wonderful their products are and how if we buy what they are selling we can have the best Christmas ever. John is not telling us how wonderful he is. He is telling us how wonderful Jesus is.
When John is interviewed, he doesn’t want to build himself up. What he says in fact is, “I’m unworthy.” Talk about bombing an interview! He is unworthy, he says, to do the job of pointing to Jesus and doesn’t even deserve to carry the sandals of the One who is coming after him. But, God chooses the ordinary to point to the extortionary and calls people like us to be a witness to God for the sake of the life of the world.
This past week I was at the Grapevine with one of our three monthly Men’s Lunch group, and we were passing pasta and rolls – and I should say at this point that yes, pastor’s do more than eat, but its important work and someone has to do it – and as we ate, we red this passage and talked about the issue of Identity, and one person, without a moment’s hesitation and I’m not even sure I got the question all the way out, said: “Christian, husband, father.” His primary identity is as a follower of Jesus and he understands his role of father and husband to grow out of the life he is learning to live of forgiveness and compassion and self-emptying. All the words that define him are words that describe how he lives in relation to and for the sake of others. He is absolutely rooted in his identity. And like John, he knows who he is, and his life is about doing God’s work.
God has a calling on our life. God has given us an identity. He has poured out his spirit on this congregation.
The prophet Isaiah writes in our first lesson, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me.”
Isaiah wrote these words at one of the darkest time in history as a people. In the time of the exile. Israel’s Northern Kingdom had already been decimated and wiped from the face of the Earth, never to return, then the Southern kingdom had been defeated, too, by the Babylonians, and all the people with any kind of learning, writing skills, or education had been taken away as slaves to Babylon, while everyone else was left at home with no clue of what to do next, and now Persia has conquered Babylon and said the people are free to go home, but the people look around at the rubble of the nation and wonder if it’s possible. And Isaiah encourages the people with these words:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.
Through Isaiah, God promises that their fortunes will be restored, that God will rebuild their lives, and that he will raise up a new King to lead the people.
Then, many years later, Jesus is in a little town called Nazareth, and the hometown boy is in the synagogue, and someone hands him the Isaiah scroll to read in service and he looks for and finds these words and reads them and says – the words are fulfilled in your hearing…Jesus takes these words and say these words are MY identity:
Jesus says, the spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor…this is my mission.
He knows who he is and how he was born for this, and he is willing to die on the cross to accomplish his mission.
And now, as people who follow our Lord, these words are words that describe us – that describe you and me as God’s church;
Won’t you read them with me? And as we do, hear God calling you…
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
These words they are fulfilled in our hearing, because God has promised and does send his Spirit to anoint us. And lead by the Spirit, we are called to point to Jesus.
From our worship, to our service, to our friendship with one another…we point to Jesus who is the Light of the World.
Last night our youth group at adult leaders piled into seven cars and drove through the city caroling to people who could use an extra measure of encouragement this year.
It was a surprise that Michelle Frese’s house was one street over from the famous Phiefer Christmas House, that just won the “Great American Christmas Light Fight,” which you may have seen on TV.
As saw the glow in the horizon that looked like some artificial Sun, we held piddley little candles and sang:
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, Love’s pure Light
And we knew that the light we were singing of and pointing to is the Eternal Light, that will still be shining even after the Pheifer’s pull the plug and shut it all down in January.
We sing of the light. We point to the light. The light of God’s love in Christ.
So – who are you? And how would you answer that question? There are many faithful answers…
Whatever we might say…one faithful response comes from a young man today named Dylan Clarke Dulaney. As his banner hangs for all of us to see…Dylan Clarke Dulaney: You are a CHILD…OF…GOD.
Today Dylan receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today Dylan receives an identity that no one can take away…even when he makes mistakes in his life…even when he does things that will disappoint or infuriate his parents…even if he forgets for a time in his life who he is…. he is now and always will be a child of God. He belongs to God.
And Dylan reminds us that this is true for all of us.
Even when we don’t pass the interview, even when this time of year that is supposed to be happy turns out to be stressful and this Christmas turns out not to be the best Christmas ever, even when our hopes are decimated, even when we don’t live up to who God has claimed us to be.
The one who baptizes with the Spirit is faithful.
The one born into the world for you and me is faithful.
The one who died and rose again is faithful.
The one who makes you a child of God is faithful.
And we trust as we pray: Come, Lord Jesus.
We are waiting.