Our Brand

One oppressively hot summer day
when I was 5 or 6 years old,
somehow, I ended up at a public pool.

Obviously, my parents must have taken me,
but we weren’t members anywhere,
so I don’t remember who we were with or how we got there.

But I do remember that the sun was hot
and as I waded into the shallow end,
how the water was crisp and refreshing,
throwing refractions of light on the faces of children
who were bobbing up and down in the water
playing and shouting and shrieking.

And I remember too that there was a young boy, about my age.
He was also slender and he was African American.

For some reason, so much black skin uncovered
shocked me in its difference from my own body.

Naturally, I swam up to him and commented on this.
Look at me, I have white skin.
Look at you, you have black skin, I said (or something like that).

And he, still bobbing along in the cool water,
turned over his palms and put them in my own hands
and pointed out that his palms were white like mine.

This young man showed me
that while we were different from one another in our skin color,
we were the same in the most substantive regard.

We were both people,
made by a God who had blessed us both
on a very hot day
with the marvelous gift of cool water to share.

In the deep baptismal waters of God’s love
Jesus Christ takes us by the hands
and shows us we are all the same underneath our differences
in the way that matters most –

we all belong to God as God’s own beloved children.

Oh, we certainly are different from one another.
And being in Christ doesn’t undo our differences.

God has made us black or white
or Asian or Hispanic,
male and female,
tall or short;
and we are born into a nation and a particular culture,
but because of Christ,
these things don’t define us,
and they don’t divide us in a way
that makes some people more valuable than others.

Through the gift of faith and trust in God, we all have a place,
And we all stand on equal ground at the foot of the cross.

But God is certainly a lover of particularity,
And of people in their distinctiveness,
And of nations in their uniqueness.

God chose Israel to be a people
set apart as a light to all other nations.

God gave them the Law.
Or Maybe we could call it God’s rules for living,
Which disclose God’s prerogative for our path through life.

Although Paul speaks of the Law as a disciplinarian that imprisons,
which seems to me to be a negative sounding description,
the Law was meant for good, and as a gift from God.

It includes the 10 commandments, of course,
but also many, many more commands

  • 617 rules by some counts.

All together, it was meant to guide the people –
to constrain their individual freedoms
in order to create a good, healthy life for the community and society.

Earlier this spring the Mertz Family gave Epiphany a basketball goal
Which we now have beside the Star Lodge.
Kids and adults alike love to play knock out
And shoot around
And lower the goal so we can dunk.

The youth group leaders and I
very much like to give the youth group free time
To play basketball or to play gaga ball, and other things,
But when we get together,
there’s a qualifier to free time.

We say, you can have free time as long as everyone in the group is included.
If we see anyone excluded we will gather the group together
For an activity the adults choose
And free time ends.

This is a rule – or you could even call it a law – for our group.
It constrains the freedom for individuals to choose activities
which might leave some people out,
yet it’s meant for the collective good of the group.

God’s law to the Hebrews was a gift
because it limited and constrained people’s behavior for the good:

people were commanded to honor their parents, which is good
not to kill, which is good
not to steal, which is good
and not to lie, which is good.
The law made the community better because right behavior was mandated,
and that was a good thing.

But by virtue of the very need for the law,
It also pointed out the people’s brokenness and sinfulness,
Our sad, selfish and misdirected desires
And our need for direction.

So the law was a gift from God to constrain us for good,
And was meant to give witness to our shortcomings
so that we know our need for God
And it also functions as a testament to what God expected of humanity.

A short time of reflection makes us aware we are not able to fulfill the law

We bend the truth and break it
We do not respect one another or ourselves
We murder and cheat and can be cruel to one another

But praise and thanks to God
He has sent Jesus Christ to fulfill the law’s demands for us.

The law requires us to submit to Gods desires for our life
rather than doing what we want
and Jesus, takes our place
as Paul says elsewhere,
though he was equal with God, emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
Assuming human likeness
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God exalted him even more highly
and gave him the name
that is above every other names.

Now we have something greater than the law to guide us –
No, no! Not something to guide us.
Someone to guide us.

Jesus, like a conductor at her podium guides us together
collecting our various gifts and bringing
them to a confluence of one song to praise God.

Jesus, like a coach, courtside, sends
us to compete with plays designed for us to work together to serve.

Jesus, like the major general arriving in Galveston, Texas on June 19
One hundred and fifty seven years ago today,
to declare all former-slaves free –

announces in his death and resurrection
that the law no longer has power over US,
we are free,
we are emancipated,
as God intended,
to use the gifts God has given us.

So we celebrate that we have all been made free,
and this freedom in Christ, breaks the chains of our bondage to sin.

This is exactly what Jesus does for the man in today’s gospel reading.

Jesus frees the man from his demonic torment,
and from the subsequent darkness and isolation his torment had caused him.

But the truth is that Jesus does much more than heal this man,
Because everyone in this town was captive by his possession.

In fact, counseling professionals might call the man the “identified patient,”
Which is to say, simply, the person who exhibits the sickness in a system
whose ills must be manifest in some way.

Even today you can visit the ruins of this town and imagine the scene:

The tombs which are still there are up on a hillside above the town,
And its obvious when the man was
Was roaming about out on the hillside among the tombs,
he would’ve always been seen by those in the town below.

As he cried out in anguish
His cries would’ve rung through the air,
a tragic and ever-present cloud over anything happening below.

So, this whole town was captive by the man’s demons.

Don’t we know,
that in our own families
when one person is sick, we are all ill?

Don’t we know
that in our country when inflation rises and a recession comes and jobs are lost,
we all feel the impact?

When some are captive to poverty
or oppressed by racism,
we are all held captive by these evil forces,
even if we try to ignore it …

It makes us all sick and
None of us are truly well.

You see, Jesus sees this man who has been invaded by darkness,
and has compassion on him,
and heals him and the whole town with him.

So that those who once guarded the man at the tombs
go back to jobs down in the town.

So that the pig farmers no longer had to tend an animal
that was unclean-to-Hebrews
and which served as a constant reminder
of the cruel occupation of the roman Empire.

So that every day they saw this man in town,
clothed and in his right mind
they were reminded of how much God had done for them all.

Jesus saw this man in his nakedness,
when he was alone,
and cast out from town.
And identified with him.

So much so, that from the cross,
Jesus himself will end up naked, alone, outside the town among the tombs,
crucified by our sin and the power of the empire,
in order to set us all free and make us all one –

All of us are equal and the same
in our need for God.

We may be different in the way we look, speak, or act,
But in Christ we are one in God.

Jesus has torn down the hostility between us,
and destroyed any distinction of superiority or inferiority
based on the respective illusory categories we place on ourselves.

In baptism we are all clothed in Christ,
which is to say he gives us our true identity.

Most of us have shirts or hats
or clothes of some kind with brands on them:
Nike, under armor, off-white, Gucci.

I think wearing a brand
That the world has deemed cool gives a
Person a valuable feeling.
Like you’re a part of something that everyone agrees is good.

I don’t know it for a fact,
but I’ve always thought the term “brands”
and the idea of wearing a “brand”
had its etymology in cattle branding:
Like when old-west cowboys branded cattle to tell
which rancher it belonged to.

Brands seem to be the same thing.
We use them to tell the world what we think of ourselves,
Or where we think we fit,
and what we want the world to know about us.

Every year we make a youth group t-shirt.
This year our excellent design
came from the mind and heart of William Edwards.

You may have seen them around, especially on Youth Sunday.

It’s a sight to behold when we’re all wearing our t-shirts together
showing our unity and displaying how God has made us one in Christ.

This year’s shirt is light blue
with dark blue mountains
running across the bottom
and a large, white, cross
with something like light radiating out into the world.

And we hope the design will tell the world about who we are:

Our foundation is rock solid,
and we have light to share with a world in need,
because we belong to Christ.

My friends, our brand is Jesus,
Which means we’re about what he is about in the world –

Clothing the naked,
whether its gifts of clothes for the poor,
socks for refugees,
or compassion for the stranger.

Our brand is Jesus
And we have been marked forever
in God’s holy and life-giving waters.

God has welcomed us
So we welcome others;
work for the end of oppression, racism,
and the marginalization of any in our communities
whether it is because of race, religion, creed, class, sexuality, age, or ability.

Unlike the latest fashion brands that rise and fall
And are only just skin deep.

Our identity in Christ goes to the core.

We have been claimed by Christ
and he loves us
and lives in and through us.

You could call it classic… or
You could call it timeless, but regardless…
Our brand is Jesus,
That makes us as fashionable as it gets.

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