Who are you?
Who do people say you are?
These are questions that each of us deals with every day. We each have a name, to identify ourselves to others, but beyond that we have things that identify us to ourselves as well as others. These things not only define us, but set out the kinds of expectations we have for ourselves, and other people have for us, our ‘position’ in society, etc.
My name is Kristin Ross. First name given by parents, last name taken when I married David Ross. I am also a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a stepmom, a sister, a Lutheran pastor, a colleague, a friend, an American citizen, a dog mom a singer, a cook, etc. All these things tell you a lot about whom I am and what I’m about.
Our names tell people about us. My youngest son’s name is Andrew. We called him Andy when he was little. Now as an almost 30 year old man he goes by Drew and has since his late teens. His choice. And it suits him. When I think Andy I see the laughing little boy with bouncing blond curls and big blue eyes, not the strong capable compassionate man he has become. That’s Drew.
One of the biggest jobs expectant parents have is deciding what to name a new child. Sometimes there are family considerations, or traditions to consider, or personal preferences, but deciding on a name is something that will impact that child forever.
Jesus parents didn’t have that problem. The angel Gabriel told them what his name was to be – Jesus for he would save his people from their sins. Another name given was Emmanuel – God with us, because that’s who he was. God with us in the form of our flesh. The name Jesus was given defined his life and his death, as well as his purpose.
Another way people know who we are is by our relationships. Oh, you’re Harold and Nancy’s boy; you’re Karen’s mom, you’re Ron’s wife.
Jesus dealt with that, too. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (who does he think he is?)
We’re also known by the company we keep.
Members of Overland Park Lutheran Church.
A member of the US Marine Corps.
A Girl Scout.
These groups identify us too.
The Jewish leaders were infuriated by the company Jesus kept. He dealt with sinners, Gentiles all kinds of people he was supposed to stay away from. He didn’t identify with the priests and scribes and what they stood for. He didn’t acknowledge their leadership and learning. He made them and their work look bad. He wasn’t one of them.
But Jesus didn’t care. He knew what he had come to do. He was ultimately on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. This is what he told the disciples.
And that is why he turned on Peter when he Peter rebuked him. Jesus knew his identity. He knew his purpose.
He knew the cost. He wanted the disciples to know too. What does it profit you to gain the world and lose your soul? There are choices to be made. There is an identity to claim.
Who are you? What is your identity? Who do people say you are?
Spouse, parent, grandparent, student, teacher, worker, retired, friend, church member, community member, follower of Jesus?
How does the world know who you are? How do others identify you?
Jesus says very clearly that his followers must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. But what does that mean? Jesus goes on, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will keep it for eternal life.”
Take up your cross.
Love God with your whole heart and strength and mind.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Lose your life.
Die to yourself.
What does that look like? Die to the impulse to put yourself at the center of every thought, word and deed. Instead of looking to see how you can make your life better, look to see how you can improve the lives of others. Place God at the center of your heart and life and let every impulse flow from that center. Live sacrificially, as Jesus did.
We are invited to partner with God in the work of bringing the kingdom of heaven to this time and place. To be part of the new creation, to help bring it to fruition. The only way we can do this is if we do as Jesus said and take up our cross, to make God’s vision for our world, our vision.
God’s vision is for abundant life for all living things. A vision for a world where all people, all God’s children can live in peace and safety, without fear. Where all people have good, healthy food, and clean safe water. Where we truly act as stewards of the earth, take that role seriously and make sure that we all respect and care for the land, air and water God has given us. God created all that exists and after that creation God called it good. We are commanded to treat that creation with care and respect.
When we take up our cross to follow Jesus we are living by his commandments.
Share your bread.
If you have two cloaks, give one away.
When someone asks for help, give it without judgment or condition.
Love God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbors – all of them- as ourselves.
And, when we are asked why we are doing these things, we tell people because this is what Jesus told us to do, to love all people as God through Christ has loved us.
This then becomes our identity. We become known as people of God, who clearly understand what we are called to do and be. Live lives of compassion, of service, of above all, grace. Grace that flows into and through us. out to our sisters and brothers wherever, whoever they are. We become vehicles for God to reach out and touch the world God made and loves so much. We become God’s hands and feet and voice. In reaching out in love, we are taking up our cross, as Jesus commanded. We are following. We are denying ourselves, and living for Christ.