Staunton Mennonite Church
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
A middle aged woman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she has a near-death experience. During that experience she sees God and asks if this is it. God says no and explains that she has another 30-40 years to live.
Upon her recovery she decides that, as a way to celebrate her renewed life, to just stay in the hospital and have a face lift, liposuction, and a tummy tuck. She even has someone come in and change her hair color. She figures that since she’s got another 30 or 40 years she might as well make the most of it.
She walks out the hospital after the last operation and is killed by an ambulance speeding up to the hospital.
She arrives in front of God again and asks, “I thought you said I had another 30-40 years?” God replies, “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you.”
If I were to ask you who you are, how would you answer that question? Many of us would give our name. Maybe you would give your occupation “I’m a nurse” or “I’m a school teacher”. Or maybe you would give the names of your parents or grandparents, “I’m Kevin, son of Edward, son of Joseph, son of Benjamin…”
Now all of those methods of answering the question at hand do begin to describe who you are. But none of these answers fully capture our essence. None of these answers fully capture our identity. I am not my name; I am not my occupation; I am not my father or his father, or his father. Our identity is important to us and unique to us. Who we are matters.
But I believe that what matters most in life isn’t who you can make yourself become or who you can make others believe you are. The most important thing for us is to be the people that God has created for us to be. God has an identity for each of us; an identity that we can only fully realize when we give up trying to be someone who we are not and allow God to use us as who he wants us to be.
Today we are going to look at the scripture above and see that John the Baptist was pretty clear on the identity that he was given and the role that God expected for him to fill. But I also hope to see that we all need some help in figuring out who God intends for us to become.
John had it easy when it came to deciding what career to go into as an adult. Maybe that is a bit of an overstatement. He may have really struggled with this whole “way preparer” gig that was handed down to him. He may have really struggled with questions about what it would mean to be a voice in the wilderness crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He may have struggled with the vocation that was given to him, but at least he knew what he was called to do.
Around 500 years before John was born the prophet Isaiah spoke these words, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” and I believe that Mark rightly applies this scripture to John.
We learn from Luke that John’s father received a message from an angel telling him that his wife would bear a son who was to be special; that he would be great in the eyes of the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. And the angel even told Zechariah what to name this child.
So it seems to me like John would have had a lot of direction when it came to career choices. He didn’t have to go through the list of available occupations like shepherd, carpenter, or tent maker. The basic outline for his career was given to him. He was to prepare the way of the Lord. John was a prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit. John knew what he was called to do and John knew who he was.
We also see in Luke’s account of today’s scripture that the people of Israel really began flocking to John. They started to rally around this man and get excited. Some even wondered if he was the Messiah. And to this John replied that there is one that is coming after him who is more powerful than John, whose sandals John is not worthy to untie. And while John baptized with water, this other person who would come along later would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
John knew his place. He knew who he was and who he wasn’t. Now I bet that John enjoyed the attention that he was getting as people would flock up to him and stand in line to be baptized. We all want that attention. We all want to be important. We all want to be liked. But John passed up an opportunity to take it to the next level when he told the people that he was not the Messiah. He passed up an opportunity to be worshipped and served. And instead of taking that opportunity and allowing the people to believe that he was the Messiah, John humbled himself before the crowds of people. He said, There is another who is coming that is much more powerful than I. In fact, I’m not worthy of bowing before him and untying his shoe. Because, while I have been ordained to baptize with water, this other guy has the ability to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Yeah, John knew his place. He knew who he was and what he was called to do and he was all right with that.
I remember High School, don’t you? As much as I want to forget it from time to time, I still can recall the pressure to be cool, to be accepted, to sit at the right table during lunch and, this is a big one, to wear the right clothes. It was during the latter years of my High School experience that the preppy look came into style. Girls were wearing lime green skirts with button-down shirts and the guys began wearing khaki pants and polo shirts…to school. And of course, if you bought your clothes at an expensive store, that was even better. So if you dropped some extra coin on a shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch, you wanted people to know that you were wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. So it became cool to wear clothes with the store’s name plastered across the chest; Abercrombie, American Eagle, Old Navy, the Gap. If you wore cool clothes, people would think you were cool. And everyone wants to be cool, right? Everyone wants other people to like them.
Our scripture continues with Jesus coming to John to be baptized in the Jordan River. And as Jesus is coming out of the river, dripping wet (from head to toe?), the sky is torn open and the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove. Then from out of heaven came a voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
I am pretty sure that Jesus had a good idea of the person that he had been called to be. From the beginning of his life at conception, Jesus and his parents knew that he was to be the one that all of Israel was waiting for. He was the Messiah. And as Jesus grew up and studied the Torah and studied the Prophets and studied the wisdom literature, he surely would have made the connection that all of this was pointing toward him. I would guess that Jesus had a pretty firm grasp on his identity by the time he went to John to be baptized.
But just in case he didn’t, God made sure to remind Jesus of his calling. In both Luke and Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, the voice that comes out of heaven is addressing Jesus directly saying, “You are my Son…” This differs from Matthew’s account where the voice from heaven addresses those around Jesus saying, “This is my Son…”
Now this might not seem like a big difference at first, but I think it is rather significant. Because in Matthew’s gospel, the voice from heaven is attempting to authenticate Jesus’ identity as God’s own son to others, saying, “Yes, this is the one!” But in Mark and Luke’s account, the voice from heaven is speaking to Jesus, reassuring him that this is indeed his calling; that this is truly his identity as God’s own son.
The reason that this is significant is that is shows us that it is difficult at times to know what identity God has given to us; to know what role God is calling us to. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all given some sort of job description like John received? Wouldn’t it be great if we were told, Billy, you’ll be a Sunday School teacher, Jamie, you’ll be Chair of Christian Education, and so on? Then, after we knew our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, wouldn’t it be nice to get that reassurance that Jesus got from God when God spoke directly to Jesus and said, “You are my Son…”? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear that reassuring statement from heaven, “You are my chosen Sunday School teacher. I’m well pleased with you.”
Last week the Staunton News Leader ran a two part series on Christianity and Young Adults. The paper noted how so many people from the ages of 16-30 are falling away from the church and have seemingly no interest at all in organized religion. However, the paper also gave an exception to this trend in church decline. Right there on the front page was my friend Seth. Seth and his wife Melissa lead a Young Adult ministry called LaFa right here in Staunton that meets weekly on Tuesday evenings. This is not a church, the article was very clear about that. But what Seth’s ministry with LaFa provides is a place for Young Adults to be in fellowship with other people their age, to ask difficult questions without getting criticized for a lack of faith, and to try to connect to God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ while connecting with their contemporaries as well.
I support Seth and Melissa in their ministry with LaFa 100%. But yet when I read that newspaper article, something just didn’t sit right with me. There was something deep inside me that was churning, burning, making me uncomfortable. And I realized that what I was feeling was green inside. It was jealousy.
That’s right, the green eyed monster had reared its ugly head. And again, I am very thankful for the ministry that Seth is providing and I believe that this newspaper article will help generate more interest in LaFa. But I found myself a little jealous of the attention that he was getting and the accolades that he was receiving.
Obviously jealousy is not a virtue; it is not one of the Fruit of the Spirit. But my reaction to this article helped me to remember that I am not called to be Seth. God didn’t create me to be Seth, He created Seth to be Seth. He created me to be Kevin.
It is kind of like I had this desire to steal Seth’s identity when he was receiving all of this attention. Not that I wanted his credit cards and social security number. But more like I wanted to be important like Seth. It all comes back to that desire that we all have deep within us to be liked by others.
Now don’t get me wrong, Seth is not the Messiah. But I believe that the feelings that I was experiencing were the same feelings that John the Baptist had to resist when people came to him and asked him if he was the Messiah. The question comes down to this, Are you comfortable with who God has called to be, with who God has made you to be? Or do you secretly wish you could be someone else? And I know that I don’t need to be Seth to be significant. I need to be the best me that I can be, to embrace my God-given identity.
If I open up my wallet I find a large number of these plastic cards with my name, my picture, my job title, my birthday, my credit card number, my address, and social security number printed as clear as day. I really shouldn’t be going through any kind of identity crisis. If I want to know who I am, all I need to do is look into my wallet, right?
But those little pieces of paper and plastic don’t say who God has called me to be. I know my name, birthday, and social security number all right. But we are all searching for our identity in Christ. We are all searching for our calling. It isn’t always as easy for us as it was for John the Baptist. Our birth was not announced to our parents by an angel (at least mine wasn’t). Nobody ever told my parents that they were going to bear a son and that they were to name him Kevin and that I would prepare the way for Christ, or that I would preach and pastor at Staunton Mennonite. My life has been a journey. And the only reason that I have arrived where I am today is because other people have provided the guidance that I have needed to come to the understanding that maybe God has created me to be the pastor of Staunton Mennonite Church.
Jesus heard a voice from heaven that helped him to understand his calling. I haven’t experienced that yet. But there have been voices, voices of friends and family members that have helped me to discern how God might intend to use me to do his work here on earth. We don’t all know like John the Baptist did just how God plans to use us. This is one reason why we need one another.
I see giftedness in each and everyone person. And I believe that I need to be more vocal in telling people how I believe they can use their gifts for the kingdom of God. I believe that I also need to do a better job affirming those who have already understood their giftedness and are putting it to good use. I believe we are all called to encourage one another to do the things that God has set aside for us to do. Because we have not been given a job description like John and if Jesus needed that affirmation then surely we will as well.