Ordinary 18C, August 4, 2013 — Guest Preacher, Keith Mihelcic

Identity Crisis

Colossians 3:1-11
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life.
But now you must get rid of all such things–anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices
and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”
But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you? “And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. “Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? ‘Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. ‘But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? ‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

When it comes to picking a topic for a sermon, there are essentially two types of preachers out there: there are the ones who, when they write a sermon like to choose their own texts. Perhaps they feel called to preach on a certain topic, or perhaps they decide to preach on a theme or a series that they have come up with. Then there are the others, like myself, who rely on the lectionary to suggest to them what to preach from.
I, myself am not as imaginative or as hardworking as the first group! I would say once, maybe twice, I have selected my own texts to preach from. I prefer to have the lectionary just throw me a few verses to choose from.
Now this has led me into trouble before. Two of the hardest sermons I ever researched and wrote, I preached here, at Emsworth UPC. The first one was on that Presbyterian staple, the highly confusing, sometimes controversial, yet always fun, predestination. The second was even worse. It was on that wonderful, wonderful Romans passage in which Paul speaks of the hate of God. That is always a fun verse to try to wrap your mind around.
Yet, after initially reading the texts for today, I immediately had one thought pop into my mind: mistaken identity. It is a much bigger problem than most of us would like to think. Mistaken identity has almost reached epidemic-like levels in this country, in my opinion. Also, this is not something new. As we will see mistaken identity has been an issue for thousands of years, from the time of Adam and Eve in the garden, to this very day. This may seem a bit of a stretch, but hear me out.
Let’s start with us, the body of Christ. Do we suffer from mistaken identity? Do we really know who we are? If we are just a bunch of loving compassionate people following Jesus, why don’t we always act like it? Why don’t Ialways act like it? What it comes down to, in my opinion, is faith and belief. Many of you, I am sure, have heard the analogy that goes something like this: I believe that this chair will support my weight. I honestly do. Well then, why don’t I turn that belief into faith and have a seat?
Jesus was very clear on the way we are to live. However, just in case he was a little ambiguous with his words, the Apostle Paul clarifies them for us. We know how we are to live. We have been given the perfect example in Jesus Christ.
When I was younger I would behave badly and my Mom would ask me “How old are you?” When I would sheepishly answer she would then say “Act like it!”  I guess we can rephrase the question. Whenever we find ourselves falling into all too familiar traps and patterns we can ask ourselves “Who is our Lord and Savior who died for our sins?”
Jesus Christ.
Then perhaps we should act like He is. Perhaps we should act like Him.
The term Christians means, literally, “little Christs”. Are we? Do we act like it? Well, we are.
We should act like who we are. No matter if we like it or not, we are called to, and hopefully compelled to, live and act a certain way. Paul gives us a fantastic list of things that we need to get rid of or “put away”. Granted there are some nasty things on that list. I won’t ask for a show of hands but I bet the majority of us can point to one or two of those things on this list, maybe more, that we are guilty of. Maybe even recently. This month perhaps? This week? week. Maybe even today.
I know that in my own life it seems like I put on anger when I get into my car.  I get angry sometimes when I drive and people are not driving up to my expectations. I get frustrated and think bad thoughts when the cashier at the store is having a bad day and taking for-ev-er to check people out. Come on, lady. Hurry up. Don’t you know who I am? Do I know who I am? Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. Jesus would weep, I think.
Now an interlude…… and a confession.
When I write a sermon the first thing I do is come up with a general theme. After that, or sometimes right around the same time I usually come up with a title. Then I will write an outline, do a little research, and then I actually get down to writing it.
With this sermon I did all of that and I was just to that line, (hopefully you remember it!) where I said “Jesus would weep”. After that point, it seems my inspiration dried up and my motivation left me. Yes, I still had an outline that I could have worked from and I tried a few times. Yet nothing that I came up with sounded good to me. It just didn’t feel right. Now, I know that most folks who write, or paint or do “creative” things have a moment when they look at something they are working on and think “This is total garbage. What am I doing here?”
That is how I felt every time I decided to go beyond that aforementioned sentence.
I will be honest; I have had a rough couple of weeks. Tore a calf muscle, (it is almost healed), my Mom went into the hospital in very dramatic fashion, (she is doing fine now, see?) my Dad had to go to the ER with an issue the other night. Add on to that the stress of work and my boss being on vacation, so I am running the show, and customers complaining, and people in my department coming in three hours late, on and on and on…all this stress, at times. All this business. All this living.
At one point on Friday, in the midst of all the chaos, I sat back in my chair at work took a deep breath and it came to me. Or should I say, I heard a still small voiceinside my head. I knew why I was so blocked when it came to this sermon.
I had forgotten. It wasn’t so much as mistaken identity; I was having an identity crisis. Forgetting who I am, I had spiritual amnesia so to speak. I think that this is an issue that many of us have and live with from time to time.
As Solomon wrote “There is nothing new under the sun”. Nothing. This kind of identity crisis and the spiritual malaise that comes with it has been going on for a long, long time. Think of all the people of God in the Old Testament. Now think about the faults that each one had. Murderers. Adulterers. Drunks. Cowards. People with breath-taking anger management issues. People a lot like us.
People who were blessed by God, saw God work and move in their lives, yet people who still did not get it. People who still clung to their old ways. Isn’t that us?
I know it’s me. From time to time I get this way where I feel just so overwhelmed, and you would think it would force me to my knees, and maybe, at first, it does. But I get up and try to take it all on again myself. Alone. Of my own accord and power.
I forget who I am in Christ. Or maybe sometimes I do not fully realize who he is. Jesus got that a lot. Look at the guy in our Gospel lesson. He thinks Jesus came to solve family disputes over property. Sure, rabbis back then were often asked to settle disputes, but that is not why Jesus came. Jesus plainly through his parable tells this man you are worried about the wrong things. Your priorities are way out of line. I am not here to be your lawyer.
Believe it or not, I am beginning to think that perhaps Jesus does not care about my financial well being. At all. I believe Pastor Susan said it in a sermon a few weeks ago, something to the effect of, “when you have absolutely nothing – THAT is when your true character comes through.
That is what Jesus wants. The TRUE “us” to come out. Ever notice that people in poor countries who are Christians are so joyous? They have so little, yet they rejoice so much. We have SO much and we sulk. We want more. WE are driven by our consumerism and our selfish desires and fleshly lusts, to what end? Why?
I went out and got a new phone the other night. I didn’t really need a new phone. The one I had was working just fine. It was old and it did not have all of the bells and whistles that some of the newer ones have. Also, my contract was up, so technically the phone was free. I paid a small “upgrade” fee. Whatever that is.
You know why I needed that phone? So that when I pass away, when I see Jesus in heaven I can say Jesus, check out my new phone! Isn’t it great?”
But wait.
I can’t take that with me, can I? None of us can take anything with us? So what will I have with me when I meet Jesus face to face? Nothing. None of my stuff?
No. It will be just me as I am, and as I was meant to be. I will be standing there before Jesus in all his glory.
I am not trying to make anyone feel bad this morning. Not at all. That’s not my job today. I am preaching the sermon I felt called to write and deliver. If you have any feelings at all about anything I have touched on this morning, I encourage you to think about it. To pray long and hard about it. I know I will.
The thing is, as I was writing and thinking about this sermon a thought kept crossing my mind. I think I may be the one person in here who needs to hear this the most. In turn, instead of preaching to the choir I am preaching to myself.
However, I think that God wanted me to share it with all of you.
For we must remember our identities. For our real identities, when we strip away all the things, and all of the sins of the flesh that cling to all of us, our real, authentic identities come out when we stand before Christ. For as we heard today we have been risen in Christ. THAT is our identity. Our lives, our REAL lives are hidden with him. Our lives our not in the sins we commit or the things we own. Although, those things can overshadow and threaten to eclipse the lives we are called to lead.
Our identities became one with Jesus when we gave our lives to Him. We need so desperately to remember that. We should not remember this like we would some random fact or piece of information. We need to remember this as we live out a strong, vibrant faith. As we live out our identities, identities that I pray will never be in crisis. Amen