Sermon for January 27th, 2019
My ancestors came from England, and Scotland, and Germany. I don’t know all their names. Somehow, something brought them to the shores of this country. Most of them made a new life for themselves in the colony of Georgia and in other parts of the South. Their lives and their culture was shaped by the land and the people around them. There were slaves from Africa, Native American tribes, different peoples from the Caribbean and various parts of Europe: England, Scotland, France, Germany, Spain. Each with their own language, customs, religion and food culture. Some of my people may have had slaves, most of them didn’t.
My grandparents grew up as poor sharecroppers in the red dirt of South Georgia. On both sides, both my mother and my father, my grandparents decided that they wanted a better, or different life for themselves and their children, so they moved further South to Florida. Florida has its own unique, and strange, blend of peoples and cultures: southern and northern, rich and poor, North American, Caribbean and South American. There my parents met, and there I was born and raised. But the story doesn’t end there…
I found my way down to Miami, a city with another intense blend of cultures. That was ultimately where I was called to join Christ’s church through baptism, and my love of food and food traditions and culture eventually led me into the ministry, a calling which itself has dragged me to Connecticut, New York, back to Florida, up to New Jersey, then to New York again. This is all a part of my story. It isn’t really important that you know it, and I don’t expect all that to be very interesting to you, but what is important is that I know it.
I need to know my story. I need to know who I am, and where I come from. I need to know where I have been. I need to remember the places in my life where I encountered God. I need to know where I have experienced great joy and I need to remember the times and the places of great sorrow. I need to remember my victories and it probably won’t hurt for me to remember some of my failures as well. I need to know my story and you need to know yours. Knowing your story isn’t just about knowing your history, it’s about knowing who you are now.
Do not underestimate how important that knowledge is. Because if you don’t know who you are, there are plenty of forces in the world that are ready to tell you. If you don’t have an identity of your own, the world will give you one, but you may not like it.
The forces of the world are many and various and go by many different names, but I am going to simplify them for this sermon. Let’s just agree for this sermon to refer to the evil forces of the world by a proper name. We will call them Satan. The evil forces of the world, or Satan, have an identity for you if you don’t already have one of your own. Satan will tell you that you are a number. Satan will tell you that you are a victim of….whatever. Satan will tell you that you are a disease or a disability. Satan will tell you that you are just a consumer of goods and services. Satan will tell you that your life has value…if you are useful and if you have the right education, the right income, and the right opinions. Satan will tell you that your life and everything in it, is just a cosmic accident, with no meaning or purpose or direction; just one unrelated experience after another. Worst of all, Satan will tell you that you are on your own…disconnected from anyone and anything else in this world. I think that is the most dangerous lie that Satan tells us…that we are alone. Make no mistake…Satan has an identity ready and waiting for you, if you don’t already have one of your own.
Knowing your story is so important. But knowing your story is not just about knowing your individual history; it’s about knowing how your story connects to a larger story. It’s about knowing how the single strand of your life is woven into a much larger and more glorious tapestry. Part of our mission, as people of faith, is simply telling people the big story, showing them the glorious tapestry, and explaining to them how their little story is connected to that big story. We need to help God’s children know who they are; they need to know who they are in the world and in their families and most importantly who they are in Christ; who they are in God’s kingdom. Because if we don’t tell the children of God who they are….someone else will.
And who do you want telling your children their story? Who do you want shaping your identity? Do you want it to be the ad-man? A politician? A pharmaceutical salesman? Do you want the haters in the world to tell your child or even yourselves what your life means?
I suspect that you don’t. I suspect that you don’t, because week after week, day after day, I see so many of you here, in church listening to another story. Making the connection between your story and a much larger one. That is what we are doing here. Every week we gather, we open ancient scriptures, and tell ancient stories and in doing so we learn about our own stories. We learn about who we really are, not in the eyes of Satan and the forces of this world…those stories we reject when we come in those doors. No, here we learn who we are in the eyes of God.
Here we remember where we have been as a people. We remember the places where we have met God. We remember joy, and we remember pain. We remember victory and we remember failure. We come here every week to remind ourselves who we really are. We are children of God. We are sinners that have been redeemed. We are people with a past and a future. Our lives have meaning and we are not alone. That is a powerful story. Never underestimate the power of that story, and don’t take it for granted, because there have been times when God’s children have forgotten it.
In our Old Testament passage this morning, Nehemiah tells about a time when God’s children forgot who they were…didn’t know their story. It had been forgotten; swept away as if it were just meaningless history. But Ezra he finds this book laying in the dust of the temple, and he opens it and is amazed. He can’t keep the story to himself. He proclaims it in public and the people are just overcome. They had forgotten their story. They had forgotten who and what God had created them to be. They needed to hear their story again. Their story shouldn’t be rolled up, rotting and dusty on an unused shelf, forgotten…it should be celebrated, read publicly with song and spectacle. Their story should be celebrated and children should be raised to know it.
And so it was, and has been ever since. And one day a young Jewish man was worshipping in his local synagogue, and he read the scriptures aloud; he read the story of his people, and when he was finished, he set the scriptures down and said to those gathered there: this story…this story is about me.
That young man was Jesus of Nazareth. We come here every week to tell his story, and to remember that our stories, as Christians, are a part of his story. Each and every one of us…we are all different, we are all unique and have stories of our own, but through the waters of baptism, our stories will always be connected to his story. And that is a better story than anything the forces of the world will tell you.