Who are you?

Scriptures: Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

One of the things that we as humans care the most about, and yet struggle with the most, is “Who are you?” It is the first question that gets asked; you must name yourself, and in many ways, define yourself. Its search, in many ways, can be said to define teen angst as they seek to determine what is their identity apart from mom and dad, and perhaps others – even as they inevitably form cliques, assign group names to others like “jock” or “nerd”, etc.

There was a song even – and I’m dating myself – when I was in junior high school and high school, that was called “Who are you?” I can’t remember the group who did it. It was sort of a techno song.

It can symbolize the image that we want to present to the world, this “who are you” – even if that is not truly who we are. This is a TV show called “Once Upon a Time” – I don’t know how many of you all have seen it. It shows basically characters from fairy tales in a different sort of light.

In one episode, a main character was facing a challenge that had to be overcome, so that she could get out of a trap. The way to defeat the challenge was that you had to tell the truth about who you were. There were several wrong answers that didn’t work, and pieces of rock were falling down around them, until finally this main character said, “I’m an orphan.”

That was her core, that was who she was. That’s what she thought of herself as. That was what she had tried to hide from the rest of the world, and everything that goes along with that connotation, being an orphan and being insecure.

Another TV show, called “Smallville,” which is about Superboy, says constantly throughout it, he is told, “Your powers don’t define who you are.”

This question of “Who are you?” is something that we grapple with all the time. Even in the Bible, so many times in the New Testament and the Old Testament both, people struggled with who they were. But there was a critical difference there – one that was actually alluded to in the teen example. It was never who they were as individuals, even though that is what is referenced by Psychology today; it is about who they were, and are, in community.

Some Old Testament examples are things like being called “people of the covenant,” the “children of God”, the “Sons of Abraham”, etc. New Testament examples exist, like in Romans, where Paul declares us “sons of God” with all due authority and power; where we’re called Christians, which means followers of Christ; and then today’s reading, from Peter. Let’s see what that says today about who we are.

There are many references in the passage, many good things to pull out of this passage, though I am going to ignore, for today, the developmental description in verse two, where it talks about being a baby and wanting the milk of the true Word.

Here are some things that Peter mentions. We are living stones, being built up into the house of God. We are a chosen race. (We need to understand that race frequently was defined back then not by what color you had, but by who was seen as your progenitor or creator – where did you come from?)

We are a royal priesthood. Both royal, and a priest. That meant one who had access to earthly ruling power, authority and privilege; and also access to God, facilitating the ability of others to come into the presence of God. We are a people for God’s own possession (more on that later, when we get into not only who we are, but also and inevitably for the Reformed believer, whose we are. We are called the people of God.

Now it is interesting to me that the Word of God almost never speaks of people without referencing them in relation to others. In the very beginning, God said “It is not good for the man to be alone…”

Abraham was promised descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky, not fifteen minutes of fame (although he gained that and more as well).

People are always referenced to in terms of lineage. Melchizedek is an exception, and it’s such an oddball exception that it led to speculation he had no father, and therefore was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. Even people like Elijah, the prophet, with individualistic titles like Son of Man, were described in terms of their lineage or community. He was known as Elijah the Tishbite. That’s who he was.

As famous as David was, David was always known as the son of Jesse, and you rarely see him referenced outside of that. Saul was a Benjaminite. Always, we see people in terms of who they relate to.

Now, let me tell you there is a caveat, with this understanding of who we are. This emphasis on community does not mean that we get our identity from groups. They are not the ones who define us. But we must recognize that we are not an island. We need to understand who we are in relation to community, and the communities we belong to.

I read an article about a recent study that showed that Millennials and the GenY generation is both the “most connected”, and the most lonely generation that we know of. More of them feel alone, more of them feel depressed, more of them feel isolated, than any previous generation.

Another article talked about social media, texting, and other forms of communication like this that encourage acquaintances rather than real friendships, self-revelation rather than conversation, and self-absorption rather than relationship.

Mind you, this is not a rant against social media. I use Facebook all the time, and I appreciate its use as a tool for networking with old friends I had in high school, and some like-minded individuals, and for letting people know of events in my life that are exciting to me.;But we must be aware of its pitfalls, that we don’t begin to take the ties that we have gotten through something like that, as real ties of friendship that are there between two people that are face-to-face and experiencing together.

Understanding who we are, then, in relation to the community of faith and family of God, requires us to understand Peter’s words so that we can apply them to our lives. So let’s ask, what does it mean to be a living stone? William Barclay, in his commentary on 1 Peter says this: ”So long as a brick lies by itself, it is useless. It only becomes of use when it is built into a building. That is why is was made; and it is in being built into a building that it realizes its function and purpose”.

We are meant to be part of something greater, and we can only realize that potential as we participate in the building of that greater thing – which is the Body of Christ, the church. That is who we are.

We are a chosen race. God is our Creator, our Father, and the ultimate source of our identity. We come from Him and His great love shown to us in Jesus Christ, and our identity springs from the new creations we become as we accept the good news of salvation.

God loves us enough that while we were sinners, while we were still enemies of God, Christ came and was born and lived and then suffered and died for us so that we might be washed clean of sin, and was raised again so that we might have new life in Him, being new creations, so that we could be glorified like Him. That is who is our source, and we have been chosen by God to do that.

We are a royal priesthood. I spoke earlier of the power and authority, but the real key to this, I think in this passage, is that we are to be servants of each other and the community of faith. You know, even with royalty, even with kings, it was ideally seen, that position was seen, as having a responsibility to serve the people they led.

The privilege came because of the heavy burden that was laid upon them. I realize, of course, that humans being humans, we have seen that screwed up lots of times in history. But that doesn’t mean that’s not what it’s supposed to be either. Rulership is meant to be a place of service.

And of course priests are meant to serve. They are the ones who facilitate coming into God’s presence. So we as a priesthood, as priests, help others to come into the presence and knowledge and understanding of God, whether it be our local community, if there is somebody who is a fellow believer and is down and just needs that moment of encouragement, or someone who’s kind of straying and needs that moment of call back, of accountability, or someone who doesn’t know Christ, who we can introduce to Him. We serve, then, as a priest.

We are a people for God’s own possession (that’s the translation that I use). Here in America (and I suppose elsewhere) we don’t like being thought of as a possession. We don’t like the thought of being owned. Perhaps that is why, for so many decades, we have had such an emphasis on the individual and their faith within the church and its preaching and teaching.

But God paid a heavy price for us; without it, we are consigned to an eternal darkness alone. And as a possession, much like a brick, we have a purpose. God wants to use us for something. He is not simply a collector, where you buy something and put it on a shelf for display.

I’m a collector. Some people would say I’m a packrat. But I’m a collector. Those who have been to my house know that I collect chess sets, for instance. I have a display case, and while they’re in a little bit of disarray at the moment, most of the time they’re set out and they’re nice, and I’m very proud to tell where each one came from, countrywise, and how I got certain ones. There’s one that has a board that my wife etched a glass board for me, I think that it’s really cool, and I got the pieces on my honeymoon, she was that understanding of me.

So I’m a collector. God is not a collector. He’s not putting us on display here in the church. We were bought for a reason. In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1 says “What is the chief end of man?” And the answer is “To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever!” We are possessed in order that we might glorify God, and our every action therefore should be focused on that.

So this is who we are: people with a purpose greater than our own self aggrandizement; people meant to serve, using power and authority from far beyond ourselves to accomplish goals we have in our attempts to glorify God; and people belonging to the very Creator, finding our greatest sense of roots, belonging, and essence in His love.

We recognize our own individual worth in the knowledge that God was willing to die for each one of us, and make us His own; but that we are meant to be in community, and we find our own realization in that community that God has built for us and called us out to be. I didn’t say it earlier, but we’re also called to be holy, and the literal translation for holy in Greek means “called out” or “separate.” That’s what we’re called to be. And we’re meant to be a community. Christ himself, even as he began teaching, had twelve disciples. And even those closest to him, there were still three. I know that I have a BFF – best friend forever. I just had him up here a few weeks ago, and some of you got to meet him. His name is Allen, and he was best man at my wedding, and I will love him forever. But, he is not to have the same place in my heart as the people of God here do. For we are a family of God, and we are meant to be in community, more than just him and me. It’s more than just you and one other person. It’s all about relationship, and relationship to the community of the people of God.

So if someone asks you “Who are you?”, let me suggest that you can answer with confidence “a child of God and a part of the greatest family there ever was!” And to God may be the glory and the honor and the power. Amen.

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