Who am I?—Here I am!
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December 14, Third Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
To listen to earlier homilies click here
Draft text of the homily, please don’t cite without permission.
There’s a conversation that takes place between Jesus and the disciples in all the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
It’s right after the feeding of the 5,000 and just before a few of the disciples witness Jesus transfigured up on a mountain.
Do you remember the conversation?
It goes something like this…
Jesus asks: Who do people say that I am?
And then there are various answers given: Elijah, John the Baptist come back to life, one of the prophets.
And then Jesus turns to them and asks: But who do you say that I am?
Who do you say that I am?
The foundational question of the Christian faith.
Peter’s response is (or should be) every Christian’s response: You are the Christ—the anointed one—the Messiah—the Son of the living God.
Over centuries this developed into the Creed we profess each week: God from God, light from light, true God from true God.
Countless sermons have been preached on this question and answer.
You might hear one in early September when we hear that passage.
We hear a different question today.
The one posed by the priests and Levites sent by the Pharisees out to question John at the river.
Who are you?
What do you have to say for yourself?
We know the answer to: Who do you say Jesus is?
Who are you? is trickier.
But these two questions are deeply related because Who I am is always defined by those I’m in relationship with.
I’m a husband in relation to my spouse.
A father in relation to my children.
A priest because of a relationship to a church that recognizes me and has ordained me as such.
A teacher of students and student of teachers, a brother of sisters, a youngest son to my parents, and on and on.
It’s incredibly difficult to define ourselves outside of some relationship.
And so the question of Who I say Jesus is always raises the question of who am I in relation to him.
A lot of people get as far as the first answer (Jesus is the Christ), but have a much harder time getting to the second: who am I in relation to Jesus.
His follower to be sure, but we also await the day of his coming…so like John we are both his follower and his proclaimer.
John’s answer to the question is significant for us as well.
And John answers by quoting Isaiah
Who are you? “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Isn’t it interesting that in their self-defining moments both John and Jesus quote Isaiah.
The Isaiah passage we heard today is what Jesus reads in his first sermon in Luke.
Remember? He reads it, rolls up the scroll and says: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
I often think of this passage as Jesus’ mission statement.
What if it were ours as well?
What if we started to hear this not simply as a quote from some dusty prophet, but as our mission statement—our commissioning statement if you will.
The spirit of the Lord is upon you. Me. Us.
because the Lord has anointed you (which he has by the way…all of us who are baptized, and “marked as Christ’s own forever”)
has anointed you to bring good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives…etc.
Verse 6 of this passage is left out of the lectionary but reads: … you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God.
And according to the Book of Common Prayer the ministers of the church are—you.
All of us are ministers of God’s reconciling love.
The everlasting covenant that God promises to make with the people according to Isaiah is this: “And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children’s children, says the Lord, from now on and forever.” (Isaiah 59:21)
Those words are in John, they are in Jesus, and they are in us…that spirit is upon us.
Who we are in relation to Christ, is as the ones who bring good news to the oppressed, proclaims liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and prepare the way of the Lord, to seek and serve Christ in our midst.
But there’s still a gap, isn’t there?
Something that separates us from John, and Isaiah, and Mary (to bring in another voice from today).
Just before the Magnificat which we sang today, Mary has a conversation with an angel about what’s going to happen.
The angels tells all that is to happen and she says: “Here am I a servant of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38)
An echo of other responses…
Moses in response to the burning bush says: “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:4)
Samuel in response to God’s call at night says: “here I am.” (1 Sam 3:4)
Isaiah himself, in response to God saying, “Whom shall I send?” replies “Here I am. Send me.”
It’s not in scripture but I imagine that somewhere along the road between Jerusalem and the Jordan, John must have said: Here I am, Lord.
Now, neither Moses, nor Samuel, nor Isaiah, nor even Mary (at this point) is answering the question: Who do you say Jesus is?
But they are answering the question who am I in relationship to the Divine.
The gap between them and us is not just a gap of centuries; it’s the gap between Who am I? and Here I am!
We too often get caught up trying to answer the Jesus question and we neglect the equally important, and deeply, intimately, and inextricably connected question: who am I in relation to this divine reality?
And if we are reluctant to ask who am I in relation to Jesus we will rarely ever get to “Here I am.”
The gap between “who am I” and “here I am” seems to me to be the work of the church.
The church should be (and thanks be to God All Saints is) a place where the work of transformation can be done.
Where people have a safe spaces, and ample opportunities to do the work—through mission, and formation, and worship, and fellowship, and opportunities for leadership—to figure out who we are in relation to God and our neighbors.
To let that anointing sink in…
To listen for how we are to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty & release, to provide, to build, to repair,
The world desperately needs people who can answer the question “who am I?” and respond boldly with “here I am.”
That means unpacking a lot of our own baggage, and having challenging but life-giving and reconciling conversations, and daring to live and act differently in the world, and testifying to the light that has come and is coming.
The tension I invite you to hold in these last two weeks of Advent (and longer if necessary) is the creative tension between “Who am I?” and “Here I am!”
The tension between waiting for the savior to come, and being courageous enough to go out and proclaiming and seeking the savior out in the world—in whatever surprising places we’ll find the Holy One this year.