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Congregational Development and Revitalization | God's Instagram Part One: Identity Theft

God’s Instagram Week One: Identity Theft

Mark 1:4-11


A friend of mine once had her identity stolen.  They took $3,000 out of her savings account.  Then she began getting bills in the mail.  One was from Victoria Secrete, then from Sears, and then Macy’s .  Somebody had gotten her Social Security number and her name and began using her identity as their own.  She never found out who it was and to her knowledge the person was never caught, but it left her feeling very vulnerable.  I am convinced that we do the same thing when it comes to our personal identity. When God created each of us he said in the Bible that we were “very good.”  Yet most of don’t believe that because we have allowed others, our jobs, our past, our failures, our addictions, and a whole host of things to rob us of who God created us to be.


Over the next several weeks I hope to explore ways that we can recover from having our identity stolen in this series called “God’s Instagram.”  I named it that because often we go to Social Media sites to post pictures and quotes from our lives to gain some type of acceptance so I wondered what God’s Instagram account might have to say to you and to me. So, let's begin by exploring a snapshot of Jesus Baptism together.


Mark introduces his gospel by announcing the good news of Jesus Christ and then turns and introduces this strange character John who was dressed oddly and was doing something out of character.  He was taking what was probably a ritual for entering into special communities and practicing it as a way of entering something special that he believed God was doing.  Every person who came out to be baptized had an identity just like you and I have an identity.  It is how we define ourselves and how other people define us.


All of us are defined in some ways by our relationships.  My favorite relationship to be defined by is when my boys come bounding down the stairs and yell… Daddy!  I am daddy in that relationship and that defines who I am to them.  I am also a son.  When I go home to visit my parents I call my parents mom and dad.  I have them labeled that way in my phone.  When I was serving as a pastor I was defined by my role as a pastor.  I remember one day the office coordinator came to my office and said. “Some guy is calling asking for "Reverend Davis.”  I was also a boss to other employees so that role defined me.  I am a friend, a dad, a son, a coworker, etc. etc.  Our reality is that we are defined by our relationships.  


Great theological thinkers even tell us that we cannot know ourselves outside of being in relationships with other people.  It is through our relationships that we find who we are.  Of coarse we are created for relationships.  God is in relationship with God’s self through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So, it is human nature to define ourselves by our relationships and we were created to do so.  


This is all well and good except that we allow our relationships to define more than our roles.  Oftentimes we allow our relationships to define our self worth and to bring complete and total fulfillment to us.  We look to our significant other to validate us, our boss to make us feel good about what we are doing, a dating partner to help us feel accepted, friends to define how we should act, children to live vicariously through etc.  Or maybe we are holding on to the bitterness and resentment from where someone has hurt us and we have become defined by that.  I have met a lot of divorced people who now define themselves and live out that hurt from their divorce.  While we are created to love in relationship with each other, we are not created to allow those relationships to define our sacred worth.  


This hits home for me in particular as I have struggled all my life to make people happy because when people are happy with me I feel good about myself.  I live in fear of being rejected and often this robs me of being the person I was created to be. It keeps me from investing in others, it makes me say what I want others to hear, it causes me to feel like a failure at times.  There are lots of reasons for all this, but you see my point.  Perhaps you are like me and allow your relationships to define you as less than what God desires for you.


Mark first tells us the story of John the Baptist.  He was coming and announcing that if people will repent of their sin then God will forgive them.  He was then baptizing them as a sign of their repentance.  We automatically think when we hear this term “repent” that what was happening is that these folks had done some really crazy sin and they were confessing it and being forgiven.  Perhaps a few were, but this is not really what John had in mind.  He is referring to the idea of “turning from the way we see the world.”  This isn’t just to confess when we behave badly although there may be a place for that.  This was a total and complete reorienting of life.  What this meant for them and for us is that we become defined by God first and allow all of the other things, including our relationships, to be ordered by God.  We repent of anything that is less than that.  We turn from the old ways of defining us and we turn to a new way of doing life.


Most of the people I know living in Knoxville, Tennessee were caught up in the head football coaching search that felt like it lasted years.  One day thousands of people watched a live video at an airport that ended up being nothing special.  Finally, like other teams, Tennessee decided to hire a football coach.  After his opening press conference there was a headline that said, Pruitt Tasked with Changing the Culture of Tennessee Football. So that means players, coaches and fans have to either get on board with the culture change or not be a part of it.  In a similar way John is coming and announcing that God is doing something different and the old ways of doing business are gone.  God is changing the culture and John is calling us to get on bored.


One of the most challenging questions a text like this raises is: If Jesus was part of the program and came from God, why did he need to be baptized by John?  He saw the world rightly.  He was already following God so why did he need to repent and be baptized?  There are a host of answers to this question including the possibility that God adopted Jesus at his baptism.  That maybe Jesus was a normal everyday man and maybe even one of John’s own disciples who assumed a special role at his baptism.  While this answer may make a bit of since in Mark, certainly Luke and Matthew may cause that view to fall under some question.


I believe the answer has more to do with the symbolic nature of what baptism looked like for Jesus.  In some ways both John and Jesus were acting out the old story of Israel going through the water of the Red Sea in finding their own liberation from slavery.  What John and Jesus wanted their contemporaries to see and us to understand is that with Jesus we too can be liberated from the things that enslave us.  


There may be a whole host of things that enslave us.  I am willing to bet that some of those things are our relationships.  Even the best of relationships can do that.  One of my favorite images of this comes from C.S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce.  There is a scene in chapter 11 where a female ghost meets her brother and she desires to enter heaven so she can see her son.  It becomes quite apparent that she was obsessed with her son.  Her brother then makes this statement, 


Human beings can't make one another really happy for long. And secondly, for your sake. He wanted your merely instinctive love for your child (tigresses share that, you know!) to turn into something better. He wanted you to love Michael as He understands love. You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God. 


The story of John baptizing in the river and Jesus being baptized is to remind us that without God our relationships and everything else in life becomes enslaving. I believe that our relationships have even a greater potential to do this because we are designed and created for them.  Jesus came to break the power of our enslavements so that when we follow God and put him first, we become free to really love and experience love from others.


As important as all this is, I believe what happens when Jesus comes up out of the water is so key to understanding this passage and our relationships.  Mark tells us that Jesus saw what appeared to be the Spirit of God descending on him and heard a voice that said, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”  Mark wants us to hear two things I believe.  First, Jesus’ identity was and is grounded in God the Father.  Everything that Jesus will accomplish and be and do comes from this relationship. 


 Secondly, the same truth applies to us.  Whatever relationships we have should be grounded in the fact that we are God’s children.  We are God’s sons and daughters.  When God looks at us he says to us what he said to Jesus on the day of his baptism. “You are my child.”  He does this because he sees us as we are in Jesus.  So often we ground all of our relationships in the lies the world tries to tell us.  That we are unlovable, unchangeable, unbearable, needy, worthless, and never good enough.  Know this, God is telling us as he reminded Jesus that we are worth everything, we are loved, we are adored, we are worth it, and God wants the best for us.

Read about God's Instagram Part One: Identity Theft in this story from The Call

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