Secure in Our Identity

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March 10, 2019. Our guest preacher for this first Sunday in Lent is Rev. Susan Candea, who preaches on temptation and identity, how we are defined, and who defines us.


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Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Not to offend anyone, but I just don’t get the whole attraction of reality shows on television. In the first place, why are they called “reality shows,” because I’m betting that many of those, if not most of those scenes, are actually scripted. And why would anyone want to have a camera follow them around their house, or whatever they’re doing, capturing what I would consider to be private conversations, to then be broadcast to who knows who? And why would I care to watch? Why do I want to watch somebody else’s reality? I have enough reality in my own life, thank you very much. One of the latest reality shows out there is called “Temptation Island.” I’ve never watched it, just seen it advertised. Apparently “Temptation Island” follows four unmarried couples at a crossroads of their relationship. Each must decide whether to commit to one another, or ultimately to give in to temptation. Together, the couples travel to a romantic paradise, where they join 24 sexy single men and women, all in search of love. Really? Brace yourselves for hot and heavy nights as the couples embark on an adventure full of temptations. Since its January 15th debut, “Temptation Island” has grown its audience by double digits. Obviously, there are some people out there who think watching others respond to temptations is actually entertaining.


I don’t think of temptations as being particularly entertaining. I doubt Jesus would have described his experience in the wilderness, the temptations he faced, as being entertaining. He wasn’t on some paradise island surrounded by sexy singles, but out in the wilderness for 40 days fasting — which meant he was hungry and vulnerable — being tempted by the devil. The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is always the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent. I think the purpose of this story is not to warn us about giving in to temptations for whatever it is we’ve given up in Lent — as if people actually do that anymore, give up things for Lent. But I think the purpose of this story at the beginning of this Lenten Journey these 40 days is to remind Jesus, and to remind us, whose and who we are. It is about our identity, and knowing our identity makes all the difference in how we journey through these 40 days. And so the theme of my sermon is this: the journey begins, discovering who and whose we are.


The story of Jesus’ temptation immediately follows, in the gospel, the story of his baptism — where the Spirit descended (remember that story) from the heavens and declared Jesus beloved Son of God, declared his identity, whose and who he was. Now that same spirit that filled him at his baptism leads him into the wilderness, where he is tempted. For the Gospel of Luke, the issue is not about personal temptations around one’s faith, but about Jesus’ unique identity and vocation as a Spirit-anointed Son of God. The temptations were all about how Jesus understands and therefore will live out this identity as a Son of God. Is it about his own power and glory and his own needs? Or is it about trusting God? Does Jesus belong to this world, and therefore the values of this world define him? Or does he belong to God? And therefore it is God, God’s word, God’s way that will direct his actions, his responses, his journey toward the cross.


You may not be aware, unless you attended the Adult Forum a little earlier, that I am what they call the “stewardship person” of the synod. I shared about all the things in which your mission support, which is that portion of the regular offering that you give to the church that is shared with the larger church (which by the way, you are very faithful and generous givers, so thank you very much) about that impacts the ministry we can do together. So as a stewardship person, you might think that our Old Testament reading, which commands the people to give first fruits back to the Lord, would be one of my favorites. Can you imagine what we could do if everyone gave their first fruits (which of course we’re going to go with a tithe — 10% — that’s always the way it was in scripture) of their income to the church, and every congregation gave their first 10%, first fruits offering, to the larger church? Oh my gosh, the ministry that we could accomplish! But that’s not what this passage is actually all about. Commanding the people to give their first fruits was not a way to support the budget of either the temple or the church today. But giving first fruits was actually an acknowledgement by the people that everything has come from God, that it is God who gave them the land in the first place that produced the fruits. It is God to whom they owe all their lives. It is God to whom they belong. Giving the first fruits is actually an act of worship, of praise, of gratitude. It is an acknowledgement of our identity as children of God, reminding us who and whose we are.


Jesus’ response to the temptations that he faced in the wilderness was also an affirmation of who and whose he was, that he belonged to God. How do we respond to the temptations that we face in our lives? Do you know what the top five temptations are that people face in their daily lives? Well, according to a couple surveys out there, the number one temptation that over 60% of people face on a regular basis is worrying or being anxious. The number two temptation is procrastination. Number three is overeating. Number four (some of you are going to love this) is the overuse of electronics or social media. And number five is laziness. But I actually think the biggest temptation we face is the same one that Jesus faced: to let other voices, other sources of authority, define who we are, rather than God. Are we defined, do we believe we have value only based on how much money we make, how big our houses, how nice our car? Is our identity determined by how popular we are, how much power over others we have? Is it our belief system, what we decide is right (because of course, we have it all figured out) that defines who we are? Or is it God — God, who gives us our identity, our value, our purpose, our place?


My friends, regardless of those other voices that you hear, regardless of those temptations that you encounter, it is God who declares that we are beloved children, that we are anointed with God’s spirit. Whether we are in the wilderness and feeling vulnerable and all alone, we are God’s children. Whether we are on a paradise island and our lives are full, and everything’s going well and we can indulge in everything, feeling pretty entitled and self-absorbed, we are still a child of God. So the next question is: how will we journey, not just through these 40 days, but through each day as children of God? What will we give? Not just the 10% that goes to charity, but what will we give of the remaining 90% of our lives, our resources, our time, our skills, our abilities to live this identity?


This past week I participated in an advocacy day at the state capitol in Topeka. You heard that the Central States Synod is all of Missouri and Kansas. There’s an organization called Kansas Interfaith Action, which is a multi-faith issue advocacy organization that puts faith into action by educating, engaging, and advocating on behalf of people of faith, regarding critical social, economic, and climate justice issues. On their brochure, they quote the Dalai Lama, who said it is not enough to be compassionate. One must act compassionate.


I know that there are times in our churches that people struggle with what they perceive to be the mix of politics and religion. I’ve heard we shouldn’t be preaching politics from the pulpit, but I have to tell you that sitting down with legislators and with the governor to express concern about people who fall through the cracks of Medicare, to talk about the lack of resources to care for foster children who are the most vulnerable, to advocate for ways in which we care for God’s creation, for me was a way to not only live out my identity as a child of God, but also recognizing that all these other people that I’m advocating for are also children of God. And in fact, the whole earth belongs to God. Now, your identity as a child of God may take you in some different directions, having some different actions on behalf of others, but I’m convinced that if we get this identity question right, then we can indeed move out into the world to do the ministry that God calls us to do: to be followers of Jesus, who transform the world around us.


Jesus faced his temptations. He got it right. He trusted and relied on his identity as Son of God. Then he was ready to move out to preach and teach, heal and challenge systems that oppressed and excluded people. That is the same journey you and I are invited to in our faith lives, and I’m also convinced that when we face this temptation to really be clear about who we are and whose we are, relying on the Spirit, then it is actually easier to face all those other temptations. Especially the one about being worried and anxious. That’s my number one biggie. Why do I worry so much? I belong to God. And why do I procrastinate and am lazy? God’s spirit is within me, and there are people of God who need my compassion and help. And why do I overeat or not do all those healthy things for my body? Because this too belongs to God. There are always going to be temptations. You don’t have to go to some paradise island to find them.


But there is always and ultimately going to be the voice of God, who keeps reminding us we are children of God. We belong to God. Secure in that identity, we can face what comes our way. We can create loving, respectful relationships. We can reach out with care and compassion. We can even take risks. And that, my friends, that is a kind of reality I do want to see in my life, and in the life of this whole church.




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2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Susan Candea, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, KIFA