Who Am I?

Our lives are often plagued by ages-old questions that seem to have no easy answers.  What is the meaning of life?  Did I choose wisely?  How high is up?  Who is God?  One question that seems to be on everyone’s mind from time to time is: “Who am I?”  We search for answers that are more than our name or our family tree or the job we do each day.  We want to know who we really are, deep down inside, and that leads us to wondering who we are supposed to be and that often leads us to wonder about what God had in mind when we were first conceived.  These are complex thoughts.

Today we find a story from Luke’s gospel that seems to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to heal us and restore our individual identity.  The story is framed within the context of demon possession and we may have problems relating to it because of this supernatural element.  What I hope we can do is get past this ancient understanding and begin to hear this story framed in a new and different way.  There are many things in our culture that seek to supplant our true identity with the ways of a world that moves in stark contrast to the kingdom of God.

Who are we in the midst of this world?  How can we reclaim our true identity as God’s good creation?  What do we realize as we see that God exercises power over demons and yet we are left to figure things out on our own?  When we proclaim, “I am baptized,” we claim our unique identity.  Let us try this morning to be certain when we answer the question: “Who am I?”

“Who Am I?”
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 8:26-39, NRSV

There are ages-old questions that seem to be “the BIG questions” of life.  They haunt us because we often have no satisfying answers.

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Why do good people suffer?
  • Did I make the right decision?
  • Is God for real?
  • Who am I?

All of these questions really do seem to be about finding our place in the world and understanding who we are in the grand scheme of things.  This search for identity is much more than knowing our names, or our family of origin, or even the work that we do.  This is a struggle to understand why we exist at all.  We want to know who we really are, deep down inside and that leads us to wondering who we are supposed to be and that often leads us to wonder about what God had in mind when we were first conceived.  These are complex thoughts.  This morning we encounter a story from Luke’s gospel that seems to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to heal us and restore our true identity.

Let us prayGod, help us to hear your Word today with fresh ears that seek the truth of who we are as your creation.  May our meditations be pleasing to you, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Luke’s Gospel is a literary masterpiece.  Many of our favorite stories about Jesus come from Luke.  These are the stories we often hear in Sunday school because they are so descriptive and vividly told.  Chapter Eight of Luke’s first book includes a number of familiar accounts of Jesus’ teaching, preaching, and miracle working.  The miracles themselves testify to the authority of Jesus who proclaims the coming kingdom of God.  We see that Jesus has power over nature (22-25), demonic forces (26-39, illness (40-48), and even death (49-56).

In today’s passage we find several interesting elements that seem to be linked by a concern for identity.  I think our culture is very skeptical of stories about demon possession and exorcism.  Our friends in Hollywood have over-done and misrepresented the subject so often that it is difficult to take it seriously.  The mere mention of the topic conjures visions of rotating heads, flying objects, and pea soup, that are not at all helpful for understanding the text.  Efforts to equate this behavior with mental illness offer us nothing but ways to misdiagnose legitimate conditions that need our attention.  It is also not productive to relegate this episode to an ancient and obsolete worldview.

Try for a moment to look beyond the possession and exorcism part of this story.  Listen instead to the man’s heart-broken response to Jesus’ questioning.  Jesus asks: “What is your name?”  The man answers: “Legion” – meaning “a multitude”.  This man is oppressed by too many demons to count; he has lost himself in the chaos of their voices.  He no longer has a sense of self, as an individual person; he has lost his identity in the midst of the overwhelming pressure within.  He is separated from his community and even himself.

Now, think about the world in which we live.  What are the pressures that threaten to overwhelm us?

  • The drive to succeed;
  • The push to do well in school;
  • The expectation of winning every game;
  • Worry that the next layoff may be yours;
    • How will I pay my mortgage then?
    • What about the kid’s college?
    • Who will pay my bills?
  • Uncertainty about the ability to retire;
  • Declining health;
  • Unrest around the world;
  • Fear of…(you name it);
  • And the list goes on!

We can easily lose our perspective and ourselves amidst the din of these chaotic voices.  I will not presume to say that the things that worry you are insignificant.  I can’t offer you words to expunge your demons and suddenly declare you are healed.  We all face very real challenges every day and I don’t have an easy fix to offer you.  What I CAN offer is a PROMISE: God is not finished with any of us yet and God will not abandon us to our personal demons.  This story is clear: Jesus has power over the multitude of demons and problems and worries that took possession of this man.  With a single command Jesus cleaned house and restored the man’s true identity.  Paul wrote to the Philippians: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19)

Our true identity is rooted in the undeniable fact that we are God’s good creation and GOD DOESN’T MAKE JUNK!  It doesn’t matter what worries try to break your spirit.  It doesn’t matter what pressures seek to push you down.  It doesn’t matter what anyone says about your success, or your value, or your future.  God says you are His!

We are surrounded by voices that offer a narrative very different from the Gospel.  Jesus showed us a way to live that relies on grace and mercy.  Jesus shows us that we can get past whatever life throws at us.  The Rev. Dr. David J. Lose, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia says this: “The names and claims that the voices of this world shout at us do not have the last word.  The promise we have says that God claims us once, again, and always as God’s own beloved children.”  In this promise, in this gracious act of love, God restores our identity – in spite of whatever demons may try to possess us.

And, make no mistake, there are demons in many forms doing their best to distract us, confuse us, and turn us away from God’s eternal promise.  Our heads may not be spinning around and the furniture may not be flying across the room, but we are no less under assault.  To reclaim our identity we should remember Paul’s words to the Romans:
“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, when those big life questions begin to haunt you, like “how high is up”? – Know that you have the right answer to the most important question – “Who am I?”  The answer is: You are a child of God; God knows your name, God feels your hurt, God hears when you call, God catches you when you fall, God calms the voices in your head.  The best news is that your identity does not depend on anything that you do – it is completely dependent on what Jesus has already done.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.