Summary: We explore Jesus’ identity in Mark's Gospel, invite people to take a fresh look at him and his baptismal identity, at our identity, and at the anointing of power we receive in Christ for a life of purpose in a world that tries to steal our true identity.
Epiphany 1 Mark 1:4-11
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there is a famous line: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. His point? A rose is a rose. Who we are is more important than what we’re called. Still, a good name captures both something of who we are and hope to be by living into our name. Can you outperform your name? The Oregon Ducks!
Frank David means ‘Free man’ & ‘Beloved one.’ So I’d tell my parents I may be an independent spirit, but I’m still loveable! The name Jan means ‘God is gracious’ Amen to that! We wanted to give our kids meaningful, biblical names. Benjamin means “Son of my right hand; favorite son.” He’s our favorite son. He’s glad we didn’t chose ‘Jehoshephat.’ Rebekah, means “Captivating,” perfect for a daughter who so captured our hearts. Do you know what your name means? More importantly, who you are? Epiphany is a season to enlighten us about who Jesus is and about us.
I’m kicking off a new year’s series at Ascension today we’re calling “Why Jesus?” Why believe in Jesus? What’s he offer? What difference does he make? Why not someone else? Who is this man? The Gospel of Mark will be our teacher. All through Mark there’s a mystery about Jesus’ identity; it’s called The Messianic Secret. Who is this man who casts out demons, heals the sick, calms a stormy sea, and teaches truth with such power? In Mark, everyone’s asking: The crowds, his disciples, the Pharisees, priests, and a political party called Herodians all ask, ‘Who is this man?’ Mark points to an answer early on in the story of the baptism of Jesus. His baptism in the River Jordan unveils his true identity, and it gives us a clue to ours, as well.
The greenish waters of the Jordan River wind their way from the Sea of Galilee 156 miles south to the Dead Sea, forming the eastern border of the State of Israel, and is their major water supply. At this river there’s history: Here, Joshua led wandering Israelites into the Promised Land. Here, the prophet Elijah cleansed Naaman of leprosy. Now John the Baptist stands at the water’s edge with wild hair, in camel skins, his attire a statement against false sources of identity. In the river he baptizes, calling people to repent, to return to their true identity as children of God. Then one hot day a man from Nazareth steps into the cool waters John’s dip. When he breaks the surface, the heaven’s open for a Voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved one.” The Spirit flies down on him like a dove. In the river of baptism, Jesus realizes his identity fully: Son of God, beloved and pleasing to God. He needs that clear recognition from the start because his identity will be often challenged. Who do you think you are, forgiving people? Who do you think you are, welcoming sinners? Who do you think you are, performing miracles? Every day he’ll need the echo of that river Voice in his ear: “You’re my Son, beloved and pleasing to me. Remember who you are.”
Do you ever feel like your identity could get lost? Last week Jan and I drove to our first church, of 35 years ago, in Chicago for a funeral. I walked up to an old friend: “Good to see you after all these years!” He became quizzical, squinted his eyes, peering into my face. I offered, “Look deeply, you may recognize Frank Janzow.” “Oh!” Big hugs. Why Jesus? Because he gives us our true identity in a world that makes us forget. In our baptisms, that Voice claims us: ‘You’re my daughter, my son, beloved and pleasing.’ When I’m baptized, I’m recognized! The trick is remembering who I am.
Identity Theft is an issue today. Some years ago someone stole my credit card number. Suddenly Frank Janzow was buying things all over the world. I cancelled the card, but felt violated. Then one day I answered the phone to hear a man with a strong accent asking for something. I said, “Who is this?” He said, “This is Frank Janzow.” “Oh, I always wanted to meet you! Because I too am Frank Janzow.” Click. Having your identity taken is miserable. I asked the staff this week what may be spiritual identity thieves in our culture. Answers: 1) Facebook - it’s tempting on social websites to pretend to be someone you’re not. 2) Frantic living - you can lose yourself taking care of everything but you. And 3) False religion - trying to impress God rather than coming humbly as a seeker. Underneath all three is one common cause of identity theft: Humans thinking they must make their own name, make their own identity, make their own way to God. Why Jesus? Without him, your value as a person is based on what you do, so in the end when the work is done, the only name left is carved on a tombstone, which time later weathers away.