Today we are going to continue our preaching series focusing on three simple questions, Who is God?, Who am I?, and Who Are We Together? as we seek to flesh out our sense of why we worship God. Last week we looked at the first question, “Who is God?” as we sought to realize what our understanding of God means for our lives today. Today we are going to shift our attention inward, as we seek to answer the question, “Who am I?”, as we look at the dangers of labels, who God sees each of us to be, and how we can live into being a special part of God's creation.
Labels are Strictly for Organization...Right?
In a 1992 Reader's Digest article, Edwin Kiester, Jr. and Sally Valente Kiester talked about the importance of self confidence and the dangers of labeling one another. They shared a little story about Merlin Olsen. Merlin Olsen, well-known for his years as an outstanding football player, actor, and sports announcer, reports that he was extremely shy and awkward in his youth. He almost didn't try out for his high school football team because for years the other kids had labeled him 'clumsy'. One day a boy was teasing Olsen, when Olsen exploded. He chased the boy and caught him. Olsen was so astonished at his own actions, he reported, "Then I didn't know what to do, so I sat on him."1
That label ascribed to Mr. Olsen had trapped him. A label that was not his own doing, a label that was dictating to him how he was to live his life. I am sure all of you have seen these labels in your lifetime. World leaders use them to describe other countries, national leaders use them to describe their party adversaries and other regions, and we use them to describe our family members and neighbors. Now at times these labels have positive connotations, but by and large they are negative, limiting, and dangerous.
When we ascribe a label to another person, that person vanishes. Last week we learned that the best way to understand the love of God, was to look at how Jesus Christ, God Incarnate loved those he encountered. How did Jesus treat those he encountered? Did he label them? Or did he meet them where they were? I believe that Jesus understood the inherent risks and dangers of reducing people to a label. What any of us do for a living or did for a living, is not all that we are. An act that we have committed in the past is not who we are from that day on. These blanket labels, these stereotypical boxes, are never completely accurate or permanently true.
We Are All Loved
But what is completely accurate and what is permanently true, is that we are all loved by God. When each of us are born, we all have one thing on common. We are all created by God. That in and of itself makes you special. But it only gets better. God does not create you and then leave you to wander alone. God seeks you out. God moves within your life, trying to get your attention so that he can be an intimate part of your life through events, people, emotions, and situations. That action is called grace. More specifically, it is called prevenient grace, that grace given to you by God, that is at work before you even know it is there. It is at work before you even know you need it. We celebrate that grace through baptism. When you take that vow at your baptism, or when your family takes that vow on your behalf at baptism, we are acknowledging that prevenient grace.
And what is so great about this prevenient grace is that God does most of the work. God adores you so completely that he comes to you, seeking you out through this grace. You do not have to earn it, you do not have to qualify for it, you cannot be excluded from it. It is there, all you have to do is accept it. All you have to do is say, yes!
But it gets even better! Once you say yes, everything changes. Your outlook, your life, your eternity, your responsibilities...it all changes. John 14:23 tells us, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” We will come to them and make our home with them. When we devote ourselves over to the One that loved us first, from that point on, God is with you, Jesus is with you, the Holy Spirit is with you. And when the One that is love by his very nature is with you, then you understand the true power love can have.
Tomorrow, as a country, we will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the day set aside to honor the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This man understood the power of love. I want to read for you what Dr. King said in his last presidential address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
I am concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice. I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence.... Though violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that. And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems.... I'm not talking about emotional bosh.... I'm talking about a strong, demanding love.... I have decided to love.2
The issues Dr. King was facing, the troubles Dr. King was working to resolve, for him to choose love over anger, peace over violence...that shows us he understands the power of love. Dr. King also talks about light erasing darkness. The light that Dr. King is talking about is the light we read about in the beginning of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity” (John1:1-4, NIV).
That light is the light that tells us we are loved. That light is that light that lets us know we are not alone in this journey. That light is the light that is the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path (Psalm 119:105, NIV). It is the light of Christ that changes everything in us and around us. So the best answer to the question of , “Who Am I?”, that I can give you, is to tell you that you are loved by God.
So now what? Remember earlier, I told you that once you say yes to God's grace, everything changes. Your outlook, your life, your eternity, and your responsibilities. The “now what,” is what our response is to this gift of love. What are you going to do because God loves you? I would encourage you to go and do likewise.
Go find those people in this world that do not know the love of God and share it with them, through word and deed. Reach out to those that need help. John Wesley, our founder, believed that we could have no personal holiness without social holiness. Remember, just as God loves you, he loves all people. So if you can help with a social issue, hunger, natural disaster recovery, AIDs, or any of the vast amount of others, do so.
Go find those people that know of God's love but have maybe, forgotten it, and remind them. There are many reasons that people forget about God. However, it is our job to seek them out, meet them where they are, and show them that God is there. Show them the value and benefit of being in community, this community. We are all part of the body of Christ, and for us to be as effective as possible we need everyone involved.
And stay in community with each other, always acting in kindness, gentleness, and grace. That means if someone does something you do not like, harsh words and judgmental actions are not our response. That means that in all that we do, we seek to bring peace not confrontation. We do not want to be the reason there is strife in the community. We do not want to be the reason that another person falls away from God. Hatred and bitterness and judgmental attitudes are not how God treats us and they are not how we should ever treat each other.
Love Can Be Found in Prayer
So...who am I? Who are you? We are all more than a label, we are all loved by God, and we are all called to show that love to others. And to do that, to accomplish the "what now" in response to the grace and love of God, and do it well, takes strength. The best way I know of to gain that strength begins with prayer.
Bishop Rueben P. Job put it best when we wrote, “We rise from prayer transformed because we have been intimately involved with the One who not only gives us life but also transforms our lives while leading us further and further into that grand design that God has for each of us.”3
Listen, we each have a responsibility as a child of God. We are each loved as a child of God. If you need a bit more reassurance about how much God loves you, come here, right here, and ask for it. If you need direction about how and where to respond to this grace given you, come here and pray for it. This rail is your lifeline to unlock the strength found through prayer. This rail is your direct connection to love itself. This rail is a place where you can unlock the transforming power of God. It is here and ready for you to use it.
Being a disciple of Christ is not easy, responding to God's love is not easy. But we have prayer to strengthen us, the Holy Spirit to guide us, and one another to lean on. Together we can do it, together we can help build God's Kingdom here on earth, together we will do amazing things!
1. Edwin Kiester, Jr. and Sally Valente Kiester. "Help Your Child Overcome Shyness" Reader''s Digest, Aug. 1992, p. 100.
2. Job, Rueben P. Three Simple Questions. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2011. p. 43.
3. Job, Rueben P. Three Simple Questions. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2011. p. 46.