preached on Pentecost Sunday at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God delights in nothing less than when our whole lives, our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength are enlivened fully to his glory. If we are in Christ, if we have been Baptized into Christ, signed and sealed by his Holy Spirit, we are indeed his, and there is nothing we may tuck away that does not belong to him. There is neither closet nor drawer, there is neither thought nor word, there is neither a dollar nor a day which we may relegate away from his presence. Indeed, if we were to more fully live into our Baptisms, we would see that we would find nothing but greater and greater delight as we give to God what he has called his own. To whom does our house belong? To whom does our vehicle belong? To whom do our meal times belong? To whom do our jobs belong? To whom do our money, time, and affections belong? To whom do our children belong? To whom do you belong?
Please turn in your Bible with me to John 1: 1-13. I would like to read again for us today’s passage, John 1: 1-13 (read it).
Identity has become one of the most important talking points in our day, and for important reasons. Our identity, who we are and whose we are, has everything to do with how we live, what we love, how we raise our children, what we understand to be the good life. If our hearts and minds misunderstand our identity, or if we seek our identity in something for which we were not ultimately made, we will indeed be consistently disappointed and frustrated.
As Christians we ought to pay close attention to today’s narrative concerning identity, for each answer that is given about our identity is one which has at its center a god, a final object of our love, affection, and worship. As the 16th century Reformer Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” If we base our identity on a false god, Scripture calls this idolatry. And we need not be afraid of this religious-sounding word. Idolatry is simply the attempt to pull life and meaning from something that cannot give it. If we are not careful, these momentary gods will take root in us just as quickly as they take root in those around us, Christian or otherwise. So how does one go about answering the question “To Whom Do You Belong?” How does our culture answer the question, “To Whom Do You Belong?” and at what point of our lives are we to answer this question? Who answers it for us? As we reach back into the history of mankind, and even as we observe around and within us, there are a few popular and recurring answers:
Some believe we belong to the state, that our national identity, our citizenship determines our allegiance. When we are born, says the patriot, we are intended to work and die so that our political body would thrive. According to this answer, our taxes are our tithe. Our pledge of allegiance is our creed. Our obedience to the governing bodies, be it in a republic or a monarchy, is our worship, our solemn duty, and our greatest sacrament. In the answer that our nation is our highest identity, if the government and economy thrive then we thrive.
A second answer could be that we belong to our families, and this is a common enough answer in South Louisiana, that my highest identity is as a Daigle, or the son of my parents, or brother to my three sisters. Or that there is nothing more important about me and Lauren than that we are parents, that we must raise our children, send them off, and then retire until the grave opens its mouth to receive our tired bones. In the answer that our family is our highest identity, our family’s health determines our health.
Another popular answer to the question “To Whom Do You Belong?” is that I belong to Fate, or in some eras we have called her Chance, or Luck, or Fortune. That there is a kind of impersonal and indiscriminate force which presses all men into their destinies, be it rich or poor, black or white, male or female. According to this idea, our birth order, our family heritage, our education, happenstance of decisions, and some combination of accidentals have all come together to make us who we are and to press us into who we are to become. In the answer that our Fate is our highest identity, a man can only be happy if we dies without hardship. This was the answer the Ancient Greeks gave in all of their literature, in the philosophy of Classical Greece, and in the relationships set forth between man and the Greek gods.
Another popular answer to the question, especially in our own time, to the question “To Whom Do You Belong?” is that I belong not to the state, not to my family, and not even to chance, but I belong to myself, that there is no greater identity I can find than what I say about myself. What should I become? When? Why? “I’ll determine that,” we say. In the answer that we are the sole determinants of our identity, our lives are good and beautiful when we say so.
But each of these answers—the state, our families, fortune, myself—while we could show the innumerable contradictions and catastrophes inherent in each, create confusion when they are placed as the most important determinants of my identity.
We cannot ultimately belong to the state because we are not made in its image. It is made in our image.
We cannot ultimately belong to our families because our families can go astray, they could, either individually or collectively, ask of us those things which would lead to a wasted and frustrated life.
We cannot ultimately belong to Fate because this is what has led to that awful idea of fatalism, where the world as it stands is nothing more than accidental, impersonal, and without consequence or reward.
And we cannot ultimately belong to ourselves, because in each of us has bloomed the deep and very human seed of regret, guilt, ignorance, and fear. That is to say, we know from our earliest breaths that in order to live a good life, in order to answer our abiding and quite human questions which fill our hearts and minds in a lifetime, we need instructors, teachers, models outside ourselves, guiding and directing our affections, allegiances, conflicting desires, and especially our identity. To ask ourselves to be our greatest identity is like asking the Notre Dame Cathedral to build itself. It’s like asking Ebenezer Scrooge or Odysseus or Harry Potter to write the next installment of their lives.
When it comes to our identity either as individuals or professionals or those in relationships, the most important thing about us is often times not what we say about something or someone, but what that something or someone says about us. Consider for a moment:
The most important thing about an architect is not what the architect says about his building but what the building says about the architect. Does it stand? Is it beautiful? Is it functional? Is it well-placed? Can it last?
The same is true of a city. We don’t look at Paris to learn about the Norte Dame Cathedral. We look at the Notre Dame Cathedral to learn about Paris. When was it built? How was it built? Why was it built? Is it still standing or has the city torn it down? Why?
The most important thing about a farmer is not what he says about his crop, but what his crop says about him. Was he diligent? Did he provide what it needed? Did he protect it?
The most important thing about a doctor is not what she says about her patient, but what her patient says about her, and more specifically what her patient’s body says about her, that she is indeed competent, effective, compassionate, and understands her craft.
The same is true of a governor and his city. And the same is true of our relationship with God. The most important thing about us is not what we say about God. The most important thing about us is what God says about us. And this is even more important than what anyone or anything else says about us.
This is why we are gathered here today, on Pentecost Sunday, to hear not only what God has to say about Benjamin, but to hear what God has to say about each of us. And this is quite despite all the things Benjamin may one day say about God. Perhaps one day Benjamin will say God is capricious. Perhaps one day Benjamin will say God is unfair. Perhaps one day Benjamin will say God has forgotten him or has been distant. Perhaps we too have said such things. But it is here, in the Sacrament of Baptism, where we will have the opportunity to remind Benjamin, like we remind ourselves today and every day, that Benjamin’s relationship with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not based on Benjamin’s own feelings, or life circumstances, or momentary mood one Friday morning when he is forty, as he takes care of his family and gets ready for work. The Sacrament of Baptism marks Benjamin as Christ’s own, forever. And there is nothing else—no nation, no job, no college, no friend, no interest Benjamin may acquire—which is more worthy of his identity. It is the same with us? To those baptized in Christ, to whom do you belong? And are you living and maturing into that identity? To those who are not baptized in Christ, where is your identity, and what kind of confusion are you in because you were not made for that to be your identity? One of my favorite catechism questions comes from the Heidelberg Confession. The first question asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” It answers:
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
 I Cor. 6:19, 20  Rom. 14:7-9.  I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14.  I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2.  John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8.  John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5.  Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18.  Rom. 8:28.  Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14.  Rom. 8:14.
In a moment we will partake of the Lord’s Supper, and just like the Sacrament of Baptism, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is an issue of identity. This table is a table of Covenant renewal for those in Christ. This table is an invitation to all those who have been Baptized. It is an invitation to once again live into your identity. To confess our sins. To find lasting forgiveness. To experience deep and abiding joy. To be at peace with your Creator and your neighbor. To know that we belong not to ourselves—not ultimately to a national identity, or job, or family, or random Chance. But we belong to Jesus Christ, and as the body of Christ we belong to one another, and so together we feast with Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, the King of Kings, the author and perfector of our faith. When you approach this table, remember not what you have said about God but what God has said about you.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from George Herbert titled “Holy Baptism (1)”
As he that sees a dark and shady grove,
Stays not, but looks beyond it on the sky;
So when I view my sins, mine eyes remove
More backward still, and to that water fly,
Which is above the heav’ns, whose spring and vent
Is in my dear Redeemer’s pierced side.
O blessed streams! either ye do prevent
And stop our sins from growing thick and wide,
Or else give tears to drown them, as they grow.
In you Redemption measures all my time,
And spreads the plaster equal to the crime.
You taught the Book of Life my name, that so
Whatever future sins should me miscall,
Your first acquaintance might discredit all.