Dennis Sepper, Puyallup, WA

Warm-up Question

  • What contemporary songs are there that focus on the theme of being “who you are”? (Some examples might be Brave, Shake it Off, This is My Fight Song)
  • What contemporary Christian songs have the theme of being “who you are” as a Christian? (Some examples might be I Know Who I Am, Free to be Me, Who Am I)

Living Out Our Identity

shutterstock_241604545 December 1, 2015—In an effort to create programming targeted to its desired audience of 12 to 34 year olds, MTV interviewed more than 1000 young people born after December 2000, seeking to understand what forces are creating their generational identity. This is a generation which has grown up with social media and thus has had earlier access to the world in ways that shape its collective perspective. According to MTV President Sean Atkins, “They have this self-awareness that systems have been broken.” This has tended to make them more realistic and risk-adverse. MTV has given this generation the name “Founders” though other labels exist such as Homelanders, the Plurals, the App Generation and Generation Z.

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Our identity as individuals is influenced by a number of things: genetics, family, ethnic background, friends and our generational peers. As Christians we believe that a part of our identity is given to us by the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism. We are, like it or not, part of the Body of Christ in the world today.

One of the developmental tasks of growing up is to sort out our identity and answer the question “Who am I in the world?” As we wrestle with that question we are also challenged to “be who we are in the world” and not let ourselves be conformed to an identity that is not true to who we are. In that struggle we are not alone for scripture tells us that Jesus had enter that struggle himself.

Discussion Questions

  • So what do you think about MTV’s study and research? If you are under 16 years old, does it resonate with you? In what ways?
  • If you were born before 2000 do you see a difference in the “younger generation”? Again, in what ways?
  • Have you thought about what things have shaped your identity and influenced who you are in the world? What are some of those things?

Third Sunday After Epiphany

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Two weeks ago in Faith Lens it was noted how Jesus’ identity was confirmed in Jesus’ baptism and in the voice from heaven saying to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” That identity is then tested by the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13 which we will consider the First Sunday in Lent). The question Jesus must wrestle with and answer while being tempted in the wilderness is “what kind of messiah is Jesus going to be?” Will Jesus use power and fear or compassion and love? Jesus resists the temptations of the devil who then departs until “an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). Thus Jesus is now secure in his identity and begins his public ministry.

The story continues in our Gospel text today. Jesus begins preaching and teaching and soon comes to his hometown Nazareth in Galilee. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus “went to church” and was asked to read the scripture. Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He located the passage he wanted and then read, “The Spirit of the Lord is up me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This was a very well known passage from Isaiah and, most likely, surprised no one in the synagogue. But then, Jesus sat down (a significant move because rabbis and teachers taught while seated), all eyes were fixed on Jesus and he said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That was a surprise! Jesus is claiming the words of Isaiah as his own mission statement. It is not “someday” all of this will happen…it is “today” this promised has been fulfilled.

The significance of that should not be lost on us. As the body of Christ in our day the mission of Jesus becomes our mission. That vocational call comes in our own baptisms and is lifted up again when we affirm our baptism. Consider this portion of the Affirmation of Baptism service in Evangelical Lutheran Worship:
You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:
to live among God’s faithful people,
to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper,
to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,
and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

Each person responds:
I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.

The pastor then lays hands on each person and says:
Father in heaven, for Jesus’ sake, stir up in name the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm her/his faith, guide her/his life, empower her/him in her/his serving, give her/him patience in suffering, and bring her/him to everlasting life.

It sounds a bit like Isaiah doesn’t it? Indeed a part of our identity is given to us by God through the Holy Spirit to follow the example of Jesus in our daily living.

How we accomplish that mission differs for each of us, as St. Paul is trying to note in our second reading about the body of Christ. We can’t all be Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King Jr and that’s okay. As Paul notes everyone cannot be an eye or a nose or a foot or the body would not be a body. In fact Paul says that the lesser known members of the body are indispensable and should be treated with great respect (see 1 Corinthians 12:22ff). In addition, carrying out the mission of Jesus is not ours alone but the work of the Church.

Part of our identity is to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus, and to be a part of the body of Christ in our local congregation and as a part of the ELCA.

Discussion Questions

  • Take a look at the promises made in the affirmation service.  How have you lived out those promises?  Where might you grow as a disciple?
  • What gift do you bring to the body of Christ to make it stronger in its mission to proclaim Christ?

Activity Suggestions

To begin, as you gather with your youth group or Bible study think about and discuss how the Christian faith and mission is a part of your identity, who you are in your church, family, and community.

Next, make a list of the ways your congregation or faith community is the body of Christ in the place where you live. How does your church carry out the mission of Jesus? Do you have a number of worship opportunities where the gospel is proclaimed? Does your church have a food bank or community garden? Does it support a prison ministry? Remember as you create this list that even the small things are indispensable and contribute to the work of the body of Christ.

Also, if you are a member of an ELCA congregation, do some exploring and research to see how your Synod is carrying out the mission of Christ. Again using Paul’s image of the body of Christ, each congregation in the Synod forms a part of a larger body that proclaims the Gospel and serves a much larger area.

Closing Prayer

Almighty and loving God, through the Holy Spirit you call and gather us into the body of our Savior Jesus Christ. You contribute to our individual identity that we might join with others to carry on the mission and ministry of Jesus. Give us eyes to see ways in which we might proclaim the good news and serve others in your name while making us aware of how with our brothers and sisters in Christ we can do even more that we can by ourselves. To you be all glory and honor now and forever. Amen.