Founded on Jesus (A sermon by Matt Prest, SLU '19)
(Below is the word Matt preached at our Sunday night Eucharist last week. If you'd like to read the Scriptures on which he preached, you can find them here under "track 2".)
Does anyone have those moments when you’re absently doing something and your brain chooses to remind you of some really cringey thing you did once when you were younger? Like you’re lying in bed going to sleep and then bam! Ain’t no sleeping now just repeatedly banging my head into the pillow screaming why??? And all I am left thinking is why on earth did I possibly think that was a good idea? Like who even was I when I thought that asking someone out over Facebook was a good idea?? If you want to have an incredibly uncomfortable time I suggest going to find your oldest Facebook posts. I just did that and honestly I have strong feelings about 2011 Matt, or Agent Z as 2006 Matt preferred to be called. Basically these are all great reminders of how different we are now to who we once were and there’s no deleting them from our memories, unfortunate as it may seem. They can provide a record for how our identity has changed.
I want you all to close your eyes and remember your very first day of high school:
...how you arrived
...who you met
...what your expectations were
...and most of all who you were.
We can all take our time to really get in the mindset of our freshman selves. This might be remembering the cringe worthy haircut you had, your system of beliefs, your hobbies and lifestyle - I want you to try and capture what it meant to be you.
Flash forward to yourself when you graduated high school. Again remember the feelings and the thoughts, worldviews and appearances that built your identity. Think about how you defined yourself, whether that was through the activities you took part in, your social groups, or your beliefs and values.
Now I don’t know about you all, but for me these two characters are pretty radically different. High school was this time of change for all of us. I went in to a very large school (3000 students) from quite a small school, and from a particularly small class. My high school experience was colored by a crisis of identity, more subconscious than conscious but it was a very genuine experience of not knowing who I am or just what and why I was doing things. The experience felt like being outside a locked room trying thousands of keys to see what works so I can finally fill this room up with contents of my choosing, not things placed by my parents or friends or culture. I had this deep desire to be independent and own a real sense of what is me and why I have chosen it to be so.
Naturally this was very much a process of trial and error. Trying different friend groups, sports and clubs was my way of trying to build my own identity. Understandably lawn bowls did not become the defining characteristic of me, nor could anything I chose to fill my time with become the core element of my identity.
When I was about 15 I finally found the key that fit, this was the Easter story. The first time I really understood what was meant by Jesus’ death and resurrection, I was hit completely unaware and unprepared. I was this teenager having the time of my life at this huge camp of 4000 other young people and Jesus was the very last thing on my mind, yet on Good Friday I actually heard and understood the gospel message for the first time and I realized that it is a story that directly involves me, where all of a sudden I felt significant. My encounter with the risen Lord finally felt like something suitable to build my identity on; I was no longer building myself up from the sands of my own doing with the wind undoing my every action, instead I was a being in relation to God. Unfortunately this did not stop me from doing very stupid things very often.
In the passages we read tonight we see a lot of discussion about identity, and how we can see ourselves. We see the prophet Habakkuk struggling to come to terms with their identity surrounded by suffering. We see Jesus telling the disciples that they should act as unworthy servants doing their duty. Lastly, we read about Paul writing to Timothy. What we are reading is Paul trying to rekindle Timothy’s spirit by going back to the faith that creates and sustains his identity. We read in this gospel passage that we are called to be faithful servants to God. So let the words of Paul echo within us, let us place faith at the center of our identity and be inspired by this spirit of power. Although other aspects of our identity will change with time, Jesus has called us to place our faith in him as our foundation. This isn’t about perfection or making us the best we can be, it’s about recognizing that who we are is someone made in the image of God. From the start we are defined in God and being aware of this isn’t going to stop us from doing things we’ll later regret or prevent us from harm. Instead it’s about reframing our needs, desires and priorities, so that we can better recognize the ways in which we are called to serve others.