Sermon Preached in Chapel on Thursday, February 25, 2010
The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
Genesis 13:1-7, 14-18 + Psalm 27 + Philippians 3:2-12
Miley Cyrus recently used it at a NY burger joint, Actress Faye Dunaway used it in a Hollywood Banana Republic Store, Senator John McCain at a Puerto Rico casino, and Senator John Kerry used it so much that columnists Dave Berry and Howie Carr have devoted pages to it. Even the “pseudo famous” Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton literally make their livings because of it…
Few celebrity offences are more offensive than this verbal faux pas…
- A line that when dropped is like a spotlight on the soul.
- A line that implies conceit, unearned entitlement, arrogance, and disrespect.
- A line used to demonstrate a core value and belief…
- that one is somehow better than the recipient,
- that the recipient should be more deferential,
- that the recipient should consider him or her self blessed to be in the user’s very presence.
Do You know who I am…? Words of celebrities, privileged elite, the wealthy, the connected, and the wanna-be’s, used to get access to entertainment venues, tables in trendy restaurants, and V.I.P. service. This arrogant expression of one’s importance used to frame one’s place in the world often at the expense of others is a global expression of brokenness.
Three years ago, Italy’s highest court, forbid people from using the phrase in attempts to intimidate social inferiors struggling to carry out their jobs. This was due to a ruling against a Sicilian lawyer, named Nicolo V. who had said “the line” to a law student in an effort to jump the line for a photocopier, and then sued his employer who disciplined him.
People ask Do You know who I am…? At times of extreme outrage, carrying an implicit threat that when the other person becomes aware of our identity, background or social status, that he or she will be sorry and pay attention to our wants and needs. But this is not just the cry at the top of the ladder. For we too are legends in our own minds, who suffer when the work that we have done goes unrecognized, when… who we are goes unnoticed, when… our righteous living gets no respect.
But listen to the words of Paul who says in a sense that if you have to ask, you’re not who you think you are. He says steer clear of those self righteous loud mouths. They are growling pit bulls, religious control freaks that are all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in are their public personas… to Paul they’re just knife-happy circumcisers.
He adds… the real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to serve one another, filling the air with Christ’s praise instead of their own. Paul knows that we can’t pull this off on our own, regardless how impressive a GPA or resume.
And Paul should know… we know his pedigree: Born by the rules whose foreskin was lopped off after eight days, like the Good Book says, a Jew from the right side of town to the in crowd of Benjamins.
- In terms of living by the book, he was a strict and devout law abiding pious leader.
- In terms of his commitment, he was a fiery defender of his religion even to the point of hunting down Christ followers.
- In terms of living under the law, he meticulously dotted all his “I’s” crossed every “T” and played by all the rules.
The credentials all the “Do you know who I am” folks wave around as something special, are as Paul points out useless trash—as is everything else we take credit for. And why? Because of our liberator, Jesus the Christ. Yes, all the things Paul once thought oh so important, he trashed. Compared to knowing Jesus as his Master firsthand, everything else was insignificant, or as Paul bluntly said, well, worth less than a pile of crap.
And this is where it all hits the fan…
- It’s not who we are that matters, but whose.
- It’s not about medals or where we finish, but that it is finished for us.
- It’s not about personal righteousness or faith worn on a sleeve,
- It’s about righteousness that comes from trusting Christ—faith given freely by God.
Paul didn’t decide to accept Jesus the Christ as his Lord and Savior. Rather as N.T. Wright notes… the gospel for Paul is not ‘you can be saved, and here’s how’; the gospel is simply ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’.”
Paul wasn’t saying he had all his stuff together or boasting that he had figured it all out. But he noted that he was on a journey reaching out for Christ, who so wondrously reaches out to you and to me.
Paul says “friends, don’t get me wrong: by no means am I an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back.” This is more than some Lenten discipline of denial… Paul gives it all up, everything, and turns toward the cross.
Paul moves on from the stuff of his former life and who he was, shaking more than dust off from his feet.
But was he kidding? Didn’t he miss his fame and status? No, Krister Stendahl (the late Bishop of Stockholm and Dean at Harvard Divinity) didn’t think so. Stendahl used to say that Paul did not have a Martin Luther experience. Paul was not oppressed by a terrified conscience, or laboring under a burden of guilt by an inability to do what the law required.
Rather Paul, as he shared with the Philippians, has a different story…
- Once upon a time I had it made and knew all the answers.
- Once upon a time I was prosperous, respected and religious.
- But then Jesus Christ knocked me off my horse and now I have lost everything.
- But that everything, all that I lost was just unimportant crap!
Paul, who asked from his high horse… “Do you know who I am?” seems to know that we have each asked that same question in our own way.
In sharing his “fan hitting” experience the tables are turned and as I see myself saying “Do you know who I am…” I hear Paul asking me: “why do you ask that question?”
And the mirror holding moves from self centeredness, off high horses of status and out of the muck, mire and stink of our lives toward the cross, suffering and death.
Our call is not to have others know who we are, but to have them know Christ and the power of His resurrection through us. For Christ, it matters not who we think we are, or if we are known to others. Christ knows who we are… loves us anyway, and that is all that matters. Thanks be to God!