7th Sunday of Easter
Who Are You?
Smishing, Phishing, Vishing, not to mention dumpster diving, mail theft and ATM skimming are just some of the ways high tech thieves are stealing people’s identity now days, and in the process robbing folks of possessions and equally precious reputations. A fraud protection service website gave me all the un-nerving details I needed about how “at risk” you and I really are. Bottom line - get “Life Lock” or don’t ever go online, open a credit card account, maintain a savings or brokerage account, use an ATM, let your credit card out of your sight and while you at it meet your mailman at the mailbox every day or else get a PO box!
In this numeric-identification world we live in no one is satisfied we are who we claim to be till we recite “the last 4 digits of our social.” But it needs be because the fastest growing crime in the US today is identity theft. You might have seen one of those CitiCorp commercials a while back in which a T-shirted guy on his riding lawnmower who squeaks in some feminine southern drawl about the “tinsy-wensiest little ol diamonds” "he" just bought – why thank you ever so much! Obviously the lawnmower guy had his identity and credit swiped by folks who would “smish, phish, vish or dumpster dive” to get the cool stuff they want.
It’s not easy to accept that “our social” and a handful of “11 characters of which at least 2 must be numeric” passwords are now who we are, or at least protect who we are, and that every time we call for something we got to sit through a “sir...for verification purposes as this call may be recorded can you tell me the make and model of your first car and the name of your jr. prom date please?” But like it or not, people can “steal us” and because they can we have to take all sorts of precautions. We need to protect our identity- protect who we are.
Paul, the preacher of life in Jesus name, thought he had locked down that identity for his friends in Galatia. So he was understandably pretty bent out of shape when he caught wind of the loss of identity happening to people he cared about. The Galatian letter is an alarm – Christians there were in danger of losing their new identity in Christ. Those whom Jesus had invited to become “fishers of men” were losing their identity to “phishers and vishers” of law and custom.
It's hard for us to imagine just how and why Paul became so worked up. But the people in the region called Galatia had heard and believed in the most influential identity maker in history. You see, Jesus takes everything that we think defines us - our nationality, our wealth or lack thereof, our gender, our political leanings, our intellect, and over-rides all of it with a new identity as his disciples and members of his church. As Paul put it in Colossians 3:3 - "You died. and now your life is hidden with Christ in God." Bottom line –if you have Christ you have a lock on life as it was intended to be lived.
We protect our identity in Christ in ways not dissimilar to how we protect our worldly identity. Do you now use passwords to access valuable information and assets of yours – several times a day no less? Probably. Our password as believers are the Scriptures – they give us access to the better life in Jesus. Are you careful what you throw out these days? Good. Are you as careful not to toss aside your Christian convictions? Your relationship with Christ is your identity and your identity is based on who you say Jesus is.
Paul sounds an identity theft alarm in our lesson today is because he knew identity is not easy to get back. Once you lose it, or in the case of the Galatians allow it to be taken away by people who insisted on other means to salvation, you have to work darn hard to get back to salvation by grace through faith. To make his point, Paul went all the way back to Abraham, who didn’t have a lick of accomplishments or reputation to show for himself, just belief in a promise of God’s. Like ol Father Abraham the Galatians had nothing to recommend them to God, just a nod of the head when Paul told them about Christ, and a better way. Jesus took all that previous identity stuff, male/female, slave/free, Jew/Greek and said you all now have the same last name – Christian, and the same middle name - Grace.
It’s fortuitous that we get a lesson like this even when we normally set aside time to honor people for what they’ve accomplished. Moms, you are wonderful people and you do a good work and we both respect you and give thanks for you today. Well done all you good and faithful servants. We know moms that you may have been the first ones we learned to say please and thank you from, we know you wiped our noses and stayed up late with us when we couldn’t sleep.
From you we have a goodly heritage as Psalm 16 says. (Graduates, we’re awfully proud of you and pumped for what lies ahead for you – not least is turning in your Magic City parking pass. We know graduates that you have considerable skills and the energy to put them to good use – as II Timothy says “do you best to present yourselves as ones approved, workers who need not be ashamed, but who correctly handles the word of truth.)
But then again, don’t place too much of this on yourselves. Paul may have been a bit animated in this letter, but his point is this...don’t take your work (or successes and failures in them) so seriously that you forget that you just have one identity that matters – beloved of God and heirs of a promise – locked down and secure as can be because of Jesus Christ. AMEN