St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Passion Sunday, March 21, 2021
“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
THERE is a great crime being committed at this moment and we are its victims. Identity theft on a monumental scale. At the speed of cyberspace—and do you know what is being stolen? It’s not your social security number. You are not a nine-digit code. It’s not your credit card number. You are also not a sixteen-digit code, with expiration date and magic number on the back. It isn’t your driver’s license number or your ATM pin or your checking account, your voting precinct, the plot number of your house, your health insurance policy, your email password, or your Amazon membership. Does this relieve you? It shouldn’t. For it’s been just these codes and impersonal numbers, these convenient brands on us like someone’s cattle in their domesticated herd that have been the means by which our identity has been stolen. You are NOT a number.
On your birth certificate is a name for you that your parents decided would give you your special identity. Most people name us for someone else, in memory or honor. I’m named Peter after my great grandfather, a Danish sea captain, and my middle name is Falconer, for my step-grandfather—both on my father’s side. Peter means a rock, and hearkens back to St. Peter, Jesus’ rocky-headed lead apostle. Falconer means one who hunts with falcons, those beautiful birds of prey we see around Butte County. My sir-name, Hansen, means “son of Hans,” apparently one of my ancestors. Ok: that’s much better than 341-90-4092, or the alarm code on a keypad. I don’t know how many Peter Falconer Hansens there are in the US, but it’s probably not many. But my true identity is not Rocky Birdhunter the Son of Hans. I don’t know what it is—somebody stole it. My parents nearly called me Gunder.
Jesus knew His identity. Actually, it’s a great theological debate how much Jesus, the man, knew of His true identity and at what point in His life. Be careful now. God is God. God knows everything. If Jesus doesn’t know everything – even as a man – we may be pulling Him apart from the divine nature our Creed says is His. God and man at once, in one Person, yet Jesus was born a human baby, at first without human language, unable to sit up or walk: totally helpless. Did this infant know He created everything He saw? Don’t say No. This is a mystery—leave it there. Anyway, by the time Jesus came off the desert of His forty day fast, He held His destiny and identity clearly in His grasp. The mission of His life was before Him: a thirty-year-old Israeli in occupied territory, native of nowhere, whose mother couldn’t explain to anyone who His Father was.
Jesus told us Who He is. God speaks. “I AM THAT I AM,” God told Moses at the burning bush. “That is my name forever, the same God as that of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Tell them I AM has sent you.” This is a powerful Name, YHWH: the Tetragrammaton, four Hebrew letters that Jews today are still afraid to pronounce. Jesus was not afraid to say it.
In Jerusalem He debated His identity with people who claimed they were interested, but doubted He was truly from God. “We are children of Abraham, in fact we are God’s own children, but you’re a Samaritan with demons in you.” He didn’t respond lightly. “You do the works of your true father, Satan: you’re trying to kill me. If you kept my word, you’d never see death.”
If God incarnate were to promise life without end, would you take Him at His word and do whatever He asks? To keep His word: what is that? Believe He is who He says He is and act accordingly. They continued debating and He stopped them with this. “Before Abraham ever came forth, I AM.” Uh-Oh. The unspeakable Name of God. It wasn’t a slip of the tongue. They picked up stones to kill Him with, but He walked away unharmed.
What is Jesus’ true identity? He gave us many signs of it. ‘I AM’ means the self-existent One, God without beginning, the source of all that is. “I and my Father are one.” John 10:30 Jesus says that He is God. He also says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.” Rev 1:11 “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” Rev 1:17 Jesus is from everlasting to everlasting, alive—in fact, He is life. “I am the bread of life.” John 6:48 The Bread we take at Communion is Jesus Himself who gives us His life. “I am the light of the world.” John 8:12 In His light we can see who we are and Who He is. “I am the good shepherd.” John 10:11 We are His sheep, who must follow Him. “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25 If you wish eternal life, there is no other way. In fact, He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6 There is something exclusive about this claim. Without Him, we’re dead men. “I am the vine, you are the branches.” John 15:5 We draw our life from Him. “I am a king.” John 18:37 And if He is our king, and we hear His voice, we must obey Him, love Him and follow Him. His names speak of His role in our lives. I don’t doubt He has many names besides, and they are names we’ll never know, names that pass between Him and His Father. I am Son of Hans; He is Son of God—much better.
But where does that leave us? The faith in Jesus and worship of the Holy Trinity is not intended to distance us from God who is “just too important for me.” The entire history of God and man has been intimate, personal, seeking after us and our welfare, and empowering us to be more than we knew. A destiny, an identity—He’s ready to give us these and more, much more. He’s already told you who you really are.
But your true identity is being stolen, like a guy who stole an airplane and paints over its numbers, or a carjacker filing off the VIN numbers on the engine block. It’s like the hacker with your credit card who’s buying a house full of leather couches and tanks of gas while you sleep. Who’s stealing your ID? Learn your ID, and how to get it back. Your identity is not a number issued by the government.
2,750 years ago: the southern kingdom of Judah was under siege from the Assyrians. The northern kingdom had already been swept away, and the people despaired. God spoke through Isaiah, assuring them, “These Gentiles shall see your righteousness, And all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the Lord will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called My Delight, and your land Married; For the Lord delights in you, And your land shall be married to Him.” Isaiah 62:2-4
The Epistle today says that we “which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” We are heirs of God, along with Christ. But God doesn’t die, so how do we inherit? And what is our inheritance? Many Christians I know merely hope not to go to hell. That’s like hoping you don’t go to prison. There’s an aspiration! We act like we’re going to sneak in and just edge around the wall as Heaven’s gates close behind us, Whew! Made it! Those are high hopes! Getting our hopes up higher, some of us want to sing in a huge choir, or sit at the table while angels wait on us. Good. What if God has something more than that for you?
In letters to Asia’s 7 churches, Jesus promises much: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Rev 2:17 “…to him will I give power over the nations: …even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. 2:26-28 “You shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out your name out of the book of life, but I will confess your name before my Father, and before his angels.” 3:5-6 I will make you “a pillar in the temple of my God, and you shall go no more out: and I will write upon you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon you my new name.”Rev 3:12 “To those that overcome will I grant to sit with me in my throne.” Rev 3:21
He calls Himself Bridegroom and His Church is His Bride. Married to Jesus is being a queen, a royal person seated with Him in His throne. St. Peter, my namesake, writes to you that “you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God.” 1 Peter 2:9-10
This isn’t old Bible language for some forgotten time. It’s right now, today. You and I are heroes in God’s plan, Frodo chosen to hike into Mordor and seek Mount Doom, Jason braving perils to bring back the golden fleece, Gideon called to take a tiny army and route a hundred thousand enemies from the land, David with the courage to take a sling against the huge Philistine Goliath. It doesn’t matter what your stature is, or your age, your old notion of yourself. You’ve been told a pack of lies about who and what you are. In truth you’re to acquit yourself ready to do battle, prepared to meet your destiny.
I declare today that your identity does not lie in a string of numbers, or even the three names typed on your birth certificate. Your parents didn’t create you. What did you tell your Creator when you came forth from nothing? “I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written … when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:14-16 There was purpose in His making you. What was it?
You have a destiny, stars shining out your true name and path of life, the cosmos ringing with the works God always intended to be accomplished in your hands. Don’t let the world tell you who you are. God said, “I AM THAT I AM.” May you say, “I am who God says I am.” And who does He say that you are? King, priest, beloved bride, good and faithful servant, warrior, victor, higher than angels, the image and the likeness of God. Live in that knowledge and honor His will for you. You have a name. May you find it engraved on your bright, sharp sword.