Who Are You?

Questions of identity get at the heart of the Christian life.  I had a spiritual director out in Connecticut who was fond of saying that the core spiritual question is, ‘Who am I?’  I originally met with this director not to talk about myself, but to talk about God.   I had read Richard Foster’s A Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.  The practice of spiritual direction Foster described sounded attractive.  He called it “a process through which one person helps another person understand what God is doing and saying.”   So, every other month, I would drive an hour east from our home in Norwalk to stay at a Catholic retreat center in Madison called Mercy by the Sea.   Over the course of a 24-hour retreat, I would spend an hour with this catholic lay person trained in spiritual direction.

He would start by posing God questions to me.  “Where do you see God?”  “How do you sense God is at work in your life?”  But these questions would soon turn to questions of self.  We might start with the question, “What is God calling you to do right now?”  As a young pastor, I was eager to know where best to focus my time and energy.  What spiritual practices should I hone?  What new ministries or mission efforts should I undertake?   But those questions forced me time and again to ask who I was. What specific strengths or weaknesses do I bring?   Who has God made me to be?  What does it look like not simply for someone to be attentive to God’s will – but for me to do that?

Calvin begins his magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, noting this interplay between knowledge of God and knowledge of self.  He writes “Nearly all the wisdom we possess…consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.  But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”  (Calvin’s Institutes, 1.1.1)

In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus calls people to come and follow him, he offers them not only wonderful new knowledge of God.  He gives them new insight about themselves.  Simon and Andrew saw themselves as fishers of fish.  Jesus calls them fishers of people.  James and John thought they were just sons of Zebedee.  Jesus shows them that they are beloved children of God.  Matthew was a tax collector shunned and despised by Jews of his time.  Jesus called him an honored guest at God’s banquet.  Discipleship is a journey not just of greater knowledge of God, but of self as well.

In the current sermon series, we are looking at discipleship and identity in Matthew’s Gospel.  As we listen for God’s word in the pages of Matthew, and watch God at work in the words and ministry of Jesus, I believe we gain not only deeper knowledge of the God-made flesh in Jesus Christ.  We will find life-giving answers to that great spiritual question: “Who am I?”

~Pastor Matt