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December 17, 2017

“Waiting with Joy”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 126

John 1.6-8, 19-28

December 17, 2017

            I am not a cook. I cannot make food that requires skill beyond macaroni and cheese or the use of a microwave. I am not a plumber. My father has walked me through simple water related problems but I am not qualified at fixing pipes. Also, I am not a mathematician. I made my way through Algebra in high school, and then halted at Geometry.

            In my life I have learned some of my limitations – what I can and cannot do. I’ve learned what I like to do, and don’t like to do, what I can try to do and pull off relatively well, and then those things that should be left to the professionals, like letting Rob do the cooking, calling a plumber when there is a leak, and hiring a CPA to do my taxes. In life it is helpful to know our own identity, which encompasses who we are, but also who we are not.[1]

            We are more than the negatives that define us, though.[2] The “nots” in our lives do not do justice to what we are and who we are. In our Gospel reading John the Baptist is telling the people who he is not. As we mentioned last week he is paving the way for Jesus, and people are curious as to who he is – questioning his authority. Is he a prophet? Elijah? The messiah? He answers negatively to all of these – he is not a prophet. He is not Elijah. He is definitely not the messiah. Except this only tells us part of the story. Other Gospel authors have tried to define him. According to the Gospel of Mark he is John the Baptizer, while in Matthew he is John the Baptist. When spoken of in Luke he is referred to as John, son of Zechariah.[3] The first two define him by his job, or what he does, while the latter defines him by his family – like a last name. The author of the Gospel of John tells us that John was “sent by God.”[4] He is defined by his calling, defined by the One who called him. When he is done answering in the negative, John says he is a “voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He identifies as a person fulfilling scripture passages and is pointing to Jesus.

            His job is to point to someone else – Jesus the Christ, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is laying the groundwork for others to see Jesus as God in the flesh. Surely this concept is difficult to understand. If the people cannot shift their thinking of him as a prophet or Elijah, how will they accept Jesus, this fully man and fully God presence in their lives? John’s identity is tied closely to his response to Jesus.

            We are living in a time when it seems easy to lose our identity. We can be judged by our Facebook messages or become a Twitter handle or even just another number in the system – a social security number or phone number. Just another face in the crowd. We often define ourselves by what we can do and what we cannot do. Except, how often do we define ourselves as children of God? How often do we define ourselves as belonging to Christ? If we don’t define ourselves by Christ, how can we reflect the light that Christ shines in our lives?

            Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort, a minister in this presbytery, writes about identity as a Korean American in her book Making Paper Cranes. She explores her experiences growing up within a Korean family and references Boyung Lee, a Korean woman who was attempting to learn how to cook like her mother. Lee struggled to cook, and asked her mother what would help her learn. Her mother answered that she should begin with a familiar dish, taste along the way, and then use cookbooks as guidelines for making that dish. Later, she added that a cook must be aware of their sonmat, which is translated as “the taste of one’s hands.”[5] Her mother told her, “Even though you use the best materials to make good food, if your hands do not have right condition, the food will not turn out good. No matter what is going on in your life and in the world, don’t let the world define who you are and who you should be. When your mind and heart are in peace, your body will be in a calm and peaceful condition.”[6] I imagine this idea of sonmat expands to the world, too. If we see ourselves as loved by God, what we do is reflected as such in the world. When we are brought down by the weight of the world, we have more difficulty convincing others that God is in control and that there is hope. We are not to be defined by the items we buy or the clothes we wear or the things in our lives.[7] If we allow others to define us, we are not accurately being defined.

            We sometimes define ourselves by our failures. We frame ourselves with what we have done wrong. Especially as we look to a new year, we make resolutions to change all those things we don’t like about ourselves. The psalm we read this morning looks backward and forward, much like we do at the beginning of a new year.[8] Last week we discussed the role of nostalgia during Advent and how we look to the past to give us hope and understanding because the past seems more concrete than the unknown future. Yet, we cannot be stuck in the past or worry about the future, for we must be present, especially as we wait for Christ.

            This psalm was written for harvesting time, looking toward rain to nourish the soil. It was thought that during this time God looked back over the past and then would give signs as to what would happen in the future.[9]

            We continue to learn about God with every moment of every day. The sound of the rushing wind teaches us to be still. Scripture tells us that God is just and loving. Experience of God informs us that God is present. Stories from others shape our understanding of God. If we are present and aware, we can learn about God in many ways. We can be confident that we are loved by God and that we belong to God. So, we will begin to see ourselves as God sees us.

            You each have been given a sheet of paper. I encourage you to put your name on it and I’m going to ask you to come forward and fill it out. Place it on the table and then go around and put down a word or phrase that describes that person’s gifts and strengths.

           

            Take these home and be lifted up. See that you belong to God. As we wait we remember that we are loved by God and we respond in the world to this deep love. Amen.

 

[1] David Bartlett, “John 1.6-8, 19-28” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 70.

[2] Martha Spong, “Living By the Word” in Christian Century, November 22, 2017, Vol. 134, No. 24, p.18.

[3] Gary W. Charles, “John 1.6-8, 19-28” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 71.

[4] Ibid., 71.

[5] Mihee Kim-Kort, Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2012), 66.

[6] Boyung Lee, “Recreating Our Mother’s Dishes: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Pedagogy,” in Brock et al., Off the Menu, 293-94.

[7] Marcia Y. Riggs, “John 1.6-8, 19-28” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 72.

[8] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 16.

[9] Ibid., 16.