20190818 Sunday Worship Sermon
“Who am I?" (John 1: 19-34)
Many years ago, I served in a retreat for youth and young adult group.
It was a time to think deeply about identity.
I gave a piece of paper to youth members and asked them to freely answer the question, “Who am I?”
After writing answers we shared what we wrote.
Various answers were shared.
Most of the answers were about their names.
"My parents are so and so" or "So and so is my friend or relative.”
These were their answers.
Some youth members said “I go to so and so school" and some young adult members said, "I am now doing this or that as my job."
There were also answers like, "I like to do this, I'm good at that, and I want to do this.”
Many different answers were shared.
Anyway, I learned that people understand their own identity most when they describe their relation to someone else.
Relationships with family, relationships with friends, or even relationships in the community to which they belong identifies who they are themselves.
Who do you think you are?
How would you answer the question, “Who am I?"
How would you respond to your identity?
Today’s text tells the story of a man who had encountered this question about 2,000 years ago at the Jordan River.
His name was John the Baptist.
Who was John the Baptist?
We all know what it means when we say, "has the same name?”
It's the same name but not the same person.
So, there can be many people with the same name.
I once searched my name on the internet to see how many people shared my name.
I searched in Korean and even typed it in English as "Bae Sun Kim" and found at least twenty other people.
It surprised me when I saw so many other people using the name, “Bae Sun Kim.”
So, I looked at what kind of people they were and found everyone very different.
There was a police officer named Bae Sun Kim, there were public officials, there were also students.
The area also varied from people living in Seoul, living in Busan, and living in Jeju Island.
I lived alone in the United States.
Ages ranged from young children to adults in their 50s.
Even more surprising, there were four women who shared the same name with me.
I thought, even an unpopular name like mine is shared by 20 other people, imagine those with more common names and think about how many people have the same name.
I came to think…to answer the question, Who am I? by saying, “I am Bae Sun Kim” is not an accurate description of my identity.
The same is true of the name “John” in today’s text.
There are several people in the Bible named John.
So, when you read the Bible, it can get confusing if you don't read it carefully.
There are at least five or more, and the most confusing of them is John the Baptist and the Apostle John.
John the Baptist’s father was Zechariah the priest, and his mother was Elizabeth.
John the Baptist had a prophetic role, baptized on the Jordan River, and was imprisoned by Herod Antipas and eventually sentenced to death.
Jesus spoke of John the Baptist by saying that he was better than any man given birth by a woman.
The Apostle John was from Bethsaida in Galilee, his father was Zebedee, his mother was Salome, his brother was James, and he was a fisherman.
Apostle John was first a disciple of John the Baptist and then followed Jesus later.
The apostle John was one of Jesus' 12 disciples who was loved by Jesus, and he also wrote the Gospel of John, which we are reading today, as well as 1st, 2nd, 3rd John and Revelation.
He was devoted to the Gospel and the church, and was even called the pillar of the Early Church.
In addition to these two, John the Baptist and the Apostle John, there are three other Johns mentioned in the Bible.
Therefore, you should not confuse one for the other.
Today, I would like to focus on John the Baptist.
John the Baptist lived a distinct life from a young age.
When he was older, John the Baptist would go out into the wilderness and begin crying out to the people of Judah while eating locusts and wild honey.
Many began to listen to his message and came to the Jordan River as a sign of repentance and were baptized.
As the ministry of John the Baptist became more and more known in Jerusalem, the Jewish people, the religious leaders of the day, sent people to ask questions.
"Who are you?"
John the Baptist answered this question clearly.
He made sure to let them know who he was and the work he was doing.
Let me be a little more specific.
Now, at the question of “Who are you,” John the Baptist made it clear of who he was not.
In other words, when asked, “who are you” John did not answer, "I am so and so.”
Instead, John the Baptist replied, “I am not…”
John the Baptist made it clear that he was not Christ, the Savior promised by God.
Then the people asked, "Then are you Elijah?"
Because the Old Testament records that before the Messiah came Elijah would come and turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.
John told them he was not Elijah.
So, the people asked again, “Then are you the prophet?”
John told them he was not the prophet.
Brothers and sisters, John the Baptist answered this way because he had a clear understanding of his identity.
At the time, John the Baptist was a spiritual leader widely known to people in Jerusalem and Judea.
He knew that people would assume he was the Messiah they were waiting for.
It shows how John the Baptist was very influential in those days.
John the Baptist could have said, "I am the one ..." and people would have believed.
But John the Baptist had a clear identity of himself.
He had a clear idea of his work.
He had a clear understanding of the boundary that he could not cross.
He was convinced that he was not a star in God's work of salvation, but to support.
He made it clear that he was not Christ but came to prepare the way of Christ.
Many people see themselves and fail to identify who they really are.
Sometimes we hear others praise us and mistake ourselves as greater than we really are.
We boast and think we are bigger when we are no better.
We forget and think we have the leading role when we are only supporting.
In the same way, those who are served forget they also need to serve.
We think we are glorious, even though we are nothing before God.
We think that even though our faith is so little, we comfort ourselves in thinking we are great.
Former Secretary of State Alexander Hague made this mistake during former US President Reagan’s presidency.
When President Reagan was shot in 1981, Hague acted as if he was the one who would take over the presidency.
This led to his resign as Secretary of State.
It was because of his mistaken identity.
Brothers and sisters, we need to know who we are.
We need to know who we are and we need to know our limits.
Well, today's text shows the people asking John the Baptist who he was.
John clearly answered, "I am not the Christ, nor am I Elijah, I am also not the prophet."
So the people asked again.
“Then who are you? What do you say for yourself?”
Then John answered in verse 23.
“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness to straighten the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said ....”
Yes, John the Baptist did not answer the question in relation to other people by saying,
"I am the son of so and so" or “I am the friend of so and so" or "My teacher is so and so” or “I am from here of there."
Based on his answer, he did not talk about his own identity.
John the Baptist's answer understood his identity and his mission in relationship with God and in the light of God's work of salvation.
Brothers and sisters, this is important.
We must have this understanding.
“Who am I?" " Who are you?"
We can answer this question in many ways.
I can say, “My name is, my father is, my friend is, I live here, I go to school there, I work at, I’m good at and I go to church here.”
But above all, the most important thing is to understand ourselves in relation to God and to see and hope for a relationship with God.
It is to realize our identity through our relationship with God.
Brothers and sisters, because God created us, we cannot fully understand ourselves without God.
There is nothing more important than knowing that we are God’s children.
This is our most important identity.
How about our church?
We can know what kind of church we are when we understand why God appointed the church and built it here.
We must realize the will of God in order to establish our church here and why God has led us to it.
In it, we can find the identity of our church.
The same is true for small groups and committees within the church.
We must realize that there is a plan and providence of God in these meetings and the committees.
That should be the identity.
The identity must be established in the relationship with God, not other things.
Our identity is understanding God’s plan for us, our mission and the reason why God has called us.
John the Baptist was called the "voice of one crying in the wilderness" and that was his mission.
He was faithful to that mission.
He introduced the people to Jesus Christ, repented before God, and was baptized.
In verse 26, John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the people.
“I baptize with water. But there is one of you who you do not know. He is behind me, but I do not deserve to loosen his shoes.”
In verse 29, Jesus is introduced as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
Yes, John the Baptist revealed Jesus through baptizing in the water.
He wanted to let the people know that he baptizes with water, but that Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist also emphasized that the most important preparation for receiving Jesus is repentance.
And in response to John's cry, many decided to come before God, be baptized, and lived a new life by repenting.
He prepared the coming of the Lord.
He faithfully straightened the way of the Lord.
John the Baptist did not waste any time in his mission to prepare for the Lord’s coming.
The words from John 1:6 introduce the work of John the Baptist:
“There was a man sent from God. The name was John. The man came to bear witness of the light, and through him was to make everyone believe. The man was not a light. He has come to bear witness of that light.”
That was John's mission, and that was John's identity.
Brothers and sisters, our identity is in our mission.
God saved us, He has called us to Olive Church to remember His purpose and carry out the mission that was given to us.
That is our identity.
We are all called to be witnesses of the light, like John the Baptist.
We are not the light ourselves.
We have all been called to be a witness.
I hope that all of us will resist the temptation to be the light and take on our mission of witnessing the light.
May Jesus Christ be testified through our words, our expressions, our actions, and our lives.
We must live as a witness as John the Baptist did.
Brothers and sisters, even a bright smile on your face can show Christ.
It happened in London, England.
One day a lady was crossing the street in front of the station.
Then an old man came and said,
“Excuse me, ma'am! I wanted to stop you to thank you!”
“To thank me?” The woman asked in surprise.
“Yes, ma'am! I have been a station inspector for passenger tickets at London Station for a long time. But each time you handed me a ticket, you replaced the morning with a bright and cheerful smile. I realized that your smile came from deep inside your heart. One morning after that, I found a small Bible in your hands. So, I finally bought and read the Bible, and found Jesus Christ in it!”
Brothers and sisters, the world we live in today is becoming a world where we are forgetting who we are.
We are living busy lives, but why, for what purpose?
The question the Jewish religious leaders asked John the Baptist is the same question that is asked of us today.
Brothers and sisters, “Who are we?
And where can we find the answer to this question?
The answer lies with the Lord.
You need to return to the Lord to know who you are.
We only know who we are in our relationship with God.
And we know who we are through the mission God has called and given to each of us.
You are all children of God.
And you are all witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Not only John the Baptist.
Even today, we too are witnesses of the Lord, who is the light.
I hope that we realize our identity clearly.
We will have to find our identity.
We will have to find our mission.
I bless you in the name of the Lord that we are all holding on to that identity. Amen.