Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 9, 2007

2007.09.09 “Who Am I?”

Central United Methodist Church

“Who Am I?”

Luke 14: 25 – 33

September 9th, 2007

Pastor David L. Haley (First Sermon to the Congregation)

“Who am I?”

I know this is the question you’re wondering: Who is this guy?  And once he gets to know me, will he like me?

Let me tell you, “Who am I?” is a question I have sometimes asked myself in the last few weeks, amidst the dizzying changes my family and I have made.

Like Bob, I have just ended a long pastorate, having served the First United Methodist Church of West Chicago for 17 years. During that time, not only did I serve the congregation, I was also Chaplain for the fire and police dept. and a firefighter/paramedic.

So when it became clear that I was going to move, I began to grieve, just as some of you are grieving the loss of a beloved pastor.  I discovered what many discover, that my work was a big chunk of my identity.  

Two of the hardest days for me were:  the day I resigned from the Fire Department, and the day I said goodbye to the members of my congregation.

For that reason, as I have thought now for almost three months about today, I have been both comforted and challenged by the Scriptures for the day:

     Jeremiah – like clay in the potter’s hand

     Psalm 139

     Gospel of Luke, 14:25 – 33

Psalm 139, especially, confirms that we are not the first to search for an answer to the question, “Who am I?” Best of all, it assures us that when we forget who we are, God knows, and that in turning to God, we are re-centered again.

Not just the life changes of moving, changing pastors.  But in all the times of change in life:  As a young adult, seeking an identity.  As a parent, wearing many hats.  When we acquire or lose a job.   When relationships change.  And, as we age.  We find ourselves asking, “Who am I?”

God knows, that is why, at such times, we who are religious turn to God for an answer to the question, “Who am I?”  Because God, who intimately knows us, can remind us.  That’s what we do when we gather here for worship, week by week.

But if God knows us, and the trajectory of our lives; there are times where God doesn’t let on, times when God lets us dangle and make our own decisions.  After all, that’s how we grow.

John Wesley once said that we ought to pray as though everything depends upon God; but we need to work as though everything depends upon us.

The words of Jesus in the Gospel would seem to support that point of view.   I like the way – or maybe I should say, I don’t like the way – the Message, by Eugene H. Peterson puts it, “”Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”

Our lives are like clay shaped by the potter; our lives are intimately known by God; and yet, there are times when we have to decide, when we have to make moral choices and life changes, and be willing, as Jesus said, “to kiss it all goodbye.“  In many respects, that’s what Michele and I felt like we were doing.

Yet I would have to say, every major “right” choice I have made in my life feels — or at least has come to feel, in time — that way:  As it unfolds, it was the feeling of being known and led; and yet, at the time I was making it, it was painful, frightening, and scary.

Let me share with you the story of how I came to be here.  On the last weekend in February, we received from Bishop Jung, through our Aurora Supt., Danita Anderson, our first offer to move.  We had 48 hours to make a decision.  Michele and I looked at it, but we couldn’t see it.  So, our answer was “No,” along with the reasons why.  But from that point on, we knew moving was pretty much inevitable.

Months passed, and we heard nothing.  We felt like we were “dangling.”  Finally, in May, we got another call:  “You’re going to get a call from another superintendent.  It’s a good offer, and I think you’re going to like it.”

Well, we began to think.  Based upon what we had said, it seemed likely it would be in the Chicago Northwestern District.  It was Michele who first said it, because, as an accountant, she had done Bob’s taxes:  “I wonder if it could be Skokie?”  “Hmmm,” I said, “Skokie.”  “That might be interesting.”  Then I said, “Oh no, Bob’s gonna think we planned this!”

By the time we got the call, I was praying:  “O God, please let it be James Preston (the Chicago Northwestern District Supt.).  And, secondly, “O God, please let it be Skokie.” 

In the next day or so, the phone rang. “Hello, David: This is James Preston . . . . I want to talk to you about Central Church in Skokie.”

So I am happy to be here, on this journey God is leading us on together.  For awhile, I’m going to be in a listening and learning mode as we get acquainted.

Roy Oswald, a teacher of preachers, when he asked what parishioners wanted most in their pastor, found out that what they wanted most was authenticity.  What I promise to you is that I will level with you, and be real.  I’m getting way too old to do otherwise.

What I promise is that, each week as you come here to worship we will grapple with such issues as we have today, rooted in Scripture, yet engaged in the world we live in.

What I promise is that I will be your congregational leader, worthy of your confidence and respect.

What I promise is that I will be a pastor to you – whether we like each other or not – available to you at your times of lostness and need.

Who Am I?  We are not the first, nor will we be the last, to ponder such questions.

During the years of WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young German theologian of great promise, who was imprisoned and hung by the Nazis for his participation in a plot against the life of Adolf Hitler.  Though a man of great faith, while in prison, Bonhoeffer asked the question, “Who am I?”

“Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equally, smilingly, proudly,

Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath,

as though hands were compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectation of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, 0 God, I am Thine!”

Whoever we are, O God, you know, we are yours. 

Amen.

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