Proper 12C Sermon (2010)

Proper 12 (July 24-30)
Texts: Col. 2:6-15;
Luke 11:1-13


It’s an important day for tiny and precious Kara Floyd and Elijah Nicholas. It’s their baptism day. And St. Paul in our second lesson signals this importance by placing our baptism into the cross and resurrection of Christ at the center of things. He compares it to the comparable Jewish rite, calling it a “spiritual circumcision,” and saying that “when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses…, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” Forgiveness. A blanket amnesty for our sin. This, no doubt has tremendous consequences for our identities. We grow up in the faith that we are not just sinners but forgiven sinners, which makes all the difference in the world — the difference between needing to hide big portions of ourselves in shame and having the freedom to face those shadowy portions of who we are and find them redeemed.

But St. Paul adds one more statement to this baptismal identity which helps us recover something we Christians have lost, namely, the public, social, and political dimensions of who we are as followers of Christ. This nailing to the cross of our sin, he says, “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” For those baptized Christians in Colossae their identities in Christ meant not only a new birth of personal freedom but also a new birth of political freedom. They were no longer bound to the sinful ways of the Roman Empire, either.

I had some days vacation this week, and I happen to catch a portion of one of The Bourne Identity trilogy of movies on TV. Well, our son Josh owns the trilogy and so I found myself watching all three movies over the next several days. As sometimes happens, some images and themes from these movies dovetailed with my ruminations on our Sunday text. I realized that The Bourne Identity can help us reflect a bit on our baptismal identities. So we could call these next few moments — wait for it — “The ‘Borning Cry’ Identity.”(1) What do you think?

A first thing that jumped out to me in watching The Bourne Identity trilogy is the prominence of images involved with water, in near drowning scenes. The very first movie opens with an eery shot of a body floating in water, with the camera angle far below the water’s surface looking up with the silhouette of the body against the bright moonlight above. As the story begins to unfurl, we learn along with that person, fished out of the water by some Mediterranean fishermen, that he is Jason Bourne, a highly trained assassin for the CIA. I say that we find out along with Jason Bourne, because the incident that landed him in the water has given him amnesia. He can’t remember who he is. That first movie is about starting from zero with recovering his identity.

But that whole process of trying to recover his identity leads him into a new freedom to begin choosing a new life out from under the control of the CIA. The first movie ends with him running away with a woman he has met and cares for. But the second movie opens with a similar scene in the water. It seems that the CIA won’t let go so easily, and two years later another trained assassin comes gunning for him in India. Instead, his woman friend is shot as they are driving over a bridge in India, and their vehicle crashes through the side and plunges into the river below. Again, we have the frightening image of bodies floating under water with the threat of drowning. The final two movies, then, unfold the continuing drama of Bourne’s efforts to break free of the CIA altogether and to begin to start his life anew, with the freedom to choose his identity. He finds out that his real name isn’t even Jason Bourne. He was born David Webb, and the CIA had taken him out of the military several years earlier to go through an experimental process of rewriting his identity. And the process for breaking down his earlier identity for the one the CIA would give him? Bourne has glimpses of that training begin to crash into his memory. And here’s the thing that really links up with “The Borning Cry Identity,” they put a hood over Bourne’s head and dunked it into a tank of water. Bourne finds himself compelled to return to that place of his training, that place where his identity was forcefully re-written to be that of a trained assassin. And that’s how the movie ends. He makes it back to more fully recall that moment of beginning the training at the training facility itself in New York City, with the person who oversaw it. Armed with that critical information the implication is that he now is finally free — that is, after taking one last plunge. In escaping the CIA assassins still after him, he jumps off the roof of that training facility to the Hudson River ten stories below. The trilogy ends with the same eery image as it began: with the camera deep below the water looking up at the silhouette of a body above shadowed in the moonlight. The body is motionless; we wonder if the concussion of the water has killed him. We see flashes of ensuing events of revealing the misguided program to congress in an effort to end it altogether, and then we are back to the motionless body in the water, which suddenly comes to life and begins swimming away — presumably as David Webb once again with another new identity to begin to live.

How might The Bourne Identity movies help us to reflect for a few moments on “The Borning Cry Identity” that little Kara and Elijah have been blessed with this morning. An obvious difference is that God doesn’t offer us the rewritten identities according to the dying and rising with Christ in order to control us. Christ’s self-giving unto the death of the cross was a relinquishing control in order to expose the controlling ways of all human empires. His giving in to control and being raised to new life disarms the rulers and authorities who seek control in ordinary human politics and triumphs over them. Being baptized into that Easter victory liberates us from the controlling identities ordinarily given to us by human empires so that we can begin to live according to the values and powers of God’s kingdom, a kingdom based on love, and so a kingdom based on partnering with others that they might flourish instead of trying to control others. Our baptismal identities are more like The Bourne Identity not of the original CIA training, but of Bourne gradually becoming loosed from that CIA training.

It points to the crucial difference, I think. Human efforts at forming identities, of nurturing our children’s identities end up, because of sin, being processes of vying for control over others. Certainly, parents begin the process in love of helping to shape their children’s identities but there is so much about the overall awesome process of parenting that is beyond our control. There are the points of unhealth in our own lives that we cannot completely control. In my family, for example, alcoholism is prominent. And I have had to seek healing in order to begin to be loosed from at least some of the effects of this disease. But it goes even far beyond our more immediate family dis-eases to those of our human cultures, in general. Even the best of our human empires constantly fall prey to the satanic forces of control, and each of our identities are shaped in countless ways through the cultures of empire. The Christian Good News is that our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ means not only the forgiveness to liberate the personal dimensions of our identity formation but also the freedom from one who triumphed over human empire to liberate the more frightening reality of cultural identity formation, which is more like those opening and closing shots of The Bourne Identity, a lone body silhouetted against the massiveness of a dark body of water. Come to think of it, I remember Bourne’s body silhouetted like this (stretch out arms in the shape of a cross). Christ Jesus our true Lord stretched out his arms like this on a cross, in order that through God’s resurrection power of life we might begin to enter into The Borning Cry Identity, the beginning of our liberation from the controls of human empires for the flourishing freedom of God’s Kingdom.

What does that look like exactly? Well, in this new age of globalization, I think it increasingly looks like forging global partnerships as we have sought to do with our recent trip to Guatemala. We heard compelling stories from a woman whose husband simply disappeared thirty years ago. And our wariness of human sin and the sin of human empire might prompt us to ask how our own government might have been involved in that kind of death, even if it was more out of neglect than by direct cause. And we began to forge partnerships with the people of San Lucas, doing really nitty-gritty things like building roads. Again, liberated into loving values of serving and partnership of God’s Kingdom, how do we continue the process of bringing our economies together int ways in which we can all flourish as God’s children. Can the beinning be as simple as buying their coffee? What other ways might we continue this meaningful partnership and continue to live it out in our own community of Southwest Michigan?

These are the exciting questions raised by The Borning Cry Identity, God’s offer of a new identity in Jesus Christ that liberates us from all the sinful ways of human identity formation that otherwise control our lives. It opens up vistas for us to answer God’s call to partnership in loving caring for the whole creation, beginning with our little corner of it, and spreading through partnerships with disciples of Jesus worldwide, that we might truly make a difference in partnering with God to save this world for truly living. Kara and Elijah have entered this partnership today, with the promises of God’s very Spirit to renew their lives in The Borning Cry Identity. Amen

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, July 25, 2010

1. “Borning Cry” is a baptismal song by John Ylvisaker that our congregation often sings on baptism days.

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