Our Christian Identity
By Dennis S. Hankins
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit… – Jesus
Occasionally there is a news story that captures the imagination and heart. About three years ago a young person mysteriously showed up in Manhattan claiming to have no memory of her family, her home or even her own name according to CNN. The young girl, estimated to be between 14 and 17 years of age, gave an agonizing appeal stating, “I just want to know who I am.”
Who am I? Where did I come from? In a good stable home life including a loving mom and dad and grandma and grandpa these questions usually get answered.
This past week I had a few days off. We visited family and friends in the towns where we grew up. Our visit included decorating the graves of those members of our families we’ve laid to rest throughout the years. All of it put together was a stroll down memory lane remembering who we are and where we came from and pausing before the headstones of those who helped us to know who we are and what is expected of us.
I visited with Warren Evans too. He is a WWII veteran and served with the original elite Darby’s Rangers. I’ve known Mr. Evans since I was a little boy. Going back home this week I wanted to be sure not to leave the area before getting to see him. Through a hastily arranged meeting I got to shake his hand and hug his neck just before he and his son, Mark, took off for Aberdeen, South Dakota. I asked Warren how old he was.
“I’m between 93 and 94,” he said.
He continued. “I’m going out west with my son to Portland where he lives. But we’re going to Aberdeen first. That’s where I’m from. I’m going to see if the Virginia Cafe and Combs Chocolate shop is still there. I used to sell papers in front of the Cafe when I was a boy. I’m going also to see my sister and brother-in-law. They’re in the nursing home.”
I marveled at this giant of a man who still makes me stand straighter when I’m in his presence. Here before me is a man who endured POW atrocities and treatment. Yet for as long as I’ve known Mr. Evans he smiles through his ghostly memories and makes you believe that life is worth living and that freedom is worth defending and that friendships are priceless. Warren knows who he is and where he came from. More importantly his faith reminds him also who he is and where he’s going. His Christian identity is sure and vibrant and has sustained him through the untimely deaths of two sons and two grandsons. And three years ago his dear wife Frances, his bride for 64 years left his life but not his heart.
I don’t know if I’ll get to see Warren again in this world. But I know we share a common heritage and identity through baptism. In baptism we receive a new self, the old is gone and all things are new; especially ourselves. Through Christian baptism we gain a Christian understanding of ourselves, and of our world and of the world to come.
For over two thousand years Christian baptism has been the way men and women and their children have become Christian. The Trinitarian invocation in Christian baptism brings us into a new relationship with God. By it we become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. God lays his claim and his blessing on us when in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we become his sons and his daughters. If we are his sons and his daughters through baptism then we are also brothers and sisters as well.
Some say blood is thicker than water when describing family relationships. But Christian baptism creates relationships through immersion into the immeasurable depths of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each in their own distinct mission come to us as God who is love. It is beyond our finite minds to grasp the infinite and eternal realms of this mystery. This mystery is even more compelling when we recognize that we are God’s children not because of a particular blood line nor by the will of the flesh nor of the will of man. We are his children because God wills it! And because he wills it he gives us the Spirit of adoption and in our hearts we are free to pray, “Abba! Father! Hallowed be thy name.”
Herein is love, not that we loved God but that God first loved us. Who are we? We are God’s children. May we be faithful to first praise God for his generous disposition toward us. Then let us also pray to be to each other generous in all things especially in kindness, and forgiveness, and in love. The greatest of these is love; God is love – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.