Contemplative photo by Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones
Even while we continue to protect one another’s health by sharing the gift of social distancing, the Trinity community remains vibrant and connected. In a time when so-called “identity politics” often drives polarization, our faith leads us to embrace a diversity of identities, vocations, and gifts as a source of hope. The question of identity accompanies us through every stage of life, and the answers grow along with us. The commentaries, activities, and practices for the week all are inspired by the question Jesus asks his disciples in Sunday’s gospel: “Who do people say that I am?” It’s a universal topic, and you’ll find something for everybody in the links below. Have a great week, whoever you are!
Director, Faith Formation and Education
- This Sunday
- Adult Learning
- Adult Practice
- Children and Families Resources
- Youth Resources
- Song of the Week
To prepare for Sunday, see this week’s readings.
Flowers in Trinity Churchyard
Who Do You Think You Are?
What do people say about you when you’re not around?
I heard that provocative question in a sermon by my father-in-law, Bill Webber, who passed away just before the COVID quarantine. I’m grateful to have been present the final time he preached after his long and faithful service as an American Baptist minister. He delivered it in the chapel of the independent living facility where he moved in retirement. That day’s text came from the Book of Acts, but his question relates beautifully to this week’s lectionary. In Matthew 16:13, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Can any question be more profound and dynamic than that of identity? Profound, because to go beyond the basic identifiers we share at parties requires courage. We need to probe beneath not only other people’s assumptions about us, but also our own. What are we called to do? What has formed us? What do we care about deeply? And it’s dynamic, because identity is less a settled fact than an ongoing quest. The answers to those questions evolve.
The Greek text emphasizes this lively concept when Jesus shifts the question from others to the disciples themselves. The NRSV’s “Who do you say I am?” is an acceptable translation, but “Who are you saying I am?” captures the present-tense immediacy of the original. The question still resonates. What are we saying about Jesus, in words and, more importantly, in our lives? Creeds are fine, but, as every parent learns, what we do has far more impact than what we say.
Living through these challenging times calls for fresh answers from each of us. The pressure of trying to cope with a pandemic that demands a collective and compassionate response in a culture bent toward individualism reveals the fault lines beneath our way of life. Call it inequality, systemic racism, entrenched injustice. Its theological name is sin.
The apostle Paul, who wrestled mightily with sin throughout his epistles, names the turn of heart that enables us to thrive in the midst of these challenges. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:2). He elaborates on what he means from there through the end of book. Simply put, though, he’s saying that we can’t solve the problems we’ve created from within the mindset that gave birth to them. Renewing our minds takes us through all the questions of calling, caring, and action.
Which brings us full circle to the question of identity. Each of us will respond according to our unique capacities, shaped by our lives and relationships. Paul counsels us not to obsess on our own way but to honor the fact that, just as the members of a body have many functions, members of the Body of Christ have a variety of gifts and callings. All are needed. For me, that’s an easy thing to agree with in the abstract. When things get tense, however, my focus can become uncomfortably narrow. (I’m talking spiritually, but the same thing happens physically when we feel threatened and adrenaline kicks in.)
Paul advises elsewhere to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). I hope we’re doing that. Perhaps, when we come to the thanksgiving portion of our prayers, we may be sure to give thanks for the diversity of gifts that surround us, including — or especially — the ones that make us uncomfortable. Who do you know who’s doing something you’d never think of but you can recognize as important and courageous? What are you doing in your own unique way to build up the body, whether others recognize it or not?
Who do you think you are?
- What insights, skills, or perspectives has your life experience given you that may be gifts the world needs today?
- Do you hear God asking you to do new things? What keeps you from responding?
- Think about ways, large and small, you might notice those around you using their gifts. How can you support them? (No contributions are too small.)
Curious Jesus, You asked your friends what they’d heard and what they thought. And even though they answered, they didn't ask you back. We wonder what you’d say. Ask us questions, questioning one. And listen as we listen to the answers we offer. And listen as we ask you. And answer us, in the strange ways you answer. Because it is in such questions that we might discover some of the calls of our lives; calls that we must answer in the company of friends. Amen.
Written by Pádraig Ó Tuama, Spirituality of Conflict, in response to Matthew 16:13–20. Read the whole reflection.
Rhonda Magee on identity in community.
Diana Butler Bass on bridging identities.
Rev. Samir on being whole — and part of the whole.
Whole Community Learning in St. Paul’s Chapel
The Why to the Way
Two years ago, we in Faith Formation and Education were preparing to begin a year-long theme and new model for the Sunday education hour: Whole Community Learning, with monthly intergenerational times of learning and sharing a common focus. Our Congregational Steering Committee titled the theme Jesus, Rebel with a Cause. It felt quite appropriate for the time, when so many marginalized people were being targeted by some of our own government’s policies. And the division among American Christians seemed to be deepening, driven by a manipulated need to define our faith’s identity. In the story of the Egyptian pharaoh and the Israelites, and Moses’ adoption, we revisit a time thousands of years ago, but not entirely different than today.
Children and, indeed, some adults may ask, “What do ancient texts have to do with our faith today, or with modern humanity, or my life, for that matter?” Even if only referencing the lectionary readings of this season, I might answer, “You mean, like, plague? Drought? Floods? Famine? The oppression of ethnic minorities, including slavery, mass incarceration, state-sanctioned murder, discrimination, and disenfranchisement? Revenge wars? Women and children treated as property, burden, and threats simultaneously? Polarized politics? Extreme disparities in living standards, health, and education? Naw, that’s not the 21st century, right?” Cue eye-roll.
Bad things have happened to “good” people since the beginning of humanity. Religions have been formed around the question of why since primitive cultures began sharing language, feelings, and stories orally; before the Bible, the Torah, and hieroglyphs. We still question the why of things. I know I do. And here’s the good news. Jesus rebelliously presented a new dimension for our critical thinking and for God’s justice: compassion. This made the why secondary to the way; meaning, the way that we choose to respond to the bad things and the good things comes from the same place. And it’s also the way that we create good things for ourselves and neighbors. We can approach these big why questions with more than our minds and bodies. If we can treat our and other’s fears with compassion, we can respond to the bad things creatively, rather than destructively. If we listen for God’s shalom, we can become the “good.”
Family Worship: Home Edition
See Family Worship: Home Edition to see this week’s activity for children and families.
Each week, we’re sharing a song of the week to help you go deeper with each Sunday’s theme. The playlist will be updated weekly, and the song of the week will sit on top.