Sermon: Identification Please

05 September 2010


Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 5, 2010

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 and Philemon 1-21

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our minds and hearts gathered here together be acceptable in Your sight, o Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.  


            “Sleep well, my sweet pea.  May angels guard you through the night.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  And mommy loves you so very much.”  These are the words that I have spoken each night since Brayden arrived in my life a little over two years ago.  I have spoken them to a very awake boy as I have laid him in his crib, or whispered them over an already peacefully sleeping little ball gripping tightly onto a stuffed monkey.  When he was a little baby he would just stare at me when I said them.  Then about a year ago we had a few months where he wouldn’t let me speak them out loud.  (He finally put two and two together that those words meant bedtime!)  Now, if I am home in time, he waits for me to say them before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep.

            Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms, and that is why I chose those words to share with Brayden in our nighttime ritual.  “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”  And much like Brayden’s reaction to those words has changed, our reaction to hearing those words changes too-depending on where we are in our relationship with God perhaps.  One minute we are content to just hear the words that call us sacred and beloved.  Other times we try not to own up to our own sacredness or to acknowledge that God is with us on our journeys.  And then there are those moments when we wait for those words as they work to energize and inspire us for our own work and ministries in the world.  The psalmist realized in these verses read today that God is such a mystery we cannot ever fully understand…and yet that mystery decided to create each of us in our own way, our own faults and weaknesses, our own gifts and skills, our own identities – but all as sacred and special.  The things of awe and wonder.

            Now the things of awe and wonder for someone like Brayden at just over two-years-old are things like beginning to count and speak the ABC’s, feeding a bunny out in nature, riding a two wheel bike, and lighting up a room with a giggle.  And don’t those things change as we grow older?  The things of awe and wonder as we journey to adulthood are perhaps things like when a child comes into our life, when we meet the person we want to give our life over to as partner or spouse, when out of all the people in the world we meet the person who becomes our best friend.  And the things of miracle are perhaps when a big project we are working on comes to fruition, when we are able to encourage someone to do something they didn’t think was possible – when we realize that God is working through us in something we say or do – not just in a church function but out in the world.

            Many people have learned how to pray by praying the Psalms, which are full of raw emotion.  The interaction between the psalmists and God marks a dynamic relationship with a God who speaks to humans, one who breaks into our lives.  They speak to a relationship with a God who does not have to ask for our identification because He knows us through and through as a function of our creation.

            Now I don’t know about you, but I have been in various settings – classes, conferences, work meetings, retreats - where they have asked me to describe myself, and depending on where I am and who I am with the answer tends to be different.  We all grow to have a variety of labels attached to us – different ones at different times in our lives.  I am wife, mother, daughter, aunt, pastor, friend, and so on and so on.  Our identification revolves around those labels at times. 

Yet even in my circles at church meetings, when I have been asked to say something about myself, I have never said, “My name is Jennifer.  I am a fearfully and wonderfully made child of God, and sister to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Because even in my circles, considering we tend not to be super evangelical in our denomination, people may get a little freaked out by that.  But you have to wonder how we might treat one another or carry ourselves and conduct our own personal business a bit differently, if we acknowledged ourselves and others as God’s precious creations – called and commissioned to do God’s work in our every word and deed.

             That is the kind of identification that Paul is appealing to in his letter to Philemon.  There is a personal spoken feeling to this letter.  The energy and motivation with which Paul is writing and appealing to Philemon is the joy he feels with his identity as a child of God and someone who works to promote God’s mission in the world.  He identifies Onesimus as someone who has changed his own identification and become a person who now understands and knows the joy of being in God’s corner too – and someone who Paul wants to have along on his mission as well.  So it is not with an eye toward useless coercion that Paul writes his letter to Philemon but rather he relies on Philemon’s love for other believers – his knowledge of the great commandment as a follower of Jesus Christ to help him make the decision about how to treat Onesimus.  After all a slave who had run away was a slave who could be subject to all manner of abuse – burning, branding, and even death.  Paul is not only suggesting that Philemon accept Onesimus back without consequence, but that Philemon acknowledge Onesimus as a brother in faith.  Without saying so outright it was as if Paul was saying to Philemon, “Identification Please.”  Seeing if what Philemon said in his faith and what he would make as a decision or follow in action matched.

             Now here is a question that may seem out of left field, but hang in there with me.  Have you ever spent any time with a placemat at a restaurant or a small child’s activity book where there are connect the dot puzzles?  Usually, even without a pen, one can figure out what the connect the dots pictures are going to be.  Ryan and I were out recently at a restaurant where the placemats had activities to keep people busy while they wait (now you know what kind of classy establishments we frequent!)– two of which were connect the dots.  One was fairly easy, a seal with a ball on its nose.  We didn’t have a pen though, and for the life of us we couldn’t figure out what the other one was.  There are certainly times in all our lives that turn out like that - when we and others can look at what we say and what we do and not connect the dots to come up with a Christian.  And then there are other moments when our everyday lives truly match with what we speak and learn about here in this sacred space together on Sunday.  The picture and our identification as God’s beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made children, becomes clear. 

             So the questions become - in our everyday lives where is it that we are asked for our identification as God’s people, and where is it that we are able to hand it over with confidence?  Where is it that we tie our everyday lives together with what we hear and learn about in the stories of our ancestors in the Bible and are called and commissioned to as we gather together on Sunday morning?

             On this Labor Day weekend it is good to be reminded that our identification as people of faith is not something that we pick up like our nametags when we walk into this place, and it is not something that we leave at the door as we walk out.  Rather, God recognizes a holiness, a sacredness to our everyday lives – to the work we do whether in or out of our homes, the way that we volunteer places, the many ways that we fill our time.  The truth is that there should be movement between God’s church and God’s world – with an understanding that the decisions we make and the actions we take do matter to God -- our God who invites us to be partners in making our world more trustworthy, just, and life-giving for all of creation.  The name Onesimus in Greek means useful.  Where is it that we are being used for God’s service in our every day ordinary Monday thru Saturday lives?  When we identify those places they become far more than ordinary after all. 

            As we celebrate Labor Day tomorrow, I am thankful for the many ways in which each and every person sitting here and associated with the Congregational Church of Brookfield is gifted – no two the same.  I am grateful for the ways that we are equipped to go out into the world in our daily labor, no matter what that might be, to share God’s love and Christ’s message with others.  And as we celebrate Labor Day we are encouraged, just as Paul encouraged Philemon through the words of his letter, to be the best people we can be for God.      

            In today’s scripture passages we are both comforted and challenged to remember who we are as faithful people.  The psalmist speaks of being fearfully and wonderfully made by a Creator who knows us now, has known us since our formation in our mother’s wombs, and will continue to know us even after we have left this world – and believe it or not, loves us anyway.  God has an unconditional love for us that cannot be explained, whether we are following our faith and its tenets to the letter or are like two year olds pitching fits and deciding what we think is best for ourselves, outside of the life-giving love of God.  To God we are the things of awe and wonder, and we have the potential to act as miracles in the lives of others and in our world.  In that love God invites us to be in a relationship that gives us new life, protection, forgiveness, and grace.  And that invitation is not given in order to weigh us down but rather to lift us up and make it easier to offer up our identification as followers of Christ easier when asked. 

May we remember that invitation in the everyday moments of our lives – when working and playing, when connecting dots and carrying out our nighttime rituals.  And may we accept that invitation so when we hear the words “Identification Please” others will know who and whose we are.  Amen.



This page was last updated on 02/08/2014 09:04 AM.
Please send any feedback, updates, corrections, or new content to .