Owning Our Identity

On August 27, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Owning Our Identity Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell August 27, 2017 I think most of you know me. For those of you that don’t, my name is Anne. That’s Anne with an ‘e’. I was named for my maternal grandmother. Everyone called her Annie – while I was Anne…you know, just to differentiate between […]

Owning Our Identity
Preached by Rev. Anne R. Atwell
August 27, 2017

I think most of you know me. For those of you that don’t, my name is Anne. That’s Anne with an ‘e’. I was named for my maternal grandmother. Everyone called her Annie – while I was Anne…you know, just to differentiate between us. I thought that grandma Annie was just great! She was so loving towards us, towards everyone really. She was a great cook, a voracious reader, and smart as can be without even graduating high school. My mom describes her as self-educated. But I have to share with you that when I was growing up, I really didn’t like my name. I thought it was kind of boring. You know………Anne. My friends all had these really wonderful names like Amy and Lori and Michelle and Kathy and Teresa. And I was just Anne.

When I was about 16 years old, my grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer. Well, she did smoke about 4 packs of those Camel non-filtered cigarettes every day and had done so for many years. And the treatments for anything like lung cancer were less effective than they are now. But her illness and impending death really shook me. I remember one Sunday evening we were visiting with her in the hospital. My whole family was there gathered around her hospital bed. One of the nurses came in to check on my grandmother – and while the nurse was there, my grandmother reached out her hand to me and introduced me to the nurse. She said, “This is Anne – Anne with an ‘e’. This is my namesake.” And she squeezed my hand and held it for just a while longer.

My grandmother died that night. And I never forget what she said – This is Anne. This is my namesake. Suddenly my name didn’t seem so dull. My name was important. It was meaningful. It was really special and still is. I’m Anne – Anne with an ‘e’, named for my most wonderful, loving, caring, exceptional grandmother.
In the gospel lesson we just heard, Jesus asked his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” And they gave a variety of responses. John the Baptizer. Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. The disciples are doing what we would most likely have done had we been in their shoes…projecting our particular cultural allegiances onto Jesus. In our mainline churches today, we might interpret Jesus through the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Teresa, or others who have reached into the margins of society and welcomed those “strangers” – those who have worked for justice – those who are filled with compassion.

And in the next verse Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter announces “You are the anointed, the one chosen by God!” And Jesus orders his disciples not to tell anyone. I would suspect that Jesus knew what could happen if word got out that he had been called by God to live a life of care and welcome. He knew that it could be dangerous – his life would be at stake, if his true identity were known. Jesus was reluctant to come out as one who would go against the Roman authorities in ways that would stir up that community and not in a good way! Jesus, at this point, may not want his name attached to that. Only his closest friends, his dear confidants will know the truth about him. It is his choice when and with whom he will share his identity.

But, naming is powerful, isn’t it? Sharing our truest, most authentic identity is powerful! Our name and our identity say something about who we are and what makes us unique from all others. Naming can be very political and our identity attached to that gives others information about us – information that we may be reluctant to share. Think about the names used to hurt and demean people. How many of us have been called names meant only to wound? And sure, we can ‘take back’ those names, we can use these once hurtful names to self-identify in a way so we can’t be hurt again. And that is power!

So I want to invite you to reflect for a moment…how do you see Jesus? What identity have you assigned to him? What do you think of when you hear the name Jesus? Speaking only for myself, I think of Jesus as someone who was a teacher, who encouraged others – both men and women – to live out a life of generosity and love and faith. I think of Jesus as one who offers forgiveness when people stumble and make poor life choices. I think of Jesus as one who welcomed and offered care to those most vulnerable – women and children and those who were ill or hurting or in trouble. And as a church community, as followers of the message and identity of Jesus, how do we live out our lives so that others will see a reflection of Jesus in us? We may offer care and love in the face of hate. We may speak truth to power when there is so, so much antagonistic speech around right now. And we may encourage people when they aren’t feeling hopeful. We may stand up for justice as we recognize the sacred value of all people.

In the work I do here at Sunshine Cathedral, I have opportunity to meet with so many people around our community. Recently, I was distributing some of the Brown Bag Lunches which are prepared here every Wednesday as part of our Feeding Ministry. One of the lunch recipients had a question for me. He asked “So….what kind of church is Sunshine Cathedral?” And I thought, oh geez!! I know what we say here every Sunday – “Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church where the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!” But what exactly does that mean? How do I own…or more appropriately how do we own the identity of Sunshine Cathedral? What do I do with that??
So…let’s break it apart.

Number one. Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church.
Did you know that less than 20% of all Americans attend church regularly? I know when I was growing up, missing church on a Sunday wasn’t really an option. I mean you had to be really, really sick to stay home. But times have changed and attitudes have changed. We are competing with Starbucks and the New York Times on a Sunday morning. We are competing with people who must work on Sundays or people who just want a day off – some time to sleep in. AND many more people say they really don’t want to be part of a church that tells people they have to check their brains at the door or will tell people they are not welcome because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or ethnic background or a different belief system. A good number of people are seeing that the larger church community can sometimes be more divisive than unifying.

When we say Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church, what we mean is that you can be a part of this community with your questions about God and Jesus, with your doubts about what it all means, with the idea that science and religion and spirituality can work together, and that ALL people – lesbians, gay men, the trans* community, bi-sexuals, queer folk, wonderful allies, people from the Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist communities…ALL people are worthy of Divine love….are PART OF Divine love – and are welcomed and celebrated….fully and authentically at Sunshine Cathedral.

So, who do we say that we are? We are a welcoming, celebrating, affirming community that knows there are many ways in which to experience the Divine and many questions which will never be answered. And still we keep on affirming the humanity of all people and we keep on questioning because there is power and beauty in recognizing that we will never have all the answers.

Number two. The past is the past.
Guess what, I’ve done some not so bright stuff in my life. Oh yes, there are things I really wish I could do over AND, my friends, there are no “do-overs.” We have to move on. We will never have a better past. Yet, we need to remember that no matter what our past was, it does not define us today. We may have made some poor choices along the way and with what we know now, we would hopefully do things differently. We need to let go of what is holding us back – those things that we cling to, those experiences that keep us awake at night. Our past is what we’ve been through, it’s not who we are. It has helped mold us, but it does not define us. We need to forgive ourselves – and we need to forgive others. We, every one of us, have all done things we’re not terribly proud of, we learn from them (hopefully) and grow. AND there is nothing wrong with remembering some of our experiences from the past fondly, with some joy and some reflection…but they are indeed part of the past. Remember some things with love and let go of those things that hold us back.

So, who do we say that we are? We are a church community which understands that sometimes we all make poor choices…we know that no one is perfect and yet, we honor and recognize that everyone is created to be whole, perfect and complete.

And number three. The future has infinite possibilities.
And I think that sometimes this idea can be really terrifying. We, including me, become very comfortable in what we know. We’ve got our little comfort zone, don’t we? There is safety in that. It feels secure. But truly without any kind of change, we remain stagnant. When we can look forward to what is to come, when we are willing to change things up, our lives will be more exciting, more alive! The choice in this is ours. We can be stuck OR we can acknowledge that life seems more meaningful when we are willing to embrace the possibilities before us.

So, who do we say that we are? We are a church that know the importance of stepping out into new ways of doing things. We know that wonderful opportunities are available and we receive them gladly and with excitement about what is to come.

My friends, there are a number of instances particularly in the Gospel of John where the writer imagined Jesus owning his identity. The writer imagined Jesus saying…I am the bread of life…I am the light of the world…I am the good shepherd…and there are other “I am” statements.
When we proclaim “I am” and when we proclaim “we are” – we can own that identity. That is why it is so important to use only positive, uplifting statements about who we are. Wayne Dyer reminds us, “Anytime you start a sentence with I am, you are creating what you are and what you want to be. When you choose to say, “I am happy, I am kind, I am perfect,” you help the light of God inside you to grow and shine.”

And, so, let’s own our identity, let’s affirm who we are by saying together again and let’s say it like we really mean it, Sunshine Cathedral is a different kind of church, where the past is past, and the future has infinite possibilities!

We own this! We live this! We are the grace and beauty and joy-filled community that is Sunshine Cathedral!


I am strong!
I am beautiful!
I am enough!
I am part of God’s perfect creation!
And so it is!

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