Avoiding Identity Theft

Mark 4: 1-11

As you may know from what you've heard on TV, or from personal experience, identity theft is one of the most prevalent and devastating crimes in our country today.  Today's Gospel features the father of all identity theft, Satan.  As we listened in on this competing test of wills between Jesus and Satan today, two contradictory depictions (or characterizations) of mankind should emerge for us.


The slandering Satan paints us as an unworthy caricature. His message to us: "Look at all the junk in your life, all the ways you've failed, your never ending pattern of sin. God has long forgotten you." Jesus on the other hand, paints us as a caricature befitting of who we really are, full of true dignity and identified as his beloved brother or sister.


In the Gospel, Satan tried to get Jesus to question his own identity.  He prefaced his temptations by saying, "If you are the Son of God....., command these stones to become loaves of bread."  "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down."  He knew that if Jesus became unsure of his Father's love and wisdom, it was more likely that he (Jesus) would walk away from the plan God had laid out for him. 


If you think about it, beyond what we read in scripture, we really don't know that much about Satan.  He is often depicted as a comic strip caricature himself as a guy in a red devil suit with devil horns & pitchfork. He probably likes it that way, since many people (given this cartoon type depiction) are apt then to disbelieve his existence.  And if he is a non-existent force in people's lives, he is then free to influence them without being discovered as the cause of many of their problems.


The bible describes Satan in three ways: the tempter, the accuser and the father of lies.  Theology professor, Dr Neil Anderson, contrasts these three this way: "If I were to tempt you, you would know it.  If I were to accuse you, you would know that too.  The power of Satan is in the lie.  Satan has one primary tactic: to deceive us.  He seeks to deceive entire nations, the world and individuals."  Satan twists and distorts what is true- he makes negative caricatures of all of us.  


So, though we can't physically see Satan, we see evidence of him in this world's fallen nature, full of his handiwork, the distortions through deceptive negative caricature depictions.  Think of how this effects our personal lives and that which we see in business and national affairs.

In politics for example, winning is often determined not by prevailing on ones own merit, but by who does the best job in defining their opponent down.  If you can make your opponent the object of ridicule, you win.  The devil would make a great campaign ad mgr in this current climate.


Two examples: 1) To all the world, Al Gore was said to have claimed that he invented the internet, to which he was roundly mocked by his opponents.  This became a part of his identity.  Actually, he never said that he invented the internet.  In an interview with CNN, what he meant to take credit for was his support while in Congress to help facilitate the building blocks of the internet, and he was in fact applauded by two of the men that did lay the internet's foundation.


2) (To be fair and balanced): Sarah Palin was purported to have said that she could see Russia from her home in Alaska.  She never said that. Tina Fey, who was portraying a dumb version of Sarah Palin on SNL, said that.  Exit polling after the 2008 election showed that 86.9% of those polled thought that Sarah Palin had in fact said those words.  In effect, Tina Fey became Sarah Palin more than Sarah Palin was Sarah Palin, in the public's view.  Sarah Palin's identity was stolen.


Has this ever happened (maybe to a lesser extent) in your lives? Have you ever been around certain people, or a group of people whose perception of you was quite contradictory of who you really are?  Maybe it came as a result of someone disparaging you w/ a derogatory name, as a kid or later in life.  You were made fun of your physical appearance or the name came from a mistake you made. How about that nickname you had in college - How close was any of that to your true identity?


I was traumatized as a younger person from a name that I was called-& maybe other men named William suffered through a similar indignity.  There was this little clay character on Sat Night Live named... Mr Bill. If your name was Bill, your nickname suddenly became Mr Bill.  I must tell you- I was scandalized by it.  It wouldn't have been so bad if people simply called you Mr Bill & that was the extent of it. But no, the greeting was accompanied by the high pitched reenactment of "Oh no, Mr Bill".


I was kidding with someone recently that... part of the reason that I sought ordination was that "Mr" would go away, and in its place was "deacon".  Think about it, the name Bill is fading into extinction.  My dad's name was Bill- he wore it proudly- He called his son, Bill.  My son's name...Blair. You spend your life aspiring to great things, upstanding but suddenly you are reduced to this stupid cartoon character.


I use the absurd here only to make the point of how we shouldn't allow our own true identities to be compromised. Our true identity is as brothers and sisters of Christ, children of a most high God.  And God's will for us is to become the best versions of ourselves, not of some caricature that anyone else assigns to us.


In the Gospel, Satan tried to slander Jesus.  But Satan's plan didn't work.  Jesus knew who he was, and he clung to the word of God so that he would be focused on his Father.


Satan tries to deceive us about God's goodness, and he slanders us... to God.  Satan did this with a man named Job.  Satan said that if Job suffered, then Job would curse God to his face, which Job never did.  Satan seeks to undermine all of us and condemn us before each other and God, and he gets plenty of help from his many minions.


Satan's other tool - temptation. Satan tempts us just as he tempted Jesus.  Temptation is inevitable but not irresistible.  Its been said, "We can't prevent birds from flying over my head.  But we can stop them from building a nest in our hair."  If we've allowed any temptations to settle in our thought life, we need to begin this week to destroy those nests that are starting to form.   And we need to remember that even if we swat away those nests from our hair, Satan won't stop.  As Luke's version says, "When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed him for a time."


While Satan tempts us, God, on the other hand, only tests us.  That's the distinction.  In James, it says, "the testing of our faith produces perseverance."  Perseverance isn't just a desired quality for a mature Christian to have; its an essential one.  James goes on to say, "Perseverance must finish its work in a Christ follower so that he or she can be 'mature and complete, not lacking anything." So God, in testing us, is going to do what it takes to produce that quality in us.


Every teacher we've ever had tested us, right?  Most of us had a mix of two types of teachers: those who tested us to reinforce what we knew, and those who tested us to try to trip us up on what we didn't know.  Think about how you understand the character of God.  Which kind of test giver do you think he is?  He wants us to show our true identity.


God wants us today to stand firm on our true identity just as Jesus did.  He wants to convince us of both who we are and whose we are. He wants to make it clear that he.. is committed to every one of us.  Satan tries to knock us off our foundation in Christ.  He wants to confuse our self identity, and lose the value we place on prayer.


So our prayer today, and for the week ahead, is that we can use this time of Lent to remind ourselves of our true identity.  Let's not be deceived any longer.  For some of us, maybe we've never really known our true identity - in that case, we ask the Holy Spirit for clarity.


We hold on to God's promises.  We hold on to Scripture.  We are born of the incorruptible seed of his word, and follow the example of Jesus. We've heard many times - We are part of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation - in more simple terms, God loves us desperately.  We have been made alive with Jesus and set free from sin and death, if only we choose to claim... our true identity as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.



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