Sunday, September 21, 2014

The power of labels. . .

The sting of sin is in the label.  No longer were Adam and Eve simply Adam and Eve.  They were sinners.  They wore their sins like labels shouting to the world.  Some of the labels they wore against their will -- the epithets others placed upon them.  Other labels they wore in pride -- oblivious to the stain and stigma their prideful wills proclaimed.  And we join them.  From the first gasp of breath to breathe into our lungs until it ends in our final exhale, we wear labels and they define us.  Some of them follow us like a rude odor and no matter how hard we try, we cannot shake them.  Others we gladly wear thinking that they are the real "me" and so we lift them up to the world as the proud badges of our true identities.

Time has not been kind to us.  The number of labels has grown exponentially.  Some of them are the labels of our own choosing and some chosen for us.  We are conservatives and liberals and moderates.  We are straight, gay, bi, lesbian, transgendered and how many variations in between.  We are Yankees and Southerners.  We claim a class in a society which is supposed to eschew classes.  We are what we do for a living, what we do in our free time, what we wear on our backs, what we wear in our ears, what we carry in our wallets, what we listen to on our ear buds, and a thousand other seemingly benign identities.

We are single or married or in a relationship.  We are mom or dad to some and kid to others.  We are boss to some and servants to others.  We are alumni of some schools, natives of this place or that, and willing or unwilling citizens of this locale or another.  We are black, white, brown, yellow, olive, red, and a thousand other variations of color.  Sometimes we complain that our whole identity is reduced to this or that label and others we make this label or that what it is that defines us above all things.

We are sinners.  We idol worshipers, ingrates, selfish, prurient, deviant, murderers, gossips, liars, cheaters, gossips, and all the other classic terms for sinners.  We are also fags, sluts, posers, rejects, jerks, addicts, drunks, bigots, and all the other hip terms for the same old dirty sins.  Labels.  Labels of our own choosing in which we scream who we are.  Labels chosen by others that we cannot escape.

But there is one thing we are that is not a label.  In fact, it is the end of all labels.  It is THE identity that now defines us -- even amid our failure to be what God has declared us to be.  We are the baptized, the children of God by His gracious favor.  We wear Christ's righteousness not as a badge but as the clothing He put upon us when into the water we drowned and out of the water came up a new creature.  The word Christian is not a label.  Christian is an identity that transcends our choice and comes from the work of the Spirit.  Christian is not a path we choose to follow or a series of truths we choose to believe.  Christian is God's making.  He takes us with all the labels that others have placed upon us and those we have chosen for ourselves, and He strips us naked and afraid before Him.  Where we expect condemnation, we find instead mercy and grace -- the surprise of a people who have learned to fear the worst and you will not be disappointed.  He washes us not as a symbol but with the cleansing water empowered by the Word..  He drags us down until every proud and self-centered breath has left us and raises up the lifeless to life, the sinner to redemption, and the lost by grace found.

Yet we are not yet complete.  We have a part of us that still views the world with labels and is not so sure we should give up the ones we think should fit us still.  He cannot redeem us and walk away or we will be lost to the same dead ends and detours that kept us captive to evil before our baptism into Christ.  So every day the Spirit has to work to teach us to lay aside the labels we toss at others and the labels we still claim to define ourselves.  Every day the Spirit has to teach us anew to say the word, the one word, that is not a label but an identity:  God's own child I gladly say it.  I am baptized into Christ.  This is why I must go to Church every Sunday.  The power of labels still haunts me and its familiar old ways still beckon me.  I would go their in a minute and be lost forever unless the Lord stood guard over me, reminded me that I am His own baptized child, restored me from my fall before sin and temptation, and renewed my soul with the grace that comes down from heaven.  Without Him I am a prisoner to the labels of my own choosing and those that others have chosen to mark me.  In Him I am reborn, stripped of the labels, and given a brand new identity.  That is where I fight the good fight of faith... where do you?

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