Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. (Exodus 19:2-8 ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today I thought of trying to find a way if printing some identity cards for you all. It just wasn’t practical. Each of you would get one with your name on it, a picture, and little bio information. You know what an ID card is, it tells people who you are. It tells people your identity. That’s what all our readings are about today. Your identity. Who you are. Your identity is important. You understand that.
Well, identity is what this text from Exodus is all about. God is telling his people, though Moses exactly who they are. It’s right there about a third of the way down the text…
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
God bases their identity on what He has done for them and what He is going to do for them. When God defeated Pharaoh and his armies, and freed his people from slavery, “On Eagle’s Wings” He is giving His people an identity. They are more than just any old people who worshipped any old God. He is the God who rescued them. He is the God who redeemed them. and His the God that relieved them from the burden of slavery. He is the God they can depend on. By the Spirit, they are called to remember His outstretched mighty arms and outstretched hands. This way they reflect and remember what He has already done, and they know who they are in His eyes.
This is how God acts for you also. He wants you to know your identify in Him. You can see that in the Font right here. It’s why we keep it out in front, where it can always be seen. I want you to be reminded of your identity. You are a baptized child of God. Your identity begins with what God does for you. The Baptismal service in our hymnal is packed full of these identity images. But my favorite is the new/old prayer there. It’s called the Flood Prayer. It ties so closely to what we are talking about. (p. 268). Just look at p. 268 (LSB). It’s all about God’s actions to save people. It’s all about God’s actions to save you. God calling you and me by name and placing His name on us.
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1-3a ESV)
What did it mean for God’s people in Exodus? Well, that’s what the passage goes on to say:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Now we’ve got to make a correction to the translation here. This version of the bible says “if you will indeed obey my voice.” This word would much better be translated listen. If you will listen to me. If you will remember what I’ve told you about what I’ve done for you. It’s kind of like that old commercial “When E. F. Hutton speaks... people listen.” When God speaks his people listen. And what does God say? He tells us again what He’s done for us. He gives us an identity, we are His people because of what He’s done.
If you have any doubts about your identity being all God’s action St. Paul makes it very clear.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10 ESV)
We were enemies, not friends of God. Enemies don’t obey their enemy. But God changes all that. Through the death of Jesus, God’s enemies become reconciled to God. God’s enemies become God’s children. God’s enemies become God’s treasured possession.
Back to the identity card… remember I said I’d put a little bio on it. The funny thing is the bio for all of us would be the same. It’s the same bio God gave to the children of Israel in the desert.
…and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
St. Peter talked about the same thing, it’s a verse that we remember because it’s part of our Baptism service:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV)
You and me, all those people gathered around Moses at Mt. Sinai. A kingdom of priests… a holy nation… God’s people… Our identity with God is because of Jesus. His perfect life and death on the cross is what allows us to receive mercy from God. The punishment for our sin is canceled. Jesus takes it on himself. So instead of being God’s enemies and not receiving mercy, we receive mercy, forgiveness and life forever. That’s our new identity in Jesus Christ. You know what, our identity, in Christ, isn’t a status thing. “I’m better than you are because I’m a child of God!” We give this impression to people all the time. We can’t help but think that God chose us because we are somehow better than people He didn’t choose. We can’t help but think that we are better than other folks because we haven’t missed a Sunday of church in 20 years. We can’t help but think that we are better than people, who spend their time sitting in jail cells, drinking away their welfare, abusing their children, and living off of tax payer money. We want the reason we are God’s children to have something, anything to do with us. God did not save you because you are a holy nation, you are a holy nation because God saved you. We don’t do good stuff so God will love us, God loves us so we do good stuff. That’s our identity. It isn’t status, it is service. Do you know what God does right after this passage in Exodus? He gives the people the Ten Commandments! The heart of the commandments isn’t pleasing God, you can’t do that anyway. The heart of the commandments is serving your neighbors. That’s where your identity takes you. When you hear what God has done for you, when you remember who you are, you will love and serve your neighbor.
In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes:
By the Word He works and promotes sanctification, causing this congregation daily to grow and to become strong in the faith and its fruit, which He produces.
It says this very same thing. We listen to God’s Word and He causes our faith to grow and He produces good fruit in us. That’s your identity. You are a member of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, by virtue of your Baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.