There seems to be a growing crisis in our age, especially with the younger generations, although no doubt it has been boiling up for many years. The issue is one of a person’s identity. When I was growing up there were a preponderance of “coming of age” types of movies, about angsty teenagers figuring out who they are as they transitioned to another stage of life. The crisis today is far worse and is not contained in the transitions of puberty or personal expression. A person’s identity, the understanding of who they are and what it is that defines their purpose and meaning in this life, has now become a shifting and uncertain thing. Of course, this is not entirely new. In a sense, you could say from the very beginning, from the desire of mankind to be like God to know good and evil, to make themselves wise, this challenge to who we are has been there. For no longer was it as simple as being a creation of the Creator. No longer did it suffice to be defined by what God had established it to be. No, now we rise up to establish our own identity, on our own terms. But this has proven far more difficult than we had ever imagined. So, what began as a quest for independence and autonomy has devolved into a crisis of identity.
The issue at hand, or at least the main issue, is who gets to determine one’s own identity. For most of our existence these determining factors turned out to be outside institutions or social gatherings of which we were a part. They helped us to understand who we were and what our place was in the world. This could be everything from our parents and church to our schools and friend groups. Our identity can be shaped by the jobs we take, the people we socialize with, and the hobbies we pursue. Yet, we have been increasingly told you can be your own determiner of who you are. You are not the total of the outside influences, rather you are your own unique and special thing. So, the shift is made from the external markers of identity to inward ones, to your feelings and desires. Perhaps this is the beginning of the real problem, for when we turn inward, we find there is a maze of shifting and vague ideas which often conflict with the world on the outside. Therefore, everything seems to be up for grabs. Everything from goals and dreams to one’s gender and pronouns, flows from the uncertain prison of our own feelings.
Now, we like to speak of this as freedom. No one else ought to be able to tell you who you are, right? You are free to chart your own course. But this so-called freedom has proven to be a kind of madness, establishing a crisis where our identity is never sure, never established. So, it creates an exhausting, depressing, and downright frightening way to live our lives. Thanks be to God, then, you have been given something from outside of yourself which speaks to who you are and what your purpose and meaning are in this crazy world. Your faith may speak about where you place your trust, where you look for answers and guidance. Your faith can certainly provide confidence and assurance in this life. But your faith also addresses your identity, who you are. You ought to drink deep from this source. For here and here alone is true freedom, lasting hope, and real confidence. Saint Peter says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
The gift of faith plugs you into the source of salvation, the pure spiritual milk which leads to eternal life. This is something solid, something concrete. What your faith connects you to is the Lord Himself, and Jesus does not bend to the whims of your desires or the uncertainties of your doubts. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He is God of God and Light of Light. He helps to establish your own identity. This is why we are told by Peter, “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…” Jesus is the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God, and notice what He says about your connection to Him. He says, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” You are established here by faith upon the Living Stone and become living stones yourselves, firm and sure.
Peter goes on to describe the wonderful work of this great Living Stone upon which we are built. He reminds us: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The cornerstone establishes the whole building. It is the measure upon which all the other stones will be determined. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame. To believe in Him is to have the promises He proclaims. To believe in him is to have the assurance of life beyond this age, it is to have the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. To be built upon this stone means that this stone has something to say about who you are and what you are going to do.
Of course, the Living Stone that is our Lord, upon which we are built and upon which your faith rests, promises life, hope, and freedom, but it comes with a cost, to be sure. Again, we hear from Peter as he says our Lord is “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” This ought to be expected. After all, any outside determiner of your own identity will be met with a certain amount of resistance. It might feel as if He is robbing you of your freedom, for He speaks about your desires and your doings as sinful, unfaithful, and selfish. You will stumble over His condemnation of your thoughts, words, and deeds. And then He will remain unmovable as the only source of hope and salvation. He will be offensive to every attempt you have to define salvation on your own terms. He will tolerate no other gods before Him, no other pathways to salvation. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him.
Yet, this unmovable stone, this stumbling place for our own desires remains the cornerstone of your faith. He remains the foundation of your identity. He comes from the outside to provide what you need, to give you hope and confidence. It does not depend on your own doings, on your own accomplishments, or on your own journey to self-discovery. It depends solely on Christ, His work, His gifts, His love. Peter says, “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.” You are a chosen race, chosen…, chosen by the Living Stone to be living stones yourselves. You have been chosen out of the darkness of this age, out of the world of unbelief, fear, and confusion and given an identity in His marvelous light.
You, my friends, are not an accident. Your faith which has bought you here today is not some casual habit you fell into. No, you have been chosen. You have been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism. You, therefore, have died and risen in Christ. You are connected to the Living Stone, built-up on Him, establishing here in this place a spiritual house. Here in Christ, you are given an identity that stretches beyond this age, beyond this time of confusion and turmoil. You are the baptized, the saved, the saints of God, and heirs of eternal life. And yes, you struggle here and now. Yes, you stumble and fall over and again, but you are still chosen. And one day you will be healed. You will be made whole. Your fractured and confused identity will be pieced together in the love of Christ.
“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.” So, you live as living stones, proclaiming those mercies over and over again.