A couple of years ago, I read a book written by Bishop William Willimon who is a great preacher and a prolific author. He wrote many books on Methodist faith. In the book, he shares a story that I still can’t forget. Back in high school, young Bishop Willimon went on a date every Friday and Saturday night. Whenever he was leaving home, his mother bid him farewell at the front door with the weighty words, ‘Will, don’t forget who you are.’ He didn’t know what she meant. She didn’t mean that he could forget his name or his street address. Rather, she meant that alone on a date, in the midst of a party, in the presence of some strangers, he might forget who he was. She knew, in a moment of fun, in an effort to be accepted by the group of his friends, he might forget who he was. He might lose sight of his family values and priorities in life. He could be persuaded to do something against his faith, something he would regret later. Bishop Willimon recalls, at those moments of uncertainty, ‘Don’t forget who you are,’ this maternal benediction actually worked like an anchor to hold him.
It’s not just Bishop Willimon and his high school days. It is quite difficult for us not to forget who we are in our daily lives. It’s hard for us, as the people of faith, to hold onto a certain ground that keeps our integrity. Our world looks like a shifting ground where all kinds of claims collide, all kinds of personal convictions and identities are muddled, and all kinds of desires are indiscreetly pursued. Every day, we experience a strong social atmosphere of relativism. In it, our Christian virtues become ambiguous. And our moral values and standards become so uncertain that nobody wants to know clearly right or wrong, true or false. Indeed, we are living in an uncertain time, and it is easy to misunderstand who we are and forget whom we are called to be. It is easy to live our lives blindly drifting here and there, and mindlessly striving for what others crave—success, recognition, fame, money, and so on. So living through this unsteady time, how can we not forget who we are? What should be our practice to ground ourselves on faith so that we shouldn’t forget ourselves?
In today’s Hebrew Bible reading, the people of Israel receive God’s Ten Commandments. As we know well, the Commandments give instructions about worshipping God only, honoring parents, and keeping the Sabbath, as well as prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, theft, dishonesty, and coveting. But the Ten Commandments are not just a set of laws to keep. They were much more than that in the situation the people of Israel were going through. They just escaped from the land of Egypt and entered into the wilderness of Sinai. They just started their uncharted journey toward the Promised Land that they had never heard of or seen. There’s no map or itinerary for this journey. This is such a challenging and confusing time to them. And as you know, they were just freed from slavery. This must have been an immense transition that brought them a major identity shift. Into the unexplored wilderness, with unexpectedly given freedom, on an unknown journey, they were truly on a shifting ground. Everything is uncertain.
Now God suddenly asks them to stop, camp under the Mount Sinai, and consecrate themselves. Then, God descends upon the mountaintop, summons Moses, and gives the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. To the bewildered people, God provides a sure ground on which they can build up their new life. Here, it becomes clearer: the Ten Commandments are not just a set of rules. It is what defines who God is, who they are, whose they are, and whom they are called to be. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3). God tells them, “Now build up your new life on my holy ground, the ground of my Word and promise.” Standing on our life’s shifting ground, how can we not forget who we are? We better know that God is always shaping ourselves into God’s people through the uncertainty. And we should keep building up our new life on the sure ground of God, the ground of grace and love.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus teaches us to remember who we are. There we find the radical Jesus who is quite wild and furious. In the temple Jesus sees people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and moneychangers sitting at their tables. They are there because visitors need to purchase those animals to sacrifice at the altar. Jesus makes a whip of cords and drives all of them out of the temple with their sheep and cattle. He also pours out the coins of the moneychangers and overturns their tables and says, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:14-16) What’s going on here? What is Jesus doing?
In short, Jesus cleans up. Jesus cleans up the ritual of animal sacrifice, religious formality because the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross will replace it permanently. Jesus cleans up the Temple, the physical separation between divine presence and human life because Jesus’ own body will be the living temple where God and humanity converge: the body that he lays down for us, the body that rises for us, the body that he invites us to be part of. Then we will know God for ourselves. By cleaning up the temple, Jesus opens up the way that God directly reaches us and the stream that grace flows right into our lives through faith. This Jesus is asking us today, “Clean up what’s not essential, clean up the things that hinder your relationship with God, clean up the stains of your sins and fear on your spiritual window, clean up your church. Clean up so that you can clearly see who you are and who died and lives for you.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, when life is confusing and uncertain, when we feel like we are on a shifting ground, losing ourselves, and forgetting who we are, let us press on to build up our life on a sure ground of grace and love and clean up the things that falsely claim us. Our journey of faith may not always be a smooth sailing. God sometimes leads us through the wilderness to shape us into God’s people. No matter how our journey may be, let us keep building up and cleaning up so that we may never forget who we are, whose we are, and whom we are called to be, always. Amen.
 William H.Willimon, Remember who you are: Baptism a Model for Christian Life (Upper Room, 1998), 105.
Pastor Earl Kim