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Who Are You 
Sunday, January 11, 2009, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Podcast
Posted by Administrator
Acts 19:1-10

Pastor Christy talks about how to be a better person via baptism, how the community can make us heroes or evildoers.


The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.


Greg called me over the holidays. Greg was terribly brain damaged in a car accident while I was a pastor of his church. Through a lot of people's prayers, his mother's unwavering support and much therapy, Greg went from not breathing on his own to going to a soccer game with me. We had talks about who he was before and after the injury. He had to regain not only his physical abilities but his emotional and intellectual abilities as well. We had some frank discussions while he was gradually learning to beat me in chess.

It has been about several years since the accident in July of 2003. He calls me when he has a breakthrough or a computer challenge. I always welcome his calls, because I asked for them. I prayed that Greg would speak again, it would be ungrateful for me to complain when he calls. This call wasn't about a computer problem; He said he wanted to tell me he was himself again. “I'm me!? he said. He felt that he was himself again.

There is a pastor, now retired, who would say farewell by saying, “Remember who you are and whose you are.? He was recalling both parts of baptism where we confirm that we are part of the family of God and that creates connection that tugs on both ends. It pulls God to us and us toward God, united with all of God's people baptized together.

Who we are is a tricky thing. Is there a core, a sine non qua, of which there is no changing? We have seen loved ones or friends slip away into Alzheimer's. Some of us have watch others descend into the torment of drugs or the prison of brain injury like Greg. One of the things I enjoy about being a pastor as opposed to a chaplain or other occupation is the opportunity to see people in context over time. Sometimes, I get to know their parents and children as well. I see the parent in the grown child or share in stories spanning generations. Does who a person is change over time? Does a person change based on their situation?

The most famous study took place in the 1971 at Stanford University. The Stanford Prison experiment was to run for two weeks but had to be called off after six days by Phillip Zimbardo, who has written a book The Lucifer Effect about how good normal people gave in to an evil system which he describes using the example of Abu Ghraib prison situation, as system of secrecy, unaccountability, no limits, no sanctions, dehumanizing, no supervision, vague or changing rules. An evil system pushes most of us into evil according to his study.

People are not born evil, but rather with survival talents, and remarkable mental templates to be anything imaginable — just as infants readily learn to speak and understand any of a thousand languages in an instant in their development. We get a push from nature in various directions, such as being more inhibited or bold, but who we become is ultimately a complex process of cultural, historical, religious, economic and political experiences in familial and other institutional settings.

Most of us fail to appreciate the extent to which our behavior is under situational control, because we prefer to believe that is all is internally generated. We wander around cloaked in an illusion of vulnerability, misarmed with an arrogance of free will and rationality. � Phillip Zimbardo http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/04/ten ... ons_w.html

His view that evil systems make for evil choices is backup in a simple experiment reported in Science magazine. Last month social scientists in the Netherlands hung a five-euro note sticking out of a mailbox, 13 percent of the people going by took the money. But When it was covered in graffiti, however, more than double the number of the pedestrians (about 27 percent) stole the envelope.

In another test, signs were posted (a) not to walk through a gate and (b) not to chain their bikes to the fence. Twenty-seven percent of the people when through the gate. This bad behavior soared to 82 percent of the passerby when the experimenters chained of bikes to the fence. Breaking one rule weaken all the rules.

This is the broken window theory (BWT), first proposed by James Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, holds that the presence of disorder — in the form of broken windows, litter, and graffiti — can encourage delinquent behavior. Rudolph Guliani, reduced murder rate and crime in New York by having a zero tolerance for graffiti on Subways and arresting even turnstiles jumpers by droves. Little crimes nip in the bud the bigger ones. When folks saw that there were rules and consequences, they acted better. (Info from Seed magazine's January's coverage of Science magazine's December 2008 article http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2009/0 ... _chaos.php)

What has all this got to do with baptism? A lot. Who are you is not some core set of hard wired circuits in your head or heart. Who you are is shaped by what and who is around you. Baptism is the enveloping of the community over and around the individual. We celebrate communion today among the baptized. If you baptize you are part of us. We together are folks trying to help each other be the people God calls us to be.

We don't go out with squirt guns of holy water zapping every child changing them from doomed to saved. It isn't an individual act. We cannot have a private baptism, it is an oxymoron. The community is the baptism more than the water or the words. Phillip Zimbardo tells us it isn't just evil that is absorbed from the situation, but goodness, what he calls heroic actions. Communities can drag people down, can also build them up as well.

This is why a continuing community the church is so necessary. We are Christians because we catch it from each other. We lay hands one another in ordination to link ourselves to each other and to all that have gone before. We also give each other a hand in being a better sort of person, of coming closer to what Christ calls us to be. We do not form the church only, the church forms us.

We can be a force for good in Goodyear Heights. Those signs that say we report crime is one way. Another way is having activities outside of our building, like our movie nights in the park. We make the night safe for people by being out in the night. Other people raise their expectations for others, and for themselves! As a community we can help each other be better.

My friend Greg had many people praying and pulling for him when he forgot who he was. We had a worship service for the youth group the night he was hurt, which had about 15 coming on a good night. We had to move the service twice as more and more young people came to the service. Over a hundred people came for worship. I announced that we were opening the church web site for messages to Greg and we would be reading them to him at his bedside, they crashed the web site with messages. In the weeks and month that followed I never visited Greg alone, for there was always friends and family there with him. I believe they remade Greg. He came back because so maybe people were pulling him out.

Remember who you are and whose you are. Who you are is God's beloved. Whose you are is God's. As you give to the church's ministry and mission, remember that the church is also giving to you, as together with each other and with God we help each other live out our baptism.

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