I’ll never forget a story from Jim Lowry, then-pastor at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, of how each Saturday evening in his youth, just before he left the house to pick up his date, his father would look him squarely in the eye and say, “Son, remember who you are.” Jim grew up in the heart of the South at a time when “who you were” still meant something. It didn’t have much to do with money, or education, or beauty —
it had to do with character. What you did and how you behaved reflected on yourself and it reflected on your family name. Jim had a responsibility to bear the Lowry name with honor, which wasn’t a burden, but rather a reminder of his best self, a legacy and commitment.
“Child, remember who you are.” These days, we can take all the help we can get and all the encouragement to aspire to “the better angels of our nature.”
But what is our best self? How do we know who we are at the core? It strengthens me to know that Jesus faces this same challenge again and again in his life. It is no accident that immediately prior to his temptations in the wilderness, as he launched his ministry, the voice of God comes at his baptism saying, “This is my beloved Son.” It is not coincidence that God speaks these words again on the mountaintop as Jesus is about to embark on his journey to the cross. Fully human, Jesus is strengthened by these words of truth:
- Underneath all of his extraordinary gifts – as teacher, healer, prophet, truth-teller and system up-ender – he is God’s beloved child.
- In the face of all his temptations – to use his gifts for his own glory, or power, or satisfaction – he is God’s beloved child.
- In the dark night of his soul’s worst challenges –
betrayal by his closest companions, death at the hands of his religious enemies and corrupt government, the fear of abandonment by God – he is still God’s beloved child.
Jesus is able to fulfill his calling because he holds on to this truth about his core identity: God’s voice saying, “You are my beloved child.”
Which is the same voice that speaks to us today. When other voices try to tell you: you don’t matter … or you’re only as valuable as your last award … or you’ll never get over your addiction … or the world doesn’t need you … or your family won’t amount to anything …
or what matters are your grades or salary or looks … (or your own voice tricks you into thinking these things) … that’s precisely when we need to hear this voice again: “Child, remember who you are: You are God’s beloved child.”
Being God’s beloved child doesn’t protect us from temptations or challenges any more than it exempted Jesus. Instead, in all the pressures to perform (in school, or work, or home), in all the challenges we face (in health, or family, or faith), in all our temptations to measure ourselves by popularity or glory — in all of this, we are strengthened by the core truth of who we are, which nothing can ever take away: You are God’s beloved child.
In the end, it is not just for our sake that we need this word. If these words equip Jesus to fulfill his mission, how much more do we need to remember them? It is the only way we can fulfill the sacred work God calls us to: to bring truth to power, healing to our messed up, broken world, and light to shine in the darkness of these days.