For PUMC’s Labor Day family service, with more than the usual number of children in the congregation, Cathie Capp opened her September 1 sermon with the “scandal” over the casting of Ben Affleck as the superhero Batman. She brought new meaning to the day’s parable, the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11-32.” (Catherine Williams had animatedly told that story for the children’s sermon.)
For more than 70 years, Batman has been the alter ego of playboy/philanthropist Bruce Wayne. “His identity changes with what he is doing at any given time.”
Our personal identities — how we think of ourselves — also change according to what we are doing and where we find ourselves in life. Cathie pointed out that, as adolescents from age 12 to 19, we struggle to establish our identities. Later, we label ourselves according to our position in the family (wife, mother, daughter) or our jobs (where we work or if we are not working outside the home). “Labels blur the line between who we are, and what we do begins to define how we perceive ourselves.”
In this parable, both young men have an identity crisis. The younger son tries unsuccessfully to establish his identity as a playboy and ends up with a job feeding pigs — surely an identity problem for a Jew who is observant re dietary laws. He thought his identity had been erased, that he was no longer belonged to his father’s family, and he wanted merely to work for his father.
The elder son had his own identity crisis.
“The father is the only person who does not base his identity on the circumstances of his life as a father or a wealthy landowner — or on what he did or what his sons did. The father grounds his identity on what he truly IS.”
How do we become secure? How do we identify who we are, so that we don’t need an altar ego or a costume change? By understanding that we are all uniquely equipped without aliases, for a divine purpose — because we are unconditionally loved. We can choose to ignore it, but nothing we can do will change our identity as beloved children of God. This unconditional love is given recklessly, and we are 100 percent secure. She quoted Romans 8:38-39, that neither death nor life nor …anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“We cannot earn it, but we become worthy by WHOSE we are, by looking only one place for validation,” she said, by grounding our identity in such activities as prayer, scripture study, worship, participating in small groups — and Holy Communion.
And with that, Cathie Capp invited us to the Communion table.
Image from DC comics.