Rev. Timothy Winterstein
In the movie Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Greg Gaines has made it through three years of high school without being associated with any single group. He's not a jock, but he gives the basketball players in their letter jackets high-fives as he passes. He's not a goth, but they nod at him from behind their leather and metal and eyeliner when he goes into school. He's not a nerd or a geek, but they respect him for his nerdy tendencies. This ability to keep himself from being singled out as different, he thinks, is the key to surviving high school.
When I was in high school, I was not Greg Gaines. My high school identity was formed by the fact that I was a Christian. I fought for our Christian club to have official school recognition; I prayed in public with other Christians; I went to concerts with Christian bands and tried to demonstrate that they were just as cool as what everyone else was listening to (some were and some were definitely not) and I picked abortion for essays and debate class way too often. But even though my high school identity was shaped by the "right" group and the "right" issues, it wasn't an identity that could sustain me. People didn't admire me or hate me for my stand on things; they just groaned whenever I had to state publicly what my essay or story was going to be about. I was pegged as part of a group, period.
Maybe you can relate to me, or maybe you can relate to Greg Gaines. Maybe you've worked hard to form and shape your own identity; what other people think you are is the mask you've created for them to see. Or maybe your identity has been formed by others: You did something you regret, and everyone has pegged you as this or that, part of this group or of that group. Or maybe it's a combination of both.
For three years Greg Gaines managed to keep his identity from being shaped and formed by any single high school group. But in his senior year, Greg's mom forces him to become friends with Rachel, a girl who has just been diagnosed with cancer. At first, neither she nor he wants to be friends, because they both know it's artificial. Not only that, but as soon as he starts to visit Rachel, things begin to happen so that, one after another, he no longer has good relationships with the jocks, or the goths, or the nerds. His self-made identity can't sustain him, and it takes that breakdown of his ability to move among the groups in his high school to teach him that there is something more important than simply surviving.
The fact is, each of our identities, whether self-made or imposed on us from outside, is as fragile as life. None of them will survive, and there is only one way to avoid an identity crisis-an identity that cannot be broken because it doesn't belong to us. It's an identity that depends on one thing and one thing only: Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for you. That identity is your baptismal identity, the holy Name that marks you for all eternity. "In the morning when you get up," Luther says, "make the sign of the holy cross and say" the Name. Because no matter whether today will be good or bad, you belong to the God of the universe. "In the evening when you go to bed," do the same. Because no matter whether today was good or bad, your sins are forgiven and Christ remains your Savior and Lord. And He is always faithful, always righteous, always the Savior of every individual of every group in every place. People may hate you or love you; your mistakes may go viral; your friends may change because you bear Christ's Name. This is the only identity in the world that cannot fail or be changed, because it's not yours. It's Christ's. And He gives it to you, marked as you are with His cross in the water by the Word. Indeed: "go joyfully to your work," and "go to sleep...in good cheer." You are Christ's and He is yours.
Rev. Timothy Winterstein serves as pastor at Faith Lutheran Church, Wenatchee, Washington.
Created: November 23rd, 2015