Labels and Identities


Message Title:  Labels and Identities
Theme: A Season for Growing
Season: Lent
Main Text: Philippians 3:4b-14
Scripture Reading: John 12:1-8
RCL Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
Focus: Christ is the foundation of our identity.
 To redefine the labels we use to build our identity and our mission.
Other Notes:

SCRIPTURE READING: John 12:1-8 Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, home of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Lazarus and his sisters hosted a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was among those who joined him at the table. Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound,[a] of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained, “This perfume was worth a year’s wages![b] Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He carried the money bag and would take what was in it.) Then Jesus said, “Leave her alone. This perfume was to be used in preparation for my burial, and this is how she has used it. You will always have the poor among you, but you won’t always have me.”


  1. AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT: What is Indiana’s state tree?
    1. Indiana’s state tree: Tulip tree. Also known as Tulip Poplar or Yellow poplar.
    2. BUT! The tulip tree is not a true poplar. (Wiki: slide 1 & 2)
      1. While poplars have about 25 different flowering deciduous plants that fall in that genus, the tulip tree is not one of them. (wiki: )
    3. Here is a chart with the scientific classifications of living things. (slide 3)
  2. Tulip Trees are related to poplar in the same way you and your third cousin are related.
    1. Don’t know who you’re third cousin is? There are these great charts—
      1. 3rd cousin means: 1. You share the same great grandparents, and 2. are in the same generation line (not same age). (Your parent’s parent’s parent’s sibling’s great grand kid.) – Slide 4

TRANSITION:  If I’m honest, the proper labels for family relations and plant classifications seem like splitting hairs. In some cultures, especially many indigenous cultures- any relative your age is a cousin, any relative older is an auntie or uncle outside of your grandparents. The reason is to identify “I claim you” rather than “what percentage of related are we?”

Why do we have a habit of splitting hairs to claim details that aren’t REALLY important?  Our Scripture pairing today is John 12:1-8 and Philippians 3:4b-14. We were in this same chapter 4 weeks ago. We read the end already, here is the passage just before that.

MAIN TEXT: Philippians 3:4b-14 4bIf anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: 5I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. 6With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless. 7These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. 8But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ 9and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead. 12It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.


  1. Philippian’s Context:
    1. Paul in prison, Epaphroditus came to care for him from Philippi
    2. Philippi (Acts 16)- Roman city, Retired soldiers, patriotic nationalism
    3. Message- Christ poem at the center of the letter and all the details of his letter point to this poem.
  2. Today’s Passage:
    1. We talked about this about a month ago when Paul values his citizenship in heaven over his earthly reputation.
    2. Paul identifies how amazing he is- Paul is of good breeding, roman citizen, and pharisee trained by Rabbi Gamaliel. Paul lived zealously to HIS beliefs. Paul is crème of the crop! (taxes analogy)
    3. Yet, Paul gives up his reputation and considers it so worthless he uses a curse word to describe it. (Yes, there is swearing in the Bible.)
    4. Paul doesn’t claim that he has FINISHED his faith but that he is continuing in the process.


  1. Epistle: Paul is willing to shed every claim to fame, every piece of clout or wealth for the knowledge of Christ. 
  2. Gospel:
    1. Mary—is willing to pour out literal wealth to bless Jesus.
      1. Mary anoints Jesus
    2. Mary gets it before the other disciples
      1. Jesus has to wash their feet before they get it and even then they struggle
    3. Judas claims to care about the poor—he’s splitting hairs: “what is the scientific class of this action? Show me the dna!”
      1. In reality he was a thief
    4. Mary’s identity had shifted from the norms of this world to worshipping God.
    5. Judas was still worshipping himself


  1. Back to the intro: While Judas claims to be a poplar tree, Mary claims “I’m a tree.”
    1. Judas’ words are a mindset used to avoid helping anyone—a tool of distraction
    2. “What about the poor?!”
      1. Don’t give addicts Narcan! What about the diabetics & insulin!?
      2. Don’t help immigrants! What about our unhoused and veterans!?
    3. But Judas, like the rest of us, has made a false dichotomy.
      1. It isn’t poor vs. loving Jesus. It isn’t diabetics vs recovering addicts. It isn’t immigrants vs. unhoused & veterans. It’s BOTH AND!
        1. Deut 15:11
        2. (Poplar? It’s a tree!)
  2. We are not using the world’s standards to determine our ministry.
    1. We are called to love the vulnerable: including addicts or medically ill, immigrants, unhoused, or veterans, ALSO the elderly, foster kids, the unwed mother, the high school dropout, the grocery store clerk.
    2. It’s more natural for us to love those who are respectable- soldiers, police, respectable public servants, etc BUT – their earthly reputation doesn’t determine their worthiness, Christ does.

CONCLUSION: Stop splitting hairs. Reject earthly labels. Claim the broader identity of the family of God.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s