Who am I?
So Shannan and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary this coming Friday. It is interesting in that on that day we became husband and wife, but the reality is that I didn’t really appreciate what it means to be a husband. (I have been learning ever since) In November, all going well, we will have a daughter and I will need to learn what it means to be a father, probably also learning more about what it means to be a husband… My point in this is that these identities, husband, father, they aren’t really things that I achieved, but are more like things that I need to grow in and learn.
Definition of identity in English:
1.1 The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.
‘he wanted to develop a more distinctive Scottish Tory identity’
I had a bit of a think about some of the different identities that I carry, ways that can talk about who I am, what I do, what expectations I have of myself and what expectations others have of me…
- City folk
- Child of God
For each one of you here there would be expectations, experiences, behaviours, that come to mind when I talk about each of these identities.
Some of these are more important than others… Some things that I feel like I earned, others were given to me. Some are sources of life, pride and encouragement, others are the opposite. But despite that, they are something we grow into, something that shapes us… In both positive and negative ways… They shape how we see ourselves shapes the person we become, shapes the way we behave, the kinds of choices we make… If you were to ask yourself what is most important to you, I think there would be a good chance that it would be grounded in your identity like those I just listed off…
Living as a someone who follows Jesus looks different in every one of these areas and honestly, in some of these, it would be easier to downplay faith all together… And that is precisely what the passage today is about.
Family and Clan in Israel…
Now before we go any further, it is worth reminding ourselves how this idea of identity worked for God’s people at the time of Jesus. This notion of identity was a huge part of what it meant to be part of God’s people.
In the Ild Testament, being part of God’s chosen people wasn’t just about what you believed or what you did, but very much about your ethnic heritage. Being “Sons and Daughters of Abraham” wasn’t just understood figuratively… This wasn’t just a faith that you could join and there were clear understandings of who was in and who was out…
Back then, the idea of a “Nation” as we have it today wasn’t really a thing, but family…. Family, extended family, clan was everything.
So you need to understand that while we might find it troubling that Jesus talks about turning family against each other, this would have been even more unthinkable in his day.
Who am I first?
No matter who we are, the different roles and identities that we carry will conflict at times. The demands and expectations of work may compete with family, doing one well may mean that the other suffers.
The key question is which one comes first, which ones takes priority? Which identity shapes the others?
It is also worth asking ourselves where we learned the expectations for the identities that we are living into? For example, my ideas about what it means to be a husband were shaped by those whose example I saw, (Parents, family, church, TV) something that was then reshaped and refined as I read the New Testament and also then reshaped again based on the experience living with Shannan… The challenge is the realisation that at times, we aren’t always on the same page about what this means for me as a couple, a conflict that we then need to explore, resolve, or maybe even leave in tension.
Being a follower of Jesus, being a child of God, doesn’t mean that we cease to be all the other things that we are. Sure, there are some identities that we need to let go of completely… But all of them need to be opened to being shaped and reshaped by who we are as God’s child, something that may bring us into conflict with those around us.
Ideally there would be no conflict between family, community, workplace and nation, but Jesus reminds us that as those who live in a broken world, these other influences which demand our loyalty, which seek shape who we are, may themselves be a source of conflict when brought into contact with God’s vision for humanity.
This is a challenge for those of us caught in the middle… By that I mean all of us… But the thing is that this is part of our witness, part of the way that we show the world who God is and reflect something of Jesus. It is important that we take the time to ask ourselves what it means to live as a Christian husband, wife, parent or child, that we take the time to ask ourselves what it means to work as a Christian employee, manager, employer or to take the time to ask ask what it means to live as a Christian Australian…
If we are living in a non-Christian home, working in a secular setting, or living in a secular country (like Australia) the approach of “Don’t rock the boat” will often come at the expense of living out Christian discipleship in that area of our lives…
That isn’t who you are anymore…
So, when we think about the identities that we carry with us… When we think about who we are… We also need to acknowledge that we don’t always get it right… We don’t always have the whole picture…
It’s a bit like understanding our own National identity, or that of our region or community – Something we don’t often appreciate until we live abroad…
Or perhaps the brokenness of those around us, of how they see us, has become something that we have taken on board to see ourselves, to define ourselves…
Failure… Worthless… Victim…
Sinner… Unclean… Broken…
What if sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are by one who loves us more than we can know? What if sometimes we don’t realise who we are until we are called…
In Jesus, through the cross we find our truest and primary identity. Children of God. In our passage from Romans, Paul isn’t saying that we need to earn our place within God’s family, but rather reminding us that the behaviours and perspectives that may have shaped us, entangled us, enslaved us before we knew God no longer make sense. Paul is reminding us “That isn’t who you are anymore”.
Part of the mystery of faith is that God promises that through the cross, we are adopted into God’s family, that we are called by name and claimed as sons and daughters of God. That although we often forget, often make mistakes, that we share in the identity of Jesus, share in his grace, have shared in his death and will share in his new life.
Husband, father, these aren’t the only identities that I have grown in to. They aren’t the first identities that I live out even though I still don’t fully appreciate what that will look like. You see, I was born into a Christian family and I was baptised when I was a baby. It is in baptism that we acknowledge recognise and celebrate God’s faithfulness and invitation through Jesus. In baptism we hear the call of God, to recognise who we are, not based on what we have done or earned, but based on what Jesus has already done for us. The challenge then is to grow into this identity, to be shaped by this and not to forget and not to think that we have somehow earned it or fully achieved it.
So, folks, when we find ourselves struggling with temptation, failure, brokenness. Remember that this isn’t who you are. This doesn’t define you. Remember who you are. Remember whose you are. Remember that the same grace that unites us with Jesus and makes us clean and whole continues to lead, guide and sustain us. This is who we are now… This is who you are now…
So we will just have a piece of music that will go for a few minutes. If you are here and aren’t sure where you stand in terms of faith, know that through Jesus, God invites you to be his child. If you have been doing faith and struggling, be reminded again of who you are. If you feel like you are doing fine, then ask God to help you to see and affirm his invitation and love for those around you as his children. If you have been journeying in faith and haven’t been baptised, even if you have been doing so for ages, I would encourage you to consider making that public response, just talk with Pete, myself or an elder and we can organise those next steps. For all of us here, know that we are beloved children of God and ask the question of how this shapes every part of who we are.
Song – I am a child of God (I’m no longer a slave to fear)