Friday, June 21, 2013

Identity - Galatians part 4 (June 23 2013)

Homily.  Yr C Proper 12, June 23 2013, St. Albans Day.
Readings:  Wis 3.1-9; Ps 63.1-8; Gal 3.23-4.7; Mt 10.40-42

Identity (Galatians part 4)

Okay, so we’ve talked about this amazing gospel of grace that Paul proclaimed, about how we’ve been justified by faith, and so we’re good with God because of what Christ has done, and we’ve talked about the amazing freedom that this gives us, because we don’t have to worry about doing this or that to make ourselves good with God, and so now I’ve promised that that we’re going to talk about what all this means for how we are to live our lives, what sort of roadmap do we get as we drive on out onto the open highway of living by faith.

However.   However, before we can quite get there, there’s one more thing that we have to talk about, one more thing that Paul writes about before we get to talk about how to live our lives.  Because how we live our lives flows directly out of who we are.  And so our reading today from the letter to the Galatians is all about identity.

And the question of identity is huge.  It affects the courses we take at university.  It influences whether we get tattoos or body piercings.  It does a lot to determine what job we do and who we’re going to marry.  It is the driving question underlying 80 years of Superman comics and movies as Superman tries to figure out whether he is really Clark Kent or the Man of Steel.  Ask any psychologist and he or she will tell you that the question of identity underlies our sense of worth, the meaning and purpose of our lives and our sense of belonging.  Important stuff.

And so before Paul gets to the roadmap for our lives in this new age of freedom in Christ, he needs to talk about identity.  And so do we.  And so I want you to take a few minutes on your own, take a pencil and a piece of paper and try to answer the question, “Who am I?”  What are the things for me that factor into my identity, my own sense of who I am?  And if you have time after you have answered the “Who am I?” question, you may also want to ponder where exactly does my identity come from anyway, and who or what people or things or events have defined me that way.


So what did you write?  How did you answer the “Who am I?” question?  There are lots of ways we can think about our own identity aren’t there.  We can start with our name, I am Mark, a unique identifier and a symbol for me of all that’s encapsulated in my life story.  We may identify with what we do, I am a priest, or a doctor or a student or unemployed.  We may identify ourselves as male or female, as gay or straight.  We may identify as Canadian or American or Jamaican.  Many of the labels that we use to identify ourselves are differentiators aren’t they?  By aligning our identity with a particular group we also say that we are not part of other groupings.  And while that may help us to develop a sense of our own uniqueness, which psychologists would tell us is good, it also creates boundaries which may not be so good.

And how about relationships?  How many people included something about being mothers, fathers, children, sisters, friends in their answers.  Identity is relational, and so our relationships are an important part about how we see ourselves.

How many of you included words about your own capabilities and accomplishments or your failings in your answers?  I’m a good hockey player.  I’m an alcoholic.  I’m smart.  I’m dumb.  I’m a college graduate.  I failed high school.   Our sense of identity is affected by our life experience and by our perception of how we measure up or compare with others.

Paul gets all this.  Remember that he started this letter by telling us who he is, an apostle, a Jew, and he told us his life story.  But even though all this stuff has certainly has shaped us, and may well describe us, it no longer defines who we are.  Now that faith has come, now that the gospel of grace has been proclaimed and made known through Christ, you are all children of God.  That’s who you are.  You are beloved children, worthy of love, honour and respect, created in the image of God, created as a unique individual with all the gifts and everything you will need to do the things that God is calling you to do in this world.  Nothing else matters.  Everything else is secondary and no longer defines who we are.

What a difference it would make if we could learn to trust in our identity as children of God.  Let me give you a specific example, and since it is St. Albans Day, let’s talk about St. Alban.

Imagine two scenarios if you will.  In the first scenario Alban identifies as a law-abiding Citizen of the Roman Empire living in England.  A man comes to his door.  That man is a criminal and a fugitive from the Law.  What happens?  Well, Alban would turn the man away and notify the Roman authorities to have him arrested.  After all, isn’t that what a law-abiding Roman citizen would do when confronted with a criminal?

But what if both men had read Paul’s letter to the Galatians and believed Paul when he proclaimed that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer man and woman; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  Then the story would go like this.  Alban is a child of God living in England.  One day a man comes to his door.  Alban sees that this man too is a child of God.  And so he welcomes into his home, and he feeds and shelters him. And when the Roman soldiers finally reach Alban’s doors looking for the man, Alban hides him, exchanges clothing with him and goes with the soldiers in his place, allowing him to escape.

What a difference it would make if we could really learn to trust and live into our new God-given identity as children of God, and let all those other differentiators to fade into the background, allowing us to dismantle and transcend the boundaries and divisions that those other differentiators have created in our lives and our world.

Because although our identity as children of God is meant for each one of us individually, assuring us that we are worthy of love, honour and respect, it also has a public and communal aspect.  Identity leads to belonging, and as children of God we belong to the family of God, the people of God.  And the concrete expression, the sacramental expression if you like, of the family of God in our time and place is this community that we call church.  You belong here.  No strings attached.

Now that, if you think about it, is pretty radical.  In order to belong to most communities, you need to do something.  You might need to register, you might need to pay some dues, you might need to meet certain conditions, you might need to adhere to certain standards.  But not here.  You’re already registered, your dues have been paid on your behalf, you’re welcome here, you belong.  You’re a child of God, this is your family, and nothing else matters. 

Now, we may well find that to be terrifying, because we want other things to matter.  This child of God thing is going to take a lot of trust.  And that’s where Paul’s insistence on our identity as children of God links up with his insistence on the freedom given to us by the gospel of grace.  This community, the community of the children of God, becomes a place where people are free to be who they were created to be without having to conform to standards of behavior or belief.  And we trust that by being this sort of a community, by practicing this sort of radical hospitality, we become not just a community of freedom but also a community of transformation, where as children of God, God will send the Spirit of his Son into our hearts so that we too can learn to cry, Abba, Father.


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