Identity Crisis - Who is God and How does that Define us?
Readings: Galatians 3:23-end and Luke 8:26-39
Lord, give us a heart for you word and a word for our hearts. Amen
I hope I haven’t told you this before, but many moons ago I heard a story about two Australian sailors in World War 2, which I would like to share with you today. The two Australian sailors were on shore leave in London and were on a tour of the pubs. They were a little worse for wear and with an infamous London smog descending as you got back in the 40s, they soon got completely lost. Suddenly, out of the gloom, they saw a figure approaching, who happened to be an admiral of the Navy. They approached him in drunken disorder and asked the admiral for directions loudly. The admiral was quite upset with these two drunken sailors and, affronted said “do you know who I am?” to which one Australian turned to his mate and said “Oh boy, we’re in big trouble now, we don’t know where we are and this fella doesn’t know who he is!”
Working out exactly who we are is one of the key passages we all face in life, often starting in our teenage years and dare I say, continues throughout our adult life as we continue to discern who we really are. In the modern world, and perhaps even more so in church, there is much angst about identity, about working out who we are and our place in society both individually and corporately. This question of identity is as old as humanity and our New Testament reading and gospel both deal with identity, both of Jesus and of ourselves as followers of Jesus. We need to understand who He is and who we are.
In our gospel, as you have heard me say before, it is such a shame how the readings are separated from their context, because we lose so much without it. You see, just before this story of Jesus and demoniac we hear about Jesus calming the storm, and these two stories were never meant to be read separated. The disciples, at the end of the calming of the storm, ask the question, ‘who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” From this statement they sail straight to the region of the Gerasene’s and their questions is answered by the demoniac. He said, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’ the disciples didn’t have a clue, the Pharisees and religious leaders even less of a clue than the disciples, yet the demons that possessed this man, they knew exactly who Jesus is. That is how far fallen humanity is, for demons can recognise that which we cannot recognise ourselves. The disciple’s question in the boat is answered ‘Jesus is the Son of the Most High God.’ We may know that is the case.
Of course we all know how the rest of the gospel reading pans out – Jesus sends the legions of demons that have possessed this poor man in to the herd of pigs and they run down the hill and drown. What is interesting is the reaction of the locals and the reaction of the man who was possessed because their reactions are so different. The locals see the divinity in Jesus are terrified. They are overcome by fear as they hear of the divinity of Jesus. So Jesus leaves.
One of the fascinating things about being a vicar, and I am sure Jen, Irene and others who help out at the baptisms and weddings will agree, it always amazes me how many people are terrified of coming inside the church. I don’t think they are scared of going in the building itself, after all many go into scary buildings like hospitals or whatever without hesitation. I don’t think they are scared of us either. I think they are scared of the divine. Of encountering something of God. Frankly that is probably wise, not because anything dangerous is going to happen, but because God is, well, God. We are told it is good to have a healthy fear of the Lord. Imagine receiving an award from the Queen – it isn’t Buckingham Palace that worries those receiving awards, its meeting the monarch. The same thing on a much bigger scale applies here. What Jesus does is He leaves. Not because He doesn’t want to be there but because He is too much for the people there at the moment.
What about the reaction of the demoniac, now cured? Well in contrast to the local people, the demoniac has come to know that Jesus, Son of the Most High God, is full of love and compassion and grace and he simply wants to remain with Him. But Jesus says no – tell the people about Me who can’t handle me yet. Invite them to know Me through how your life has been transformed.
The question of who Jesus is, is answered and it is fascinating to see the difference between how we react who have encountered Jesus and those who have simply heard of Him.
We now know who Jesus is, but what about who we are, what about our identity? When we introduce ourselves, we often speak about what we did as a job, we may well say, I am a teacher, I am a retired engineer, I am a student, I am a whatever. But that is the wrong answer for Christians. In our New Testament reading we hear Paul say to the Galatians, do you know who you are? You are all Children of God through faith, you are clothed in Christ, you are baptised in Christ. Paul says ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, your nationality or family don’t define you. Paul says there is ‘neither slave nor free’, you job or social status doesn’t define you. Paul says ‘nor is there male and female’, even your gender doesn’t define you. What defines you is that you are a child of God, clothed in Christ, for we are all one in Christ. This means then when people ask us what do we do? Who are we, the correct response is in reality, my name is whatever, disciple of Christ, child of God.
That is who we are. We know these things to be true. Jesus is the Son of the Most High God, and we are His children through faith, not earned but received through amazing grace.
We know who we are. We know who Jesus is. We have the greatest prize, the pearl of great worth – use whatever parable you want.
To me it seems there are two things to take away from these passages this morning. The first is that we need to rejoice in awe at the great calling it is to be Christians. We, like the cured demoniac, know that Jesus is the Son of the Most High God and more than that we know He loves, He heals and He forgives. We know that He calls us to be His children. Lets rejoice in that, it is mind bogglingly good news.
Second, we know many people who are scared of Jesus. I think that God’s call to us is to tell them about Himself. To invite them to church social events. To slowly offer opportunities for them to encounter the God whom we know and whom they may only have heard about. We know who Jesus is, we know who we are in Christ, but others have only heard of Him and they are afraid. Can we invite people who don’t go to church to be here to experience God? Someone told me the only reason they came to this church was someone coming outside greeting them and inviting them in, when they were passing to the shops. Fear will only be overcome by encounter and encounter happens best when we are invited by someone we know.
Lets go out, celebrate our salvation, tell everyone who we are in Christ and show them just how precious they are to the god who loves them more than we can know. Amen