Posted by: Andrew | February 22, 2011

Night Thought

Had a great time last night on The Gospel Lounge with Nikki Tapper on the local BBC radio WM. I was being interviewed and then presented the Night Thought – a sort of late night version of Thought for the Day. I’ve put the text of the thought below and if you missed that and want to hear more I shall be back on the show on May 9th.

Night Thought

If you had to describe yourself in 10 words or less, I wonder which ones you’d choose? Funny, attractive, Brummie perhaps you’d want to include something about your background or faith or stunning good looks. I’ve often been in meetings where I’ve been asked to do this kind of activity and, to be honest, I hate it. I can never decide what to say, which bits of my life I want to share, what image of myself do I want to give. Do I say “Fun loving father of two boys” or “Grumpy middle aged bloke with bad back”. Both are true and more true on some days than others – actually I’m always the father of two boys in case you’re concerned.

How we define ourselves, how we understand and express our identity can make a big difference to us and the people we meet. It can have an impact on the kinds of people we become friends with, or choose to stay away from. When I was a teenager back in the early 1980’s it really mattered to us whether someone was a punk or a skinhead, were they a new romantic or a casual. These youth subcultures mattered enormously to our sense of who we were and to how we perceived and even treated others.

Today we continue to hear a lot of discussion about identity, often wrapped up in questions about Britishness and faith. What does it mean to be British in a multi-faith, multi-cultural society? In the work I do with Christian and Muslim young people identities often get assumed. Muslims are Asian, Christians are white. But very quickly these get challenged, we have Carribean Christians, Pathan Muslims with very fair skin, Asian Christians and so on. Identities get mixed and ideas we had about the identity of others or even ourselves get challenged.

Sadly so much of the conflict we see between groups today is often about identity. Either seeking a secure identity through belonging to a gang or identifying with an area or even a postcode, or feeling that one’s own identity is under threat by the actions or ideas of other people.

Identity, who we are, mattered to Jesus and his followers as well. This isn’t just a fascination for us in the West today but has intrigued and troubled people down through the ages. In the Bible we read of Jewish people living at the time of Jesus who were concerned to preserve their identity against the might of the Roman empire that could easily swamp everything. Many were hoping for a Messiah who would come and defeat the Romans and re-establish their strong identity. Yet Jesus, as so often, turned many of these ideas upside down. His security, his full identity came not through ethnicity or religious behaviour, but through his relationship with God the Father. He knew that has was fully loved and accepted by God, and offered to people the chance to have this new, secure identity as well.

There’s a very telling moment in John’s Gospel that comes at the Passover meal, on the very night when Jesus would be betrayed and then abandoned by his disciples. In John 13 verses 3-5 we read:

“Jesus knew that the Father had given him complete power; he knew that he had come from God and was going to God.  So he rose from the table, took off his outer garment, and tied a towel around his waist.  Then he poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.”

Because Jesus was so secure in his relationship with God the Father, because he knew who he was and how much he was loved by God, he could become a servant without feeling demeaned or insulted. His identity was with God not with his job or status here. Being secure in our identity enables us to reach out to others, to serve and even be seen as less important than others. This is the hope Jesus holds out for us all to be secure in the knowledge that God loves us deeply no matter what our status or identity here.

The disciple John wrote some letters to churches who were feeling under pressure, being persecuted and struggling to hold on to their identity. In 1 John 3:1 he writes.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

The hope that we are given is that we are God’s children. Whatever our status here, however people treat us, however bruised our identity has become we can know the total security of his love.

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