Taken from my sermon this morning at St Andrew’s Blackley, and on Facebook in our Online Church of NorthMancCofe group. It is Week 4 in our “Frontline Series” of teaching and learning from LICC, and the focus today is “Whoever We Are”. The Bible passages referred to are Romans 8: 14 – 27, and Matthew 6:5 – 14
Who we are matters very much to us, but when we are introduced to someone for the first time, our “who-ness” quite often gets mixed up with our “what-ness”.
Who we are is very closely tied to what we do. Ask any shop assistant, dentist, refuse collector, teacher… What we do is often tied into the way that we describe who we are. My Grandad was known as Alf the Electrician; my other Grandad was known as Mr Swain the Police Sergeant (not Frank, you’ll notice!).
But being a Christian means that we shouldn’t worry about those labels that the world needs to order us by and to identify us with. It is plenty to be known by our who, because our identity is in God.
What we do matters, of course it does, and it is important that the way we do them matters too. Our compassion, kindness, our patience – all those qualities that Paul talks about when we clothe ourselves with Christ. The way that we interact with others matters, it matters a huge amount, but it doesn’t affect who we are. We are children of God whether we clothe ourselves with those things or not. Our identity as children of God is not dependant on what we do, but our identity as children of God ought to mark us out as different because it is our actions and the way that we do them, that show the world that we are followers of Jesus.
But our identity is so much more than that. Our identity goes beyond the things we do and the way that we do them, because our identity is God-given.
It is because we are led by the spirit that we know ourselves to be children of God. Our identity as God’s children means something significant. It means we have an intimate relationship with him; he sees and knows us right at the very core of our being. Our creator, God, knows us so intimately that we don’t need words to pass between us.
We all experience times when no words are either possible or necessary, but communication happens between us. It could be as a parent, you give your naughty child “the look”, or when you are blessed to be in a long and happy marriage where strength and comfort comes in the silences as much as in the conversations and laughter, or as a pet owner, your pet communicates its need for food, comfort or entertainment perfectly well without words to do so.
How much more so then with God, who created us, adopted us into himself to be co-heirs with Christ, that we communicate with him on levels that are beyond our understanding.
And how are we are aware of this communication?
No matter what we do, our identity in God is realised and strengthened through prayer.
Yes, people recognise us outwardly as Christians by the things that we do, but it is through prayer that we inwardly recognise our identity in God.
Jesus gives us the prayer to pray to God – it begins, “Our Father in heaven”, and as we pray, we are invited to open our hearts to God – he’s there anyway, but unless we open our hearts willingly, the words of this prayer are just that, words.
“Our Father”: The word “our” helps us see that when we talk about being children of God, we are all children of God. Yes, he’s my creator, but he’s yours too. He is ours, we are all his. And so, even as we begin, the very first word of this prayer means something. It underpins our identity as child-REN of God, not child, singular.
When we open our hearts in prayer and think about this collective form of address, we get that sense of connection with each other – not just the people here in the room [or joining us on Facebook] – but with everyone, all of God’s children.
And the next word, Father.
This can be a tricky word, especially if you have or have had a difficult relationship with your own father. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone’s experiences, good or bad, because everybody’s relationship with their father is unique. There is no ideal human being, no perfect human father, and there is no “normal” when it comes to parentage; Fathers, and father figures come in all shapes and all sized in our lives.
But Jesus used the word Father. He said “Abba, Father”, Abba being the Aramaic word for Father. He taught us to use the word too because as Paul says, Jesus is God’s son and because we too are children of God, when Jesus says “our father”, he is including us with his prayer. How wonderful is that?
“Our Father”, the first two words of the prayer that Jesus taught us, but when we pray them with an open heart and an open mind they help us connect further and wider and deeper with the one who created us. Our identity as children of God is cemented with all of creation for all of eternity with those two, simple, words.
Let’s have a look at another bit. Let’s look at “give us today our daily bread”. Again, we could simply say these words and gloss over them quickly, but let’s just pause, open up and see what they tell us about God and our identity in him.
Well, first off, there are the words “us” and “our”. Again, we have that feeling, that sense, that we are not on our own here. We are all connected. We pray this prayer for ourselves, but we also pray it for our fellow Children of God.
So, what do we mean by bread?
For me, it’s the stuff that sustains me:
- Food, water, shelter
- Company, the love of others, fellowship and spirituality
- Art, music, literature, making stuff
- A sense of belonging and contributing to stuff
You may well have your own list, but our “list” is not the same as the one God has for us. He knows what we need to sustain us today.
And those needs change, day by day, which is why we say “give us today our daily bread”. Today’s needs are not necessarily the same as tomorrow’s, or yesterday’s. Our individual needs change, and our group’s and community’s needs change too. What this worshipping community needs today is not necessarily what it needed at this point last year, or even at this point next year.
And so, praying for the things that sustain us today, without a wish list and without Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but by opening up and praying for God to listen to the deep sighs of our hearts, means that we affirm our intimate relationship with him, and our significance to him.
It can be tricky if you’re someone like me who likes to feel in control, but this is what it means to be a child of God. You acknowledge that you are guided by him through the Spirit, and it’s not that you tell God what you need.
There is so much more to be said about the Lord’s prayer and we could do a whole teaching series on it, but I won’t do that today because it’s not really the purpose of today’s talk. What we are here for is to think about our identity in God, and how our “who-ness” affects our front lines.
Through our prayers, those intimate moments with God, our identity in him is realised and strengthened. And it is this strength that carries us through our daily activities and encounters on our front lines. We cannot do it in our own strength, we simply can’t. We can only do the things we do because of our identity in God; and it is through this identity that we are guided and aided and given confidence by the Holy Spirit. It’s not about trying harder, but allowing the power of God to work through us and in us as we embrace the things God is asking us to do.
Having a clear sense of our identity makes a huge difference in not just the things that we do, but in the way that we do them.
The world labels and divides us by the things that we do, but in God, we are united in our identity as his children.