Our True Identity

To all who received Jesus, who believed in his name,
he gave power to become children of God
John 1:12 
As we all know, in Buffalo this past Saturday at 2:30 in the afternoon, something truly horrific happened – yet again. A person who understood his primary identity as “white and superior” took the lives of ten people whom he identified as “black and inferior.” 

Sometimes we may feel helpless in the face of such suffering, evil and pain. But this is not so. We have gifts from God that are ours to use at such times. Prayer is clearly one of these gifts: don’t underestimate it, but use it. So too is the gift of our true identity in Christ: called to be (1) children of God, (2) made in God’s image, to live (3) as followers of Jesus, the One and Only Supreme One, and (4) as members of his family, empowered to change the world when we live into our identity (5) as specks of “salt” and rays of “light.” Getting identity right matters. Let me explain further.

On Saturday afternoon at 2:30, one person whose identity was wrapped up in race took the lives of ten people. Earlier that day, here at National, 140 people who saw their identity as wrapped up in being followers of Jesus, wrapped up 17,500 nutritious meals that can be stored long term for distribution in places of emergency and disaster. More than SEVENTEEN THOUSAND. A few years ago, when I first heard that size of a number, when NPC first joined with the organization Rise Against Hunger, I said “impossible,” “inconceivable.” But it’s true: when we came together not just as individuals but as members of the body and family of Christ it happened! 17,500 meals were packed on Saturday morning… giving life, not dealing death, to thousands of those who are hungry, both literally and spiritually. Identity matters.

On Saturday afternoon at 2:30, one person who saw the identity of others as “enemies” took the lives of ten people. To be sure, at times, all of us are tempted to see the identity of someone else as an enemy (who is that person, or persons to you?). Jesus was aware of this and provided two strategies for such moments for those who identified as his followers.

  • One strategy was to give to us a radical commandment: not to hate our enemies, but to love them. Not that we always know how to fulfil the commandment to love those we identify as our enemies: it’s hard. But what we cannot forget is that the moment we stop wrestling with Jesus’ unlikely combination of “enemies and love” – when we divorce those two words, leaving others merely with the identity “enemies,” then we move into a dangerous place (for ourselves as well as them).
  • The other strategy, of course, is to consciously transform the way we see our enemy by changing their identity into “neighbor.” That’s part of Jesus’ point in his story in Luke 10 of the Good Samaritan –

A person identified as an enemy who turned out to be a neighbor. Remember how Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, plugged away at this strategy of “renaming” when he taught millions of children to sing “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Identity matters.

On Saturday afternoon at 2:30 someone took the lives of ten others because he believed that in order to preserve the integrity of the nation, his own identity needed to reign supreme over any others. Not only did the shooter forget the lofty God-given identity of those he killed (every one of whom was an  “image bearer of God”), but he also forgot that there is  only person in the universe with the right to the identity of “total supremacy”: Jesus – who calls us to preserve the integrity of our human society not by violence, but by humility, seeing ourselves as specks of salt” and “rays of light” (Matthew 5:13-15), brightening and preserving the lives of others, not destroying them. In seeing themselves in this humble but powerful way, and bringing their lives together as children of God in Christ’s family, the first Christians transformed the ancient Roman Empire.

Identity matters.

Children of God, identity matters. Claim these gifts of God as yours – your new identity through Christ – and allow the knowledge of who you are, and who we are together, and who Jesus is, and who they are (all those “others,” whoever they may be) to be a transformative source of life not death, especially when the days are hard – or horrific – yet again.

Glad to be your pastor,

Note: Let me recommend a biblically based  book — Required: God’s Call to Justice, Mercy, and Humility to Overcome Racial Division by two friends, Claude Alexander and Mac Pier. Click here to watch their presentation here at NPC a couple of weeks ago.