Sunday, 27 May 2012

Identity and Grace

Pentecost  year B Sermon 
Who are you? How might you answer that question?
What is your basic identity? And how does that affect your faith and your life…

as a follower of Jesus Christ?

As I said last week, there’s a sense in which…we must answer these questions...if we’re to continue
to grow in faith. So for the next few weeks…in a five part preaching series…called ‘Who are we’?  

I’m hoping every one of you…will be able to answer these questions… for yourself.
Last week in part one…we discovered how our own life story can distort our understanding 
of God’s story…
and God’s love for us. Like when we grow up
believing our lovability depends on meeting our parent’s expectations. We saw that conditional love…

or love with strings attached…can disable our ability to accept God’s… unconditional love.

And last week hopefully…we became open…to the truth that God loves us…w

hether anyone else does. That God loves us whether we love ourselves
And we discovered how hard
it is to carry the good news to others…
when we don’t believe it ourselves?

Today in the second part of the series…I want you to grasp
just how… this good news of God’s grace…
shapes our identity…as new creations in Christ.
And we’ll ask ourselves the question…

slide words
Are we living and serving…our families, our church and our community… 

out of emotional bondage… or out of love?
And what is the relationship between our identity and God’s grace?

It’s a critical question isn’t it…because fundamental to the Christian faith… is the good news that all humanity
are loved unconditionally by God… and that’s why God sent Jesus into the world…at great cost
to deliver the message in the flesh.

And that message is what Paul refers to as
the gospel of grace… in our reading today.

This then gives us some clues…as to our true identity
as new creations in the name of Jesus Christ. [pause]

Blank slide
Unfortunately many of us grow up…answering the identity question…who are we… 
in relation to our family name…
or our role… or our title

We might hear it said…that so and so is a Kane…or so and so is a Lovelock
or so and so is a builder or engineer…
or a mother…or a minister…and this defines their identity for us… 

nd maybe even for them. And these identities
can come with some scripting
or parts we’re taught to play …like actors on the stage.

When this happens…the unconditional love of God
revealed in Jesusisn’t the basis of our identity.
Somehow at a deeply unconscious level… we ‘ve come to believe that our acceptance and lovability…
depends on how well we act out our family role…so we work hard to do the best we can…

so people will approve of us and love us…

Another way to say this… is… we do what we do…to get love…

instead of loving and living out of the freedom that comes…
from embracing our ‘already lovable’ identity in Christ…
we serve and strive and live…in emotional bondage
in order to get love…in order to earn love.

But when we embrace the good news of God’s grace…
when we accept the truth that we’re loved already
then we do what we do…because we’re loved and accepted.
We’re free to love and serve others…out of a place of wholeness
we no longer expect the love of other people
to fill us up…[pause]

Let me give you an example from my own life…last week you heard how I grew up…
believing my mother’s love was conditional on how well I performed…how lovely I looked …
how perfect I was...without my mother meaning to
of course…and this left a great big empty place in my being …which I unceasingly longed to fill up

with love…

So I went looking high and low for someone…some person
whose love would fill up that empty space…you know the one just below your rib cage…
the one that aches
when you’re rejected or judged or fearful.

Fortunately in my early forties… some Christian friends helped me discover an amazing truth…that only God’s love can truly fill us up …only God’s love
can make us feel whole.

So I began to pray every day…for God to fill me with God’s holy love. 
And I began to surrender my will completely 
to God’s will…and as I grew in the knowledge of God’s grace …

and healed with the experience of being filled up by God’s love…
all my relationships were transformed…

Over time…I no longer expected the love and acceptance of others…to fill me up… 

instead I grew in my ability to love others…out of a place of wholeness
You might say I became a dispenser of grace…

One of our study groups discovered this recently in their series on Yancey’s book 

What’s so Amazing about Grace. And I’m going to get them to tell us about it. 
Barbara, Jen and Russell could you come up here and tell us about this.

They share

When our identity is rooted in Christ…we come to understand we’re accepted
not because of what we’ve done…but because of what Christ has done. 

We know we’re loved and accepted by God…
because of the revelation of Christ. And this is
the gospel of grace. Which we in faith…choose to believe.

You could say we are saved from slavery and emotional bondage by Jesus’ gospel of grace. 

And that’s why I would say in Christ… is the salvation of the world.

And spreading the Gospel of grace means helping others
get the true order of things…helping them see
that grace comes before performance…Helping them see
when our identity is rooted in God and God’s family
our true identity exists before anything we do.

Helping them see that every human being is in on this…
and that every circumstance that prevents people from their true identity… 

or deprives them from wholeness…
is contrary to God’s will.

When our identity is rooted in our biological family name or how well we perform a role
then we may compensate for this very fragile identity…
our whole lives…in emotional bondage…
in slavery… to the pursuit of love…

Last week we talked about conditional messages of love
but it’s also important to understand the entirely negative messages of love… 

we can grow up with. Negative messages of love…can be worse and more damaging
than conditional messages of love.

The first and most traumatic form is
Slide words reveal
1. overt rejection – this happens when as children we’re given a clear indication
we’re unwanted and unloved.

2. covert rejection – this may be unintended by our parents
but comes across to us as subtle form of rejection nevertheless

3. over-protection – this feels like smothering…or being loved to death
Overt rejection can lead to an insatiable craving for love, the need for constant reassurance, encouragement 
and nurture in order to feel good.

Covert rejection – can lead to jealousy and possessiveness …demanding absolute security
The message to others is ‘give me all your time and energy… or I will feel unloved.’

Over-protection – can lead to a very un-gospel like pre-occupation with everyone’s love for me… 
rather than my love for everyone. Sometimes we see this in how people assess 
the kind of welcome they get in a new church family or in a new town.

Most of these negative experiences of love…are expressed in adulthood by doing, behaving and performing…

The principle behind this is a simple mathematical one…
we compensate for deficits in our identity by performing. [pause]

So how does an understanding of the good news of God’s grace… 
help us avoid such a debilitating life style?

Well, first it’s crucial to our spiritual, emotional and probably even our physical health…

to learn the actual chronology of grace…in relation to performance and acceptance. 
In other words…to learn what comes first and what comes second. 
f we don’t learn this… then it’s likely we’ll remain in emotional bondage all our lives.

We heard the chronology of grace operating in our reading today…in the face of harsh criticism…and rejection of his identity as an apostle…Paul remains strong and undeterred… because he tells us…
his identity is rooted in God’s grace. He explains…

Slide words
For I am the least of the apostles and don’t even deserve to be called an apostle…
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am…and his grace to me wasn’t without effect

No, I worked harder than all of them —yet not I…but the grace of God that was with me.

Blank slide
In fact Paul argues in all his letters… that his identity is neither rooted in his Jewish family nor his Roman citizenship
but in the grace of God revealed to him by the risen Christ.

When the grace of God infuses our lives…then we can say …you can say…‘I am who I am’
accepted and loved by the grace of God.
And as we’ve heard
this doesn’t mean we rest in complacency
with no motivation to serve our families our church or in the world…Not at allfaith in God’s grace becomes the motivation for serving and loving.

And it doesn’t mean we no longer need to grow or change …but our response to grace…

is our motivation to grow and to change.

A wonderful Christian Chinese woman named Jenifer Yep wrote a book called 
How to follow Jesus without dishonouring your parents. In it she says…
‘a performance spirituality it can cause us to believe that our passion and commitment 
reflect the quality of our relationship with God…our beliefs about grace may be orthodox, 
but we haven’t appropriated the trutht hat we are saved by grace alone.

Our lifestyles demonstrate that we really believe the more we do the more we will be loved. 

And when we can’t do more we can’t be loved. And so we do more…and more… 
and slowly we become trapped in a never-ending treadmill of obligations, requirements and meetings.

We find God and God’s work exhausting. [When this happens ] We developed a faith from which the cross of Christ is missing.’[i]

Remember how in the politically incorrect guide to being in church… we learned how Jesus way of worship was a whole of life activity? …that all proper service in Christian community is worship…a gift…given in appreciation to God for the gift of grace?

So if you clamour week after week for a list of instructions on what to do, then I have failed you…
because the intent of the Gospels…isn’t to tell people what to do,
but to remind us who we are…to reveal our true identity… rooted in Christ.

And my prayer is that from now on…
everything you do will flow from who you are. From the choice you make to root your identity in Christ.
Your decision will make a huge difference to your emotional spiritual and physical wellbeing…to your shalom and the shalom of your family and our church and our community.

For if you choose to be rooted in the grace of God
then you will respond out of love… not out of duty or in order to get love…

You will respond not from emptiness…but from a place of wholeness.

[i] Yep, J. et al. Following Jesus without dishonouring your parents. IVP, 1998, 138-139.
And again my gratitude to Rod Wilson for the outline of this series.