Based on a sermon from 29th May 2022
John 17: 20-26
Imagine one day you suddenly and un-expectedly find out that you are not the person you thought you were! In fact, you are adopted, and the family you have lived with for the whole of your life are not your biological family. Due to shock would you hide away, uncertain of your true identity?
How do we know who we are? Many things feed into our self-understanding: where and when we were born; what we look like; where we grew up, where we went to school and where we live and work. But mostly it is in our relationships with others that we learn about ourselves. And the same is true about our self-understanding as people of faith.
In Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, He speaks of interconnected relationships, between Himself, His heavenly Father and His followers. He is thinking about the time after He has left the world, and the almost impossible task that will face His disciples.
The message they will have for the world is outrageous. It says that God’s anointed ruler, so long expected by the Jewish people, has come! But, far from leading an army against the Romans, after a short teaching and healing ministry He has been executed. And this executed criminal is not only the Jewish Messiah, but the Saviour of all people whatever their race or religion.
This is a message that will get Jesus’ followers into trouble. They will be ridiculed, attacked, flogged, imprisoned, even killed. How, Jesus asks, are they to find the confidence and the courage to go forward? How will they hang on to the certainty that what they have come to believe about Jesus is true?
Jesus’ answer is about relationships. Those who have accepted Him as Lord have become part of a new network of relationships that includes Jesus Himself, His heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit and all other believers.
As believers we have two families, our human one, and our family of faith. We have a home in heaven as well as a home on earth. We are named as belonging to Jesus, and we share in God’s glory. We know not only what we believe, but who we are. And that is where we will find the confidence we need, in the security of knowing that we are God’s beloved children, members of a family of faith.
The forces we, and the disciples, have to take on will be more serious than the school bully: they are the powers of sin, darkness and death – but we are, and they were, empowered by knowing who we are and where we belong.
Jesus’ prayer makes complicated reading, but it amounts to a description of a relationship that enables Christians to belong to Jesus and His heavenly Father. Christian faith, it implies, is not just a matter of belief; it is very much about who we are.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we often feel insecure. Those who hide it best often feel it most. But our insecurity is an invitation from God to escape the danger of false beliefs about who we are and find true peace in who He is.
So at the heart of what it means to be a Christian is to receive a new identity. In Jesus, we do not lose our true selves, but we become our true selves, only in Him.
Christ is our life — not only the guarantee of it in heaven, but the down payment of it by the Spirit now, because He lives in us. His joy becomes our joy; His love, our love; His peace, our peace; His strength, our strength. All we need is in us, because Jesus dwells in us.
We cannot experience anything greater than the fullness of union with Christ. Nothing reaches higher or is more theologically comprehensive.
In Christ, we are fundamentally new, and belong to the people of heaven. The language and values and customs and expectations of this world are to increasingly feel foreign to us, because we have been born again for another world, to a greater kind of existence.
Our task is much easier than that of the first disciples. We are not pioneers, but messengers of an established faith. Thankfully here in the UK we are more likely to be met with indifference than persecution. But being met with indifference is still painful, therefore, like the first disciples we too need confidence and courage to live out the Gospel in our own time and place.
As members of God’s family, part of the community of Christ’s Church, we are to know who we are:
- That our identity is a gift from God,
- that we have a new belonging in Jesus,
- that we are united to Jesus
- and that we are citizens of heaven!
All because we are loved by God, not for anything we have done, but just for being created in His image! Knowing, and believing who we are in Christ has the power to draw others to Christ, as much as by what we say.
Let us pray
Gracious God, help us to know ourselves as your beloved children, and give us confidence to proclaim the Gospel with our words and in our lives, all of which we offer to you for your sake and glory, in the name of Christ. Amen.