Identity in lockdown…be who God created you to be…and find abundant life.
Sermon for Adel Parish Church, Easter 4.
John 10: 1 – 10
Well here I am – preaching to a computer screen again. Worrying that when all this is finally over I might only recognise your voices and not your faces! Also wondering whether you’ll all be turning up to worship in your pyjamas, or running gear…or perhaps still eating your breakfast…I suspect we are a rather different congregation to the one that used to meet in Adel Parish church at 10am on Sunday mornings.
Today’s gospel reading is, I think, about identity, about who we are, who we should be – and how we work that out.
And I think that in many ways working out who we are has lately become even more challenging. So much of our identity comes from how we fit into the world around us but suddenly large parts of that has been taken away.
With social activities stopped, our appearance is less relevant…and we can’t get to hairdressers or salons. The cars we’re so proud of are sitting unused; we can’t take our usual holidays. Work, paid and voluntary, has stopped or, for some, changed almost out of recognition. Many have lost part of their role as grandparents. In some ways it’s quite hard to know who we are.
The gospel gives us the picture of Jesus as our shepherd, calling us if only we can recognise his voice…and then of Jesus as a gate, the right gate we need to find and enter. But as our lives have shrunk – and the outside world become more distant – I was reminded of a saying from Catherine of Siena, whose feast day was on Wednesday. If you shared in Ruth’s Compline you will have heard it.
Catherine said, “Be who God created you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
I love this, because it suggests to me that God has put our true identity within us, that we are called to find it, rather than create it.
After all – we hear right at the beginning of the bible that God created us ‘in his own image’. Not what we look like…I suspect there’s only Iain F-W amongst our congregation who could actually land a film role as God…but I believe we are like God in the potential we have to create, to dream, to love, to forgive.
“Be who God created you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
I think it’s a good picture for these times when our worlds have shrunk. When confined to homes – with just close family, or alone – it’s good to remember that our identity comes from the God who created us – not from the world. It’s already within us – the challenge is to find it.
Some of us suddenly have much more time on our hands…and have found it a gift. I have heard of hobbies resurrected…of creative talents rediscovered. Many gardens are better tended than they have been for years – and we are experiencing the joy of sitting in them, just revelling in nature.
I know an awful lot of tidying and cleaning jobs that have been put off for years are finally getting done. And for some of us it may be a reminder of the clutter we can do without, or rediscovery of the people and treasures that once enriched our lives.
When I asked some children in our first ‘on-line’ Junior church what is good about ‘lock-down’ they almost all said, ‘more family time’. Are we rediscovering our identity as mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?
For some though, life seems busier than ever. If you’re struggling with looking after young children whilst you try to work from home, life must be very difficult.
And many of us are bewildered by how busy we feel. Apart from being very slow to work out the new technologies, I shouldn’t have lots more to do – yet it seems impossible to do everything I feel I ought. And I’ve heard the same from others. One of our congregation remarked in an email…”not sure quite why everything seems busier than normal.” I feel a little overwhelmed at times – and talking to others – I’m not alone.
I wonder whether that’s to do with disorientation, the loss of identities we’d constructed for ourselves. Perhaps this strange time holds a challenge to begin to work out who we really are…who God created us to be.
And I do think the answer is found partly within ourselves if we can begin to recognise it. At the end of today’s reading Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
What is it that gives us true, abundant life? That surely is where we find our identity. And when we’ve discovered that – the life will overflow to those around us. “Be who God created you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
So in all this strange, busy, inaction…I’m trying to spend some time reflecting. In place of the things I can’t do, trying out some of the things I can…and seeing which bring life.
I’m thinking about what I miss and why. Resolving to spend more time on those things once it’s possible again.
I’m thinking about the things I’m quite glad not to be doing and wondering whether I should carry on with them once I can.
Perhaps this time of being closed off from the world we knew is a time for looking inwards and searching for the people God created us to be. And just as the sheep recognise the shepherd – we can recognise that person, because when we are that person we feel properly alive – with the life Jesus brings.