Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
ow do you introduce yourself to strangers? After you’ve given your name, what is the one thing that you share upfront to sum up your identity? Perhaps you don’t spend lots of time pondering this, but it is a serious question. It is a question with which you have had to grapple if you’ve ever gone to a party and struggled through awkward introductions.
The truth is, most people will turn to their occupations when presenting themselves to others. But it varies by the context. In a school gathering, we choose our relational bonds as our primary identity, “Hi, I’m little Sarah’s father or mother.” People who travel abroad often seem to choose their country of origin when introducing themselves to others. In wider church gatherings, we bear the parish and town which we call our own. And at the dog park, we are known only by our dog’s identity. Matt and I go to the dog park with Daniel regularly, and we know many of the people who frequent the park as well. But we are known to them only as Daniel’s owners and we, in turn, know many of them only by their dog’s name.
This may all be a bit amusing to think about, but none of it is surprising. Our identities are powerfully marked by the many things which have claim on us: our jobs, our families and relationships, our country and community. It raises an interesting question for each of us to consider. What is the identity to which you most frequently turn, your core identity? What is it that has the strongest claim over your person? Is it the thing you would expect, or does it surprise you? What does it say about you as a person?
This is an important question. It is more than just an idle thought to fill your daydreams. Our central identity makes a powerful claim on us. It shapes our priorities. It forms our opinions. It molds the actions we take and the actions we don’t take. It becomes the yardstick by which we measure ourselves. It is the looking glass through which we view the entire world around us.
When you are considering a decision, an action, what is the identity that pushes you forward or whispers caution? For me, it is being a priest. When I’m tempted to drive over the speed limit, when I’m posting something to Facebook, when I’m walking my dog around town, it is the voice of my inner clergy person that speaks the loudest. When I meet strangers, when I find myself in conflict, when I’m tired or stressed, I feel myself slipping into the familiar and comfortable identity of priest.
If I’m being honest, this is often quite helpful. It has helped me to navigate difficult situations and difficult people. And there are times when it becomes the source of conflict and division. There are times when my other identities need me more. There are times when the other things which lay claim to me are more important. Most of the time, Matt doesn’t need me to be a priest, he needs me to be his partner. When he is stressed out, when he is grieving, or when we are working through our own conflict, my identity as priest does not make things better. Sometimes it makes them worse. What he needs is for me to be his spouse. There are times when being a priest is counterproductive to being a friend, or a brother, or a son.
When you think about your core identity, I wonder how that identity serves you well. I wonder what ways it helps you to navigate the world around you. I also wonder when that identity comes into conflict with the other things which make claim on you. I wonder when your core identity ends up being counterproductive and the source of conflict and division.
How do you identify yourself? It is an important question to ask to better understand your own self. It is an important question to ask if we are to make sense of our gospel reading this morning because it is filled with images of Christ that startle us. It is filled with sayings of Christ that do not fit with the picture of Christ bearing little lambs in his arms and children at his feet.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;” Jesus warns us, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
These words become a bit easier to swallow when we remember that swords, while instruments of war, are also symbols of division. Swords divide the left from the right, one side from the other. Swords cleave what was once one and united into two that are divided. This is even clearer when we consider that the parallel text in the Gospel of Luke has Jesus say, “I have not come to bring peace, but division.”
But even so, this is not an easy text. The trouble is, we like Jesus the peace maker. We prefer our Jesus to be soft spoken and non-confrontational. We don’t like Jesus making a scene. We especially don’t like Jesus bringing conflict and strife into our midst.
The truth though, is that Christ does not bring conflict, he brings to light a conflict that already exists. Christ does not bring division, he brings to light division that already abounds; he brings to light the division of the many things that divide us away from Christ.
All the many identities we wear, no matter how good they are, pull us away from a core identity, that of belonging to Christ. They are easier identities to wear. It is easier for me to be a priest. It is easier for me to be a spouse. It is easier for me to be a brother, a son, an uncle. They are familiar identities. They are comfortable.
They pull me softly, they call to me sweetly, and they lead me relentlessly away. They divide me from Christ.
My friends, in Christ we are reminded, we rediscover, that we have but one identity, and it is the identity of belonging to Christ. We belong to Christ, and Christ alone has true claim to us.
That does not mean that our relationships are not important. It does not mean that we get to shirk our duties at work. It does not mean that we get to turn our backs on family and friends. It means that we cannot let those things blind us from what is real and true. It means that we cannot let those things make a claim to our identity that is not theirs to make.
For we do not belong to our jobs. We do not belong to our nation and communities. We do not belong to our families or our friends. We do not even belong to the church.
We belong to Christ. And Christ calls us back to him. Christ calls us back to him so that he might be the yardstick by which we take measure of our world. He calls us back to him so that he might be the mold that gives shape to our priorities. He calls us back to him so that he might be the path that shapes the actions we take and the actions we don’t take. Christ calls us back to him so that, at last, he might become the looking glass by which we see and understand the world around us.
Like the famous quote from St. Patrick, Christ calls to us so that at last we might see that it is,
“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
Preached by Adam Yates