Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. As I’m recording this, the news about COVID gets more and more troubling. Our prayers are with those who have lost loved ones and with our exhausted key workers. Not only are they having to deal with a vast number of patients but they are increasingly confronted with life and death decision making, perhaps even having to decide who gets life saving treatment or not. It must be truly horrible to be placed in that position. It rather puts our discussions about opening or closing our buildings for worship in perspective.
Last week I was talking about sustaining ourselves through this, and I want to say a little more about that in this video. Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Christ. It was a small incident in the gospel stories, but full of significance. It happens as Jesus emerges from obscurity into his short public ministry. As he comes out of the water and the Spirit descends on him a short phrase is heard, “you are my son, the beloved, in you I am well pleased.” These are words that Jesus needed to hear as he embarked on the costly work that would culminate in the cross. But they are not just words exclusively for Jesus, they are words God speaks over us. I don’t think this is a wild extrapolation. Paul frequently talks of Christians as being ‘in Christ’. There is a real sense in which the pattern of Jesus life in not unique to Him, but also a model of what life in Him should be like. Jesus did no ministry until after this baptism and there is a clear idea that in becoming human he accepted human limitations. The extraordinary miracles that marked his life were done in the power of the same Spirit who comes upon his disciples at Pentecost, and anointed every follower of Jesus ever since.
But that’s for another video. I want to concentrate on these words, because they say a huge amount about Jesus’ sense of identity. They speak into the security that equipped him to act so courageously in the face of such adversity and opposition. They also speak into how he derived his sense of significance. If we Christians are to be people who don’t just do different things, but do things differently, then a radical rethink of our identity, security and significance has to be at the heart of that.
If you go into the conference room in the Palace you will find many portraits of my illustrious predecessors. A story is told of a Swedish Bishop who bravely commissioned a portrait by an abstract artist at the end of his ministry. When the portrait was finally unveiled everyone went quiet. The canvas comprised a set of abstract squiggles and random colours. Someone brave asked him, “Bishop, what do you think?” He replied, Matthew 14: 27 – take heart, it is I! Our identity emerges for us from a wide variety of formative experiences. Our family of origin is very important. When I was at university there were several young men in my college from aristocratic families. They tended to walk around with their noses at a higher angle than everyone else. It gave them a sense of confidence unavailable to lesser mortals. But our sense of identity can be created, not just from our background, but from the words spoken over us. I know people crippled by having to live up to the unrealistic expectations of their parents, suffering in careers that aren’t really them because of an inner voice that tells them what they need to be to be valuable. People’s confidence can be crushed by repeated criticism. The inner voice is something internalised from people long dead. We can find our sense of identity in all sorts of unhealthy ways, in being a successful person, or a beautiful person or a wealthy. These are all fragile things. At his baptism, the Father simply says to Jesus, “You are my Son.” Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” This is an identity more secure than any success or failure, inviolate and kept for you for eternity.
An insecure sense of who you are can lead to unhealthy drivenness and perfectionism. It can make you excessively prone to act in ways that please others, even if the right think is to risk being
unpopular. Paul echoes the Father’s words to Jesus when he addresses the Colossian church as “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.” This is a love that is independent of success or failure poured out on us irrespective of our background. It is a love that assures us that we are God’s children. You could argue that more than my aristocratic contemporaries at university, we Christians could regard ourselves as royalty! We are children of the king of creation.
As we face many challenges over the next few weeks, particularly if we are involved in leadership, I hope we will engage the world from that place of security and love. In so doing we will be like Jesus.
I finish with the collect for the Baptism of Jesus:
who at the baptism of Jesus,
revealed him to be your Son,
anointing him with the Holy Spirit:
grant that we, being born again by water and the Spirit,
may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.