One of my favourite movies is The Bourne Identity. In the opening scene a man is found floating out at sea, unconscious, and is rescued onto a passing ship. When he eventually wakes he has no idea who he is, where he’s come from, or where he was going. A microchip inside him leads him to a safe deposit box in a bank, and inside he discovers a whole stack of different passports and identities. Who is Jason Bourne?! What story is he a part of?
We aren’t so different. Post-modernism and the dismantling of social structures and coherent narratives, leaves those raised amidst it, swimming at sea, constantly searching for true identity. Do we find it? or are we meant to create it? (Both are seemingly beyond challenge in our culture, even though they are completely contradictory truths - eg “born this way”, “find yourself”, and self-help culture that promises “a new you”, or the possibility of “re-inventing ourselves”). You’ll have heard me preach this on numerous occasions, but most of us attempt to find our identity in one of three ways: What we do, what we have, or what is said about us. As we start to experience more of the impact of COVID-19 on our economy, we are going to see more and more struggles with our sense of identity and self worth. Many of us, our families and our neighbours may lose their jobs in the months ahead. Research shows what a massive effect this has on a person’s mental health and sense of well being.
With this in mind, there is more great news in the passage we have been reflecting on since Easter. Read verse 2.
“So she ran to get Simon Peter, and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.”
It’s possible to rush on past it, but do you notice how John, the writer of the gospel, refers to himself in this passage, and throughout the gospel? "The one Jesus loved."
You might be tempted to think, what arrogance! Imagine giving yourself that moniker, as though he was more loved than the other 11 disciples. But John’s not saying that. He is describing only himself. What is the identity that he knows and shares when he talks about himself?
It’s not what he does. Not what he has. Not what is said about him by others.
John's identity rests entirely on his relationship with Jesus, and that relationship, founded on the love of God declares that Jesus, God incarnate, loves him! The truest thing that John can declare about himself is that he is beloved by God!
Do you know that is true of you too?
In the beginning of John’s gospel he tells us that Jesus came, and “that all who receive him, he gave the right to be children of God” (1:12).
Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up each morning to know that who you are, before you ever get out of bed and do anything, have anything, or hear anything, is based on the love of God towards you. Can you imagine waking up to know your most central identity is based on the sure and certain truth that God loves you? In receiving Jesus, this is the promise, and the reality. We are given the right to be children of God.
In this season of Easter, where the old way must die, and the new must be born, what old identifiers need to be consigned to the grave in order for us to cling to our identity as a beloved child of God?
Are there misspoken words spoken by a parent, a teacher, or peer, that have seared deep in your heart, and that bring pain and challenge your sense of self-worth and identity? Perhaps this is something God wants to free you from this Easter?
Has your work become a part of your identity, rather than an act of worship to God?
Does what you have define you in such a way that you aren’t free to be generous and give freely to others from what God has entrusted you with?
The good news of the gospel is that the work of remembering our true identity, and being freed from the old, isn’t just another endeavour of self-help, or another thing to strive for, but is a work of the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes in Romans 8:15-16:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship/daughtership. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
In this season where many of us have more time in solitude or silence, or where more than ever, our sense of identity is being challenged by the impacts of the COVID virus, let us all spend specific time in prayer at the beginning and the end of each day, reflecting on who we are. A friend I served with back in Boston, when asked when he knew it was time to stop praying, gave this simple answer. "I don’t get off my knees until I know I am loved."
What difference might it make for each of us to commit to that each morning and night this week, to commit to the practice of allowing God's Spirit to strip away our false identities and to strengthen us in the truth of God's love?
Perhaps after the 50 days of Easter, having started and ended the day this way, when someone asks us who we are, we’ll be able to answer the same way John does - “I’m a disciple whom Jesus loves.”
Dear friends, may the love of God toward you be the thing that most defines you, this day, and always. You are God's beloved child. Rev Chris.